Twenty years ago, I gave my first speech. It was to a gymnasium full of students at the high school where I taught math and computer programming. I was comfortable talking to 30+ students at a time in a classroom setting, but facing the gymnasium packed with the entire student body? I was terrified.
The assembly was arranged because my very first book, How I Survived Being A Girl, was coming out that weekend. I was there to share the trials and setbacks I'd faced in the publishing process. I was there to encourage students to set goals and work steadily toward them. I was to be a beacon of hope for them in achieving their dreams.
Being a reliable soldier, I promised I would fulfill these expectations.
Then I careened toward a cliff and told a gym full of teens about my first car.
This was high school, after all. I wasn't going to hold their attention for 45 minutes with talk of setting goals and the steady application of effort. It also wouldn't have done much for their teen attention spans if the story had been about my parents gifting me a slick new car boasting German engineering.
So I guess it's a good thing that my first car was a self-funded junker. A fixer-upper. A ridiculous heap.
The story I told included my misguided efforts to paint the car myself and the hazards I suffered while changing the clutch, and wound into bigger themes of persistence and determination.
The delivery was a wild ride. It was also the first time I went "airborne" in a presentation. But I survived and, in the end, the administration let out an enormous sigh of relief and the students gave me a standing ovation--something I will never in a million years forget.
I was thinking about all of this today for two reasons.
First: I've been asked to give the closing speech at a writer's conference in October, and I've decided that sharing the story of my junker totally fits the bill.
Second: Thinking about the above, it struck me that it's been twenty years--twenty years--since that first assembly. Which means that for twenty years--twenty years--I've had this mini Underdog lunchbox on my desk or within reach of it, since it was a post-assembly gift from one of my teaching colleagues.
The lunchbox was meant as a token of camaraderie and support but it has served to remind me of something more important than going airborne, or the joyful disbelief of my first standing O.
It reminds me who I write for.
It reminds me why I write.