I do not enjoy public speaking. This may sound odd coming from someone whose chosen profession involves regularly getting up in front of a crowd of students several times a week, but somehow that feels different. When I’m teaching, I’m the expert. By getting up and speaking, I am merely fulfilling the role that everyone in the room expects of me.
Volunteering to perform at a community arts night is not the role everyone expects of me.
When I took piano lessons growing up, playing at recitals always felt like a necessary evil: this is where we prove to our parents that the lessons are still worth it. Since then, talking to others, I often hear the sentiment that performing, while sometimes scary, is wonderful, because you get to share something you love with a lot of people at once. I have never felt that way about music — I enjoy how it makes me feel to be the one playing it, and that’s not something I can share so easily. But I understand the desire because I have felt that way about other things: the ideas I share on this blog, for example, are the ones that have brought me joy in a way that I want to share with the world. And it was that desire to multiply joy that compelled me to overcome my dread and say the following:
“If you know me, you probably don’t think of me as a poetry person. That’s okay — I don’t think of myself as a poetry person either — but I’m going to read you a poem. It’s not one I wrote, but it’s the first one I read that made me feel like you don’t have to be a poetry person to enjoy a poem.”
by Billy Collins
I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice
might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.
Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe
behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,
the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—
now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,
lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?