I have written 3 memoirs and done author readings to countless audiences. You’d think I’d be a pro at speaking about my own life. But recently, I surprised myself.
Each month, 2 members of the public art gallery board to which I belong are asked to give personal presentations so we may all have a better understanding of each other: who we are, the lives we’ve lived and what talents we bring to the board. Everyone takes it seriously and much work goes into each presentation.
For me, the challenge wasn’t what to put in but what to leave out. My projects in the television industry, writing, and the community have won so many national & international honours that the choice, in the end, was easy. Leave out most of it; focus on just a few items; read a couple brief excerpts from one of my books.
So what tripped me up?
I spoke very briefly about my early years in Jamaica and our family’s homes and gardens there, sometimes reading from A Good Home, my first memoir.
I mentioned, almost in passing, a painful sacrifice my parents made for the betterment of their children.
Reference to my own years in high school (a tiny girl in a land of giants) was equally brief. Then I mentioned my first children’s book, Myrtle the Purple Turtle, and how it came about because my younger daughter was bullied (age 5 almost).
For all my alleged smarts, all the outstanding achievements, I didn’t realize that the combination of those 3 events in one presentation would hit me in the gut, right in front of an audience.
In the early years after A Good Home was published, I protected myself: I stayed far away from discussing anything to do with the car accident, the PTSD, and the pain that bedeviled my life. My audiences knew that and cooperated.
This time, though, I was tripped up by older memories – recollections that I didn’t expect to trigger such strong emotion. I didn’t cry but that’s only because I was ‘doing the duck’ thing – calm on the surface, paddling like hell underwater.
Am I sorry I included those mentions? No. So, what did it teach me? I’m not sure. Because if I needed to, I’d probably do the same thing again. Except that I’d probably space them out, realizing that these were still painful memories. And I’d have a glass of water nearby.
I hope you’re having a great week,
48 thoughts on “I Got Tripped Up”
That experience sounds like a valuable lesson to learn.
Yes, indeed. I think humans are made up of memory cells.
That’s a good way to put it.
You did learn a lesson and that is if you are going to talk about yourself only the truth will do. Everyone has a story that will include sadness. Take it from one who knows. Look at what all those experiences have made you, dear Cynthia – strong, brilliant, generous, good wife and mother and a resilient survivor who does not give up.
Thank you, dear Paula, for your kind and wise words.
I admire and appreciate your honesty, dear Cynthia. As a writer who also hopes to do more public speaking, I will take this to heart and care for the audience and me. Serving our audience doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our serenity. You are so brave–so generous.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
Coming from a writer who is both brave and generous! Thank you, Wendy, for your thoughtful reply.
I cried reading this post, and I admire you for your courage and strength. Facing one’s most painful memories is like facing a tiger. You are brave, and will grow stronger with every challenge.
Thank you, dear Lavinia, for understanding and stating it so well. Didn’t mean to make you cry, but you are a dear friend who has read all my books, and I love you for it.
Evoquer le cadre de ton enfance, les efforts consentis par tes parents pour toi , ton travaill un peu solitaire aulycée , tout cela remonte comme une éruption vocanique avec des laves de larmes et t’ a fait trembler, Cynthia.
All the experiences made you who you are and a better, stronger person.
I am sure they did. Thanks for the reminder.
Thanks for your honesty and courage Cynthia. It’s amazing how powerful and painful our memories can be. Hopefully, this brought more connection for you and others. 💕
You said that so well, Brad. I see this when I teach memoir writing and witness the reactions of my students. They are both surprised and deeply moved by what they are able to remember, and how powerful those memoires can be.
Thanks Cynthia. I’m glad you’re teaching others about writing. 💕
We’re all human and painful memories are emotional. It was courageous of you to do it.
Thank you. Lovely to hear from you and I hope you’re doing well.
Thank you. I’m hangin’ in there.
It takes courage to speak your truth, the good and bad. I admire that about you and your books. And thank you for sharing this experience too, with us. Much love, Cynthia!
Thanks for your very kind reply, Khaya. I appreciate it.
To some extent I can identify. I once gave a speech to a larger group than I was accustomed to – although I knew some of the participants. I froze and barely got through it. The Director of the organisation told me afterwards that she had never seen me so nervous. It was some time afterwards that I realised that what had hit me in the gut was the memory of confidently entering my first day at school until I rounded the corner of the playground and panicked at the sight of all those children
Amazing how memories can jump out from the past and clobber us, eh? That would have made me freeze also!
I commented above in French !!! Here is :
Talking about the setting of your childhood, the efforts made by your parents for you, your somewhat solitary work at high school, all this rises like a volcanic eruption with lava of tears and made you tremble, Cynthia.
J’aime bien les deux versions, Michel mon ami. Thanks for your insightful reply.
What Lavinia wrote was so beautiful that I don’t think I can improve on it. My only addition is that people really respond to a presentation that is sincere and comes from the heart.
Thank you, Laurie. It sure came from my heart, surprising reaction and all.
Sounds like you gave the presentation you needed to give, Cynthia—honest and personal. I’m sure it was well received. Take good care.
Thanks, Kim. One of those tiny slices of life I wanted to share with my readers and fellow bloggers, as it took me by surprise.
It can be surprising how all of a sudden an event we have dealt with so many times reaches out and grabs us taking us down. But I do agree. The truth of how you feel is as important as how you write it. I have had a hard time telling the truth of my life for the same reasons. I’d rather sugar coat it. Glad you got through it.
I think we sugar-coat tough things, rather than reveal their impact on us. Perfect example is when someone asks “How are you?” Rarely do we tell them when things are tough.
I’ve done a fair share of public speaking in my time but rarely came away without having committed some gaffe … After a while it becomes a good story for the telling in itself 😊
Thanks for the smile, Clive.
I don’t think you tripped up, Cynthia. I just think that a constellation of significant events were suddenly woven together in a new way so you would see their relationships and importance in a different and more meaningful way for yourself. The tears were just an acknowledgment of how much they all meant to you. It’s always good to know we’re human, yes? 🙂
What a lovely way to see it, Jeanne. Thank you.
Bless you, it’s amazing how these things can leap out and bite us on the bottom sometimes. I do this all the time talking about the state of UK dementia care. Suddenly something touches a chord and … ulp … you feel choked. Sounds like it was a good lesson for future talks. 🙂 Well done for weathering the storm and not actually crying. And hugs …
Thank you, MT. My best wishes for yourself and the family.
I understand, having got myself into the same position many years ago. It is a shock when our ordinary humanness suddenly grabs us. Thanks for letting us in on the moment.
Yes. And I like that term: “our ordinary humanness”. Hope your doing well.
Good on you for speaking about your painful memories, Cynthia.
Thank you, Helen. Hope you’re doing well.
Thank you, Cynthia. We’ve had rain this evening and it was wonderful. I hope the weather has been okay for you this summer?
We carry those old memories with us, Cynthia, and the strangest things can trigger them – a few words, a passage we wrote, a kind look, connecting the dots. I think feeling those moments is valuable, but a bit awkward in front of an audience! I’m sure you pulled it off beautifully and your listeners were moved.
Times of reflection can shine light into corners of our lives that we do not often seek out.
Yes, I do still exist. I will soon be posting photos and poems from a 4 day silent retreat (is reading and writing language of silence?) along the Big Sur coast. It will make sense when I write about it… maybe. – Oscar
I miss you, my friend. My best to you and yours. How is life on the mountainside? I look forward to your post.
We are a collection of experiences, and these were ones that triggered emotions. I’m sure everyone appreciated your sincere responses, and by the way, that is one gorgeous photo.