When Edie Weinstein took the stage to tell a story, she wasn’t prepared to be afraid. Here’s how she got through it.
Editor’s Note: Edie Weinstein was a featured storyteller at The Good Men Project‘s LIVE Storytelling event at The West End in New York City on August 6. The event, produced by MouseMuse Productions, is held every other month, and the next show is scheduled for Thursday, October 1. Storytellers must be published writers for The Good Men Project. If you are interested in telling a story or attending the next event, please contact Executive Editor Thomas G. Fiffer at [email protected]
No one would ever accuse me of being shy. I have craved the spotlight since childhood. I thought of myself as ‘little Shirley Temple, tap dancing for attention,’ although her talent far exceeded mine. I was used to the camera in my face, as my parents took lots of photos of my sister and me. Outspoken and brazen, I would sometimes blurt things out that have me cringing in retrospect. I was encouraged to let my precocious flag fly. Although the prevailing child rearing mentality at that time was that ‘children should be seen and not heard,’ that wasn’t so in my family. My verbosity was tempered with respect for adults.
My mother would say that I started speaking at six months (maybe that was an exaggeration) and never stopped.
For the past 30 years or so, I have facilitated workshops, given keynote presentations, led spiritual services and taught professional classes. You know those studies that indicate the #1 fear many have has to with public speaking? The #2 fear is death. That means that some would rather die than speak in public. Not me. I love it . The oceanic tidal flow of energy with the audience, juices me up. The connection heart to heart and soul to soul, inspires me.
I have never had heart pounding, palm and pit sweating anxiety attack level stage fright.
There was a time in my early 20’s when I began my public speaking career, that I had to use copious notes and cue cards. I was working for an agency that offered drug and alcohol abuse prevention programs in schools. We were to teach the teachers, so they could integrate the curriculum in their classrooms. My co-facilitator was a man who had 10 years experience as a speaker. I asked him how he managed to be so polished and professional when I was stumbling over my words and feeling decidedly inept.
His response? “Stories. When you have stories to share, then you will feel more comfortable.” I wish I could get in touch with him to assure him that all these years later, I finally have stories.
This summer, an invitation was extended to offer a tale at The Good Men Project‘s LIVE Storytelling event in New York City on August 6th. The theme was Arrivals and Departures. I jumped at the chance to share a series of anecdotes about my relationship with my parents, called Meet You At the Gate.
Here’s a teaser-taste from the story I told (video to come in the next few weeks):
I was an inquisitive child. According to my parents, I asked questions about nearly everything; usually at the dinner table and lots of times about sex. This story isn’t about sex. Sorry, folks.
What it is about is borders and boundaries, lines, and delineations. The spaces between here and there, now and then, beginnings and endings and how sometimes they blur and merge. Mostly, it’s about love.
I often told my parents that I was an alien baby left on their doorstep. I think they believed me.
When I was 8 or 9, my mom Selma, my dad Moish, my sister Jan and I went to a ranch in a part of Pennsylvania that bordered on New York State. I was fascinated with the idea that on each side of a street in that town, was another physical state. After looking to see that no cars were coming, my parents let me stand in the middle, with one foot on either side. How cool was that?
A few years later, on a trip to Canada, when we crossed over in Niagara Falls, I got to test out whether the air felt different in a whole new country. It didn’t, but I liked considering the possibility that it could.
Over the years, I traveled mostly in my mind. As an avid reader and curious about the world writer, I would visit possibilities rather than literal destinations. My imagination took me soaring.
Once my proposal had been accepted, that old familiar friend Impostor Syndrome came to call. The idea is that no matter how successful you are, you fear being discovered as not really being all that and a bag of chips. Immediately, my brain rattled with thoughts of letting people down, of feeling foolish and incompetent. It was easier, I knew, to hide behind written words that I could edit than to speak without notes live and in person on stage.
I asked myself and a few trusted friends why this event felt different for me.
All I could come up with was that it was New York City and that this was a ‘bigger stage,’ figuratively speaking, than I have ever stood on to share my innermost thoughts and feelings. It felt like the world would be watching … and waiting for me to stumble.
I could literally feel the butterflies flitting about, perhaps even laughing at me. But before my stage fright went full blown, I remembered that I had shared the anecdotes I would be including in my story many times and in various forms, so it would be a no-brainer. I just needed to be vigilant about the timing (stories are strictly limited to 10 minutes) as I slowed down my sometimes rapid-fire speaking cadence.
I rehearsed over and over; initially with the other storytellers and Good Men Project coaches (in my case via speaker phone from my Pennsylvania home) and then numerous times out loud with friends as well as in my own head. There were occasions when I would awake in the wee hours and do a run through. The car became my stage as well, as I imagined the real thing.
When the day arrived to trek northward via bus, my nerves had calmed considerably and I actually felt ready to stand before the audience and share from the heart, not the head. Two friends; Karyn Oliver and Claude Draillard who live in the city, were present to cheer me on. Karyn is a stage performing singer-songwriter whose brain I picked before I stepped on stage about seeing past the second row of people since the spotlight was in my eyes. Her advice was for me to act as if I could see the audience and know they were there. Taking deep breaths and relaxing into the experience was a good idea too.
Since I was last on the bill, I had the opportunity to listen to all the other stories. This gave me time to calm myself. I was deeply moved by the other five tale tellers, whose poignant stories of love and loss, awesome adventures, fun, trauma, and triumph brought me to tears, cheers, and laughter. Such a vividly human experience.
By the time I stepped before the microphone, I felt ready to give it all I had. It seemed as if my parents were there with me, cheering me on as they always had. Right with them were my tribe of intrepid writers/speakers who were likely somewhat nervous as well.
In a short period of time, a group of far flung wordsmiths had bonded over a common experience, and the audience left with a treasure trove of gifts; hopefully feeling as if they had been there with us as flies on the wall.
Photo courtesy of author.