I hope you’re all fantastically well and like the new blog art!
Long time, no blog – But for me, this one was extremely meaningful for me to write.
Very recently, I have been quite busy. I know I should say the reason for this is due to entering my final year of university and having more hours on campus than off, but let’s ignore that as best we can. The source of a lot of my distractions has been an opportunity which came my way. This opportunity came on the form of a large convention which is held in London whereby technologists, engineers – and now writers – come together to design the best possible future. In May, I tentatively wrote a short story for the convention which was, miraculously, selected to be included as its’ own talking points during the week’s conference, and I was invited to speak. With trembling hands and brightened eyes, I accepted and the nerves mounted each day as the time for my talk drew nearer.
So I flew to London, spent time with family and tried to convince myself daily that it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Yet it was the day of my talk, that caused my nerves to evaporate entirely. I thought it was important enough to share how this happened. If no one else reads this, it will always be a reminder for me.
It was a Monday morning. I was awake so early that my eyes were bloodshot and my mind still whispered words from my dreams. When was the last time I had seen 6AM? I couldn’t remember, but I doubted it had been in the last three months. It is at times like this that I understand coffee drinkers, I think, as I down my vitamin C and soya milk and oat cereal combination.
With painstakingly close attention to detail, I got dressed. Black playsuit with lace sleeves, black ankle boots – I even straightened my already straight hair. I selected a bracelet my godmother had given me for my eighteenth birthday to remind me of family, and to generally, maintain a perspective on what is important in life.
When I looked in the mirror I felt a little disgruntled that you couldn’t tell I had spent any more time on myself than usual. Shockingly enough, I was still Jen the Student and had not had a Princess Diaries transformation into Jen, the Writing Conference Speaker. My shoulders tilted a little too forward as always to match the odd curvature of my spine and I picked at the skin around my nails until the flesh was raw.
Today was not a day to think about what I was missing in college, or even how I was going to survive my own health long enough to do what I need to today. Today was a day to think of nothing but the underside of the iceberg which only I ever saw. When everyone else only noticed success, I saw the exhaustion, failures and relentless hope that it took to get me there.
The nerves began to trickle into my bloodstream and in a way, I was grateful for them. I would need the nervous energy to bounce around in my head to keep me awake for the hour and a half journey to Middlesex University in London. My stomach churned uncomfortably as I felt particularly small saying goodbye to my family. It was as though I had reverted backwards through childhood to infancy as I felt the need to have someone cusp my face and tell me today would be okay.
We hit the road and each minute, I thought of something else I might have forgotten. Did I have my laptop charger? Migraine tablets? A spare bottle of water? Thankfully, I’m also Jen, the Perfectionist so I had all of my bases covered.
Sun beat down on the car as we drove onto the A12, heading into London. It was September and nearly thirty degrees. Borderline ridiculous, I thought. Galway and Kerry were probably a typical mixture of grey and dense clouds right about then. The car’s air-con was long since out of commission and my fringe began to stick to my forehead in unflattering strings. I was already regretting my choice to wear all black, but I closed my eyes. I tried to say the introduction to my talk to myself. I shoved my hand as much out of the car window as I dared so that my pulse point could cool down, and I used my faithful breathing techniques in order to become entirely condensed into just my mind – no warm, claustrophobic heat would find me there.
My presentation was not until 2PM. For some reason, which I can only assume is an odd mixture of both diligence and luck, I was offered the chance to speak today at a conference where I would be surrounded by those who are much more qualified than I am. I was going to be talking about a sci-fi short story I wrote, and writing techniques to a room of engineers, technologists, business people, all of whom are exceptionally high-ranking individuals and professors. I was going to be the only writer, and the youngest person there by far.
I’ve always loved public speaking. As a child, I remember enjoying watching how one person can command a room’s attention so wholly, whether they were a priest or a musician. Now, however, I was being handed my dream on a plate. All that I wanted in life was coming my way through the power of hard work and an inescapable belief in myself. As a writer, I was valued. My six-year-old self who told my mother I wanted to be an author after successfully convincing myself that I wrote Little Red Riding Hood, would have been euphoric. Today, I felt to deep and innate desire to live up to all of expectations of myself. Perhaps this is the only downfall of my posture thinking – I know exactly all that I can achieve, and fear sets in when I risk letting myself down and failing to do so. Sometimes I forget that failure is not possible when you work this hard.
All of these facts were firmly settling into my conscious brain when the car suddenly jolted to a stop and my eyes snapped open. Classic FM was still playing The Nutcracker‘s Miniature Overture, and the sun was as pervasive as ever. But what had changed was the endless rows of stationary cars that clogged the motorway into the horizon. My cousin who was driving drew in a tight breath. Up ahead, I could make out an air ambulance on the road and several sets of flashing blue lights. It was impossible to tell the severity of the accident that had occurred but all I could do was hope for those involved.
In essence, our hour-and-a-half journey length had just become five-and-a-half. My bottle of water didn’t last long and I ripped into a packet of McDonald’s salt and poured it down my throat, ignoring the burning sensation. Having a heart that struggles to pump blood to your limbs, like an unfit coach potato climbing a dozen flights of stairs, means salt can make or break your day. And I needed today to be perfect.
The sun cooked the cars like dropped eggs on a stone pavement and people beeped and shouted in annoyance. Our conversation in the car was surface and our topics were just a thin ice sheet over a turbulent sea of worry. How long would we be stuck here? I felt a deep sense of self-disgust knowing that I was more concerned about my own conference appearance than I was for those involved in the collision ahead.
I didn’t feel so good anymore. My hair was damp now with sweat and my heartbeats were uneven. The beats seemed to run over each other like children racing for a playground. I sat on my palms to stop them from shaking. At this point, what worried me the most was that I would miss the presentations before mine – and therefore, miss the opportunity to learn how I should behave once up there in front of all of these academics. But even more; how would I stand up to give a talk for more than a half an hour when I was already shaking just by sitting?
The police began to redirect traffic after nearly two more hours. Everyone was directed into the same lane, but at least we were moving. When my cousin went to move off into the lane, we were met with the loud and sharp beeping of a navy passat to our right. Mr. Passat was balding, middle-aged and wearing a stripped polo shirt that strained against his large stomach. His full cheeks were the colour of beetroot as he rolled down his window to shout at us in colourful language about sticking to our own lane.
What interested me the most, however, was how many others I could spot around us with the exact same anger emanating from them. Many drivers were livid as they joined the queue diverting towards the M25. It was visible in the men who drummed their fingers on the dashboard and the women who bit their lips anxiously. It was even more visible in the angry gestures and unheard words that were muttered under their breath, which were sure to be callous.
It was then, that I was met with a moment of raw realization which seem to find me and teach an important life lessons regularly. As we inched forward, I thought back to the man who had shouted at us from his passat and how cruelly I had analysed his appearance. Whilst he and I may never, even on our happiest days, have seen eye to eye, I was being given an opportunity to showcase myself in the best light possible and I hadn’t taken it. Instead I had opted to be shrewd and mean.
My nerves for the conference seemed to vanish at that point when I understood that I am only ever on display to myself – and no one else. Others may watch my actions, but they will not see as I will, the kindness which I will now try to seep into all things. People often say that patience is a virtue and today, on such an important day, I could showcase patience by feeling it most strongly. If I am to walk my own talk and believe that everything in life has only the importance which I give it, then a traffic jam would be a foolish expenditure of such value.
In the Bank of Life, I was saving all of virtues and cashing in on my consistency for calmness. Already, I was rich.
Those five and a half hours in the car, most certainly made me richer as I missed the first three and a half hours of the conference. I felt no harbouring sense of irritation as we arrived at Middlesex nor did I feel nervous anymore. Instead, I smiled to my cousin and secretly squeezed my hands together in relief that I had experienced the day just as I had.
And so, it was with that knowledge that I networked as best as I could during lunch. If truth be told, the word ‘networking’ was always something I had associated more with my father and his work, than with myself. I layered my face in translucent powder in the bathroom before my talk, and ran my hands through my now entirely fly-away hair. My reflection was pale and clammy looking, but what did it matter anyway? I was hear for my words, not for my face.
It matters very little whether my talk went well or not because the metre stick which we use to gauge such things is irrelevant in terms of what I had gained by simply being there. Indeed, I did make valuable connections and receive offers of academic paper collaborations from several people. Someone even asked me if I had a book they could purchase. Whilst such things are flattering, it wasn’t this that made me happy. Instead it was the sense of rooting I felt towards my presence.
By rooting, I mean that the very energy in the soles of my feet seemed to seep down through the floor and entangle with the earth’s core so that if I were to be tied here for life – talking about what I loved – I would be the one to shackle myself in this spot.
Is it possible that at twenty-two I had found the emotions of a fulfilling life? I had found a situation where I felt perfectly at ease for the first time in my existence. Twenty-two seems somewhat young to have found my life’s happiness, so I can hardly believe my luck to have been handed such opportunities. It is now that I must reminded myself that I was handed nothing and it would be wrong of me to disregard everyday where I wrote stories through tears of exhaustion and chronic pain bursting in my bones, in turn for this outcome. Indeed, the days when my fingers swelled from pain and inflammation that I wrote whole stories with my pinky finger alone was a precursor to this.
And this is merely a precursor to all else that I deserve, except and will continue to strive for.
Here is the link to the story I wrote, if anyone is interested: http://ebooks.iospress.nl/volumearticle/45212.
I hope you found this somewhat interesting and possible to apply to yourself.