Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pride and Performance

Before law school, many of us had hobbies we liked to indulge. I love writing personal essays and this is one I wrote for a creative writing class in college. It has to do with law school...sort of. Enjoy reading :)

I started singing in the church choir when I was five or six. Always ambitious, I thought that if I paid homage to God twice a week—once at church and once at choir practice on Saturday—I would have a better place in heaven, up with the angels. Of course, this is also when I thought I was going to become a nun because I was so good at being pious. (I changed my mind once I discovered boys.)

Every weekend, I sang my little heart out and Kathleen, our director, would sing my praises to my father over the din of Sunday Catholics trudging out of their pews. For my first communion, Kathleen asked me to lead the church in song, mainly because I was well-behaved and had an adorable bowl cut. Ecstatic that someone important had recognized my god-granted singing ability, I pulled on my little white dress and veil that morning, congratulating myself on my superior achievement. Heck, to celebrate, I even dove into my sister’s supply of mascara, smearing it all over my cheeks until she came to rescue me from almost certain hookerdom.

As I mounted the stage for the first song, taking care to hold my dress like a princess and to primly place each white, patent leather mary jane on my way to the altar, a gaggle of my nemeses—the other, more girly choir girls—swarmed around me, assuming their positions directly in front of my microphone and edging me out. By the third song, when one of the Megans threw her hands up once again in my face, I’d had enough. I stomped off the stage and firmly plunked my behind in the pew next to my mother, turning bright red with the wheezing tantrum that was about to explode from my asthmatic lungs. I felt betrayed. Kathleen had sold me out.

Worse even, the gaggle of nemeses paraded around in their little white dresses to coos of admiration and their communions were not even that day! Those imposters! Sensing weakness, they crowded around my seat and informed me that Kathleen thought I would like some help—you know, just in case my little eight-year old self got a case of stage fright. Stage fright! I didn’t even know the meaning before she underestimated my superior soprano voice.

Sure enough, the big man in the sky punished me for my vanity that day, because I could never breach a stage again without going bright red and numb from the eyes down. Papers shake and curl in my sweaty hands. Perspiration forms on my upper lip. People swim in and out of my vision as I wobble in place. Heady self-consciousness requires something firm to hold onto. Most ironically, my undergraduate department chose me to be the graduation speaker. I’m pretty sure it was payback for never opening my mouth in class. They were dying to hear what I had to say after four years of classroom silence. Indeed, I’m sure many of them second-guessed themselves when I showed up to graduation red-faced, wet, and dehydrating by the second under the polyester gown in the heat of a New York summer. But I digress. (For the record, I knocked it out of the park. Check out the link up above if you want to see what I said.)

Seeing as how I abandoned my religion once I discovered boys (Hyperbole.), beautiful people make the agony of public speaking even worse. The piercing, crystalline eyes and sexy-casual demeanor of a hot spectator stand in stark contrast to the sopping mess I become when I take the stage. In an upper-level college seminar, two ex-boyfriends and an ex-girlfriend watched me stutter my way through a presentation on landmine removal in former war zones. I might as well have stepped on one during the second slide for all of the interest it would have stimulated in my discussion. Once I heard the embarrassed coughs and saw the cell phones come out, I knew I had lost them. I gave up trying to ad lib and just started reading the slides off directly so I could finish with some measure of dignity knowing that at least the information was out there.

Afterwards, my professor—another beautiful man—shook his head and asked me privately what I intended to do about law school, with the performance anxiety and whatnot. Stuttering, I retorted—to the best of my ability—that I planned to push paperwork for the rest of my life. I would be like Demi Moore in A Few Good Men: beautiful, silent, and deadly with a pen.

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