Chasing my dream as a writer has lead to some unforeseen side effects – my conversational skills have turned to mush.
Writing is a solitary endeavour. I spend days on end alone at my keyboard tapping away. Ideas flow and when I’m typing out sentences and if I can’t quite think of the word I want to use, I can type “?????” and come back later when the word pops into my head, or when reviewing with the aid of a thesaurus.
It doesn’t work so well in real life. You kind end up resembling this…
The looks I get. People stare at me in tortured delight, like I’m having some kind of seizure. It’s like my brain is on auto-correct as I search for the perfect word to convey my desire. So I simply stop mid-sentence. A prolonged pregnant pause. Or start listing synonyms like in the thrall of Tourrets.
And thus begins the start of a long list of things which jump up like road blocks – just to make my conversation a little more interesting…
At times, especially if I am particularly nervous, I’ll catch on a certain word, like a CD skipping, in a weird stutter of half pronounce words, desperately trying to catch up with my train of thought before I realise I sound like a Martian. I almost hear my Grandmothers voice reminding me “elocution darling. Use your words.” Thanks Grandma, it’s not like I’m not freaking out enough at the sound of my own voice, bringing the attention to the fact I can’t string two English words together isn’t helping. Go tell Grandad the magpies are stealing his cherry tomatoes again and leave me alone.
But a much worse malady occurs far too often – the nervous giggle. Only because it’s infectious, spreading like a virus through the room as other people chime in with return laughter. Before you know it, everyone has devolved into fits of laughter – which doesn’t bode well for me, because I have two types of laugh: the silent scream, where I look like I’m laughing, but someone has hit the mute button; and then the donkey bray, a wheezy shriek punctuated with a snort. Not the most elegant of chuckles. And of course, people laugh at my laugh, which makes me laugh. And the cycle continues until one of us has to pee, passes out, or begin to cough and choke. Believe me when I say this is no exaggeration. It really happens. I’m a great trick you drag out at dull and boring parties to get people in the mood.
Don’t get me started on nervous scratching, constantly playing with my hair or shuffling paper. My hands just won’t stay still. In the past I’ve had to grip on to the table or sit on my twitching fingers so I don’t look like I’m currently high on ADD medication. If I’m more relaxed, it’s great… if you don’t mind me channelling some Italian old man, sentences running over each other in increasing volume, punctuated by arm waving, flapping and pointing. Yes, conversational semaphore. Clear all glasses and breakable objects from the immediate vicinity, I’m a clumsy excited dope.
And finally (thank goodness it’s only happened once – and I learnt my lesson) unintentional displays of magic. Note: when clearing breakable objects, remove all vacant chairs around me as well. While giving an oral presentation at high school, I was so nervous, I ended up sitting back on the teacher’s desk to try and calm down as I spoke. Boy was I wired and felt like I was about to explode. Starting my speech, everyone seemed wrapt, but felt it was going well. I kept my eyes glues to my cue cards, and powered through. Until people began twittering. Had I said a joke? Then it happened again, more sniggering. Oh crap! Was there food on my teeth, did I leave my fly down? What in tarnation was going on? Cue the fidgeting, stuttering and giggling… until the teacher called a halt to the torture and informed me of what was so funny: I’d hooked my feet under a chair in front of me and began to lift it up and down. Behold this magical levitating chair! I seriously had no idea that was what I was doing. Did my legs get possessed ‘Evil Dead’ style in dastardly a plan to send my English grade point average plummeting?
I was a bit of a legend in high school for that magic trick.
Fast forward four years and I’m back in the classroom as a teacher. Still just as nervous, but learned to cope with all the ticks I’ve just listed. But now that I’ve been out of practice, apart from the occasional conversation with my dog, my skill have waned. Once again those annoying habits are appearing, and it may sound funny, but it seriously damages my credibility. I’m supposed to be a well-educated professional writer, and there I am pausing, glitching and breaking things wile I laugh nervously… not something you want to be doing in front of your publisher. So thank goodness for the digital age where I can conduct most of my business via email and blame the freeze in conversation on skype as the signal dropping out.
In the meantime I might have to get some teddies set up along my couch and practice – but make sure the web cam is off. I don’t want to go viral as the crazy lady having a teddy bears picnic.
Who else suffers social clumsiness while trying to speak in public? What’s the worst (and funniest) case of ineptitude you’ve had? I love amusing stories: it lets me know I’m not the only klutz in the world.
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