It was two days before I was to fly to Nashville to speak at the Killer Tribes Conference and I was what you might call freaking the hell out. I was mostly excited and a little nervous to be making my first-ever solo trek through an airport, a flight, and a new city without blindly following a directionally unimpaired person. But more than that, I was a little excited and mostly nervous to be giving my first talk to a group of adults who would surely take notice if I lost all coherent verbal ability mid-message.
It should have been no sweat. I had performed in dance recitals since I could walk; I did theater all my life; I was on the speech and debate team (1997 Duo Interpretation State Champions, if you must know); I was a vocal performance major; I taught children music and Sunday School; I was a worship leader. But it wasn’t no sweat; it was lots of sweat and swears and tears. Because I would be doing something I wanted badly to do, and I was terrified that I would do badly. I would not have a script or rehearsals; I would not be able to call “line!” It would just be me and my thoughts without the safety of a keyboard, and I thought the damn Killer Tribes Conference might just in fact kill me.
I remembered that not so long ago I had spoken shaky, impromptu words to the people of my church about setting aside our comfort to become a comfort to others, and I dashed off an email to the friend who has an MP3 of those words that were now coming back to bite me in the smarty-pants:
I WAS A FUCKING IDIOT.
Please destroy all copies of that audio. Thankyouverymuch.
Day before departure, and I had packed two-thirds of my wardrobe for a two-day trip because I like to be prepared, and it’s easier to achieve this by overestimating your need for sweaters, tank tops, and varied footwear than it is by attempting to write a speech outline upon which you have placed egregious importance.
I struggled to structure all my thoughts and anecdotes, the important ideas and the just-so wording, rearranging them on my computer screen with the frustrating futility of assembling a picture with pieces from three different puzzles. That night was no more productive than any of its recent predecessors, but I fought against it as long as I could, desperate to fashion a life-preserver for the most-assuredly-Killer Tribes Conference.
In the end, it was nail polish that defeated me that night. I had envisioned wearing the gunmetal color on my fingers because it is a little artsy and a little edgy and a lot me, and the gawddamn stuff was missing. It was not where it was supposed to be or in any other evident location despite my frantic 2am search, and I had planned on it, and I needed it, and of course I could not use another color, especially not the one already on my toes as my husband suggested because THAT WOULD BE MATCHY-MATCHY, and there was just no way I could get on that plane the next morning. Fuck.
I sat on the aisle seat beside a pair of middle-aged Midwestern ladies, at ease with my company because there is something comforting about a culture that so highly values casseroles. We landed in Music City, and I didn’t know it then, but I’d be so busy that I’d never hear any music; still, walking through an unfamiliar airport and out into the air of a new city confidently alone, I felt in some way I’d arrived.
I met a friend for lunch at the sort of hipster joint where you tolerate their condescension toward your innocent request for a Diet Coke because their portabella asiago crêpes are so good they can get away with it. We talked easily and laughed heartily, and I left with more gifts from him than he might have realized because sometimes just the right words at just the right time are exactly enough.
My gracious weekend hostess and I visited her favorite place for fruit tea, and I sat with the black fabric notebook my son had given me for Christmas because he knows I need to get out words to be the best and truest me, and I finally and simply got them out.
We had spent the night before in a clamorous coffee shop, moving beyond Twitter names and blog comments into real-life hugs and riotous laughter, and now we would spend the day in side-by-side seats, groups of friends long established, now expanding and enriching. They all took notes and sent Tweets except me, partly because my phone had decided to strap a chastity belt around its security access and mostly because I was too busy with intense self-preoccupation.
My talk wasn’t til after lunch, so I spent the morning sessions demanding my brain learn something from the conference while my brain obstinately opted to measure my novice potential against every professional speaker’s performance.
I ate just enough not to pass out and left the bounty of the greenroom for the solitude of the empty Sunday school room with my name on a sign just outside it. Rows of chairs were lined up, expectantly facing a slender white stool upon which sat a blue gift bag and a note. The presents inside were a bag of deeply aromatic coffee and a sleek mug inscribed “Killer Tribes,” but the note bore witness of the real gift.
I had taken a risk to get the gig in the first place, and the risk in actually showing up for it was bigger. But the conference host had written the note presupposing my victory. He didn’t say he thought I would kick ass; he declared that I already had.
The people filled my room, looked up, and waited for a moment, and it was just very me on my perch with the found gunmetal polish on my nails and the filled black notebook on my lap. And sometimes just the right words at just the right time are exactly enough.
So I began.
Quotes & notes, an illustration, and a video of my Killer Tribes talk! (If you have anything for me to add, please send it to tamaraoutloud @ gmail .com)