“Today, I’m going to talk about prostitution,” I said, as one of my eyes defied the laws of physics and went to an alternate universe.
The other one remained glazed over, transfixed on a singular dot on the back of the room.
There isn’t really a bright side of this story, but if I’m being optimistic, I guess you could say that at least I looked like a chameleon.
“What kind of prostitution you ask? Prostitution in the early 1900s,” I answered my own question like an erratic ringmaster at the circus.
How was it that I was only four seconds deep into this speech and already pre-regretting every word that came out of my mouth?
you’ve…. got… to.
get your… shit…
together…” I panicked inside of my head, but in slow motion.
I felt like someone locked me in a Bob Ross painting and threw away the key.
I guess someone forgot to tell me that taking an entire Xanax before a speech would make me act like an 80-year-old turtle.
During my second year of grad school, I was required to go to a workshop for new teaching assistants. Apparently, I skipped over the part of the instructions that stated we were to give a five minute speech graded by our peers.
Naturally, I noticed this information, right before I had to leave my house to go to this dreadful two-day conference.
I panicked and began rustling around my room, looking for a tiny jewelry box that had one last surviving Xanax in it. Long story short, the year before, my co-worker convinced me that Xanax was the greatest thing on Earth for anxiety. She gave me a few (3) of them that she stole from our boss.
It wasn’t like I was hooked, but every now and then, I’d take half of one and feel like the same exact person, except less stressed.
This time, I took a whole one and felt like I’d been sipping a cup of lean for five weeks straight.
It took a minute to kick in, so before I lost my mind, I decided that I’d just talk about what I wrote my seminar paper on. I had already spent a whole semester researching the topic, so if I knew anything like the back of my hand, this was it.
I got into the classroom, sat down, the speeches began, and Father Sleep started tugging on my heavy eyelids.
I violently came back from Lalaland, to an old man in front of the class giving a talk about on how to go fishing.
HOW TO GO FISHING!
The panic struck me like a lightening bolt. Here, this dude was giving a speech on the most innocent subject of all time, which I was about to follow up to with a five minute lecture about how women from the factories were forced to sell their bodies so they could feed their children during the 1890s.
As he summed up with his final point, “Just Have Fun,” I threw up in my mouth. The rest of the class erupted in applause for the feel-good story of the century.
Great. I was up next.
I slept-walked my way to the front of the class like a lethargic Big Baby from Toy Story 3.
I’ve never had an issue with public speaking. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I was giving a totally unprepared speech on a subject that no one else dared to even touch with a 10-foot pole.
And I was high as an actual kite.
Let’s not forget that.
Thankfully, I picked a topic that I could literally talk about in my sleep. Because I’m pretty sure I was asleep.
But with my eyes open.
Terrifying. I know.
“Back in these days, forget being an independent woman. You know what they used to call Avondale? Hell’s Half Acre. Many women from the textile mills worked and lived in this area. A textile mill worker only made about $5.00 a week. A prostitute made close to $25.00. When your kids are starving and hungry, which one are you going to pick?” I posed like a child actor to my appalled audience.
Xanax does a really good job of making your thoughts go all over the place, like you’re jumping from dream to dream. While I could remember the facts behind my thesis, there’s no possible way I could’ve stayed on topic even if I wanted to.
“And then walks in our righteous (complete with eye roll) Progressive reformers. You see these same people up on their high horses in the churches today. That’s right. Not much has changed, has it?” I aggressively segwayed into nowhere.
This was turning more into a angry rant, rather than an academic speech.
Just where I wanted to go with this.
“Yeah, well the woman I studied, Madam Louise Wooster, had a few choice words for those hypocrites,” I continued.
I then went off of memorized passages from her book for another few minutes. And by memorized passages, I mean just basically making up quotes.
I’ve always told people this, but now more than ever my own advice rang true. It was more about the tone in my voice and how I presented this horrible speech, than what I was actually saying. I seemed confident, even though any inkling of a single mental capability was out cold for the rest of the day.
I finished up, and when the reviews came back, they actually were very good.
On top of that, a fellow student in my history seminar gave a very similar, but way more graphic speech on abortions in the early 20th century.
At least I wasn’t the bad guy, here.
This made my speech look like it was a walk through the magical world of Candyland. I had got stuck in Gloppy for a bit, but after that, it was smooth sailing to Gramma Nutt’s house.
The rest of the day, my head ached from having to stay awake. It was honestly physically painful to pretend like I could be even remotely present in a conversation.
After the conference, I closed my eyes for most of the walk home, laid down in my bed, and played dead for the next 14 hours.
So, I think what we can all learn from this is: A. Never take an entire Xanax before a speech. B. If you have to give a speech, just speak confidently. C. Try to avoid morbid topics.
Don’t sweat it, though. For the most part, no one is listening any way.