It turns out I am bad at dread.
You wouldn’t think I’d be bad at dread, given how much I practice, but you’d be wrong.
I was awarded a small grant to fund a 2016-17 research project, but it’s been kind of a thorn in my side the whole way through. Too homogenous, too small. The people who funded me are measuring my research outcomes, though, so I applied to present my findings at a Chicago conference.
I worried about a lot of things. Would it be too research-y for clinicians? Would the frustrations that plagued me be screamingly obvious to other researchers? Would anybody even show up, given that I gave it a title that seemed super-boring in hindsight?
Mysteriously, perplexingly, I never once worried about the weather. In February. In Chicago. Which turned out to be awful.
I don’t have big public-speaking anxiety, but I have huge vast distressing winter travel anxiety. Somehow the red-alert travel anxiety snowballed over the minor speaking anxiety and morphed into an undifferentiated avalanche of misery. I was pretty much a walking stressball from Wednesday on.
This, my friends, was not reasonable. This was a low-stakes undertaking. The funding body wanted to know that I was speaking ata conference, but they will never know how the talk went. The conference attendees were free to slip out to attend another session if mine didn’t meet their needs. There would be no one standing by with a gong to end the talk prematurely, having judged it to be irredeemable.
Spoiler alert: it was all fine. Travel to Chicago took a little longer than expected but nothing outrageous (shout-out to Amtrak); getting around the city on foot and on the el was squelchy but otherwise unremarkable. (My boots are bearing witness to the city’s efficiency in getting salt on the streets: they are so heavily encrusted with salt that they look like some kind of geological anomaly. It wouldn’t surprise me if a deer walked up to me and started licking them. (Well, okay, it would surprise me a little.))
The talk was also fine. People laughed in all the right places; people stayed put until the end. OH YOU GUYS, you will not believe this: a woman who looked to be in her 60s TOOK A PHONE CALL during my talk. I don’t mean she said “hello?" while scooting discreetly out of the room. I mean HAD AN ACTUAL (BRIEF) CONVERSATION. They booked me into a room that could probably seat 400 people — a ridiculously huge space. She was sitting about a third of the way back. I was in the middle of a slide when I heard someone making a statement. I paused, thinking it might be a member of the audience asking me a question, but it was this person having a full-volume phone conversation, loud enough for me to hear what she was saying from the podium.
I stopped in the middle of my sentence. I looked at her with head tipped on one side, a wondering expression upon my face. She stayed put, apparently oblivious to my gobsmackedness. She hung up and I soldiered on.
Anyway. In the professional conferences I attend there is a fair amount of drift. If you don’t like a talk, you can get up and go somewhere else. I’m going to take it as encouraging feedback that I did not have a drift issue.
Afterward I was so relieved it was over. I had originally planned to stay for the whole afternoon and take a late train back to Gladlyville. But I decided instead to jump back on the el. I had a late luxurious Greektown lunch of lamb and artichokes in avgolemono, and then I changed my train ticket so I could get home a little earlier.
I am tired. More soon.