What are you afraid of?

 

THE ENEMY IS FEAR. WE THINK IT'S HATE; BUT, IT IS FEAR.GHANDI

I was pretty fearless when I was younger. I went on all of the roller coasters, even the ones that went upside down! I would try almost any food and, according to my mother, liked just about everything. I auditioned for (and landed) roles in school and camp plays. I collected caterpillars and let them crawl up my arm. I went to summer camp not knowing a soul and came out with great friends. At nine years old, I had a crush on a boy in camp and so did another girl in my group. Despite rumors that the boy liked my campmate, I expressed my interest and it turned out the boy liked me back! My first boyfriend 🙂 Basically, I was up for any challenge. There were a few exceptions. I went through a weird stage where I adopted other people’s fears as my own, and I spent a couple of months terrified of bridges. I stole the fear from Jennifer Davidson during our sixth grade trip to Washington D.C. and my mom still brings it up on occasion. But for the most part, fear wasn’t really part of my vocabulary.

As I hit my teens, I was not quite so courageous. I stopped going on the roller coasters for a few years, became too self-conscious to follow my passion for acting, and was too afraid of what other people might think of me to express my true feelings or stand up for myself.

I’ve never recovered my bravery toward performing in public aside from Karaoke in groups, but I’m back to going on the “scary” rides (except for the REALLY frightening ones), learning to embrace speaking in public (kind of a necessity as an author), and I definitely do not cower away from defending myself when necessary. I care what some people think of me, but only the people whose opinions I actually respect. In short, I’m no longer afraid to be myself.

But I’m still afraid of a lot of things. For example:

My mother dying – She’s healthy, knock wood, and not exactly ancient, but whenever I think about it, I start to cry. I even had a panic attack in the shower the other morning. (I know you’re reading this, Mommy, and I’m sorry I brought it up. I love you and wish you the happiest of birthdays!!)

My sister dying – Apologies for the morbid trend here. I don’t worry about this on a regular basis at all, but when I do, it’s a doozy. I can’t imagine my life without her in it.

Driving – I had my driver’s license back in the day—only took me three tests—but I let it expire by accident. I was never comfortable behind the wheel and haven’t done it in close to twenty years. I probably should take lessons again, but I don’t want to. I have chronic nightmares about being behind the wheel and losing control.

Living without Alan – I’m panic-stricken over being forced to go my entire life without ever seeing, speaking to, or hugging my best friend/boss/mentor/cheerleader/shrink outside of my dreams. I miss him so much, it physically aches, so I can still only think short term—today, tomorrow, or the next day.

Never meeting “The One” – I’ve always assumed when the timing was (finally) right, I’d meet “The One” for the long haul at last—the man I want to spend the rest of my life with who feels the same way about me—but between the wrong guys and the unavailable ones, it’s like searching for cellphone service in 1979.

Meeting “The One” – As much as I want to commit fully to someone, I’m terrified I’ll feel smothered or find it difficult to balance the freedom and lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed with my new coupled life. I hope giving up some independence will be worth it for the right person.

Losing my ability to write – Whenever I’m going through a tough time, writing makes me feel better. It’s really the one thing I can do that is guaranteed to wash away stress from my “real life.” I don’t know what I would do if something happened that prevented me from writing. What if I went blind or suffered from permanent writer’s block, or some other brain malfunction?

Cancer – Getting it, my family getting, my friends getting it.

Getting old – I’d much prefer aging to the alternative, but I dread the aging process—wrinkly skin, sagging neck, losing muscle tone despite working out five-six times a week, inability to stand up straight, people treating me like I’m a non-entity or a sweet old lady, losing my faculties. My grandmother told me after the age of twenty, life moves really fast and she was so right. Although every Monday, I wish Friday will come quickly, I don’t want life to pass me by!

Becoming invisible to the opposite sex – I’m not ashamed to admit I enjoy attention from men. I like being flirted with and checked out. I don’t know if I will ever get to a point where I don’t care what I look like or whether others find me attractive and so the aging process (see above) scares me.

Dying – I don’t want to! Maybe if I knew what happened after we left the physical world, I wouldn’t be so afraid. Experiences I’ve had in the last year have convinced me that there is something else, but I don’t know what it is and hope not to find out for a long, long time.

Those are the major things on my list. What are you most afraid of?

 

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thoughts on public speaking

I love to write—a good thing considering I’ve devoted a large portion of my life and my time to it. I also love to read, and despite not having a commute and preferring tv watching before bed to reading, I still manage to read approximately one and a half books a week. So, yes, I love to write and I love to read. What I do not like, however, is reading what I write out loud to others. It’s true—I’m not a fan of public speaking unless it is someone else doing the speaking in public.

My first memory of speaking in public was my Bat Mitzvah on my thirteenth birthday. Not only did I have to read out loud —in Hebrew—I had to sing. In Hebrew. I clearly had no idea what I was in for when at the age of eight, I agreed to go to Hebrew school for the next five years in exchange for my mom throwing me a big birthday party otherwise known as a Bat Mitzvah. My only memory of the actual ceremony was singing Adon Olam with my sisters (18 and 20) as the three of us giggled uncontrollably, much to my mother’s chagrin. I also remember the rabbi forgetting to let me read the speech I (meaning my sister) had written for me. I don’t recall being too disappointed about it. The sooner we left the temple, the sooner we could eat pigs in a blanket. (Kosher pigs, of course.)

My second memory—the one that has haunted me ever since—was the oral report I had to do in Mr. Sherman’s social studies class in eighth or ninth grade. Kind of pathetic that I can’t remember which grade and makes me question whether I deserve the nickname my college housemates bestowed onto me for my amazing memory—Steel Trap. I spent hours preparing for this report, but my nerves were so shaky, I read it as if I was a contestant in a speed reading competition. When I was finished, the first question asked by a fellow student: “Can you repeat that?” All of my classmates, along with Mr. Sherman (shame on him) laughed while I ran out of the classroom in tears.

In order to graduate high school with a Regents diploma, I was required to take, complete, and pass a semester of public speaking, which meant I had to get up in front of the entire class at least five or six times to present an oral report on various subjects including my biggest peeve (people who make too much noise when they eat) and a demonstration (carving a pumpkin). The class wasn’t until my senior year, but I started fretting in tenth grade. My writing skills (and those of my sister who actually wrote my amazing pet peeve report) garnered me an A-. Why not an A, you ask? Because I spoke too quickly and lacked showmanship.

I’ve received this criticism many more times throughout the last couple of decades, specifically when I’ve written speeches/toasts for various weddings. The speeches are always impressive—I’m a writer; it’s what I do. But since I’m so concerned with getting it over with, I don’t give the toast as much as read it as fast as humanly possible. I don’t know why I don’t like speaking in public. I don’t have an aversion to being the center of attention sometimes, but I suppose I prefer it in a less formal way, like when there are no expectations of me. When I have twenty plus pairs of eyes on me, eager to hear what I have to say, and (at least in my mind) judging how I say it, it freaks me out. I remember when my boss asked me to say a few words about my experience during a client pitch, I rehearsed those seven lines over and over and over again. The pitch was via a video call and the clients could barely see my face, but did that ease my nerves? Of course not. My heart was beating triple time throughout the entire thing. The “thing” that lasted all of one minute.

Since becoming a published author, offers to speak in public come more frequently and while I’m not required to give them in order to graduate high school, the more exposure I can gain for me and my books, the better. And so I always say “yes” when an opportunity arises. Earlier this year, I did my first reading at Barnes & Noble. I was equal parts stoked for a dream come true and horrified at reading an excerpt of my latest book out loud. On the advice of a few other authors, I marked up the portion of the manuscript I was reading with notes when to look up, when to emphasize, when to pause. It really worked. I did well, but I didn’t morph into a fearless speaker by a long shot.

I spoke at a writer’s group through Meetup last weekend about my writing experience and my journey to getting published. I also gave the pros and cons of publishing with a small press based on my experience. I was seriously nervous, but I prepared by writing a speech and then transferring the major points onto index cards so that I would be able to speak more openly rather than read from a script. I rehearsed alone in my apartment numerous times. It was an informal gathering and I welcomed interruptions for questions by those in attendance. It went well and, in fact, I had a great time. I enjoy giving advice/guidance to writers aspiring to be published. I went to bed that night with a sense of pride that I stepped outside of my comfort zone as well as relief it was over. And then I woke up the next morning to an email from the president of Federal Toastmasters asking if I’d be willing to speak at one of their meetings—she wanted me to present on my experience with hybrid publishing. With a wave of dread, I knew immediately I was going to say yes. How could I say no? I’m not comfortable making decisions based on fear and know I would regret it if I did.

And so, on October 14th, I will be one of three authors headlining the Federal Toastmasters “Author Speak.” Will I knock them dead with my showmanship? Probably not. But I’m getting there.

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