Monday, October 5, 2015

How I Plan to Beat Stage Fright –The Un-speech

Boy! This stage fright is real (looks back). I had everything planned out before getting up, and now they’re, gone. What happened from that point (points back) to this point? We may never know.

I first got the idea to give this un-speech a couple of weeks ago. I remember how my hands were trembling as I jotted down my ideas. It was a rush for me. I was going to give a speech about giving a speech. It would be like The Emperor Without Clothes. If the audience didn’t get it, well, they simply don’t. But I know we all will because we’ve all been there. Toastmasters, I’m talking about stage fright.

My body image was never my strength. I dreaded being on stage so much, I skipped all my middle school plays. Till this day, my legs turn jelly when I’m called up to speak. Have you ever waited your turn at a Round Robin? Your palms get sweaty and your eyes start bugging out. Your thoughts stutter to your loud heart beat, and you pray the next person goes on and on… until time runs out. Such is the mystery behind stage fright. 200,000 years of human evolution and the body still can’t tell the difference between a Saber-Tooth Tiger and 20 harmless toastmasters on a cold Saturday morning. I've never been more terrified, until now. One advice I would give to anyone willing to torture him or herself by attempting public speaking is, never try to interpret the audience reactions, especially at Toastmasters. Just because Brian is shaking his head or Nadine has a blank stare doesn’t mean they disapproves of your joke. They may be having a hard time figuring out their own speech.

My plan is to deliver this un-speech that explains what is happening to me, all while it is happening? I’m hoping this gives you, the audience, permission to think about stage fright. You do not have to feel bad for me because I’m nervous. You’re experiencing that with me, and in the end, we are one big happy nervous uncomfortable family. By thinking about my audience, by embracing and exploiting my problem, I am able to take something that is blocking my progress and turn it into something that is essential for my success. 

I promised myself I would come back week after week to give this un-speech until my nervousness goes away. I see it in your eyes, “don’t worry so much, you’ll be great.” Your advice is gentle, but late, because I’m up on stage and you’re seated comfortably in the crowd.

But If I wasn’t ready to face this, I surely won’t be up here. I like to tell myself, I’m gaining momentum, slowly but surely. Maybe next week I’ll be more confident. My voice will flow smoothly like Bernard’s and I'll just get up and start speaking. My vocal chords will be much clearer and I’ll speak slightly faster than I got up from my seat. Eventually, over time, I wouldn’t have to give this un-speech ever because my stage fright will be gone forever. Can I get an Amen!


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Oh India!

I know you’re wondering, what’s a black man doing on the floor talking about India? I’m wondering the same myself. The same curiosity led me to my first encounter with Indian food.

It was a cold winter morning in December. I was driving back from my Toastmasters meeting. It rained the previous night and the floor had frozen into thin ice. It was so cold my GPS froze! I had driven right past my exit into Bellevue. I cursed under my breath. I was on an unfamiliar road. With one hand on my steering and one hand on my phone, I tried to quit my GPS. The lady assistant’s voice suddenly came alive “Rerouting,” “You will arrive at your destination in 30 minutes.” I was furious.

By now you’re probably wondering, what does getting lost have to do with Indian food? I was wondering the same myself, as I continued to wander around Bellevue. Apparently, I was still lost. The traffic was getting heavy on the highway, so I took a quick segue around a shopping center on Bel-Red road. It was 10 am by this time, and a little past my breakfast time, I started weighing my options. A sign caught the corner of my eye, “Oh India !” it read. My curiosity grew. Even though I had Indian friends, I was never invited to join in for meals. I thought to myself, it is time to get some revenge.  I circled around the shopping mall trying to make up my mind. Should I try something new or head for the Subway restaurant next door?

I finally stepped out into the unknown. I was going to prove to my Indian friends that I too am cultural. I soon made my way to the front of Oh India and this bright neon sign cut my lights out. “Sorry We’re Closed.” It continued “Open at a 11am. A quick relief but I would have to wait for 45 minutes to have breakfast.

By now you’re probably wondering, will he stay or will he turn to Subway instead? I was wondering the same thing too, as I sat in my car for a good 45 minutes. I remember peering through the window a couple of times and seeing the waiters cleaning and setting up the table meticulously. My hunger grew in leaps and bounds. Finally, it was time to eat. Of course I would be their first customer, or so I thought until I saw groups of people like me emerging from their cars. I thought to myself, this must be a special place. I was soon seated.

I know you’re probably wandering, what’s on the menu? I was wondering the same myself, as I saw the guests make their way to the buffet table. No surprise I was the only person sitting by myself. After watching closely for sometime, I walked up to the table. There was nothing familiar about the table. Rather than fried chicken and corn bread, there was chicken Biriyani and Naan. Masala Dosa and Kebab, I was like a kid in a candy store. I ended up loading a portion of each on just one plate. Back at the table, I immediately dug into my meal. Soon I could feel my senses opening up, one by one.

Toastmasters, that was the day I fell in love with Indian food. We have been going steady ever since. I enjoy getting lost in the presence of fresh curries and lamb soup and I know you would too. I told my Indian friends about her and they have been visiting her, often behind my back. As we celebrate Valentine, let us remember not to forget to add Oh India to our list of romantic places to visit. As for me, I get lost every Saturday after my Toastmasters meeting and it’s always a sweet and feisty curried session.



Saturday, October 3, 2015

Here, There and Everywhere Else

I grew up in Lagos Nigeria, the largest and most populous city in Africa. The best part of the year was visiting the beachside in the summer, which was almost all year round. Rather than the trees and natural forests we enjoy here in Washington, all Lagos had were lots of people and small buildings. There seemed to be someone around every corner you turned. As populated as Lagos was, everyone knew each other because we had strong family ties. This was life, as I knew it.

As the first of four children, I got to experience everything first. I was the first to be allowed to stay up late, the first to attend college, and the first to learn how to drive. But being first wasn’t always a good thing. It also meant I got the blame for everytime my siblings got into trouble. Unfortunately, I was also the first to go over the age of 21. No, I’m not talking about the alcohol consumption age. Going over 21 meant that my Dad, a US citizen could only file for my siblings but not me. My siblings moved to the US in 2002 leaving me behind. I had to wait for 8 years before I finally got my green card to travel here.

Coming to America finally became a reality in 2010 but I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock. I had been a driver for 8 years before arriving in the US but there were no STOP signs in Lagos or traffic lights. So it took me six trials before I finally got my drivers license. See in Lagos, the cars have the right-of-way so I didn’t understand why people chose to walk graciously when crossing the streets.

Before arriving in Baltimore, I had seen a lot of American TV shows. The people always seemed so happy on shows like Family Feud, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, The Price is Right and the likes. However, everything seemed far from right the day I saw an American citizen panhandling on the streets of Baltimore. It was difficult to tell from the movies that the weather could be sunny and chilly all at the same time. See, the more I traveled the less I knew. Then came the language barrier. Even though I spoke the English language all my life I found it difficult to communicate in college because I spoke in a different dialect. I soon acquired the “east coast accent” from a friend Nic Kelly who always picked on my accent.

My road trip to New York during the spring break of 2011 exposed me to a whole new culture. The cultural diversity in lower Manhattan alone was overwhelming. Everyone seemed to be a tourist. People were taking photographs of every building and I even saw people taking pictures of other people taking pictures. No one knew who I was. I felt lost, but free. If this was the American dream, I was determined to live it.

On June 19th, exactly one month after graduating from college, I seceded from Baltimore to Seattle. I thought I had experienced it all on the east coast but I wasn’t prepared in the least for the fun and “high” spirits the northwest presented me. Everyone in Washington seemed to be from someplace else. I have since signed a two-year lease because this is home for now. Through all of my journeys, I have discovered that home is wherever you choose to make it. Here, there, and everywhere else.