July 22, 2010
Speaking of Nightmares
Anxiety dreams are common. It's the day of finals and you can't find the classroom--in fact, you have neglected to attend class all semester. Or it's the big game and the coach sends you in as the point guard--only you are short and a really bad basketball player who hasn't practiced with the team all season. Or you are suddenly called on to give a speech with a few only a minutes' notice.
Except that the last one wasn't a dream for me. It really happened once.
I was invited to participate on a panel at a conference for a few dozen aspiring editors. I imparted my wisdom, answered a few questions, interacted with the other panelists. As the hour ended, the moderator started to wind things up and my mind started to drift off. Then I vaguely heard him say, as if he were speaking in a dream, "Well, we need to bring this session to a close. We'll take a fifteen-minute break and then Andy Le Peau will speak to us for an hour on how to title books."
I nearly laughed out loud. Did he really say that? Oh, he is quite a joker. Yes, that was a funny one. No, he looked very matter-of-fact. Did he mean it?
I immediately went to the moderator and asked if he was serious. He was. Had we talked about this before? We had. We couldn't have. But we did.
Realizing it was fruitless to try to figure out what had or hadn't happened, I said, "Keep everyone away from me for the next ten minutes." I went to a corner and madly scribbled a couple pages of notes.
Without handouts or a PowerPoint I stood in front of the group. How to begin? I decided (rightly or wrongly) on honesty. I told them of the misunderstanding but that we would still be able to have a good session together. Not surprisingly, I made the hour very interactive. I asked questions, moving us from topic to topic, roughly in order. I wrote responses on the board and occasionally summarized along the way, both tactics giving me time to gather my own thoughts and emphasize key points.
The hour ended. Under the circumstances, it had gone reasonably well, I thought. The moderator was sympathetic and appreciative.
A couple of weeks later he sent me evaluations from the conference. Of course, I paid most attention to what they said about my session. One comment still sticks in my mind: "Didn't seem well prepared."