By Tanya Tiger
To quote Mary Lambert’s song, Sum of Our Parts:
“I didn’t know I was a phoenix ‘til I learned how to speak, even with ashes in my mouth I was still born to breathe.”
From a young age I was told that I had a talent for writing and art, but I never really allowed myself to enjoy the compliments. I suffered from paralyzing shyness and self-doubt due to years of being bullied. Even if my writing had been Pulitzer Prize material, the world would never have laid eyes on it because I was terrified at the very thought of presenting my work to an audience.
At the behest of my 7th grade English Teacher I submitted one of my poems to a Young Authors Contest. My poem placed and I was equally surprised and proud. At first I was even a little happy to know that maybe there was some truth to what people were saying about my writing.
Maybe I was good at it.
My teacher informed me that my poem would be published in a little brochure that would be given out at an awards ceremony. I thought to myself, “well, that’s pretty cool.” Then came the hammer which pounded the smile right off my face—my teacher went on to explain that I was going to have to stand up and read my poem at the awards ceremony!
Dread filled every molecule of my being. I tried to back out but my teacher would not relent. “You need this!” she proclaimed.
So I went.
I sat three rows back with my teacher beside me and I waited. They were going in alphabetical order and as they read the name of the presenter before me I excused myself to go to the bathroom—and I stayed there.
I sat in that bathroom for well over 30 minutes. I had to make sure that they skipped me entirely. I could not bring myself to face what my mind had painted as a firing squad of laughter and judgment. When I returned to my seat I could barely make eye contact with my teacher.
The look of disappointment mixed with mild irritation on her face was almost enough to bring me to tears.
Now, flash forward a few years. I’m sitting in my college Communications class waiting to give my first speech. I’m terrified, sweating and staring at the door, planning my escape. The class is very small, only 12 students, and we’re a pretty close-knit group. The teacher calls my name and I approach the podium.
My mouth is dry, there are beads of sweat on my forehead. I can feel them sliding down the sides of my face. The room feels like it’s tilting to the side and I take a deep breath to steady myself. I open my mouth once, twice, three times but nothing comes out.
My friend smiles at me and nods, a silent “it’s going to be ok.” I try again and this time trembling words escape my parched lips. I get only three or four sentences out before I suddenly burst into tears. I am so embarrassed that I run from the room and straight towards—you guessed it—the bathroom (what is it about bathrooms?). My friend had run down the hall behind me, calling my name and waiving her arms like a crazy person. We must have made quite the scene!
I calmed down but could not bring myself to return to the class. I just sat there feeling completely defeated by this overwhelming fear and anxiety. It sucked, plain and simple.
As you can see, public speaking has been (and continues to be) a major nemesis of mine. In fact, for many years, any form of public display of talent that might bring attention was a big no-no. I mean, who was I to think that I would have anything worthy of sharing with other people?
I’ve read that the number one fear, even above death, for most people is public speaking. How strange? How dramatic! Only recently, within the last year, can I honestly say that my fear and anxiety has been beaten down by my determination to become a better version of myself, to let go of the “baggage.”
The catalyst for this change, I truly believe, came after I lost my daughter.
My fear of public speaking, and of sharing my art and writing, was dwarfed by the fear of losing a child and I was forced to live that fear. So now, when I feel the nerves begin to creep up and that little voice in the back of my head tries to rent space and tell me that I’m not good enough or I’ll look stupid…I tell it to shut up. I remind myself that I have already survived damn near everything and I can survive putting myself out there for all the world to see.
I have become a Phoenix Rising. I have been burned beyond all recognition into pure ash and I have risen.
I have found my voice. I have been reborn through my daughter’s death. I guess I share this with you all because I now know that I’m not alone. As writers, as creative spirits, as human beings we have all felt the pangs of fear, anxiety and rejection. That is why I believe it is even more important for those of us who have been wounded and continue to fight to share our works with the world.
We can never know what small thing we say or do will influence another soul to keep going. I hope by sharing my thoughts and stories I help another find their voice. How beautifully poetic it would be to create a choir of wounded souls, singing songs of freedom through creative expressions.
To wrap our wounds in the former white flags of surrender we used to waive at every turn. To laugh and sing joyfully, cracked voices and all, in the face of our fears.
How beautiful that would be.
Editor: Dana Gornall