“Sometimes it is necessary / to reteach a thing its loveliness, / to put a hand on its brow / of the flower / and retell it in words and in touch / it is lovely.”
I love these lines from Galway Kinnell’s poem “St. Francis and the Sow.” They’re good to keep in your pocket. Just in case.
Last night in acting class, I did a face-plant. Well, not physically. But I got onstage, and my voice shook. I paced. I forgot the lines I had so painstakingly memorized. The words evaporated like beads of water from a hot skillet.
Exactly what happened at the open mic reading happened again. But this time in front of my acting teacher, Julianne Christie, and all my classmates.
I went home and burrowed under my blankets and pulled the quilt over my head.
God oh god oh god. I’m never getting this right. Goddamnit.
I used to be a dynamite public speaker. I’ve addressed audiences of hundreds. People lined up to talk with me afterwards.
But then I got divorced. And no one warns you what a number it does to your self-confidence.
No one tells you that you will have sleepless nights lying under your quilt, muttering into the cotton weave god oh god oh god–I am not ever going to acting class again. I am not leaving this room, ever again.
But then my alarm went off.
And first thing, I thought of the writing class I had to teach.
I’ll call in sick.
No, I’ll go into work, but I just won’t teach the workshop. Yeah, that’s it.
Yeah, I’ll cancel the workshop. It’s all good.
But then I went to brush my teeth, and there was that damn mirror. God damn it, Melanie. You have to go god damn teach this effing class. Because if your fear gets the best of you today, then it’ll be tomorrow, too. And the next day. And the day after that. So you get back up off the mat. Muhammad Ali says so.
Hey, he does: “Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”
So I took my morning walk to the college, hoping I’d drop dead from a heart attack. I didn’t.
I had to walk into that workshop room, hands shaking, and set up the Powerpoint on the projector and sign in my students.
And then I looked into their faces, and I remembered: I wasn’t here for me.
This wasn’t about me at all.
And the moment I remembered that, my voice came through clear and strong, and I delivered one of the best lectures of the academic year so far.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t afraid anymore. I was. It was that the students giving me an hour out of their day mattered so much more. And caring about the loveliness of their minds and their writing reminded me of my own. Of ours, as a community.
“For everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing.”