After five months, the last two weeks went quickly. I get on a plane for New York tomorrow. On Monday, I’ll give a speech as part of a Buddhist temple cuisine festival for chefs and dignitaries.

I’ve learned that I overprepare for things like this. It comes from almost traumatic experiences. In seventh grade I was the new awkward kid at the local public middle school. Early in the term the school announced elections for the student council. I had remember seeing episodes on “Diff’rent Strokes” and other shows about school elections. My previous school never had such a thing, so it sounded exciting. I threw my hat in the ring for Vice President and then said, “Now what?”

My parents bought me some poster board–my favorite thing to draw on anyway in those days–and I set to work on my election campaign. Decatur, Alabama, had just gone through a vote to allow alcohol to be sold in the city. But I remembered the slogan of the temperance crowd, simply, “Vote No.”

So I usurped that and wrote, “Vote Joe.”

The part that made me the most nervous was that we had to give speeches in front of the student body. This was a big ass public school. Even though we had a large auditorium, the speeches had to be done twice to accommodate two seatings of students.

I had no experience with speeches. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. When the A-Team was interrupted for a speech by Ronald Reagan, I turned off the TV and played with my toys. So I asked my mom, “What should I do for my speech?”

“When I was in school, people just said, ‘My name is so-and-so. Please vote for me.'”

Okay, so I’ll wing it.

The next day the candidates were brought backstage. Immediately I knew I was in trouble. Some people had props and costumes. The speeches for President started. Two of the students were the children of an English professor at the local community college. And they had professionals make their speeches for them. One of them was running for Vice President–my seat. Everyone had something big prepared.

I had nothing.

I was one of the last to be called to the stage. I got up to the podium and stared at the sea of students looking back at me.

And stared.

Looked down. No, I still had no speech.


My brain had an electrical buzz going through it. I couldn’t remember what language I spoke. Then it said, “At least say something!”

“Um, hello.”

(small laughter)

“I’m Joe McPherson. I’m running for Vice President. Um, as you see, I don’t have anything prepared today. So, um…”

Stare. Where am I? I see the principal coming onto the stage to rescue me.

“Please vote for me. Thank you.”

I ran off.

Before the next wave of students came, the principal said I didn’t have to return to class. I could stick around and come up with a speech. I got out my notebook and wrote around a page and a half–rapidly. I don’t remember much of what it was. I think I was reaching for any qualification I had–like that I had visited Washington, DC two times.

I didn’t blow them away in the second round, but at least I had something. The other candidates congratulated me backstage because they had witnessed the previous disaster. I was just happy it was over.

The winners of the election were announced before school ended that day. I wasn’t expecting to win.

And I didn’t.

That evening, my mom got a call from my science teacher. She had heard about the speech fiasco and wanted to congratulate me on what I did. But she also wanted to congratulate me for coming so close to winning. It turned out that I had lost by one vote.

Was my hasty speech that good?

No, I think from further investigation I found that the sixth graders, who had witnessed my crash and burn, voted for me out of pity.

Ever since then, I have treated public speaking as a stage performance that I must prepare for much ahead of time. I did that with this year’s TED talk and the KOTESOL presentation. For this upcoming presentation, I wrote the draft during my summer break two months ago. It’s going to be the longest speech I’ve done off book. I’ve gotten it pretty much memorized, and I don’t plan to use it as a script–more as an outline. But even today I have the tendency to go into Blankville when doing something live.

This is why I’m glad I’ve had good experience with doing the SeoulPodcast and my bit at EBS and such. I feel a lot more relaxed when I’m actually on stage. But beforehand I’m so tense I can crush coal into diamonds between my buttocks.

But it’s not just the speech. I’ve had recent successes with speeches. It’s the travel itself. My experience with travel that past few years have turned me more into a homebody. Not always, but I’d say around half the time some little disaster has occurred. One time I almost missed my flight on a visa run because airport Immigration and Seoul Immigration weren’t on the same page. Where Seoul Immi said I was clear to go, airport Immi said otherwise, and I found myself in an office that looked like the DMV, waiting for my number to be called so I could beg, plead and cajole for mercy for whatever infraction I had committed so I could get on my plane.

Then there was the other time that I was about to board the airport bus early in the morning and realized I had left my passport at school, and I had no key. I had to wake up my boss to go and get my passport for me.

And then there were the issues of extra baggage during my return trip from America and Korean customs’ fascination with my synthesizer–suspicious that I lugged this heavy piece of equipment to sell on the black market.

In all cases, things have turned out alright. But I still can’t relax until I snap the seatbelt in my airplane seat.

So, my stress comes from the idea that I might have forgotten something. But really, it doesn’t matter if I forget anything–but my passport and e-ticket. Gotta make sure to not forget those. My presentation is mostly memorized, and I can access it from “the cloud” on Google Docs. My visual component is on Prezi, and I can download it anywhere. EJ has made sure to pack my suit and all my clothes. I really just need to go with the flow. It’s just the small things I’m trying to not forget–like printing business cards. We need to pick those up today. Funny that I ran out just before this trip. I need to make sure all batteries for all devices are charged. I don’t have a means to charge my camera battery in America. I got an adapter from my friend Hannah for my computer. Let’s hope that it works without burning my laptop.

The big stress bucket from yesterday was that I decided to make a last minute change of flight plans. I really want to see my grandfather in Decatur. You’d think that would be easy, but this is America, and I have no valid drivers license. It’s not like Seoul, where you have at least three modes of public transportation wherever you stand. Getting around ain’t easy, and my grandfather doesn’t drive. But I worked it out. But also there was the issue of changing my return flight. Originally, it looked like it was going to cost me over $1700 to change the ticket–more than just buying another round-trip ticket from Seoul. That’s how the airlines screw ya, I hear. But I got on the phone and was able to make some sort of arrangement and just be charged $374 extra. It would require me to travel back to New York and spend one more night there, but at least I’m able to spend a few days with Grandaddy. I’m really looking forward to that. I also hear he has a bad internet connection, so that means I’ll have no choice but to relax and enjoy my time with him. My only regret is that EJ can’t join me. And I’ll miss her a lot.

It looks like I’ll have a packed week in New York. Not much time for sightseeing. Again, it’s the details that make me nervous, but I know it won’t be any problem. I have my laptop. The place where I’ll be staying has a wireless router. I’ll likely have a cell phone. So communication options are good. I hope I’ll have time to at least wander in Central Park.

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