I’ve given two talks in the space of a week. The first was to the Milton Keynes Embroiderers Guild which coincided with our new textile art exhibition there by ‘FIVE’ (here’s a photo of part of the exhibition – more about that in a later post). The second talk was to Wey Valley Workshop Textile Group in Godalming. I’m delighted to report that I actually enjoyed both of them! No need to lie down in a darkened room to recover, although that bottle of wine later on in the evening did hit the spot. Both groups were lovely and welcoming, and everyone was really friendly. I was pleased with the response to both talks, and I’ve been pondering over why I was apprehensive about it beforehand.
Surveys asking what people worry about seem to suggest that fear of death only occupies the number two spot. Fear of public speaking comes in at number one. It’s that 3am kind of worry, when the house is silent, the dressing-gown hanging on the back of the door in the darkness is someone lurking silently in the shadows, and the people you are going to speak to the next day are definitely going to eat you.
I’ve done my share of giving evidence in Court for work, so I’m used to preparing myself for cross-examination by a hostile barrister whose purpose in life is to make you look stupid, or contradict yourself, or lose your thread, or burble. You do gradually learn the tricks that the barristers employ such as ‘The Withering Look’ or the facial expression that says ‘I Cannot Believe You’ve Just Said Something Quite So Stupid’. I have to remind myself that when I’m speaking to a textile group I am actually talking to a friendly group of like-minded people who have come along because they share the same interest in textiles, and who have come along in a positive spirit. Old habits die hard though, and it is lovely when I have got started and begin to realise that I’m not going to be eaten for breakfast. I start to see nods and smiles and no Withering Looks. The icing on the cake is that the questions are friendly and interested, not critical.
I think part of the apprehension is also an element of ‘So what do I know’. I get invited to do these talks on the strength of having won the C&G Gold Medal for Excellence in Stitched Textiles, rather than because of the years of exhibiting, teaching and publishing experience that many speakers have. I find myself thinking ‘If I had more years experience in textile art, then I would have more to say’. Let me confess something. Once, the night before giving evidence in Court, I dreamt that I was standing in the witness box dressed up in my formal Court clothes except that I had forgotten to put on my skirt. ‘Beam me up, Scotty!’ So, what actually is the worry? Being exposed, like the emperor in his non-existent new clothes? Being caught out? Being found lacking in some way? All of the above, I suspect. So it’s really exciting and liberating to have a positive response to my talks from these two lovely groups (and I’m pleased to say that I did remember to get dressed beforehand!)
I based these talks on exploring questions about why adults so easily lose the creativity that they had when they were children, and how we can get it back if we do lose it. This is something I’ve thought about a lot, because it connects with both my professional working life and my re-discovery of creativity and textiles later on in life.
When I did two previous textiles talks last year I found it very distracting using written notes. It was like someone switching on a fan that blew all my ideas around into heaps of chaos. Those two talks definitely had some Grade A burbling! ‘The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public’. (Roscoe Drummone). So this time I decided to use the digital images as the prompts instead, and to have no written notes at all. This worked much better, I think. It did occur to me that it would be good to have a Plan B in case of technical failure, but hey, they say adrenaline sharpens the mind.
I guess it will take some time until I lose the unnerving feeling that when I speak about textiles, people are secretly wondering why I forgot to get dressed! I’m not quite sure where the transition comes between being an enthusiastic amateur and being a professional artist. I have a kind of reverence for ‘proper’ textile artists – the ones who earn their entire living through their art. I’m coming into this quite late compared to the bright young things who emerge from art college, so I think I’ll just carry on bumbling along and developing my work and I’ll see where it takes me. In the meantime, with these latest two talks I feel I have dipped my toe into the water. I’m so pleased to find that the water was warm and there weren’t any crocodiles lurking below the surface.