Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I have something to say

I have something to say. But first I have a story to tell. I may have told this story before - here or elsewhere - so if it's familiar to you, just bear with me: 

I started performing, in one form or another, very early in life. My sisters and I first sang a 'special' in church when I was only 4. I couldn't read the words so my mom helped me memorize them - I still remember that tune. I took a fairly immediate liking to the experience - the singing, the attention, being in front of our small church. I have never really been afraid of a crowd. 

With that early reinforcement, it didn't strike me as all that note-worthy when I was in grade 7 and my English teacher - Helen Rogers, an imposing woman who suffered no fools - asked me to join the Drama Club. I was flattered, but it just made sense in my egotistical teenage mind. I was fairly certain that she saw some spark of genius in me. 

Mrs. Rogers, mid-lecture, 1981
I acted. We were a very small school with a very small drama club putting on very small plays. We staged two or three one-act plays twice a year.We attended and hosted regional drama festivals. We went to provincial arts festivals. By grade 11 or 12 I did a little directing. It helped me hone some rudimentary assessment and leadership skills, though I doubt I knew that at the time. 

The week before my graduation from high school, Mrs. Rogers - who remained my English teacher through most of junior/senior high - and I had a private chat. I wanted to acknowledge her for encouraging me to write, for letting me write creative responses to readings not just essays (in addition to, not in place of, mind you), for teaching me critical thinking, and for helping direct my anything-and-everything love of reading into something a little more useful. Mrs. Rogers was too stern to ever be one of my favourite teachers, but I had the good sense to at least recognize her as one of my most valuable teachers. I also thanked her for that long ago invitation to join the Drama Club for all the fun it had been. 

With her trademark dryness, Mrs. Rogers said to me, "I wanted you to join drama because I wanted you to learn how to speak. You have so much to say, and much of it is worth hearing. But when we first met you spoke really fast and in a high pitched voice like you just wanted to get it out without anyone noticing, and I wanted you to speak so people would listen."

I was slightly flabbergasted - and perhaps a smidge put in my place - at both her insight and the long-range game that she had been playing. It still moves me. 

I have been home from Jamaica for 2 and a half weeks now, don't see any immediate prospect for work, and am frightened by my quickly draining bank account. Having not been out of work since 2002, I am finding the job search frustrating and, frankly, soul-sucking. It's been hard on my confidence. Chatting with my friend Cheeky last night, I admitted that part of the problem may be that I don't want a job, per se - I want contracts. I want to write and teach and let others know that they have something to say and provide them with the tools and confidence to say it. And I want to be location independent - to be able to take my work anywhere in the world. 

Cheeky said "well, are you the best at what you do?" And I hedged my answer and said it was a silly, possibly mean-spirited, question and there are a lot of great writers and teachers/trainers/public speakers in the world and ... . He interrupted. He persisted, and at first I thought he was trying to get me to be reasonable, to see that I am not the best in the world, and to go take a job like a good North American. 

Me, mid-lecture, 2015
It turned into one of those things. A few minutes later I was sitting on my couch in my flannel pyjamas proclaiming my awesomeness just to shut him up. He made me keep saying it not until he believed me but until I did. 

In that moment I remembered back to January when I lead a communications, branding and story-telling workshop for 38 non-profit employees in Kingston. I thought about being at the front of the room knowing that what I said was making a difference for the attendees, the organizations they work in, and the clients those organizations serve. 

And I remembered the feeling of also knowing that, in that moment, at the front of the room, I was awesome. Words flowed out of me, and time both flew and stood still. I may not have been the best in the world, but in that classroom at that time I was what was needed. 

I have something to say. For the longest time I've wanted to write and speak as my way to 'make a life, not a living' but I didn't think I had anything that was worth saying. Last night I realised that I do have a specialty - I have something to say. So do you. And I can help you say it. 
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