Allie’s Awful Guide: Public Speaking

I used to be far more terrified of public speaking than I am now, to the point where I agonized over having to give speeches or presentations in class. I even opted out of presenting speeches a couple of times because losing a few points was preferable to standing up in front of an audience. However, over the years, I developed a few coping mechanisms that have helped me adapt. Unfortunately, most of my methods are, shall we say…. unorthodox. So unorthodox, I probably wouldn’t even recommend them, unless you have exhausted all other options.

1.) Wear something distracting, but not inappropriate!: I don’t mean show up to class in a Freddy Krueger costume or a swimsuit or whatever. When I was in college, I gave a few speeches and typically selected a “focal point” for my wardrobe. This gives the audience something else to focus on. I’m not sure what measure of success this tactic had, but I applied it in hopes that people would be too distracted by my hideous wardrobe to care about what I was saying, and it gave me a level of comfort. For example, I wore a hideous sweater and pigtails (PIGTAILS!) for several of my speeches during freshman year classes. I’m talking a grandma-level sweater, complete with snowflake embroidery. It was actually super comfy and I sort of wish I still had it…

2.) If you’re nearsighted, don’t wear your glasses!: This tip applies if you struggle with the idea of standing up in front of an audience and facing dozens of expectant eyes. My nervousness about public speaking gets insanely worse when I consider having an audience. I removed my glasses all through college if I had to give a speech – faces were blurry, but I could still read any notes or gesture accurately to my visual aid. It genuinely helped me relax while delivering presentations. Farsighted folks are up the creek with this one, though.

3.) Improve your PowerPoint game!: I know, most teachers or professors will tell you that the visual aid should not be the basis of your presentation – your words should be the focus, not whatever you’re displaying onscreen. I understand that point, but wholeheartedly disagree. I am a PowerPoint wizard and owe much of my minor public speaking success to my visual aids. There are ways to make a stellar PowerPoint that defines your presentation without going heinously overboard. As long as you don’t add too much superfluity – obnoxious sounds, clashing colors, too many annoyingly long transitions – you’ll be fine. You want your audience to be engaged with it. If I see an audience enjoying my PowerPoint, I am instantly more relaxed while speaking in front of them.

4.) Don’t over-prepare!:  I have given vastly better speeches when I haven’t been poring over my note-cards for hours. In my later college years, I stopped using note-cards altogether. I would get too focused on following what I had written down word-for-word and it stressed me out beyond belief, so when I fumbled over a sentence or two, it would derail me completely. Winging it completely is ill-advised, but I have found it loads better for my fragile nerves to just ensure I know my stuff, but don’t try and cram an entire speech verbatim into my head. I also put the keywords into my PowerPoint, just in case I get a bit lost!

5.) Nab an early slot!: If you are presenting in a classroom setting, don’t put it off as long as possible. Try and get in early so you get it over worth, especially if you’re like me and will be stressing out about your speech until the moment it’s over. You’ll be far more relieved watching others squirm over giving their presentations, knowing that you are already finished, than prolonging it until the final day.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

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Were

I don’t think I will ever forget the day I ran the third leg of the 4×1 relay at a track meet in Harrisburg. I remember noticing that the anchor was a little too far ahead for me to hand her the baton. I was so sure we were going to miss the handoff – we were going to step out of bounds, she was going to have to stop, our coach was going to be pissed because this was the week before the next big invitational. At the last available second, I did a move that the cast of the Matrix would probably be proud of. The anchor grabbed the baton and took off for the finish line. My foot got caught in the track and I hit the ground, and as I lay there on the turf, the line judge asking “Are you okay?” I knew that no, I was not okay, because knees are not supposed to protrude out the side of your leg.

I mean, at least we won the race. That was my only consolation as the doctor at the emergency room snapped my knee back into place – in the waiting room. A woman waiting for her turn exclaimed, barely audible over my screams, “Oh my god they broke her leg!”

I remember having to put on the blue bonnet, and the surgical gown, and the bright lights of the operating room fading as I drifted out of consciousness, and then waking up to the blurry face of my extremely handsome doctor looking over me. The morphine in me decided to tell him “I love you” and thankfully he just laughed and said “That’s what they all say.” He explained that they found a few bone chips during the operation, as well as a mysterious ligament in my leg – apparently, the existence of this ligament was debated, and I had provided them with more proof. Yet they refused to name it after me, which, to this day, I consider a grave injustice.

The first night, when the nerve block wore off, it felt as though someone had repeatedly plunged fiery-knives into my leg. A week later I returned to school and developed a burning hatred for ramps, which are surprisingly difficult to traverse with crutches. And a month later, when physical therapy began, I learned just how hard it is to teach yourself to walk properly again when your brain refuses to tell your knee to bend. It was a long journey, and though I languished through so much of it, I had a lot of help from friends and family.

Eight months after that, I learned that former glory is not always able to be recaptured – just because you used to win gold medals, and have trophies decorating the shelves in your room, doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to do that. Coming in dead last in the 200m trials, a race I used to dominate, during track tryouts the next season proved that my ability had shattered with my knee. Now, I can’t forget the flashing ambulance lights, and the x-rays, and all the physical therapy, and how one leg of my pants will always be ill-fitting, and the unintentionally biting words of my former coach as I packed up and left after the first day of tryouts, “You were a real good sport.”

And the worst part about it is that word.

Were.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

“Eff” The Police

When I told my mother that my friends and I were going to go sit in a graveyard and read classic literature, she said “Over my dead body.”

I laughed. She didn’t.

But after assuring her that it was a harmless activity (and that Dante was best read by candlelight next to a tombstone), she gave me her blessing. The questionable legality of the activity seemed unimportant, at the time.

There just so happened to be the perfect graveyard setting just about a mile or so away from one of my high school friend’s house, out in the backwoods of our tiny town. It was his idea, as he and some college friends from down south had done the same thing during the semester. We sat together, each taking a turn with a dusty volume – Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, others – filling the summer air with the almost unintelligible sounds of Middle English and the flowery prose of literature’s legendary greats. We defied logic and managed to turn the Canterbury Tales into a rap as our laughter bounced off the gravestones.

For the second round, about a week after the first, I drove to my friend’s house straight from work. I hungrily shoved my hand into the jumbo bag of Martin’s popcorn someone had brought for the occasion. There were about twelve of us. One friend carried the heavy books in a drawstring bag, someone else took a bag of candles (for ambiance). I brought the popcorn along with me – after eight hours of folding men’s khakis, I needed that popcorn. We prepared a handful of excuses if we happened to run into any figures of authority – for instance, “We’re a prayer circle” or “It’s a séance.”

If there had been the option for it when we elected senior superlatives, I would have been the hands-down winner of “most easily frightened.” The first time we ventured to the graveyard, arms laden with Shakespeare and Milton, a friend of mine decided it would be funny to hide behind a gravestone and jump out during the prologue of Paradise Lost. So I made sure I walked between two other friends as we trekked down the cornfield-lined road toward the sleepy graveyard. The rural outskirts of my hometown at night are unsettling to walk through, especially when the fog starts to come in. Even the chirping crickets seem to signal doom. It’s the perfect setting for a B+ horror film. And I’d never do anything like this now, because I watch far too many episodes of Forensic Files and other true crime shows.

The church was soon within view. We were almost there. And then someone spotted it. The unmistakable blue, white, and yellow cruiser with ‘YAPD’ stamped on the side. Sitting like a predator right in the church parking lot, just waiting for the whiff of something suspicious.

“Cop!”

My heart was thundering against my ribs as we abruptly turned around and started heading back up the road. I looked back over my shoulder and saw the cruiser crawl away into the night. We were safe.

…Until another cruiser came ambling up the road.

One friend summed it up nicely. “Well, shit.”

The female cop pulled the car up beside us, rolled down her window, and smirked at us. “Where are you kids going?”

“…Up the street.” We pointed.

“And where are you coming from?”

“…Down the street.” We pointed again.

Somehow, that mediocre explanation satisfied the cop and she just told us to be careful, before she drove away down the gravel road. I relaxed, and we hurried up the street, desperately seeking salvation. We were three houses away on my friend’s street when two cruisers rolled up to us. The man in the lead car had a different air about him. The iron-grey mustache on his face indicated importance.

As the burly cop roused himself from the squad car, I sincerely thought we were going to get charged with something. I was going to have a big blemish on my permanent record. But what were the charges going to be? Literary sacrilege? Crimes against fictional characters? Conspiracy to entertain the deceased? I didn’t know – all I could do was clutch the bag of popcorn like a salty, buttered teddy bear. As though, if I were carted off to jail that exact moment, the popcorn would valiantly save me. I mentally prepared an escape plan – settling on ‘throw popcorn at cop and run for the cornfield,’ though I highly doubted my trembling limbs would have listened to that mental command. I inwardly begged, “Please don’t ask about my popcorn. Please don’t ask about my popcorn.”

“Who’s the oldest?” The cop asked. That is the only time in my life I have ever been grateful that I am the youngest out of my immediate group of friends.

Our oldest friend stepped up to bat. The cop asked some routine questions, took down his contact info, and explained to us that so many cops were prowling the normally-dormant streets because there had recently been a string of car and house burglaries in the area, so we should head back home for the night and avoid getting into any trouble. They didn’t search our bags or ask any other questions. He just advised us to go home. And with that sage warning, he got back in his car and headed off down the road, the second car following suit, off to hunt for ne’er-do-wells.

We were at the mailbox of my friend’s house – so, so close to sanctuary – when the last cop car came into view. “Hey, did someone talk to you kids already?” The cop hollered from his car.

“YES!” My friends chimed in perfect unison. I just squeaked. I lose my voice around figures of authority.

The last cop drove away, but one friend couldn’t resist jumping into the middle of the street, his middle fingers pointed toward the stars, shouting “FUCK THE POLICE!!!” as the red brake lights faded in the distance. Some of my friends laughed, clapping him on the back as though he’d done something ground-breaking. I rolled my eyes and wondered where that bravado was when the frighteningly muscular cop was within earshot. It’s easy to have courage when the beast is facing away from you.

We gave up on our quest, moods spoiled, and just sat on the hoods of our cars in and discussed the unexpected events of the evening. The consensus seemed to be that the cops should have minded their own business instead of ruining our fun, and that we weren’t doing anything wrong. I bit my tongue. Because the way I saw it, we were a troupe of college kids carrying a bag full of books, a bag of candles, three flashlights, a bag of popcorn, and giggling like five year olds as we strolled down a dark back road on the outskirts of town at midnight. We might as well have been carrying a big neon sign that said, “LOOK, WE’RE SUSPICIOUS.” But who am I to be a wet blanket?

I couldn’t tell my friends that they were being ridiculous – nor could I just go along with the ‘fuck the police’ sentiment. All I could do was sit cross-legged on the hood of my Subaru, lean against the windshield, and keep my mouth shut, the bag of popcorn sitting forlornly by my front tire.

We should have told them ‘It’s a séance.’

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Nightmares

When I was a kid, I occasionally had nightmares – as I’m sure most folks have had at some point in their lives. These typically consisted of scenarios I was actually afraid of, like falling from a great height, encountering a shark in the depths of the ocean, being locked in a small, dark room with no way out, coming face to face with some awful monster, the occasional homicidal clown, etc, etc. Sometimes they featured creatures with salivating fangs and razor-sharp claws, or fantastically horrific scenarios that would never occur in real life. Lately, I haven’t been able to sleep very well due to a series of bad dreams, but these are of a different nature than the ones I had when I was a child. Regardless, these “nightmares” still make me wake up breathless and in a cold sweat.

Most of these not-so-nice dreams have been about things such as:

*Being late to school, then being unable to find a parking space while I’m there.
*Not getting off at the correct bus stop or train stop, then getting lost.
*Forgetting to do my homework and then showing up empty-handed to class.
*Not being able to locate a classroom before the late bell.
*Not being able to find clean pants to wear to work.
*Going to the movies only to find that someone has taken my seat and won’t move.
*Going to the movies and missing the previews or part of the movie because it took too long to get my concessions.
*Waking up late for work because my alarm clock malfunctioned.
*Finding out, prior to leaving for a long trip, that none of my electronics have been charged.
*Finding out that someone ate all my cereal (this is arguable the worst one).

Also, last night, I had a dream that an acquaintance of mine was showing me their extensive, rare Hot Wheel collection and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t leave. So, there’s that.

Ultimately, which is more terrifying? The nightmares that portray something unrealistic, but which gnaw at deeply-rooted fears, or those that are far more feasible? Monsters and demons may spur true terror, but smaller, more grounded situations that could occur in real life also incite true fear, simply because they are those everyday issues that can happen, that are easily believable.

Is this what “bad dreams” in adulthood are like? I don’t know when this switch occurred – when monsters and sharks became alarm clock malfunctions, missing cereal, or dying phone batteries. Maybe when we become adults, it’s the small things that make us sweat the most – even those that are long since part of the past, such as missing homework assignments. Being late to an appointment or work is a worse concern than falling from a great height because of the increased likelihood of one happening over the other.

So, is it possible to determine which is worse? I’m not sure – it probably varies by person. But tonight, if I’m going to have a nightmare, I’d almost rather have the sharks.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Worth 1000 Words #12: Monochrome

Despite my complete lack of fashion sense, which is an affliction I have suffered from for the duration of my life, I watched Project Runway for a handful of seasons, binged my fair share of ANTM back in the day, and have seen enough episodes of What Not To Wear that I should genuinely know what not to wear by now. I admire seeing folks with an eye for fashion piece outfits together, craft incredible looks out of bizarre materials, tell someone what clothing works for their body type and comfort level, or strut down a runway in unique garb with palpable confidence. I was also a huge fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race for the first 5 or 6 seasons, and it’s a bandwagon I’ve been meaning to climb back on, because those queens know how to make a look.

img_20170405_133629_423113918457.jpgHowever, listening to Tim Gunn’s irreverent “make it work!”, inspirational speeches from Tyra Banks, and Stacey and Clint clapping at the results of their handiwork has not been enough for me to take any meaningful risks when it comes to my personal wardrobe. My clothing choices often trend in a more… monochromatic direction.

Almost every day, I wear something black. If not black, my next choice is gray. If not gray, a different shade of gray. Then, if I must, I go for white. You get the picture. Mostly, my outfits consist of some combination of those three colors (or lack thereof) on a day to day basis, though I am known to add a splash of color (I love a good pink or green, and especially purple) and even a floral pattern if I’m feeling especially wild. Upon a recent purging of my drawers and closet, I counted 15 black shirts, including 2 black 3/4 sleeve shirts, 2 black long sleeve shirts, 2 black v-necks…the list goes on. Though, I will say I am not opposed to a blending of these options. A black and gray shirt is more or less my ideal, because then I don’t have to choose between them.

I don’t quite know when this happened to my sense of fashion, where my appreciation for color dulled and I strayed in a significantly more monochrome direction. I’ve always liked wearing black, I suppose. I mean… it goes with everything, except most shades of blue, so what’s not to like? Black, gray, and white are super adaptable. I can coordinate my wardrobe so easily because approximately 85% of it looks like it’s being broadcast before the days of technicolor.

But I can’t pinpoint when this started. I used to wear much more color, and I usually see brighter and more vibrantly-patterned clothing in shop windows or on sales racks that I’m drawn to, but can’t bring myself to even consider trying on. I’ve gone so far as to buy some “risky” clothing but never summoned the courage to actually wear them, so they sit in my closet and collect dust. Now, several colors have been shunned from my closet and drawers entirely…keep orange, yellow, and most pastel shades away from my pale, pale self. But whenever I go shopping, if I’ve got someone with me (usually my mom) when I start pawing through all the black, grey, and white clothing, I get asked, “Don’t you have enough of those shades?” And I inevitably buy more, anyway. Even my graphic tees usually have a black base, though it helps that my favorite is Batman and black/gray are key colors for him.

I know I’m not the only one with this habit. I work with some folks who wear a lot of black as well – some days, 4 or 5 of us will be wearing similar outfits – but I doubt our reasons for doing so are the same. Some folks just genuinely like black, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Although I do prefer dark and neutral colors overall just as a matter of preference, I think I started dressing in a monochrome scheme because it’s safe. Nondescript. Bland. I don’t like drawing attention to myself, and that color scheme helps me achieve that goal. Wearing drab, uninspired colors makes it easier to blend in, to make it through the day without standing out, to more or less ensure that no one will pass me on the street and say, “What is she wearing?” with an accompanying look of disgust and/or horror. I mean… in reality, no one would do that, because they have lives and more important things to do than critique the clothing choices of strangers, but it’s easy to project onto others when you’re feeling insecure. When I select an outfit for the day, one thought that passes through my mind before I give it the go-ahead is, “Will other people think this looks stupid?” and this habit has made it so there is very little variety in my day-to-day appearance.

In recent months, I have been making an effort to add some life and color into my clothing choices. One of my favorite new shirts is technically black, BUT it has colorful stripes on it! Baby steps, right? In the same shopping session, I also bought a blue sweater with tiny gold stars sewn into it, and I am obsessed. Sadly, now that the weather has gotten warmer I can’t wear it until autumn, but still…

Now, when I pass a bright shirt or colorful cardigan in a store that piques my interest, I don’t just shrug it off. I might try it on, give it a chance to sway me. Because it doesn’t matter what other people think – all that matters is what I think. I will never eschew black or gray from my wardrobe – in fact, they are likely to remain staples for the foreseeable future – but I’m trying to make a more sincere effort to include colored shirts, patterned pants, and other clothes I would typically ignore into my options. Some risks, even if they are small, are worth taking, especially if they might aid in boosting confidence and self-assurance.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Lucille

One of the proudest days of my academic career was being placed in the “advanced” group after a reading assessment in first grade. As such, I was permitted to read books marked with a daunting “5.” The most challenging books set aside for young, aspiring readers – the first small steps on the way to much larger feats, like The Lord of the Rings and To Kill A Mockingbird.

But before I would be able to tackle hobbits and other, more advanced literature, I had to grapple with a purple horse named Lucille.

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In retrospect, it’s very clear to me that 5-year-old Allie picked Lucille by Arnold Lobel because it was about a horse, and I’ve been an animal lover my whole life. But 5-year-old Allie should not have picked this book – she should have run far, far away, and made a different selection. And why is that?

Because I couldn’t pronounce “Lucille.”

You would think I’d pick a book with a title I could pronounce with my limited child vocabulary, but nooooooo, that would make too much sense. I’m half-sure I didn’t even look at the title when I chose it, I just saw a purple horse and was like, “YES, THIS ONE.” Kids are so impulsive. And stupid.

It was only after I got home, yanked the book out of my backpack, and scanned the front, that I realized I couldn’t read the title. And my stomach sank, because I knew at the end of the week I was going to have to read the book aloud to the teacher, and being able to read the title is a pretty big part of that. I was terrified I’d get demoted out of the advanced reading group, forever scorned by my classmates, mocked for my lack of knowledge. I’d never be able to look at horses the same way again.

I suppose I probably hoped that it was just the title, and the name didn’t pop up too much in the actual book… but that was not to be. And it’s not like I could just bloop over it, like they teach you at that age to do with words you can’t pronounce. It was like, 50% of the book. Should have watched all those reruns of I Love Lucy on TV Land when I was younger, but I was more of a Brady Bunch person.

So, what did I do? Did I ask my mom for help, which would have been the most logical thing to do? No, no. Stubborn Child-Allie had far too much pride, and that careless hubris was her downfall.

Instead of asking for help, I guessed. To be fair, I used the typically tried-and-true method of “sound it out,” and I was 100% certain that I got it right, so I didn’t bother double-checking with anyone who could, you know… actually read.

Therefore, I called the horse “Luckily.” Which, at least, is a real word. The rest of the book, after that minor snafu, was a total breeze. “Luckily” the horse has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s completely wrong, but not way out in left field. More like… on the third base line. Or in foul territory.

So, I went into my next reading assessment super confident that I was going to nail it… until I sat down in an uncomfortable plastic chair in front of my first grade teacher, Lucille in hand, and the doubts began to swoop in. My certainty wavered, then snapped like a brittle twig. So when she told me to begin, I just sat there, staring at that damn purple horse, and I said nothing for a long time.

Until I finally admitted, “Um… I don’t know how to say this.”

“It’s Lucille,” my teacher explained, pronouncing it perfectly.

And then I read the book through, cover to cover, and didn’t mess up once. No damage to my reading reputation was done by the gaffe, by admitting my weakness. I wasn’t placed in a lower reading level, I continued to foster an intense love of reading and literature, and in the following years, I moved on to bigger books about worlds in wardrobes, dashing heroes, clever young detectives, and a troupe of creative babysitters.

Sometimes, it’s okay to ask for help, or to mess up a bit on an initial attempt. It’s okay to not know everything, especially if you’re five/six years old and only just learning to read proper books. You don’t need to hit a homerun your first turn at bat or score a goal your first time on the field. I might have struggled a bit with a purple horse named Lucille, but luckily, I learned from the experience – and to this day, I’m not afraid to admit when I don’t know how to pronounce a word, or can’t puzzle out a definition.

The Dolphin Statue

Every day, on my way to work, I pass a house with a dolphin statue featured proudly in the front yard.

It’s a curious thing. I’m pretty sure it’s made of wood. It’s cute, and the dolphin looks friendly.

But most of the time, when I glance out the window at it as I drive past, I can’t help but wonder, “….Why?”

I mean, it’s not a conventional choice for a lawn decoration. It’s no garden gnome, or one of those goose statues, or one of those fake deer used for archery practice that I constantly think are real. But how did the person who lives in that house come to own such a curious thing?

Is the person a hero to porpoises, and he was gifted the statue for some commendable deed?

Did the person receive it as an unusual present, and, unsure of where to put it, just stuck it in the front yard for passersby to admire?

Is the owner a carpenter of some kind, and the dolphin is a work they are especially proud of, so they put it on display?

Or… does the person just really like dolphins?

I may never have the answers to these questions, and that’s okay. Though, really, I am very curious to know the origins of the dolphin statue.

But even if I’ll never know, it gives me reason to wonder. And when I find things to wonder about – to theorize endlessly on the countless possibilities – I know that it’s still possible to find inspiration, even in such little things, and great stories can come from simple curiosities.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.