Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Talk the Talk

I was in a blind panic last night because I had to give a talk today at a conference. I prepared the slides about a month ago but in the time since I have been working all hours on a different project and have managed to displace most of the knowledge concerning the talk from the front of my brain, where it was easy to access, to some broom cupboard located in a little used depot at the back of my cerebral cortex.

The result was, when I tried to go through what I was going to say on my own last night, I was stumbling along so badly that it took me twice as long to plough through as it should have done. That's to say, forty minutes instead of twenty minutes. If that had happened today, it would have been a disaster.

It wasn't all down to forgetfullness. Part of the problem was fatigue due to lack of sleep. My daughter, who is 3 years old, has started in the French maternelle (nursery) school this week and this disruption has overturned all her previous patterns and made her feel very insecure. As a result, and quite naturally, she is clinging to my wife and refusing to go to sleep in her own bed. Her refusal to go to bed is, I think, a way of trying to win back some control of her life. Even when we finally get her to go to sleep (after coaxing and a large beaker of milky Ovaltine) she wakes up at three or four in the morning and comes and wakes us up.

Anyway, last night we managed to get our heads down at a reasonable time and fortunately, although my daughter did still wake us up at 4am, it wasn't too disruptive and by the morning I had regained at least half my normal functioning capacity (compared to less than a quarter the evening before.)

When the time arrived to give my talk this afternoon, I still felt unconfident, but thanks to my wife assuring me that everything would be okay, I was feeling more positive. I also deleted a number of slides from the talk to make it more manageable.

Speaking in public is a strange thing. It is almost like stepping into another dimension, slightly offset from reality. Some automatic function takes over in the brain and it feels as if you have blinkers on either side of your head that allow you to focus on the information that you have to transmit, rather than the several hundred people that are sitting in front of you. I don't know if there is a special name for this state, but there should be.

I have experienced this feeling in an equally profound way when reading my poetry from memory in public. I did this last year, reading six or so fairly long poems from memory. During the whole time I was entirely focussed on the words flowing out of my brain. I had little conception of what was happening around me. The most I could do was perhaps make some hand gesture as if I was somehow in charge of the situation. In reality, I was in thrall to the task in hand of emptying my brain of what it had somehow composed. I had become a mere speaking machine, my consciousness of self suppressed so that I might make the contents of my brain publically visible.

Somehow, in this odd state, I managed to give my talk without hesitation, and more or less on schedule. It was just as well I deleted the extra slides because they would otherwise have ruined things. This experience reminds me of the blog I wrote a while back about fractured reality. By not thinking too much about what I was doing as I gave the talk, my brain was able to skim over the surface of all the scattered fragments of knowledge that made up my presentation and weave them into a fluid continuity.

What I'm trying to say is, it went okay. Phew!


Andrea said...

I am guessing you also gave it in french. wow!

Jonathan Wonham said...

Actually, no, it was in English. Although what was a bit strange was the fact that I'd actually grown more used to talking about the subject in French with colleagues...