Facing your fears can really be frightening

Facing your fears can really be frightening

One of the great pleasures I’ve had over the years I’ve been writing has been the occasional invitation to speak in front of people, sometimes students, sometimes civic or church groups.

It was difficult for me, at first, to fully comprehend the notion that such a thing was possible; I mean, c’mon … me? What in the world could I talk about that would interest total strangers?

And then it occurred to me that’s what I do, anyway, if you take away the “personal appearance” part of the equation.

So I never prepared much, except to plan what I would wear, and that mostly boiled down to the question of wearing a tie. As a rule I never wore one to work, except for one day a year: Dec. 8.

“Ah,” a colleague might observe on seeing me walk into the office and over to my desk. “It must be John Lennon Day again.”

But that was a simple gesture of remembrance and respect.

Getting ready for a public speaking gig involved far less symbolism. I just want to look good, and if that meant throwing on a tie, I went with it. No one would care if I did or didn’t.

As I’ve said, I hardly ever gave much thought to what passed for a professional presentation, sometimes opening the session with questions from the crowd, working in pertinent biographical information as I plodded through. I had to assume most of them knew the basics, anyway, and I was genuinely interested in them and what they had to say. Again, that’s how I got “famous.”

Returning letters and phone calls, emails and cards seemed the least I could do after someone had taken the time to contact me.

It wasn’t as if I needed a staff to handle an incoming torrent.

Things took another turn after my work began appearing down here in coastal Carolina. That involved public-access television.

I got a voice mail from a man who hosted an hour-long program, asking if I’d be willing to be his guest in the studio later that week. I agreed and thus began a relationship that lasted until fall 2008, when my working days at the paper came to an end. As a matter of fact, my last appearance was just a couple of days after my exit.

He and I talked easily — by then, I was used to the format and the time constrictions — and by the end of our conversation, I felt pretty positive about what had been, up to that point, a fairly murky future, one that had given me many sleepless nights.

But his confidence in me and my writing make me feel a lot better.

Somewhere in the mountains of detritus that consume my Stereo Room, there exists a VCR tape of that appearance. I should find it and rewatch it because things are once again in an uncertain stage.

Faithful readers have already picked up on the underlying fork-in-the-road tone of my recent work, and some have gotten in touch, wondering if it’s anything beyond my usual I-as-another tendency.

I say I’m great. I say I’m fine. I say I’m ready for whatever awaits.

But I can feel the underpinnings shuddering just a little bit, the way ripples in a glass of ice water on a bedside table suggest a tsunami.

To lift an apt line from Creedence’s “Bad Moon Rising” — “Looks like we’re in for nasty weather, one eye is taken for an eye.”

It’s all been a little too Halloween-ish lately, the kind of vibe that makes you hear things in the night, creaks in the moaning wind.

When I was a kid, I loved movies that scared the hell out of me; in fact, my best friend and I used to sit up late on Friday nights, watching something called “Chiller Theater,” a double-feature monster fest that never failed to get the blood curdling. We used our allowances to save up for models of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolfman while also pooling our remaining resources for the latest edition of “Famous Monsters of Filmland.”

Our parents weren’t exactly pleased with us, I suppose, but I don’t remember any of them volunteering to pull up a chair and join us.

They already had enough to worry about, what with Sputnik, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the threat of inflation and escalating American involvement in a faraway place called Vietnam.

They just probably figured it was OK for us to imagine our fears.

Speaking of being afraid, studies have shown that among the things that frighten people the most — right up there with global thermonuclear war and the return of disco — is speaking in public.

There is something inherently frightening, it seems, embedded in the nakedness of standing in front of a crowd waiting to hear from you, that the experts urge for you to think of them without clothes.

As someone who has spoken in front of groups ranging from high school seniors to senior citizens, let me tell you this is bad advice.

What you want to do, instead, is find your voice, follow your instincts and, whenever possible, ask, “Any more questions?”

Reach Mike Dewey at Carolinamiked@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where the sharing of fears is always encouraged.

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