I am a panicker. Commitment to a given performance on a given day normally sends me into meltdown. I lose sleep, become even more obsessive than usual, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. When I gave poetry readings on a semi-regular basis, I would practise and practise. I inadvertently learned my own work by heart. It turned out to be a good thing. I could look up. I learned to make eye-contact. I gained a reputation as a good reader. For someone whose disastrous performance (yes, I think it was only the one time, never to be repeated) at the local Féis as a child, this came as somewhat of a surprise. But there was something about reading my own work in my own voice that let me avoid the excesses of ‘dramatic’ performance. I’m not an extravert. I don’t do studied drama. (That doesn’t mean it doesn’t go on inside me). But I learned a natural voice and pace could emerge out of the work itself. All those years working on line-breaks and punctuation yielded their own reward. The mechanics, the technical stuff, actually let the poem emerge into the spoken voice. That synthesis of craft and art still amazes me.
When I worked as a teacher, it was similar. Initially, I was so frightened of my pupils that the term control-freak doesn’t even begin to do justice to how I ran a classroom. I couldn’t predict what my pupils would do or say. That sense of lack of control was petrifying. I could, however, prepare. And I prepared obsessively. My lesson plans were not just for teaching practice. I had files and files of acetates to reduce the amount of time I had to turn my back on a class to write on a blackboard. The science technician was always amazed at how far in advance I ordered the materials for my experiments. In the early years, things weren’t helped by the fact I’d no room of my own. Landing into a classroom barely vacated by the owner and the previous class, often after my own class had been jostling at the door for god knows how long, only served to reinforce my workaholism. I could never wing it. So spending the first five minutes getting my breath, clearing space to lay out my stuff, it always helped to be able to throw an acetate onto the overhead projector, demand the silence that I needed to be able to think, and let them get on with it. Then, as relative calm descended both inside and out of me, I could gather myself and begin to make those lesson plans a reality.
So, planning, preparation is something I’ve always seen the value of. Which is why I’m rather amazed at my relative equanimity on the run-up to Friday. Friday is the day of the second year symposium, as it’s rather grandly titled. My equanimity is even more amazing given the fact that I have a title to defend. Last year, I not only won the prize for the best first year talk, I also won the prize for keeping best to time. I was astonished, but I suppose all those years of teaching, performing, turned out to be a transferrable skill. This year, however, I’m not really that worked up. I have my powerpoint presentation more or less completed. With some of my fellow students, I’m going to have a formal practice on Thursday afternoon. However, I’ve barely practiced on my own. I’m not remotely ready. But you know what? I’ll be ready. And another thing – it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough.
I don’t have to win the prize.