Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Epiphany

Its been a busy spring. As mentioned here, I've been doing a lot of public speaking, both to kids and adults. If I knew this would be part of my job 10 years ago when I got started I seriously wonder if I would have gone into publishing at all. I've always been fairly terrified of speaking in front of a group- when I had my first school visit I couldn't sleep for two days beforehand. Literally I laid in bed frozen in terror for two nights. Of course the visit went fine.

But strangely, as I've acclimated over the past several years to this part of the job (or rather learned to manage the anxiety), I start to find myself enjoying it. Saturday, for instance. I was one of the speakers at a half day conference put on by the Foundation for Children's Books, a really lovely organization here in Boston that puts on kids book events throughout the year.

When I first showed up for the event at the Athenaeum Library (a historic 200 year old independent library in downtown Boston), I was more than a little intimidated. This library is AMAZING.

This is the ornate entryway:



The floor to ceiling windows looked out on the cemetery where Mother Goose is buried:



And the screen on which I was to present towered over the room, which was quickly filling with librarians and teachers:



To make matters worse the first speaker of the day was Jack Gantos, a seasoned and famously charming speaker. He was one of those people who can just float from topic to topic, mixing broad insightful comments about the nature of art and literature and life with funny stories about Jenna Bush and kids with velcro sneakers. I sat in the audience in awe, that is when I wasn't mentally reviewing my talk and how I could make it pale less in comparison.

Then suddenly something occurred to me. It might seem kind of obvious, but I don't think I've really taken it to heart before. He was talking about his life. I was about to go up there and talk about my life. Our lives are vastly different, but that doesn't make his experiences better or worse than mine. They hired him to speak because of what he has to offer, and I have something different.

Suddenly that was a freeing thought. Because I don't really have a choice about it. I can't choose to be him or anyone else. All I really have to offer is who I am and what I know, no more no less. Suddenly I felt calm. When it was my turn I went up there and gave the talk I planned to give, relatively at ease and it was fun; the audience was great, stories came easily to mind and I felt like I gave an honest representation of me and my work. One of the attendees pulled me aside after and said it was "the best author/illustrator presentation she'd ever heard." I felt delighted, like an elephant might feel if it suddenly realized it could play the violin.

I can't remember a time when I've enjoyed public speaking more. I don't know if I'll always manage this state of mind when I have a job to do, but I pulled it off for one day at least, so I know that it is possible.

6 comments:

MotherReader said...

Well let a mother say, good for you, Anna. I hope that its a lesson that you can internalize for all your talks.

Daniel Mahoney said...

I'm very surprised you would ever be terrified, Anna. When you spoke in Newburyport for the Robert Snow author event, I envied how relaxed and charming you were. I'm always terrified when it comes to speaking to adults, but with children I am thoroughly relaxed and really enjoy myself. I'm glad you did so well.

Anna Alter said...

Hi Daniel-

Its funny, people are usually surprised when I tell them I have stage fright- really once I'm talking I'm totally fine, its just beforehand that I get a lot of anxiety. But it really is changing, which is encouraging.

Elaine mentioned you'll be speaking at the North Shore Council this fall- looking forward to it!

Daniel Mahoney said...

I know what you mean about the anxiety beforehand. That's the worse part, becuase once I get talking I'm fine. I think once you do it enough you gain confidence and realize there's really nothing to worry about.

I'm really looking forward to it, too! I feel honored to be invited.

See you soon!

laurasalas said...

Hooray! What a wonderful realization to come to. Good for you.

Anne Broyles said...

Isn't it amazing how we learn new things about ourselves and our work in the telling out loud of our story and process? Anna, I'm so glad the FCB event went well. I enjoyed doing our two book launches together because I learned so much about your side of our creation of PRISCILLA AND THE HOLLYHOCKS. And at the Jamaiacaway Books event when with a new slick-paged book, I skipped the pages that made the whole story make sense, I looked to you and Yolanda. Had I gone crazy or had I missed a page? You two of course were the ones that knew the book as well as I did. So I had to admit my mistake and do some explaining. I learned several things from that mistake and the rest of my presentations have gone better because I had to improvise with the glitch.

Anne