Yesterday, I read the latest issue of Children's Book Shelf, a free newsletter from the folks at Publisher's Weekly. I scrolled down to an article about the National Book Festival. It featured photos of children’s authors and illustrators who made appearances there, this past weekend. A photo of artist, Bryan Collier, compelled me to Google his name. I wanted to find out what new books he has up his sleeve. Soon, I found a picture of him. In it, he sat behind the table at a children's literature conference. The photo reminded me of my speech tomorrow. The butterflies that have been living in my stomach for the past few weeks quickly grew into bats.
My heart started pounding so hard, it caused pressure in my ears and, suddenly, I couldn't breathe. I felt dizzy. My throat was dry. I got up to get a drink of water thinking I might choke and die right there at work, on the newsroom floor.
As I walked, my legs felt weak and heavy, just like they do after a workout of heavy squats. In fact, everything felt weak; I just plain felt sick.
What have I gotten myself into?
I approached the vending machine and inserted two quarters and a dime. The bottle plunged heavily from the machine. And that’s when I heard the voice, it said: What in the world are you so afraid of?
The voice was so vivid, real, that I turned to see who was standing behind me. No one was there; I was alone. But the question remained clear. What was I so afraid of?
I took a seat in the break area and tossed out a few answers to the question. Was I afraid of being one of a few African Americans in a sea of white people? Possibly. But, would I feel any better if the audience were mostly black? The answer was no to both questions.
What about being judged? Is that what I was afraid of? Possibly. But, why fear being judged? Judging isn’t lethal, unless you’re on death row.
I twisted the cap off my bottle and took a swig of water. Then, I laid out every possible scenario, every thing that could go wrong. Nothing was that dang scary. Not even the one about the terrorist author, and the hostages, and…
I'm a rational brotha, so when I failed to find anything concrete to fear, I realized my fears were irrational. Tornadoes can kill me. Pitt Bulls can eat me. I'm afraid of both. But public speaking? To a group of authors and artists? Give me a break!
I headed back to my desk feeling a deep sense of peace, realizing that there was honestly nothing to fear, but my imagination. And the butterflies flew away, as did the bats. My burden had been lifted and carried away.
I am so looking forward to Dallas!