This is Day 13 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House.
Anyone who knows me will assert that I am rarely at a loss for words. I suffer from the opposite problem: so many words I need to get out that I end up talking waaaaaay too fast, a prime example being this new acting podcast I was recently interviewed for. (Warning: it’s looong. And it’s just Part 1.)
But because of a strange confluence of events, I found myself with no words at all earlier this year.
I was sliding into illness, you see, when the occasion of my installation as Chief Nerd (a.k.a. President) of my Toastmasters club rolled around. I toyed with the idea of staying home, I was feeling godawful, and could feel my voice slipping away, but since I am from tough (read: hardheaded) stock, I decided to drink a lot of hot water with lemon and tough it out.
The event, which happens every six months at the changing of the guard, is in the form of a roast, although dinner itself is usually chicken (harhar). The past-president, who is as social as I am anti-, would have loved to have been roasted endlessly, including by yours truly. She’s a good sport and she likes the attention. But I quickly realized that just getting through a the brief installation ceremony and an acceptance speech was going to be pushing it. And it was. By the end of the dinner, I was a wreck; all I wanted to do was magically transport my body and what was left of my voice back to bed.
Instead, I was surprised with a radical “improvement” to one of our current systems by a newly installed officer. Who had already started implementing the improvement over dinner. Without so much as a howdy-do to me.
I was floored. This was bad news on a couple of levels: a potentially upsetting and sudden change for some long-time club members and a harbinger of big-time management trouble to come. So I did what any green, untested, barely competent leader would do: I tried to explain why this might not be the best idea right now. Louder and louder, over smiling but steadfast rebuttals and an increasing din. And, I must confess, my own personal fury. It is one thing to volunteer to shoulder a burden; it is another when people happily throw rocks at you while you do it.
She had several years and many, many healthy blood cells on me that night, so I finally mandated that we shelve the discussion. Even if I hadn’t, I would have had to: I woke up to no voice at all. None. Zero. Zip.
For three whole days.
Despite my sunny disposition, given the right circumstances I can go down the Bad Path like a greased sled on an icy hill. Now I was truly fucked. The club would be in upheaval, it would be my fault, and I would never regain control.
So I did something rather novel: I relinquished control. That’s right, folks, the Queen of Overthink put down her DIY sword and standard and called for help. (Okay, emailed. I could barely manage that.) And bit by bit, my trusted friends helped me dig out from under and regain control of the situation. All while I could not speak.
I wish I could report that everything was smooth sailing from then on. Far from it. It was five months of tough slog, even after the four-week mysterious illness (mostly) vanished. (Side note: I must plug the magical, healing powers of the neti pot at this juncture. Without one, I think I’d still be sick.)
Getting so sick did the trick, though, in getting me back on the path. It made me recognize certain things I might not have otherwise: that things aren’t always what they seem. That people you thought would be your staunchest supporters ain’t necessarily. That help comes from strange corners. And, happily (because this story does end happily), that slow and steady does, in fact, win the race.
So thank you, dreadful virus. Thank you, human road block. Thank you for being my teachers.
Let us hope that I don’t need to learn this particular lesson again…