Since I published The Forgetting Flower, I’ve done two video interviews, one for TV, one for a podcast. While I was thrilled to be invited to do the coveted publicity of video promotion, I was plagued by an emotion I felt for days before each interview. A feeling I hadn’t felt in many years and hoped to never feel again: pure anxiety.
Certainly I’d felt anxiety in the past. And I’d actually felt worse than anxiety. I’d felt utterly terrified during my husband’s cancer treatment years ago (he’s doing great by the way, knock on wood). I’d felt super nervous when I’d taught my first horticulture class, literally jittery at my first public reading. My stomach had always knotted up when I’d met famous writers I respected. But nothing resembled the potently vulnerable anxiety I felt at being on camera.
A Double Whammy Test
I think what was uniquely trying for me was knowing that not only I had to speak well spontaneously but also had to look good while doing so. I mean hey, I’m middle-aged, I’m probably 15 pounds overweight, I have a Chicago accent that comes out when I’m nervous. I even have weird freckles on my face that I didn’t have five years ago. It all added up to me feeling extremely disappointed and critical of myself.
That self-criticism fed my worry. If only I was younger, slimmer, prettier, etc. My brain went nuts during the days leading up to the interview. Especially for the TV spot. I vacillated from obsessing about little things like what to wear or how much make up to put on to big things like what the hell to say that made sense and was useful. It got to the point where, during the day, I consciously compartmentalized my worry, acting like it didn’t exist, so I could interact with my kids and husband and function like a normal person.
Nighttime Was the Worst
But at night, while lying in bed trying to fall asleep, the worry would return. Should I buy a new sweater? Should I talk about that one weird plant that was hard to find? Were people actually interested in my book at all? Who was I to be on television? The only solution was writing a long to-do list and taking a half-Advil p.m. Otherwise, I would have gotten no sleep during the weeks leading up to the interviews.
Still, knocking off the items on the to-do list every day helped. For the TV segment, I needed to repot several plants that I would talk about during the segment. I needed to buy a couple of new containers. I had to buy a new blouse to wear. I needed to get a haircut and a make up lesson from my hair stylist. In the podcast case, I had to clean the main floor of my house (where sometimes my old cat peed in odd places). The tasks went on and on.
But every time I crossed off a task, I felt a bit better. More in control. I worked up to feeling fairly prepared. On the day before both interviews, I felt like I knew what I had to do to look good and knew, more or less, what I would say. On the night before each recording, I took a whole Advil and went to bed, knowing I’d done the best I could.
Anxiety Haunts You
But I couldn’t fall asleep. I breathed, I meditated, tried not to think, did everything I could to feel comfortable and relaxed. But sleep didn’t come. Like a cruel master, the drowsiness came on but then subsided. Thoughts returned. Worries about what might go wrong popped in my head one by one. What if I got tongue-tied? What if I forgot a botanical name? What if I got food in my teeth? Or just passed out? Unfortunately, I barely slept.
Like It or Not, the Event Happens
Well, both interviews were what they were. Thankfully, my dear friend (and amazing container designer) Angela cleared her schedule and came with me to the TV segment. I mean thank effing God. She helped me carry plants in and straightened my blouse and offered a reassuring pep talk. I couldn’t have done it without her. Also, I’d published a blog post about the featured plants and I reread that while I was waiting, so I didn’t have to reach too far for my thoughts during the segment.
Before I knew it, I was standing behind a counter staring at two cameras and the whole thing flashed by in eight minutes. I looked like a goofy fool who talked with a hard Chicago accent, but whatever. It was done. Angela and I went to a brewpub afterward and, while coincidentally watching myself on TV (which was bizarre to say the least), I celebrated by eating french fries and drinking Coke.
For the podcast (called Must Read Fiction), the interviewer, the lovely Erin Popelka, was energetic and so supportive. She warmly shared her gratitude at doing the interview in my house and didn’t seem to worry about the smelly cat. Thanks to her, I felt at ease and ready to go. During the interview, I did look old and overweight and babbled, losing my train of thought here and there. Erin didn’t mind any of that. She’s a gem. A gem who loves books and is a forthcoming author herself.
An Unexpected Outcome
So would I do video, this medium, that seems incredibly at odds with my introverted sensitive self, again? Yeah, I would. I felt good that I actually went through with it. I didn’t cancel. I didn’t hide under the bed like I could have — although that might have been a good place to actually fall asleep! I showed up and got it done. There’s value in that. And a lesson.
What I learned is that video wasn’t that difficult. I didn’t die. Yes, there’s now a record of me looking silly and sounding silly. But surprisingly, it gave me more confidence. I could actually do it again. And do it better next time because I know what I’d do differently.
This sounds strange, and probably not what you thought I’d say, but now I’ve proved I can do video. I feel stronger. In fact, I’ve been considering practicing video just for fun. Perhaps, on my own to get comfortable in front of a camera. If I do it enough, maybe I won’t feel so anxious and nervous, or see myself as goofy, and maybe I can even smooth over my Chicago accent!
Have you ever dealt with anxiety before speaking or an interview? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear your story.
My new favorite TV show is The Good Place. Yes, I’m coming to it ridiculously late, but isn’t that the life of a busy mom? I’d read about it years ago and felt intrigued by the premise of a comedic afterlife scenario. While I love Ted Danson and Kristen Bell and especially William Jackson Harper (who our family knew well from The Electric Company reboot), I worried it would be too much about the sadness of the afterlife and not enough about comedy. I was wrong. It’s a hilarious, smart take on the afterlife. Not only that but plants figure in to this charming, funny show, which delighted me.
A Potted Topiary and An Array of Cactuses
During the first season, Eleanor, who believes she’s been accidentally put into The Good Place (akin to heaven), is given a plant as a gift. It looks like a gardenia topiary, complete with white blossoms. It’s a perfect plant that she promptly makes wilt through her selfish actions. Later, when she realizes she may be the cause of the town sinkhole, she freaks out, which causes the plant to spontaneously combust in flames. A brilliant comedic moment.
A few episodes later, Eleanor has mercy-killed Janet, the non-human assistant. Janet, who’s been “rebooted” from scratch, lacks the knowledge to do much. Still, she maintains a sunny disposition. When Michael (Danson) requests the file on Eleanor’s earthly life behavior, Janet produces a cactus. This is silly and appropriate since Eleanor grew up in Phoenix and Janet vaguely associates the desert with Eleanor. That the show takes the joke to its extreme with several different species of cactuses and Janet being utterly convinced she, this time, has the file, displays the writers’ finesse and smarts.
There’s a last image of a plant I’m thinking of. When Eleanor neutralizes Michael’s fun in a scene I won’t give away, Michael plops down in a chair. Then, as if tempting Eleanor to do something about his behavior, he giggles and subtly knocks a plant off a table. It’s as if he’s saying “Hey, what do you think of that?” But with Danson’s delivery, the gesture is slight and only lightly challenging, utterly keeping with Michael’s character.
Plants on Television
The only time we see plants in movies or television is when a character lives in the woods or a jungle. And often they’re part of the scenery or an obstacle. Maybe it’s because plants are, by their innocent natures, good things that evoke peace and warmth. So, in some ways, using plants in The Good Place is a perfect match. We have a happy afterlife where it’s sunny all the time, people eat frozen yogurt whenever they want, and plants are everywhere, in constant bloom. Of course, if you’ve seen Season 2, you know there’s something more intriguing and sinister to that story. Still, I’m glad entertainment creators are incorporating plants into storytelling, whether it’s via deep metaphors for human conditions or as silly sight gags that make people laugh.
Cactus photo by Mikkel Bech