Archive for the ‘finding your voice’ Category

Voice Lessons: Part III

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

After thirty years I still get nervous.  When I have to speak in public, that is. It’s easier now after thirty years. But I still get knots in my stomach. What I don’t do now is think about faking a seizure.

Years ago I would sit listening as my bio was being read, dreading those fateful words “and the next voice you will hear will be that of…” Even up to the moment of the introduction I would sit dreaming of ways to get out of speaking.  Puke. Faint. Pray that the floor open up and swallow me. But it never did. And I never fainted. My palms sweated. My knees knocked. My heart beat so loud my head pounded. But eventually I got up, and walked to the microphone. And opened my mouth. And the words came. Eventually. Whether I was prepared or whether I felt unprepared. Whether I knew what I was going to talk about, or whether I hadn’t a clue what to say. Whether the waiting audience appeared warm and welcoming, or whether they looked  stunned to see the likes of me and oozed hostility at having to hear me out.

speakerTo those of you who are terrified of speaking in public, here’s something to keep in mind. Speaking up isn’t just about standing in front of a podium and speaking to a large audience. It’s about finding your voice. It includes learning how to speak up in meetings, communicate effectively with clients, and answer tough questions posed by colleagues professors, and reporters. It means being able to communicate effectively on the telephone to creditors, customer service reps, and potential clients.  It means being able to speak with credibility and authority. It means to have impact and influence. It means being willing to take a risk, take a stand, and to say what’s on your mind effectively. It also means to be able to listen well to others and be able to address the unspoken questions they have. It also means finally to trust the Spirit to use you to say what needs to be said.

I guess this is where I’m supposed to say that everything will be alright. I won’t.

Let me say it like this: I’ve botched my share of speeches (what we call  “flunking” in oratory circles). You know: I mean I rambled.  There was nothing there to hold the speech together. I mean they just didn’t get it. I mean it was the wrong speech. I mean I thought I could wing it.  I mean I didn’t know how to stop midspeech and correct what I was doing wrong. I’ve flunked so badly that I dreaded standing around shaking hands with folks afterward and watching as they (those who bothered to come over) fumbled to come up with something kind to say. Thank you. I like what you have on. Nice job. Have a Nice Day. Are you related to some Weems who live down in Florida? I’ve been so embarrassed afterward that I couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel, shut the curtains, and curl up in my bed in the fetal position.

I suppose this is where I am supposed to add that I’ve also given some pretty good speeches, more good ones than bad ones in fact. Which must be true since I’m still getting invitations to speak.  I suppose I could tell you about some of the accolades I’ve earned for public speaking. I guess this is where I tell you that if you keep at it eventually you learn what works and what doesn’t work,  that eventually you learn how to focus on the people who are listening and not those who look bored out their minds, that eventually you learn how to relax and trust your preparation and your instincts, that eventually you learn how to get out of God’s way and let God use you in spite of you. But that’s not what I want to say.

Here’s what I really want to say. Fear is not a bad thing. Especially when it comes to speaking in public. Fear is actually an internal guardian that was intended to help you intuit danger and help bring to your mind ways to avoid capture.  “Since fear is so central to our experience, understanding when it is a gift–and when it is a curse–is well worth the effort” writes Gavin de Becker in his book The Gift of Fear.

Remember those sweaty palms, that racing heartbeat, and those knocking knees? Good speakers are those who have figured out how to make sweaty palms, racing hears, and knocking knees work for them. The body is sending you thousands of little messages  in the form of adrenaline on how to stay alive. Pay attention.

Here’s something else you should know: You are probably better speaker than you think. It’s just that you’re your own worst critic. Sometimes your worst speech or sermon or lecture was your most memorable speech or sermon or lecture. It’s not what you think you did or didn’t do, it’s what others believe they heard. Here’s what I’ve learned in these thirty years. People forget speeches. What they remember are lines from speeches, a remark that rang in their spirit, a comment that froze them in time, a story that touched them in deep places, the spirit of the speaker that spoke volumes more than words. Speeches end and are forgotten, but words stick in the heart.

Years later a letter comes in the mail, or someone corners you in the bathroom. “I never told you this, but I heard you give a speech years ago and something you said in that speech changed my life forever.” And what do you know? It was the very speech you’ve spent your life trying to forget.

“But we have this treasure in clay jars
to show that its extraordinary power
comes from God and not from us.”
(2 Cor. 4:7)
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So, what in your opinion is the most nerve wracking thing about speaking in public? What frightens you about speaking out? Those of you who do speak in public, how did you overcome your fears? (Pssstt…keep it brief.)

It’s Not Catfighting, It’s Women Disagreeing

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

I’m not much of a fan of “The View” which features Barbara Walters, Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and Sherri Shepherd. I don’t even know when it comes on the tube in my area. Does that make me a bad person? I didn’t think so. But I do wonder sometimes whether I’m missing out on something by failing to set my clock to catch the show on daytime television.  Where else do you get to see women from different racial and ideological backgrounds, and with varying degrees of difference in their sexual orientation, gather on a routine basis to talk about politics, popular culture, and pulp?  Heck, where else on television do you see two black women on a panel at the same time?

The View

Since going “political” (that is, having John McCain, Michelle Obama, and Bill Clinton on the line up this fall) “The View” has been drawing some of its largest audiences since Rosie O’Donnell served as the show’s moderator in the 2006-7 television season. I’ve caught a few clips of past shows on YouTube, and from what I can tell you can count on Elizabeth Hasselbeck the resident archconservative and Whoopi Goldberg butting heads when politics and race come up. Joy Behar, it seems, says whatever comes to mind, Sherri Shepherd is a lightweight, and Barbara Walters plays the role of Queen Bee referee who steps in to bring reason and calm when tensions fly and things get out of control?  Okay, okay, so some of flying sparks are staged?   I know. I know. Some of the half-baked, outrageous stuff that come out of the mouths of Kasselbeck and Goldberg is meant to get a reaction from the audience, to boost the show’s rating, and to keep people talking about “The View.” Even so, “The View” does fill a void in our cultural viewing.

Where else in American culture do we witness a motley group of women from different backgrounds sitting around talking to each other? What other models do we have  of women of different ages, different races and ethnicities, and representing different ideologies, sitting around the table debating issues and giving their opinions on pressing news topics?

“The View” is entertaining and the women who sit around the table there on the show are interesting to watch, but are black, white, latino, and asian women actually talking to each other these days about these issues? I write and work from home these days and don’t have faculty meetings or the faculty lounge anymore as places where I routinely face off with people who see the world so differently that they must be from another planet. This blog, and other blogs I frequent, is sometimes the only place I have to face off with my adversaries and yell and scream  at those who dare to think differently. But blogosphere is not the same as sitting across from your enemy, eyeballing each other, willing the other to be the first to blink.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I for one miss the debates we had on this blog when Hillary Clinton was in the presidential race and I was pulling for her. I pissed off a lot of you with my support of Clinton a white woman, and you let me know in no uncertain terms .  And plenty of you pissed me off too with what to me was your hands-on-the-hips, head-rag tied around the head, rolling pin in the hand defense of Obama, the black messiah. I miss the intensity of our debates.  Which probably explains why I joined a blog the other month where Palin and Obama supporters slug it out daily. I appreciate having conversations with women from other planets. I didn’t always. But I do now.

Perhaps you have noticed that when men yell and disagree, it’s called “Fox News.” But when women yell and disagree, it’s called “cat fighting.”  It’s not a cat fight when women strenuously disagree with each other. It’s called women debating. It’s called caring passionately. It’s called finding your voice and using it. We don’t have to agree. We can agree to disagree.

Okay, so I don’t watch “The View”; but I do watch CNN news. And I  wish CNN would stop parsing black Republican strategist Amy Holmes and black Democratic strategist Donna Brazille out on different panels and let it audiences see that all black women do not think alike. Let Holmes and Brazille have a chance to go back and forth at each other about their respective candidates.

What woman (women) are you in conversation with whose opinions about Obama, Palin, the Bailout, homosexuality, abortion, the Bible, and God are so diabolically different from your own that she makes you want to tear your (her) hair out when you listen to her speak?

How racially, ideologically, and socially diverse are the women you talk to about the elections, the economy, and the environment?

Does everyone you talk to s think and look like you so much so that all you’re doing is preaching to the choir when you mount your soapbox?

Listen up: You don’t grow by talking to people who think like you do. You grow as a thinker, and even in your beliefs,  by talking to people who make you want to scream and make you want to throw something at the television when you hear them speak. They teach you how to calm down long enough to think. Think about what you want to say, how best to say what needs to be said, and why you feel you must speak up.

The View 2

You can sit there and stew and tell yourself that it’s a waste of time to enter the fray. Or, you can leap in and join the town hall meeting, public discourse, the rough-and-tumble world of shaping public opinion.

“Iron sharpens iron” is how the writer of Proverbs put it.

Thanks Elizabeth Kasselbeck.  Thanks Sarah Palin.

What Highly Creative Women Know: Part II

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

It is our creative potential that is the image of God.

Whether we are writing, or cooking, or singing, or gardening, or absorbed in an experiment there in the lab, during the time of creativity, we are open to a wider world, where words are clearer, chords sharper, colors brighter, and new angles on old problems come to mind with ease.

As a writer and as someone who preaches, there is a moment that you get to in the writing, or in the preaching, where the words flow on their own, as though they have a mind of their own. You are no longer in control. You are and you’re not in charge. Another force has stepped in. They are your words, but they are smarter and wiser than anything you could have come up with on your own.  You don’t have to be a writer to experience this force. Great cooks are possessed by a spirit of their own also. (What we call the Holy Ghost in church circles. LOL) You know intuitively without having to taste the dish you’re cooking that a dash of this or a smidgen of that will have people coming back and asking for seconds. The same applies to creative business types. Where others see sure failure, you see – with some modifications to the design– how the project can be turned into one of success

You are in a zone. The creative zone. Where you glimpse a wider world and touch the outskirts of Transcendence. Tapping into your creative side does that. You get a sense of what it’s like to live beyond your limitations.

We’re all born with a creative side from birth. It’s a birthright from God, and it’s not given just to poets and dancers. Each of us is born with a little artist in us. It’s what it means to be created in the image of God. It explains why we are drawn to certain colors, laugh the way we do, and do things the way we do them. There’s this potential within us to tap into a force that is larger than ourselves to do extraordinary things. Somewhere in growing up, however, we are talked out of our creativity. We become sensible.  The creative side goes underground. Worst, it gets misdirected. Rechanneled.

One of my all time favorite lines comes from one of my all time favorite writers, Toni Morrison. Morrison is always writing about creative women, it seems to me, in her novels, especially women who are creative but have little to no outlet for their creativity. ”Artist without art form” is how she describes women like the unconventional Sula Peace in the novel Sula. Sula’s community regards her as evil, bewitched, and a loose woman.  But what Sula really is is a smart, gifted, woman with a razor sharp mind who lacks direction and discipline. And as such, she is a woman who is dangerous to herself and to all those  she loves.

“In a way, her strangeness, her naivete, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of an idle imagination. Had she paints, or clay or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings: had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for And like any artist with no art form, [Sula] became dangerous.”

Everytime I read that line from Sula  my mind drifts off to all the girls and women I know who have no creative outlets. Those who never wondered what their minds were capable of beyond remembering the names of old lovers. Those who never learned what else their bodies could do other than to give birth to babies. Those who were never told that their hands were capable of something beyond the mundane tasks of surviving. Without art they have no imagination and are forced to believe in their own limitations. Bereft of any other form for releasing the pent up physical energy inside, they substitute art for screwing, passion for lust. The only zone they know about, if they are lucky, and the one they are a slave to, is sexual ecstasy. It will take years for them to figure out just how counterfeit that is. Sweet, but shortlived.

MissyI had the pleasure of attending two spoken word poetry jam sessions over the past couple weeks. (Lord have mercy on my old soul.) While men dominated the mike for the most part, it was good to see the few young women who came up, take the mike, and strut their floetry. Tattoes on the neck. Rings in the belly button and seared into their tongues. But there they were. Honing their craft. Finding their voice. Speaking their minds.  Expressing themselves. Giving birth to unknown sides of themselves. Trying to find their zones. I felt like a dinosaur. A sister from another planet. I could barely understand a word. But I felt the Spirit. And I saw it. Yet another face of God.

What Highly Creative Women Know: Part I

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Here I was ready to sit down and share with all of you here on the blog a new inspiration of mine, a business I’ve been dreaming about lately, and I haven’t been able to write a thing from all the distractions.that have bombarded me in the last two hours.  Emails. Phone calls. Knocks at the door. Each one of them urgent. 

Perhaps God is trying to tell me something.

Don’t waste your energy on the dream, Renita. Don’t bother writing about it, and getting your hopes up (or those of your readers) because it’s not in your future. Move on.

Finish what you’ve started. You always have these creative outbursts and run off on tangents when you’re behind on other deadlines.

my fairyOr, perhaps I’m being tested here in the infancy stage of the inspiration to see how much I want it and if I can stay the course. If I can’t ignore the email notices on my computer, I probably don’t have the stamina it takes to stick with a business.

Or, if you’re like me, perhaps this new burst of enthusiasm is not about what you and I think it’s about. After all,  we’ve never been short on ideas. We are creative, and creative types are always dreaming and making connections and finding inspiration. We are creative and smart enough to do lots of things. We could do anything we put our mind to. We have what it takes to be a writer and minister today, and a clothes designer and restaurant owner tomorrow – with a little retooling. That’s the way that it is with creative types. That’s the way that it is with creative types who are also driven. But do we want really want to change the course of our lives?

A better route to take perhaps is to use this new surge of adrenaline to take off on this other project to do what we’re supposed to be doing right now. After all, creativity is creativity. Meaning that creativity is a spirit that shows up and has the power to fuel all areas of your life.

Ask yourself: Exactly what about this new idea that inspires you? What did you fall in love with and why?

Could it be that what you’re taken with is the idea of being taken with something? It’s like falling in love with falling in love. You had a new idea and you missed having a new idea. You stumbled on a new passion, and you missed what it feels like to feel passion.

So, what are you saying to me? That I’m not in love? That this is not my calling? That this is not what I’m supposed to be doing? That this is not God?

I’m saying nothing of the sort. I’m just saying that just because you feel something doesn’t mean you have to do something right now. Sit with the inspiration for awhile. Bask in it. Let it renew you. Let it fill you with dreams. Let it cause a secret (perhaps, even naughty) smile break out on your face as you go about your day.

If it’s a good fit, something you’re supposed to do, something worth pursuing, something God says yes to, the Universe will take it from here. Soon enough, but not too soon, there will be other signs. “Yes” signs. (If you look hard, you’ll notice the “No” signs when they present themselves too. )

You don’t have to rush off and start tearing up your old life to accommodate the new. Some things will fall apart on their own. Others will do so with little pain to all involved. That’s one way you know it’s Divine.

For now it is enough that you are awake. Conscious. Inspired. Listening for God.

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 So, those of you who are creative types, or those who want to be more creative, what frustrates you most, where do you find inspiration, and how do you move from inspiration to implementation?  Better yet, what do you struggle with as a woman who is creative or longs to be creative. I plan to write all this week about women and creativity (and the Creator who is the source of all creation) and look forward to answering some of your questions.