Rats are my big phobia, but right behind them for as long as I remember has been public speaking.
So taking around Finding Our Voices, with a talk by me always part of the exhibit or slideshow presentation, is a literal finding of my voice.
I have lived in Camden for more than 30 years and have deep connections to the community, and friends and family were coming from near and far for the launch of Finding Our Voices at the Camden Public Library on Valentine’s Day of this year. So I knew it would be a friendly and supportive audience.
I was writing drafts on my computer and scribbling notes on any paper within hand’s reach for months leading up to the day.
When the chairs at the Camden Library were all filled, and the clock told me it was time to start the program, I came to the microphone, and read straight from the script. I remember looking up two times. Went through the slideshow, fielded some questions from the audience, then dashed to the bathroom and threw up.
At a Pecha Kucha in Belfast, where presenters file by the stage for six minutes each, my heart was pounding so hard in the half hour leading to my turn to present that I thought it would jump out of my chest. I avoided passing out by clutching the hand of Maegan, a Finding Our Voices Survivor/Participant who was sitting next to me.
At the Camden Rotary Club, the casual conversation of the woman sitting next to me was like a train roaring in my ear. Afterward, one of the mostly male members of the audience came up to me and said, “I could tell you were talking from the heart, and it was much more powerful than the people who come up with slick presentations.” That was a mixed compliment, but it made me feel good.
The other night on Islesboro marked about half a dozen times that I have stood in front of an audience with Finding Our Voices.
The two pieces of paper with my speech were on the podium but I just followed the general outline as I remembered it, referring to it only once or twice. The rest of the time I was looking in the eyes of, and happy to connect with, audience members.
For three decades, at home, I staunched my opinions. I didn’t voice my hopes or fears, my dreams or nightmares. There were landmines everywhere of names and topics.
A dear friend, three years after my divorce, heard how afraid I used to be of public speaking. She wrote this to me.
"I remember at **’s wedding, you gave a short welcome speech. I remember seeing you anxiously rehearsing outside the tent before you spoke. You did a wonderful job, but I was surprised that a person like you, who is clearly completely competent, was so nervous about a short speech. Now I understand."
Now I understand as well.
* Photos by Rebekah Paredes, executive director of the New Hope domestic abuse agency