On performance

Yesterday, my almost-four-year-old had a birthday celebration at his preschool, to which his whole family was invited. It was absolutely beautiful: thoughtful, focused, loving, and joyful. And yes, I wept. But I’m more interested in my son’s response, which was an intense blend of pride, excitement, the need to control his own surge of emotions, and stage fright. It’s all completely logical, and it would probably have been odd had his response been more straightforward. But it made me think about author appearances and public performance.

I was an extremely shy, introverted child. (Yes, this is Author Cliché No. 2, second only to “I always wanted to write”. But being a cliché doesn’t make it less true.) I preferred to play alone, or with one good friend. Changing schools – especially midway through the school year – made me dry-heave with anxiety. I consistently, seriously, contemplated breaking my hand, on purpose, before piano recitals. And let’s not even discuss public speaking.

Actually, yes, let’s. Because I detested it. I’d work hard researching a topic, writing a script and memorizing it, and practice delivering it to an empty room. And then, on the day itself, I’d go hot-and-cold-and-dizzy with nerves, and blast through the entire speech in 30 seconds of unintelligible, warp-speed muttering. What a complete waste of time.

Or was it? Because I now have an introvert’s dream job. And yet I regularly stand before small and large groups of people and read to them, talk to them, answer questions, and generally do what my husband calls “the Y. S. Lee Show”. And it’s fine. More than fine: it’s fun. Occasionally, it’s even inspiring.

I’m so far removed from the kid who, in Grade 1, hid in the cloakroom at recess because I was the new kid. And I don’t think it’s because I had an overnight personality change. I think it’s because of all the practice: public speaking assignments, changing schools several times, and working as a university professor. When you are forced to do something, over and over again, you adapt. Hone techniques. And rehearse a show of confidence that, eventually, becomes very real.

I’m still definitely an introvert. I love working at home. I don’t miss having colleagues (if I want chit-chat, there’s always Twitter!). And too much noise, for too long, makes me flee the scene. But I hadn’t thought about how much I’ve changed until I saw the blend of expressions on my little-big boy’s face yesterday.

How about you: are you an introvert, an extrovert, or that rare (and possibly mythical) balanced creature? How do you deal with author appearances or other public speaking gigs?

Interviews are a different kind of performance, and I had such a fun time with Trisha of the YA YA YAs when she interviewed me as part of her Summer Blog Blast Tour. Do you like night soil jokes? If so, you’ll love Trisha’s questions as much as I did!

Trisha’s also written a really lovely appreciation for the Agency novels that’s gone straight to my head. Obviously, I adore her taste in books!

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3 Responses to “On performance”

  1. Brigi says:

    I’m so glad about this blog entry because I have recognized myself in your description. I’m an introvert to the extent that I feel extremly awkward in social situations, so I’m really lucky that I can spend most of time at home (I’m a translator and PhD student). This term I was working full time as a university instructor and it took me a full month and a few bouts of illness to get used to being among people every single day. However, when it came to the actual teaching part, I quite enjoyed that and after a short time I sort of felt at ease and relaxed, doing what I imagined was my own stand up comedy show. :-) A colleague of mine even commented on it how different I was compared to my usual introvert self.

  2. Ying says:

    Yes! It’s like you develop a persona for the role. Good for you, Brigi!

  3. Radha says:

    Oh my gosh, I felt like that when I was younger too! I got so scared when talking or doing something in front of an audience because I thought I would always mess up. But as I grew older, I became less scared because I was used to doing it. Now I’m going to have to speak in front of A LOT of people on Monday- somehow my teachers picked me to be the commencement speaker at my graduation! I guess I’m nervous, but not as much as I would have been in 4th grade or something.

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