I was invited to speak at the recently concluded Goa Arts and Literary Festival this year, to share my thoughts about blogging — both in the personal blogging as well as food blogging space. My immediate reaction was disbelief. I was convinced there had been a mistake and I laughed out loud before I wrote back to the organiser informing him that he had perhaps contacted the wrong person, because most other people he mentioned in his email were in a different league. Published writers, cookbook authors, famous journalists, etc. Specifically in the blogging segment, I saw names of people with tangible accomplishments (a published book, a definite influencer, a well-known name in blogging circles). When he clarified that there was in fact no mistake, that the panel I’d be speaking on included other prominent bloggers from Goa, I first warned him of the fact that I am just bumbling along in the blogging space, I have never had a plan and don’t know where this is all going to add up in the larger scheme of things. Then, I began a long exercise in psyching myself to get on stage and speak.
I have never been very good with getting up on stage. I’ve studied music for over 15 years and dance for over 10, and yet never made it to stage because each time the opportunity presented itself I would either flatly refuse (sometimes after kicking up a mighty hissy fit), or give in to emotional blackmail and eventually do it. But not without losing all my fingernails to the battle, and developing stress-knots in my shoulders like battle-scars.
Years later, I shied away from representing my corporate communications team in conducting a training in the basic brand principles for employees. I just outright ducked out of it, and was lucky enough to have a teammate and buddy who understood my fear and always covered for me.
More recently, I had a boss who tried very hard to get me to make a blighted monthly presentation before the rest of the organisation. I hated this exercise with all my heart. Not just making the presentation, but the entire process of being harangued into fighting my stage fright and public speaking demons. The idea was to prime us as professionals who would sooner or later be making presentations to clients and conducting ourselves in a larger professional scenario, but my job profile rarely demanded it, so I didn’t see why I needed to be pushed so hard into doing something that didn’t come naturally, and that would actually add little value to my day to day life. I was also against the idea of being coerced like a school child, into doing things because the system expects that every “professional” tick off all the right boxes.
Even though I didn’t see the point in the entire exercise, I grit my teeth and made many a desultory presentation, with an edge of disinterest and made no attempts to hide my loathing. I wouldn’t be lying if I said it certainly accelerated my desire to leave the entire organisation altogether, since I couldn’t find a logical explanation as to why I had to repeatedly make a fool of myself indulging in an activity thatw as neither my cup of tea, nor central to my profession. I did however, take back some advice my boss gave me, during one of my feedback sessions when I vehemently opposed and questioned the point of it all. He told me that it was fine if I didn’t enjoy the process after having tried it out, but “try and minimise your aversions” he said. And that has stuck with me ever since. Not just with public speaking (I am still as unwilling, but at least I feign some interest and am willing to give it a shot) but with most other things too, whether it is an aversion to try a cuisine I’m inclined to turn away from, pick up a colour I have always thought didn’t suit me, or be the first to converse with a stranger in a room.
It has to be said, this advice has held me in good stead so far. So plied with his wise words, I decided I would cast my aversions aside, if only for those 30 minutes, and give it a good honest shot. I won’t lie, I went in unprepared. Partly because the whole fest was organised so shoddily, none of us knew our sessions titles or what we were to speak about; and partly because I wanted to see how spontaneity works.
Turns out it wasn’t such a great idea because on Day 1, I fumbled, spoke in long-winded circles and didn’t make any points with clarity and conviction as I would have liked to. I had it all in my head, but a little preparation and gathering of my thoughts beforehand would have definitely helped my delivery.
The double whammy came as a mighty surprise when the schedule was revealed 24 hours prior to the festival, when I realised I was speaking on not one, but two panel sessions. And what’s more, I was to chair the second session and engage in a casual conversation with my fellow food bloggers. So on day 2, I went prepared. I looked up my co-panelists and had questions in mind, and a general direction in which I wanted to steer the conversation. It helped that I was sharing the stage with two published cookbook authors, and one friend from Goa, so the conversation flowed much more easily.
And you know what? I actually enjoyed it. So here’s the deal. This is what the experience has taught me:
– I realise I am unnecessarily sheepish about my skills as a writer. I’ve written this blog for over 7 years now, and the response I’ve got, despite the fact that I rarely ever seek “response”, tells me that large parts of it are more than just readable, and are actually enjoyable and they have an audience out there. I need to start believing in myself and my ability to write in this form. I seem to take only my professional writing seriously and even in conversation I’m always brushing this blog aside as something I do in my own time, for fun, calling it a space where I muck about. In the process I am probably belittling the immense part it has played in shaping my personality, giving me a vent to share my thoughts and experiences, and in just bearing witness to my growth as a person
– I might have hated and loathed speaking about writing at work, because all said and done, I never really identified with that form of writing or the larger businesses I was a part of. I found speaking about blogging, food, life in Goa and my experiences to be much more natural and spontaneous.
– I may not be the best orator around, but its a useful skill to have to be able to engage an audience that is interested in what you have to say. I never experienced this at work, because well, subject was so dreary. But it was entirely different to have the audience listen with keenness, and even ask questions at the end of every session
– I am probably not as averse to getting up on stage and speaking in public as I imagined I was. Perhaps context and content is key
GALF may have fallen short on several other fronts, and the sessions I was a part of were probably of least consequence compared to the heavyduty litfesty proceedings of the festival at large, but personally it was an eye-opening experience. I got to meet fellow food bloggers, some old friends, some new. And I got to share the stage with some fabulous bloggers — some I follow and some I must begin to:
Trusha Ganesh: 13 year old blogger, who writes three blogs! One about her life as a pre-teen, one through the eyes of her dog (!) and one more full of random musings
Helene DSouza: German home cook and blogger who married into a Goan family and now straddles two cultures and cuisines and chronicles it all on her blog
Ulrike Rodrigues: who amongst many other blogs and forms of writing, wrote about cycling through and exploring Goa.
Anuradha Goyal: who is a published author, and also writes three blogs where she chronicles her travels, reviews books very seriously, and writes about technology and innovation
The food blogging panel had Helene DSouza, Pamela Timms of Korma, Kheer and Kismet fame, Kornelia Santoro who’s lives in Goa and cooks Mediterranean food (and she brought us fabulous truffles to eat!) and yours truly.
A few months ago someone (who shall remain unnamed) and who was at IFBM discovered I had this other blog, where I write freewheeling rambles about my life, experiences and thoughts — totally self-centred and personal. Imagine my shock when I received a message from her, totally out of the blue, in capital letters, demanding to know why I hadn’t conducted the session on writing at the food bloggers meet. This sort of surprise appreciation has increasingly been flowing in from unexpected quarters, and yet every time I hear words of praise for this blog, I don’t quite know how to react. I am at a loss for words and give into the most inappropriate sheepish response, which almost always is bordering on being apologetic and leads to some form of lodging my foot firmly into my mouth.
Maybe it’s time to get over my aversion to open appreciation and flattery too. And maybe I need to learn to accept it with grace.