I had to give a few speeches last spring, for my Trial of Galileo class. In the class, we were all given historical roles to play: Conservatives, Linceans, Bishops, etc. I was initially a Conservative, but was killed off in the midterm lottery and assigned a new role; I then played a Spaniard trying to rally Vatican support for the Holy War Against Protestants. In my packet, it said that should support be refused, I was free to attempt a Pope deposition. Needless to say, kicking a Pope out of office was difficult business, and I ended up messing it up horribly by putting too much faith in the Linceans (who played the game well, bless their hearts).
Anyway, those speeches I delivered, in pursuit of war, and eventually, deposition, were wonderful to write. Mainly, I admit, because they required little research; I made them as style-laden as I wanted, spending hours creating elaborate metaphors about gold-encrusted ceilings and small Catholic boys being tossed from their homes by Protestant heretics.
I learned what anathema meant, and I used the word often, and with obvious relish.
But whenever I stood up in front of the class to perform, flooded with the confidence of four years of high school speech, the most horrible thing would happen; my voice would shake.
At first, I was able to convince myself that no one noticed. Fingers clutching at the sticky edges of the podium, I would look up often, which was important. I read the words I had so much faith in, words I had convinced myself of, because that’s what you do when you spend your weekends in secret meetings with bishops of the Vatican. I read the words with the exhilaration that comes from speaking into a silence that is meant only for you, and I tremored all the while.
“Were you nervous, Holly?” Someone asked me after class.
“No, I really wasn’t. I don’t know what happened. I’m not afraid of public speaking.”
I’m not afraid of public speaking.
It made me wonder what had gotten me through all those years of speech without so much as a quake. Everything else had happened; croaking through Harold Ickes with a Cold That Wouldn’t Go Away Before Saturday, having to walk of shame back to my desk mid-speech because let’sbehonest I wasn’t quite memorized yet, gesturing so woodenly and repetitively that by the end of my eight minutes I felt like a puppet on instant replay. But I don’t remember my voice ever shaking.
And yet, I’ve changed so much since speech days. I’m more confident, possibly more poised (if not less graceful). I have a greater sense of self. If anything, I’ve become steadier. How curious, then, to stand up, with all the pomp of a twenty-year-old, only to find that new fears have apparently arisen.