A Moment of Change

I had a good night last night.

Last night, I presented my 10th speech at my Toastmasters Club. The 10th speech, in Toastmasters, is a milestone speech. When you join Toastmasters, you receive a workbook that lays out the first 10 speeches that you will give. They progress in skill, from just getting up and speaking about yourself, without notes, for 5 minutes; to organizing your material and having a point; to using body language; and vocal variety; and so on. The 10th speech is the capstone speech, the last one in the book and is 10 minutes long. After that, you go on to specialize in different types of speeches.

My ninth speech did not go as well as I would have liked. It wasn’t a disaster but I didn’t achieve the goal I had set for myself. An important lesson I have learned about public speaking from Toastmasters is that half the battle is what you say, not how you say it. The first four or five speeches are not about not being nervous or speaking up or moving around the stage – that comes later. Instead they focus on selecting topics, organizing your material: the construction of the speech. And that is where my ninth speech fell down. I have found, repeatedly, that if I focus on storytelling, on taking the audience on a mental journey with me, I am great. If I try to educate the audience about something, like you would at work, I’m not happy with the result.

My tenth speech went really well. It went really well despite the fact that, about 2/3 of the way through, I looked up and realized that the Timer was telling me that I only had 2 minutes left. 2 minutes! Where had the time gone? I had practiced and timed myself and practiced and trimmed down until I had it right at 10 minutes. Now, if I did the whole speech, it would run about 15 minutes. There is nothing to throw you off as much as suddenly needing to trim about 5 minutes of your speech while you’re in the middle of it. It’s like that monologue that so many young women chose as an audition monologue when I was in college – the one (I don’t know where it’s from) about being in the middle of sex with her boyfriend when her grandmother walked into the room. “It’s like being in an airplane that is 2/3 of the way across the ocean,” she says (or something like that). “You’ve reached the point where you can’t go back — and you just have to go forward.”

I took a moment – it felt like forever to me but no one mentioned it afterwards so maybe it was only a moment – quickly mentally trimmed the speech, stumbled, and kept going. The Timer was generous and didn’t cut me off and I finished in 11 minutes.

And it felt awesome.

You know when you are doing a good speech. You can see people nodding, smiling, you see the little lightbulb go on over their heads when they connect up with you and see how it all comes together. You feel their applause in your heart. You know you’ve nailed it.

And the evaluation reflected that. In the past, I have been terrible about feedback – I usually just write down the negative feedback, the things I need to improve. This time, I filled an entire page with the positive feedback. I took it in.

“I did my speech,” I told my husband after emerging from my tiny office into the living room. “It went really well. Could you hear it?”

“I heard it,” he said. (How could he not? Ah, apartment living.) “I liked it.”

“I nailed it!” I told him with a fist pump.

“Great,” he said with a smile. Then, “I saved this YouTube video for you. I thought you’d like to see it.”

The things that are so enormous to us mean so little to others.

“I had planned this speech since January,” I told him ignoring the YouTube video. “My last speech didn’t go as I wanted it to but this topic really inspired me and I worked really hard on it. And then, before I could give it in March, Covid hit. We weren’t meeting until now, and I didn’t agree to give the speech until last week and I had to work really hard to get back into it. And I nailed it.”

“It sounded like a good speech,” he acknowledged.

All through the YouTube video and while I brushed my teeth and lying in bed, that feeling stayed with me. That feeling woke me up at 4 a.m. this morning, the words of my speech running through my head. That feeling of personal triumph. It’s such a small thing – I mean I didn’t cure cancer or anything – but it’s important to me.

In my morning meditation, I let that good feeling permeate my body. I feel good, I told my toes, thank you. And then my ankles and then my shins and all the way up to my teeth and hair and then my skin.

Often, when we feel pleasure, it is a fleeting thing. Someone tells you that you look nice today or that they like the choice you made when you picked out the shirt that you’re wearing. “Thanks,” you say and move on.

Or we eat a piece of dark chocolate or a bowl of rainbow sherbet or drink some really good wine, we feel pleasure as it crosses our tongue and lights up our taste receptors. Then it’s gone and we just want more. The moment of pleasure is so fleeting that we long for more, so more chocolate and more sherbet and more wine. But pleasure doesn’t have the same impact when we grasp at it, when we cram it into our mouths and fill our bellies with it until we feel a little sick.

Compare this to how we react to pain.

How long can you hold a grudge? How long does the bad thing someone said to you stay with you? You leave your apartment, have a run in with someone in the elevator, how long do you mutter to yourself about them; imagining, as you walk to work, what you could have said, how you could have handed that grievance back to them. When you get to work, you share your grievance with your colleagues either verbally or just through sheer crankiness. When you are walking home, do you wonder if you’ll run into that person again, do you check the elevator before getting in, to make sure they’re not there? And then you carry it into your apartment to tell your husband. Even the next day, you wonder, as you walk down the hall, whether you’ll run into this person again.

Or maybe you make a mistake, something you’re responsible for doesn’t go as planned, or you discover – as I did once – after having gotten dressed, breakfasted, walked all the way to work, that I had forgotten to put on a bra that morning. Stupid mistake! And you cherish it and beat yourself up for – what has it been now, 24 years?

We are so quick to feel the bad things throughout our body and carry them with us for years and years.

Why are we so reluctant to let the good things resonate and color our lives?

So today, I am in a good mood.

Nothing else has happened – my foot is not miraculously healed, I am still dizzy. I still have all the same challenges at work. My apartment is still a mess. We still have the same president, we are still under Covid lockdown, racial injustice is still a real thing that impacts millions of our friends, neighbors, colleagues and countrymen every day (and poisons all of us), the election is still jeopardized, Ruth Ginsberg is still dead and Mitch McConnell is still a hypocrite, and the Post-Office is still deliberately slow and the election-riggers are still plotting to claim the election is rigged; the economy teeters.

But like the man who was chased over a cliff by bandits, hanging from a vine that a rat above him methodically chews through, with a tiger waiting below for him to fall, I pluck a wild strawberry from the crack in the cliff.

And savor how sweet it is.

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