So, I super hyped up the fact that I was doing a TedX – that is, an independently organized TED talk. I hyped it up because it was something I’d dreamed of doing. I’d hoped that one day I would have the opportunity to step on the red circle carpet with a huge screen behind me – and give a talk that would change my life. And change the world with my idea.
I’m not sure that my idea ‘The Original Stories’ will change the world…at least not yet, but what I can tell you is that the experience of being part of the TedX family absolutely changed me.
The video of my talk was posted on the TedX youtube channel on December 8. I discovered it on December 17th. I had a tiny hope that it wouldn’t get posted. *She tightens her lips into a straight line.* It’s January 2018, and I’ve yet to give my ‘all out’ in terms of promoting this speech…this idea. The reason? Please keep reading.
On December 17th, I grabbed my laptop and watched the video on my bed – alone.
I felt sick to my stomach as I was watching it.
I stopped it about five minutes in to take a deep breath and tell the voices in my head to shut-the-cuss-up.
Turns out the feelings I had when I was on that stage were still very much in my body…and I started to heat up and sweat, and feel like I was losing myself. Even now. Months after the fact. Miles from that stage and that red circle carpet.
I thought I was over how the whole experience affected me, but it turns out, it still makes me shudder in disappointment.
So, I’m going to write it out. With you as my witnesses. Because I want to write out what was happening in my head as you watch what was happening with my body. As you hear the words I’m saying…and form a response to my idea.
I want to share the phenomenon of the out-of-body experience I had…because you can see it happening. And, then, as I move through it with you, I hope that it’ll release the yuck that seems to still be sticking to me.
At the end, you can click on the actual speech I wrote. Read the words I wrote and tried so hard to get out. The words I wanted to say from my heart and soul…that could barely come out of me on the day. On that red circle.
Everything I did – from the moment I said ‘yes’ to the man who invited me to do a talk – from my choices about my clothes to how I did my hair to the jewelry I chose to the theme of my speech – it was all part of my…what’s the word? Of me creating a story about me doing a TED talk.
Soon we’ll discover that this story I was telling myself was exactly what caused my….well, what caused me to lose myself. And the beautiful irony is that I was living out what I decided to do my speech about – The Original Stories – how the stories that are the loudest and most consistent voices in our heads affect the choices we make. How they affect our abilities to live our truths…with courage and dignity and integrity.
The distinction is clear now…but wasn’t at the time. The distinction is that I told myself I had to do a TED talk – like all the others who came before me. I had to come up with what I believed was a ‘new’ idea. Write a speech about it. Memorize that speech. And tell that speech in a way the fit the TED stage. I really believed that I could do it! Almost.
Alas, here’s the pure honest truth – deep down…in the deepest, most serious, most dark place in my mind – the loudest and most consistent voice was very clearly saying: you can’t do this because you’re not good enough.
I mean it. Those words were there. Alive in the shadows….seeping into the light. Into the writing. Into the memorizing. Into the choices about my clothing, hair, jewelry. It was truly a phenomenal occurrence. I was me but not fully. That voice was so strong. It coupled with the Demon Woman too, who is always quick to jump on let’s-make-Vanessa-feel-like-shit wagon. I went on a diet and lost 10 pounds. I didn’t want to look fat on youtube. What if this video went viral? They’d see my chubby chins and be blinded by the blubber. Enough. Enough. But, you can see where the voices in my head were at.
Did you know I didn’t once consider doing my speech about writing poetry? About how I do poetry on demand? About how writing is like breathing, and that being creative is what lifts me up? I didn’t. I didn’t believe that my experience, my knowledge, my passion for writing was good enough to talk about. That’s the truth.
Having said that, I absolutely believe in my speech. In the words. In the idea, that although it’s probably not ‘new’, came from my heart. It felt [feels] new to me, and I wanted to create something new to talk about. For me. Because I did believe that I could do that. That this new idea could be good enough. Maybe. At different intervals of the writing and preparation process, I felt like I was on to something powerful.
The link to the video is below.
I’d like you to open it, and star watching it, but keep this window open was well – and as you watch – read here to see what was happening for real – in my head, heart and body. We’ll take this wild walk together, ok?
But first: the context.
My clothing choice. It may seem petty, but I did put a lot of thought into what I wore…kind of. I wanted to be comfortable but I felt like I needed to dress up a bit. There are no rules – except no logos – around what to wear. I wanted to wear jeans and a comfy shirt but somehow that didn’t feel proper. I bought new pants and a new sweater…that looks like a kimono! I didn’t know what shirt to wear under so I found this old camisole crammed in my bottom drawer and put that on. Then I tucked it in. I haven’t tucked in a shirt in twenty years. (That should have been a sign!) (Also, it’s okay if you laugh out loud during any of this. It’s quite funny in hindsight.) I felt uncomfortable when I put the outfit on, but I didn’t change. Then I put on shoes I barely wear…I kept tripping. (Hazaah. Yet another sign.). I put on every necklace that brings me joy and confidence. They kept getting tangled together. (Another sign?) My hair? I wanted to cut it all off. Get to my natural roots. (Sign number three.) But I didn’t. And my roots were shockingly white. I walked around trying not to look down so no one would see my roots. I mean, isn’t that just silly? But it’s true! I covered my self in a costume with bits of ‘me’, but mostly me trying to be someone who’s giving a TedX talk. I felt fat and uncomfortable. Nope, I didn’t change my clothes, my shoes, my hair or anything to make myself feel better. Feel more confident. Remember, it wasn’t about that. It was about me fitting the TedX mould that I convinced myself I had to fit into.
My speech. Overall, I’d say it took me a few weeks to write and whittle down. The rules were that the speech could not be longer than 18/19 minutes. Also, slides and stats and quotes are always a great idea to help support and exemplify your fantastic idea. I had my speech under 12 minutes and thoroughly memorized two weeks before my scheduled stage appearance. Two weeks, people.
My speech was scheduled for after three. That meant that many people were going ahead of me with their speeches. It meant I had most of the day to worry and fear and forget my speech. It meant I didn’t eat because my stomach was somewhere on the 401. It meant that that
evil voice that had been in the deeps of my head had time to come to the forefront.
Now, even though my speech wasn’t about poetry, I was invited to do Poetry On Demand with the audience. So, early in the day, I had a chance to step in the red circle, chat, gather words, and then write some poetry. Was I nervous? Nope. Did I fumble my words? Nope. Was my sense of humour alive? Totally. Was I confident? You bet. Once I got back stage again, I felt like – this would be a whiz. No problemo. Huh. Funny how that went…
I watched two others gather their things after their speeches. Their energy and emotions were intense. Something broke in my chest. My speech wasn’t going to go well. I knew it. And I didn’t stop it. I had to live it.
The Breakdown (Huh, pun intended.)
00:18 – I begin by telling the audience that I’ll read them the two poems I wrote by Poetry On Demand, after my speech is finished. I’m smiling. See that smile. It was real.
I’m holding a ‘clicker’. The thingy we used to advance our slides. Yes, I had slides for my speech. Of course I did – and THANK THE GODDESSES! So, at first I couldn’t see my first slide. A mild panic licked my body. Heat erupted through my skin. The sweating began.
00:21 – I say ‘Here we go!’. That was the last sentence I remember saying from any semblance of my heart. What I had to do next was recite my memorized speech.
00:25 – Watch my eyes. Specifically, the way I’m blinking. It’s not normal. I can feel my eyelids doing weird things, and yet, I simply cannot control them. They were the first to go.
00:41 – I’m remembering the first few cue cards-worth of my speech, but I can feel the words beyond that will be nowhere in my brain very soon. I’m starting to panic. Really panic. I know after these first few sentences, I will lose my train of memorized thought. I will not only lose the train, but the tracks and the station too.
(Cut to a side view of me. Super. See my chins?)
Also, take note of the sound of my voice. It doesn’t sound like ‘me’, does it? Can you hear my breath scratching against the back of my throat? What was happening was all the saliva in my mouth and down the back of my throat was leaving too.
I could feel my tongue thickening.
01:13 – Here’s where I had a mental breakdown. Here’s where I lost the words. Here’s where I pause because I have no idea what to say next. I am terrified. I am frozen. I am weak.
Just over a minute in, and I completely lose my ‘self’.
Notice how I look to the right. It looks like I’m looking at the big prompter, but I’m really looking at the EXIT sign and wondering if I should fake a faint or drop to my knees and crawl the cuss off the stage. No part of me wants to continue. I can’t continue. There. Are. No. Words.
I felt my spirit lift out of my body. That may sound bizarre or weird, but I promise on all the poetry in the world, that’s what I felt. That’s what happened. Everything that was essentially ‘me’ was sucked out of the top of my white-rooted head.
What was left was a shivering, blubbering bag of bones.
I could feel time molasses-ing by. Yes, I would fall to my knees and crawl off the stage. I decided. I’d take the heat, I was already burning up, after all. I’d fall to my knees dramatically and speed-crawl [Oh mylanta – I’m laughing so hard right now! I hope you are too!] off the stage.
But wait, the damn head phone! In all its Madonna/Britney Spears glory – it’s taped and trapped over my ear! There’s no taking it off without help. And the clicker! I couldn’t escape with the clicker too! Surely, my fellow TedX-ers wouldn’t be thrilled with me stealing it and a fancy microphone!
Ah, heck. Now at least 600 minutes have passed.
What am I going to do?!
By some miracle, my eyes pulled to focus on the prompter. I saw a slide. I saw and understood a slide!
01:14 – I say ‘whoops’! That’s an understatement! I was in a major, out-of-body-whoops, and what do I do? I push the clicker because my hands were shaking so badly, and I advance the slides too far.
It’s enough to connect back to the stage – but only my bones. I could feel my spirit and soul hovering above me.
01:15 – 01:17 – I say ‘And let’s go back.’ DON’T I WISH. Then, ‘Here we go.’ Again with the ‘here we go’. What are these words and where is my tongue?
01:22-1:24 – I flub a line, but look and keep looking at the slide to guide my words. The slides, the words on them and the snippets of speech that are bouncing around behind the skin on my forehead somehow work together so I can speak.
But look at my face! Don’t I look like I’m trying not to laugh? That I’m giddy with…with what? Terror?
Flub a few more lines. Do some weird blinking. Look at the prompter.
01:40-01:42 – I skip about six cue cards in my speech – important points with ‘funny’ moments and ‘personal’ moments. Skipped. Sucked out with my spirit. Gone-olksi.
At this point, I’m telling myself to just keep talking.
Just look at the prompter and keep talking.
Just let go of anything but the words you know you’ve hammer-pounded into your memory.
01:57 – The cadence of my speech changes. I’m ‘ah’-ing and I’m speaking without contractions (‘It is’ instead of ‘it’s’). My eyes are still doing wonky blinks.
02:17 – I lose it mid-sentence. Right after the word LOVE. I mean, this is my favourite word! You can’t see it, although you can hear the pause, but I have to look at the prompter to read the words on the slide. Unbelievable.
02:31 – Another pause in the lose-it game. Look at my face. Look at my smile! I know I’m falling down the rabbit hole, but I can’t stop falling.
02:33 – I pull a side of my kimono/sweater over my boob. I begin to worry about my stomach. I feel like everyone is staring at my belly. I must cover it. But the words…there are words I should be saying, right? Oh spirit, where art thou?
02:36 – I AHEM. I clear my throat to try and wrestle up words from the dungeon of my throat chakra. Come on! I’m willing myself to keep going.
02:42 – I say the word ESSENTIALLY. But my own personal essence is GONE. I say the word…and there are no more words. I am…losing this battle.
02:46 – I say ‘Uhhhh….goodness, here we go.’ I feel sad. I feel bad. I feel disappointed. I feel like…what is happening to you, Vanessa?
I feel these feelings now. As I write this. It’s harsh.
I see the slide and I know I’ve already said these words. That I’ve missed so many ‘essential’ parts of my speech. But…there’s nothing I can do to change what’s happening.
I have to find a way to keep going.
02:59 – Cut back to me. Look at my eyes. They are looking down. I was searching in the red of the circle carpet for courage, for help. I didn’t want to look up.
03:15 – Another pause. I’m thinking…this is awful. I’m failing. I’m failing my TedX. I want to leave the stage. NOW.
But I look up to the prompter. Pray to find more words.
I do. I find more words. I keep looking down…somehow the words were there. I pulled them up and hurled them out.
04:28 – I do a double-kimono/sweater pull. One on each side. I start licking my lips. There really is so little moisture in my mouth it’s a miracle I could keep speaking.
04:41 – I take a long pause. Because, yes, I can’t remember what to say next. I’m begging myself to please come back. Please make a joke. Please show me that you’re here. But my soul was nowhere to be found. Not even hovering above me anymore. Just. Gone.
04:45 – I say ‘So’…followed by a small laugh. Because if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry. Sob. Scream.
Look to prompter. Words! Come to me.
04:58 – I remember a quote! I spit it out sloppily. But the quote…Jaworski…Miller helping me memorize my speech. Me, bouncing around braless in my pjs for hours and hours memorizing this speech! Oh, sweet Miller, your mother is failing. She’s failing hard…I thought to myself.
05:39 – Lost it again. Looked to prompter. Remembered more. But note my cadence – it’s about to change again. And here come the contractions too. I laugh again. Swallow the tear. Throw out a ‘gotta’. I remember this part. This part of the speech – I remember! I get it out as quickly as I can.
06:07 – I give an ‘um’, and start a sentence – then stop it. I know it’s wrong. As so much of this delivery has been. I fumble again…stop myself. I actually say ‘oh!’ like another sentence came flying in and I was going to grab onto it instead.
06:45 – I add a ‘gonna’ to my list of sloppy ‘g’ words. It’s so awkward. I keep looking at the slide, but it’s not matching my words. I’m working so hard to find the memories of the sentences that match these slides.
07:31 – I suggest that you ‘read your story out loud many times until you’re smiling every time you read it’. I can barely put a smile on my own face. I’m thinking – am I almost done? I don’t have much left. My legs are wobbly.
07:49 – A remember another quote! It’s a quote my therapist gave me. Oh my therapist. Sweet heavens, would I have a story for him.
08:27 – I still cannot – for the spit in me, for the life in me – remember what comes next without looking at the prompter. I do a really weird lick lip.
09:19 – I can hear myself saying: “You do you, Vanessa. Spread your love.” I can hear the words but there is no feeling of them anywhere in my heart and soul. Because my heart and soul are not there. I do not deliver these words with passion or conviction. I do not deliver these words – these key, integral words to my idea – with any sort of ‘me’. Because my spirit was still MIA. And it was really hard to say these words. These are not words to say lightly. I felt like a liar. A sham. Out of my integrity. And it actually hurt my chest to say them. There was no pause for effect after I said these words. I barrelled onward. Until I lost the words – again.
09:35 – I still do not know what comes next. I hit the clicker. The next slide that shows up is just the title slide. That’s it. I feel a surge of hot panic yet again. I find another ‘so, um’…and it’s enough to trigger the visualization of the last cue cards in my speech. They contain a quote. I let the memory play out.
10:19 – I deliver the last line of my speech: ‘Do you what you do when you read a book you love: hold it to your heart, inhale, and pass it on.’ These words. These words that came from such an inspired, hopeful, passionate, confident place…came out shaky and out of breath. But they came out. I tossed out a ‘thank you’. Didn’t smile. Didn’t feel good. Didn’t feel happy. I didn’t even feel relieved. I felt…like a failure.
But I couldn’t leave. I had to read my poems.
You can see me reaching into my pocket to pull out the pieces of paper. At this point, my soul spirit fell back into me. It hit me hard.
And it gave me my voice back. It gave me my blood back.
Notice how my voice changes. Notice how my body moves differently. Notice how my energy changes.
11:01 – I give one more ‘here we go’. May I never say these three words together on stage again.
11:15 – Look at my smile! Hear the saliva punctuating my syllables in a smooth sassy sibilance!
11:20 – I gesture to my vagina. I make a metaphorical reference to my ‘down below’. There I am! I didn’t think of that until now – but, sweet vaginas of the world – I wrote a poem that just had to relate to my womanhood on some level. That just had to show me – the poet, the woman, the feminist!
11:34 – I say ‘thank you’, and I mean it.
Look. How. Red. My. Cheeks. Are.
That is what happens when my spirit and soul flush back into me.
Then it was done. Really done.
ARE YOU STILL HERE?
I walked back stage to the tech people. A young man with blond hair removed the microphone from my ear and face. He told me I smell really good. Someone else took the clicker. I smiled so hard my face hurt. As soon as the fuss was done, I walked as fast as my jello legs would take me to the green room.
I fell into the cracked leather sofa AND. I. SOBBED.
I hid my face with my trembling hands and I shook my head in shame and embarrassment. I cried so very hard…but quietly.
The door opened and the hubby came in. Yes, he was there. Bless him. My friend who did her own speech earlier in the day, she came in too. They said nice words but I didn’t hear them. The hubby rubbed my back and I shook him away.
I could not take their words. I could not receive their kindness.
I had to push it all down. Suck in the air so I could breathe. So I could stop crying and stand up. Lift my chins and walk out of that room. I wanted to leave…but I knew I couldn’t. I had to face people…with a face swollen from tears and failure.
I did it.
I pulled back my shoulders and walked out. I saw another friend. She hugged me and I inside-sobbed. She felt it and rubbed my back. I walk-ran to the bathroom and cried some more.
I covered my face in cold water. Cool down, Vanessa. Cool down. It’s over. It’s over.
I sat and watched another person deliver his speech. I can’t say I know what it was about. I was doing everything I could to calm myself down. But the cloak of failure was pulling me out.
So I left the theatre and saw another friend who I didn’t know was there. She looked at me, eyes sparkling, smile smirkish. She said, ‘Girrrl, what was that?’ Or something to that utterly perfect effect.
She saw it! She saw me disappear!
We sat together in a corner and I cried on her shoulder…snotted there too. Gosh, I apologized. Soon we were laughing and I was feeling a bit lighter. She told me that at one point she was about to stand up and woot-woot to help me keep going! She’d seen me on may stages. She knows that’s a place I love to be. We bonded hard. A volunteer joined us and told me that I was the fourth person she saw crying. ‘It’s a very overwhelming event,’ she said. Indeed.
Gradually, I cooled down. I could get a sentence out without sobbing. And I could feel gratefulness for the day. For the people I met. For the opportunity to stand on that red carpet.
But when I got home…later that night…when I knew it was truly all over…when the kids and the hubby opened the door and I had six sets of perfect arms to fall into…I let it out. I let it all out…and I cried so hard again.
I told the kids it was hard and I was sad. That it was a failure for me and my heart and my self…but that I would be okay. That there were lessons I was learning – hard lessons – the lessons that take the longest to learn. The lessons that hurt the most because failure keeps them coming.
The lessons attached to the loudest and most consistent voices in my head. The Original Stories that I was giving my speech about were literally living out in real-time.
And over time…I knew I would review and rewrite them.
That’s what I’m doing now.
And will continue to do.
To read my speech – written from the heart and in full – please CLICK HERE.