When I have to speak in front of a group in any sort of formal setting, my throat closes up.
It doesn’t matter how prepared I am, how much I have told myself to calm down, relax, breathe. When it’s my turn, my heart races, my breaths come quicker and my voice comes out in a strangled version of its usual strong and confident self.
So auditioning for Listen to Your Mother, a nationwide show that features writers reading personal essays on motherhood before a live audience, was a bit of a stretch for me. I wanted to share my thoughts and words about motherhood, and clearly I have no problem doing so on a fairly regular basis through my blog and other essay writing. But did I want to perform those words, to read those thoughts aloud to an audience? Questionable at best.
However, I took the leap and auditioned for a show last year, one that was about an hour-and-a-half’s drive away from me. I read a humor piece, which I thought would put me slightly more at ease and would ensure that at the very least, I wouldn’t cry while reading my own words.
But the long drive gave me plenty of time to get inside my own head, and allowed my public-speaking anxiety to grow and my throat to tighten up.
The good news: I didn’t cry. As a bonus, I even got a few hearty laughs from the three lovely women who listened to my story.
The bad news: I wasn’t selected for the cast.
“I can’t do that again,” I told Mike. “It was hard. I felt exposed. I read it terribly. I was so nervous. Why did I do that to myself? I can’t do that again.”
“You’ll do it again,” he replied.
This year, my home – Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley – announced it would put on its own show for the first time. The audition location was mere minutes from my house, and it was easy to write a quick note one afternoon requesting an audition spot for a date that seemed ages away.
I got an audition spot. And then I almost didn’t go.
Something came up that made it difficult for me to make it to my prearranged time. On a whim, and figuring they would think I was a flake and would turn me down regardless, I emailed the producers the Friday night before auditions began.
“I apologize, but something unexpected has come up,” I told them, half-hoping for an out. “I can’t make it on Sunday. But I’m free Saturday morning if you happen to have a last-minute spot open up.”
If they didn’t have a spot, I’d call it fate. That it wasn’t meant to be.
They had an open spot.
So at 10 a.m. one Saturday, I sat down at a long conference table, thanked them for working me in on such late notice and chatted with the three ladies who were equally as lovely as the three I had met the year before.
Then, shakily, I read my piece. This time, it was something more personal, an essay that described our journey in preparing Ryan for the adoption of his future sibling from the foster care system.
A week later, an email from the producers arrived in my inbox, and I opened it, bracing myself for the rejection I knew was coming.
I had to reread the message a few times before I realized: It wasn’t a rejection; it was an acceptance. They accepted my essay. They accepted me, clenchy voice and all.
Now, I have to figure out how the hell I’m going to get on a stage and read something I wrote to an audience of 200 people.
I’ve done the math. Two hundred is a whole lot more than three.
I’m telling myself this: Life is all about connections. It’s about those moments in which you have a chance to stand up and say, “I don’t know everything there is to know. I’m still learning. But let me share my experience, and let me hear yours. Because we’re all in this together, and we can – we need to – learn from each other.”
I have heard the other essays that will be read during the show. They are a beautiful, diverse collection of anecdotes and insights, some of which made me laugh, some that made me cry, and some that gave me new a perspective on motherhood.
We will read our essays with the hope that someone beyond our small circles of family and friends can relate to our words. If even one person comes away saying, “Yes, I’ve been there. Yes, me too,” then all the stress and nerves and uncontrollable throat-seizing will be worth it.
Those of us who are lucky enough to have the desire or skill to tell our stories can give a voice to those who struggle to find their own. It is an indescribable honor.