Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Working Without a Net

Have you ever had a moment where you just knew you were going to screw up?

It happened to me the other day, at a presentation at the St. Lucie (Fla.) Family Reading Festival. The event was at the Digital Domain Stadium (A.K.A. Mets Field, where the New York Mets hold spring training). I was scheduled to speak at 1:30. The day was warm, and a brisk wind whipped through the upper breezeway of the ballpark, where the authors were.

Just as I took the microphone, the wind gusted. It lifted my little note cards off the seat where I'd stashed them. I watched as the cheat sheets for my presentation danced away and over the balcony, tumbling end over end toward third base on the field below.

I just knew I was going to screw up. I felt a gnawing in the pit of my stomach. I heard a buzzing in my ears. And then, amazingly, I felt free.

"Just wing it,'' my husband had advised, when I began doing these book appearances a year and a half ago.

"No way in hell,'' I'd answered. "I am not a just-wing-it person.''

The funny thing is, it's been a long time since I really needed the notes. I'm talking about my books, and my own life. I know this stuff, cold. But I always wanted those little note cards nearby, for safety. Suppose I forgot where I was going, heading off on some wild tangent? Suppose I never found the point I was trying to make?

I could always count on the notes to lasso me back. Until I couldn't. Until I saw them fluttering away like fallen leaves against that green ball field. It was scary. It was exhilarating. After a year and a half of never knowing whether I could get up and speak without those notes, I discovered I could.

Suddenly, I was winging it. I was working without a net.