Naked People Speaking


For the second time in as many months, I had to address my daughter’s school assembly last week, an audience that numbered 600+ people. That’s 1200+ eyes looking at me. It’s hard to imagine a greater hell, except if the assembly were in a mall. And I were standing near a smoothie stand whose blenders occasionally chimed in, while a small child shrieked in the background.

I have never done this before – spoken in front of such a large group. In high school, I competed in speech contests and performed in plays. I have a strong speaking voice. I practice a lot. I never, ever imagine my audience naked. First of all, in an elementary school that might make me a “person of interest”. Secondly, I am the one who feels naked – open to rejection and mockery on a grand scale. My legs shook so badly during a contest once, that friends pointed it out in jest. Ex-friends. My deodorant usually surrenders five minutes into a speech and I’m always afraid the stress will have me delivering a poorly received F-Bomb right into the microphone.

None of those things seem to impact performance time, though. Everything went well. A friend told me that she just pretended she was a rock star that people paid to see. Really? I just try not to pass out. It’s a curious sort of masochism. Yes, I know I will be anxious and sleepless the night before. Yes, I know I will feel like throwing up and that faces in the audience will suddenly seem disapproving. Some people like amusement parks, but I prefer my own reality show – bring on the fear factor! This mentality does not extend to eating bugs, though. Crunchiness needs to come from breading, not legs and mandibles.

When people talk about their comfort zone, I’ve always made the assumption that I liked to challenge myself and leave the “zone” on a regular basis. The closer truth is that my comfort zone lies between routine and constant change. I fear a static life. I fear that moment that has transformed many sentient beings into complete duds, when they decide: I’ve learned all I want to know. If my Maslow basics are stable: work, home, family – everything else is fair game to try. Except bug eating.

Having spent time in the military, rock climbing and working out at the gym, I’m familiar with the adrenalin junkie mentality. I’ve never been one drawn towards jumping out of perfectly functioning airplanes, climbing a mountain just because it’s there or running the rapids because I had a free weekend. I was born a cautious old lady. There is a rush, though, in doing things that absolutely terrify you. It changes you ever so slightly and opens the door to the world just a crack more.

In my twenties, I always assumed by now that I would have learned most of what I needed to know. I thought I’d be wise and brave and confident. This year, as I turn 46, I am delighted to say that I was absolutely wrong. I have enough wisdom to recognize that I know less than what remains to be learned and that there are still personal challenges on the horizon. Without bugs. And with clothes. Mostly.