2010 was my year of Finding My Voice – and to help me, I joined Toastmasters, an organisation aimed at helping anyone find their voice, or find confidence in speaking in public. I found I only had difficulty speaking in public where my emotions were involved, and I wanted to learn how to speak without my voice catching, without tears… and found that sometimes, tears are what you need to express anyway, and people connect to your story. Your Toastmasters Introductory talk is about yourself, to ease you in gradually as most people can talk about themselves easily enough. Here’s what I said.
If life is a tapestry, then mine is one woven with words.
As a cross-stitcher, I follow a pattern so that stitch by stitch, a picture is revealed, on one side at least. The other side is a jumble of colours and textures, of darkness and light. MY tapestry is different – it’s been over 40 years in the making, and there’s been no pattern to follow, yet as I look at what is completed, I can see themes emerge nonetheless. And I can see that it isn’t perfect, but it’s still turning into something wonderful.
My tapestry has all the colours of the rainbow in it, from the pastel background words like housework, commute, sleep, dinner (for six or more), school runs and work, to the basic greens and blues of any landscape. The greens are those of farms, market gardens and the joy of growing up on the edge of an Irish country estate, to the blues of something borrowed/something blue, the azure blue of the Maldives and the ever-changing blues of sailing on Strangford Lough.
There are the misty grey colours of boredom, frustration, illness and injury – when perhaps the tapestry has been set down for a while before being picked up again.
Here and there, too, are accent colours of the white of words like hope, and change through to the black and white of fundamentalism and growing up in the Troubles, to the deep dark night blackness of words like depression, divorce, despair.
Throughout, you can see the candy-striped words of four-kids-in-five-years, books, moving to Scotland with new words like puddock and spicket, and the words that weave in and through each other, like daughter, mother, sister, wife, friend, employee, manager, coach, writer, poet, judge.
All my life, I’ve loved words. I don’t ever remember learning to read. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the little chair my dad made for me in front of the one radiator in the hall that heated the rest of the house, thrilled because I had a new book to me, and oblivious to people walking around me to get to their rooms.
By the time I was in Primary 4, I had exhausted the school library, and my teacher Mr Leckey, would cycle a 10 mile round trip to bring me books from the public library once a week.
By the time I was 14, I’d read Anne Frank’s diary and Mein Kampf, much of Agatha Christie, H G Wells and Hitchcock’s work, and I’d fallen in love with Shakespeare, Churchill, Dickens, James Joyce and the War Poets.
Which is not to say I didn’t read the books of childhood like Milly Molly Mandy and Billy Bunter; and I WAS George in the Famous Five, Nancy Drew in her mysteries, Anne of the Green Gables – and a hobbit. When the Lord of the Rings came to the cinema, I held my breath to see if it lived up to my imagination – and found unbelievably, that it did. And later, when the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came out, I found I had tears in my eyes as Lucy found the wardrobe and found the entrance to Narnia, having so often tried to find that myself.
A few years ago, I went to the little museum in the Leadhills in Ayrshire, and I sat in the library there at the end of the tour, surrounded by books while a soundtrack played. A lead miner, in poverty and on a pittance, was explaining why he wanted to borrow one of the precious books there, knowing he would read while exhausted, by candlelight, in a hovel that dripped water. He swore to keep the books spotlessly clean, so he could educate himself and change his future, and provide his children with a different life. And when he spoke of why he wanted to read, and talked of how a book smelled and felt to him, I would again have tears in my eyes as I found a kindred spirit speaking to me down through the years.
Always, I’ve HAD to read. And when the children were very small and I was also looking after my husband’s elderly aunt, I would creep to the bathroom – the only door with a lock on it – just to read a paragraph of a book, and find my space.
And then in 2000, it all stopped. After several years when I should have left my marriage but felt paralysed by financial and cultural constraints, and when the words I used were reduced to those like whisper, silence and invisibility, I finally took the decision to walk towards love and happiness. I needed all my energy to build a new life and social circle, settle into a new job so I could provide for the children, and make a new home. And I found I could not read, outside of what I had to do to survive. For almost a year, I could not read a magazine, a newspaper – or a recipe. At times I wondered if I would ever love words again, but once I’d remembered who I was, I did.
So my reading material changed – to lecturers notes, business books on human resource management, finance and strategy, as I worked at night to get my degree. Then as I moved on in the workforce, words like policies, contracts, Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments and minutes of Senior Team Meetings became my reading material, introducing lots of new words to my tapestry.
In 2002, I read Cheryl Richardson’s Stand Up For Your Life; and I realised words could change lives as I learned how to stand up for MY life, start to find my own voice again and use it, and with that, came the ability to write poems and books and letters and emails of encouragement.
2005 saw the words around NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming – introduced, as I became a Master practitioner and an Eriksonian Hypnotherapist – and realised fully the power of words to enslave or change easily.
Still, there would be uphill words like depression, stress and exit interviews, and downhill words like flow, and strength, confidence and joy, as well as new words like “the truth, the whole truth,” and “desert simpliciter.”
And you will also see the gold and silver that highlight my story. Words like:
“It’s a boy,” “it’s a girl” – twice..
“Enough is enough, grievance and chief executive, and tribunal”
“I do – I very much do” to Lee when I married him. And if you listened carefully, you would hear words like joyful weeping when our guests heard him promise to cherish his new family, name by name.
If you could see my tapestry, you’d see words like “What Would You See, If You Dared To Be Free” – a poem of hope, published for charity. You’d see a Book Club I formed at work, to get me to read other genres and come across wonders like “A Thousand Splendid Suns.”
And you’d see Facebook and words like connection, and the use of written communication – but you’d also see Toastmasters, a tool that will increase my ability to verbally communicate my words to you all