In March I auditioned to become a WI speaker. The WI, you say? Don’t they just make jam, sing Jerusalem and talk a lot? Yes to all three, but no to JUST. There are 6,300 WIs in this country with 220,000 members and their community interests and campaigns have a long reach and are extremely varied. They campaign for equal pay and climate change, to fill gaps in the midwifery workforce and to save the honey bee. They also provide a focal point for women in rural (and urban) communities and if you know nothing else about the WI you surely know about the Calendar Girls Campaign for Bloodwise (to raise money for leukaemia and lymphoma research with what might be called a stripped-down campaign …). They’re a very effective bunch, they take their talking seriously so I was nervous.
So nervous that it took me half an hour to set up my projector, laptop etc., because my right hand was shaking which meant I failed to plug the scart cable securely into my laptop and the slide image kept disappearing. By the time I was (shakily) guiding the mouse to cancel the image for what felt like the fiftieth time, I had to hold my right wrist with my left hand and when one of the (very kind) organisers suggested I was taking rather a long time (I had half-an-hour to set up, do a snapshot of my talk and take down) I shook all the more! Happily I was the first to audition so I’d begun my set-up half an hour before I was due on. If I’d been second or anywhere else in the audition list I’d have spent the whole time (shakily) setting up and they’d never have heard a word.
The introduction to Surrey Federation WI Members at that particular Speaker Selection Day included the fact that WIs are often asked for recommendations for speakers by other organisations. The Members were advised to think carefully and to choose wisely. I reckoned they wouldn’t be choosing me: they’d already seen me struggling with my extension lead, microphone, laptop, projector, images … and the fact that the table wasn’t high enough for the beam from my projector to hit the screen on the stage above it. Until I and another kind organiser (they were all kind, but they must have been wondering who on earth they’d invited) found a milk crate to put the projector on.
I’d projected neither a careful nor a wise image of myself but – with a millisecond to go – I was ready. And, dear reader, it did go well. Thanks to the WI Members kind attention and the courage of two particular people, an aristocrat and an able seaman, who helped twenty-six others in Lifeboat Number 8 on the night Titanic sank. So now my talk is about to be included in the WI Speakers Year Book and I’ve already had twelve bookings which just goes to show that nerves really can be a good thing, in the end.
And the words I’d like to have written in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible are these wise ones about writing. They come from a much longer article by Parker J Palmer, syndicated from couragerenewal.org at The Daily Good a blog I love (I wrote about here).
Care more about the process than the outcome.
Be generous in order for luck to play its part.
And, my favourite:
Dive deep, dwell in the dark, and value beginner’s mind no matter how loudly your ego protests.