Swimming with the Sharks

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Readers, please don't try this at home:


    Several days ago the DBSA conference organizers contacted me. By the time you read this I will be on a plane to Orlando headed for the DBSA conference, where I will be one of the speakers.


    My intention was to tweak and expand my standard talk from 35 minutes to about 45 minutes. By the time I got through tweaking and expanding, 90 percent of the content was totally new. This is why I don't trust myself with scissors in the house.


    So I had a lot of my old talk on the cutting room floor. This was good. I could always stitch the pieces together at a later date, add some new material, and have two talks. Abraham Lincoln, after all, didn't just have a Gettysburg address.

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    Anyway, I'm talking on the phone to Cindy at DBSA. One of their speakers had just cancelled. Could I fill in? What Cindy had in mind was me giving my same talk twice, on different days. But why make things easy on myself? The B on my Red Sox cap stands for bipolar. Why not, I suggest, have me do two separate talks?


    No problem, I assured Cindy.


    So I get out my old talk, and ... big problem.


    Think of Picasso in his blue period and Picasso in his rose period. In the process of preparing my new talk, I had unwittingly changed periods. Think of my new DBSA-ready talk as the iPhone, and my old talk as just plain phone.


    Don't get me wrong. This is a great sign, sort of like the before and after in those weight-loss ads. It's always gratifying to see clear signs of growth (oops, wrong thing to say when talking about weight loss). So, after simultaneously patting myself and flagellating myself on the back, I resolve to bring my old talk up to the standards of the new one.


    I need to write about 20 new minutes into this second talk. I produce a draft in the space of a few hours, and spend the next two days rehearsing it. I go to bed early with an ear ache. Both my writer's instinct and alimentary canal are telling me something isn't right. It's not clicking.


    Next morning, it's back to the drawing board. The new version virtually writes itself. I read it trough several times out loud. It clicks.


    I set that talk aside, and run through the other one, the one I'd been neglecting for two days. I'll be delivering both talks without notes, speaking "off the cuff" directly to the audience, which means interminable hours of meticulous rehearsal. In my quick run-through, I'm gratified to find out I've only forgotten half the things I thought I had committed to memory. Nothing to worry about. A second run-through and I'm back on track.


    Now it's back to going over and re-going over my new twenty-minute segment without wrecking my throat in the process. Over the past few days, I have found myself acquiring a new speaking technique. It's called modulating my voice. I'm a long way from mastery, but now I can deliver my lines without sounding like I'm placing a complicated drink order in a noisy bar.


    "Sixty to a hundred percent," I intone, bringing my voice down to a stage whisper.


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    Wow! I did that?


    Never underestimate the power of even a minor breakthrough. The rapture that immediately follows is what life is all about. I can see my efforts beginning to pay off. Not only am I on track to give it my best at DBSA, I reflect over a throat-soothing orange-yogurt smoothie, freshly blended. I'm on track to do even better.


    Then it's back to another round of rehearsing. Then dinner and time to call it a day. It's Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. A diver is hand-feeding a wild tiger shark. No shark cage. Twenty sharks suddenly materialize and close in.


    This is frighteningly new to the diver, but he's seasoned. The situation may be more than he can handle but he doesn't panic. Instead, he experiences something transcendent. One man, alone, swimming with the sharks.


    Like I said, please don't try this at home.

Published On: August 06, 2007