Archive for the ‘Toastmasters’ Category

Launching your first book is like delivering your first baby. There is great cause for much celebration and rightly so, as no one knows other than other authors and publishers, the extent of effort, money and concentration it takes to deliver a fully-formed book into the world. You cross that finish line as a debut author and you throw a party with catered food, fancy decorating and elephants, and you dance till dawn.

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The second book, like the second baby, tends to be a quieter affair. You’re more tired this time round. Your hands are fuller. You take fewer pictures. You have two novels to be responsible for and yet, there is also the third story to write.

At the same time there are the same rounds of media sites which need updating, interviews, and online conversations to be had and bells to ring in order to publicise your new creation to the world. The dreaded self-marketing engine that the Indie author needs to kick into overdrive must work overtime now on promoting that book to the world.

And, sometimes, this conflict of interests can call for new solutions. Enter, the mini-launch. I don’t know if this is a “thing” already, but if not, I’m making it one.

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For the celebration of The Sasori Empire (http://amzn.com/B075PMTN2H), the second novel in my upper middle grade series, the Chronicles of Aden Weaver, I wanted to commemorate the moment and have a party.

The trouble was, I had expended so much time and energy on producing the little dickens that I had nothing left to give. All I wanted to do was recline on a beach in Fiji and sip a cocktail, there was no way I was going to rev up the engines for a massive party as well. So, I hatched the idea of the “mini-launch,” essentially the smallest version of a book party you can have.

~ Here’s how ~

Venue: The first thing is where and when. I simply requested to add the launch of book two into the mix of a get-together I already go to each week, in this case, my local Toastmaster’s meeting. Cost: $0. (Apart from the annual fee, which I would pay anyway).

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Invite list: That way, I didn’t have to worry about people turning up. I knew the crowd of people would be there and they were my friends. You could do the same with your book club or critique group. I also invited one or two other people as guests.

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Catering: I paid a friend who is a baker to make two dozen mini cupcakes. Cost: $20. I bought a bottle of bubbles and a bottle of freshly-squeezed orange juice. Cost: $24.

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Decoration: VistaPrint helped me create two personalized signs. They have the same legend on both sides and plastic stands and only cost $50. A friend donated the dragonfly tablecloth.

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Agenda: When you make your book launch part of an established club meeting, you don’t have to worry about figuring out an agenda or writing the script. All I needed to focus on was writing and learning my speech. At the end of the meeting, the Toastmaster announced that I would be signing books and we broke open the bubbly at that point. I signed and sold my first box of books, and had interesting conversations with would-be authors.

 

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Photos/video: I took along my own camera and tripod. I shoulder-tapped a friend on the day and asked if she would press the record button when I started speaking. And I did the same with the camera after the meeting, getting various folks to take photos. I got a very serviceable video of my speech and some nice pictures of the occasion. The whole thing took an hour and a half. It cost under $100. Whereas my first book launch cost me three times that amount and took double the time.

I’m here to say the mini book launch works. It announces a worthwhile achievement. It sets the book off on its own course in the world with minimum fuss or cost, which is not to say that next time I won’t throw a huge party, it is to say, sometimes when means are limited, there are other ways of commemorating the moment that won’t break the bank.

If you do try your own mini launch, let me know how you go. I want photos!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” ~ Confucius

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“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche.

I missed the mark with a speech at Toastmasters this week. With a topic I knew well: writing, and raising children. I flubbed a few lines, got some words mixed up and forgot a key point, and felt it was an overall disappointment.

It was another one of those notches in the belt of life’s defeats, which turn into teachable moments only in hindsight.

I knew I hadn’t hit the mark even at the time I was speaking. I could feel the audience’s attention slipping. I didn’t have them in the palm of my hand, the way I do when I’m in the zone.

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After the meeting, instead of shaking my hand warmly, there was some avoidance. I came home and watched the video back. I saw that I started the speech with a sigh, which is never a good thing. I used the wrong word in a couple of places without realizing, and that had changed the message. I waffled on at the end. It was a disaster. No wonder people avoided me afterwards.

I felt disappointed. “You picked the wrong word,” I said to myself, watching the footage. “If only you’d stopped and taken a silent breath.”

I berated myself on and off for about half a day. After that, it wasn’t that I felt bad, I felt nothing. I was blank.

Which brings me to the point, how useful are the things we say to ourselves? What effect are they having on our lives?

In my case, I went to that giant therapist in the sky, Facebook, and shared via status update.

Normally, my posts about stuff on Facebook might garner six or so “likes.” When I went back online the next day, I saw that my post had 22 “likes” and there were comments: beautiful, heart-felt encouragement.

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Friends had taken the time to remind me of the steps forward I have taken. The words melted my heart. I sat there and wept into my keyboard like a baby, until my tea went cold.

Later, I dried my face, made a fresh cup of tea, and I could feel the difference within. The veil had lifted. The blankness was gone. I could feel again, I could smile again. I was free. Wow. What a revelation about the power of the right words and a good cry. Thank you again to all my beloved friends.

By sharing with others, by caring about others, and by practising the mindfulness of saying loving words to ourselves and those around us, all manner of ills in this world can be healed.

The right words at the right time can be good medicine.

I remember back in the day, about twenty-five years ago, I read a small, life-changing book called “Creative Visualization” by Australian author, Shakti Gawain. https://www.amazon.com/Creative-Visualization-Meditations-Imagination-Create/dp/1511326948

That was when I became introduced to this idea of the manifestational juju of the words we say to ourselves. I learned we can radically alter the experience we have by changing our inner dialogue. Gawain taught about the benefits of saying positive statements to ourselves, which she called daily affirmations.

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In essence: we can aid and sustain ourselves by saying the right words.

Here’s a good example. About the FB post on the “failure” of my recent speech, friend Sharon Hinckley said wisely, “Could you lose those ‘high expectations’ and just go out there and have fun?” She altered my perception and let in the light by using the right words.

The right phrase can alter the atmosphere of our lives and elevate the tone.

The truth is, our inner dialogue is always going on anyway, and so we might as well use it to our advantage. The first step is to come up with some phrases which work for us. The next step is to remember to say them to ourselves a few times daily. *Tip: try making it part of the daily routine so they end up becoming automatic. *Tip Two: try thinking of three things each day you are grateful for.

To return to the question I started with: how useful are the things we say to ourselves? They’re potentially life-changing, if we use the right words. What we say matters.

Have you ever tried doing affirmations? Do share…

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“To transform your life, you must find a way of being grateful for what you have now.” ~ Rhonda Byrne

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

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When the upper-ups at IWSG headquarters decided to bring in the Question of the Month, earlier this year, I admit to not exactly clapping my hands with glee. I opted out at first.

You see, I like to write every post from the point of view of sharing either what’s been going on for me, or what I’ve been thinking, or doing creatively, or experiencing through my kids and my family. As ‘the Question’ was only a suggestion, not a given, I decided to make my own choice as to this blog’s content.

I wanted to remain true to my ideals. Yet, as the year went on, I noticed other #IWSG bloggers I visited always answered the Question. I began to feel like the only kid on the playground, while all the other kids are jostling for elbow-room in the sandpit.

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Long story, short, last month I answered the Question. It was fun. I imagined myself one of the big gun authors being asked a question about my writing career by a newspaper reporter.

December 7, the IWSG Question of the month – In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself five years from now, and what’s your plan to get there?

Great question!

I see myself with the series, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, finished and published. I see spin-offs from the series, evolving naturally. I can see the books being made into some sort of local production, either theatre or movie, or maybe artwork springing from it, or the series being made into some sort of video game.

I see myself blissful at work on the next book/s.

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Have you heard of making a “vision board?” I saw the idea on an Oprah show back in the day. You create a pictorial poster of what you hope to achieve. I preferred writing down my dreams. I call mine a “wish list.” Each year, on my birthday (which was the day before yesterday) I update my wish list for future dreams and goals. For more than ten years now, at the bottom of each list, I’ve written the same line. “Peter Jackson turns my books into movies.” That’s a big dream, however if we’re talking about what I really want to achieve in five years, then!

My plan to get there is to keep on writing. Write. Write and learn. Learn and write.

I shall also keep on networking, which is a necessity these days, to be active on social media and create an active digital footprint. I’ll carry on blogging, tweeting, putting content on my YouTube channel, and pinning on Pinterest. I’ll keep on building my email list for my *Newsletter and putting out quality content.

(*For Newsletter, e me at yvettecarol@hotmail.com put “Subscribe” in subject line, you will automatically be added to the family!)

I think it’s important now that I have overcome my fear of public speaking to keep up the public speaking to improve my self-confidence levels.

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Then, we come to the most important thing I intend to keep on doing. Those who have known me on the ether for a while will have heard this story before, however, I always find its worth repeating. Back when I was into multi-level marketing, our very wealthy, mega-successful, charismatic leader took me aside one time, to pass on a gem of her wisdom. I remember we were standing in the car-park, after an evening meeting.

She said, she was going to pass on the single most important thing I had to do.

‘I don’t mean just in business, I mean in life. Forget about the money, building a business is not about that. You must think one way and one way only. There is only one thing you need to do. And that is, Spread the Love. Everything you do, everything you say, every action every day, you Spread the Love. That’s all you need to do.’

I really took the message to heart. I went away from that night and I have applied that principle to everything I’ve done since. It works for me.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘New Zealanders by nature of our isolation just go ahead and do things our own way. That’s the New Zealand spirit.’ ~ Peter Jackson

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“Where There Is No Vision, the People Perish” ~ the Bible, Book of Proverbs

Last night, I went along to a speech contest, one of four which take place each year within Toastmasters. The Humorous and Table Topics Contest this year had within it a most thought-provoking question. The chair asked each contestant, “Is art essential to daily life?”

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Wow, what a great question. I thought about it all the way home.

When you think the earliest examples of the cave art of our ancestors began to appear around 30,000 years ago, it makes you realize how deep this question really is. From that artistic moment in man’s history, we sought to express strong feelings through imagery. This proved a great intellectual breakthrough for our species.

In effect, man could ‘freeze’ part of his environment long enough for his powerful intelligence to think about it, to manipulate it, to understand it fully. ~ Readers Digest, The First Two Million Years.

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Art can show us who we are and who we want to be, and it can give us the metaphors and thematic connections that let us understand our world in a bigger, weirder, more resonant way. ~ Chuck Wendig

When you think that our primitive art led to teaching aids, toys and tools, you realize that art has played a quintessential part of our evolution. Therefore, the answer to the question could be, art is not only essential to life but life as we know it today would not have been possible without it.

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This morning, there was a new post out by Wendig, entitled, It Is Art That Will Help Us Survive http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/09/21/it-is-art-that-will-help-us-survive/

Wendig gave verdant life to some deep concerns people have these days about the future of everything. Yet, he leavens the doom and despair of “reality” with the message, ‘Spoiler warning: it’s art that will save us.’ In other words, he’s doing through his blog what art does for the observer.

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He likens the positive effect to being healthy for us: ‘The act of art as a probiotic boost to our emotional and spiritual immune systems. Art as rebellion, revelation, renewal.’ I like the idea of that, art as antioxidant! Thanks, Chuck. You, the man.

I’ve been an artist all my life, whether through art or the written word. About a year ago, a talented, creative friend asked, Does being able to draw have a purpose these days…it doesn’t seem to have any artistic or financial merit.

I replied: “My oil paintings will outlive me. I kind of like that. However, leaving legacies aside, a world without art and artists of all kinds I would not want to live in. Our purpose may not be expressed in the same clearly linear format of hours done/recompense given/living earned sort of thing as other people get to do. The arts are about much more than that. They’re about spiritual, emotional, mental, physical expression and transmutation and magical processes.

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‘The arts provide the rest of mankind with those most important of elusive experiences: hope, and inspiration, and aspiration and joy. They’re about the alchemy of being reminded to look up and remember the bigger picture.’

And as Wendig reminded us, ‘We learn who other people are through art — it’s not just our stories we need reflected, but everyone’s. Art maybe won’t create empathy out of whole cloth, but it can stir it, it can stoke it, like breath blown against cooling embers.’

Empathy is a vital asset in these explosive, uncertain times. Therefore art provides a vehicle for understanding one another.

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This is why in times gone by, the Ancient Maori, for instance, would greet a group from another tribe by stating who they were, who their kin were, and then by sitting and sharing stories (the “mihi”). In this way, they would create common ground with those they needed to ally with and trade with or whatever. Art greases the wheels of reciprocity and peace.

Therefore, you could say, art is essential to future life.

It was the wonderful writer, Terry Pratchett, who said, Before you can change the world, you have to be able to form a picture of the world being other than it appears. I think this is the essence of the argument right here. Yes, as Wendig says, art provides an escape, and this opens us to envision, to build new worlds, better, greater, more sustainable worlds.

Imagination, said Pratchett, not intelligence, made us human. It’s art, said Wendig, that will save us. It’s art, said Carol, that will preserve our species and our world.

Yes. Art is essential to life!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Humans, in order to live effectively and happily, need a goal—a vision—to pursue. ~ Paul Rosenberg

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Do you remember the Humorous Speech Contest I’ve been sweating over? I took one in the eye. I didn’t even place.

It’s a process, losing.

I think I must have gotten full of myself there for a while. You see, even though public speaking was my number one fear in life until a year ago, through tackling it, I seem to have somehow discovered an unknown resource. People keep telling me I’m good at it. I keep saying, ‘Am I?’ with a dazed look. I really have been genuinely moved and pleasantly surprised. In fact, the joy of back-patting has become so addictive, I’m a Toastmasters convert.

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I’ve always felt alien to everyone else, and that my particular gifts with writing, creating, and communicating were burdens for other people in some fashion. My entire life I’ve been told I’m too loud, and that I’m too expressive. Now, these very traits which have been my afflictions have undergone a process of alchemical transmogrification. They are now revealed as perfectly suited for public speaking. I can easily pitch my voice to fill a room and I can bring a story to life. I can also write a speech.

Last year, I won the first round of the speech competition and came second at the District level. Secretly, I wanted to win the District Contest as well.

It was like I was competing against myself. I poured weeks into figuring out how to write humor, Funny, Me? And Funny, Me! And, I didn’t just pay lip service, I utilised all the advice given. I followed every lead. I watched comedians, and other humorous speakers, I read humorist blogs. I wrote my speech and rewrote it a dozen times. Finally, about a week prior to the competition, I started trying to learn the material. I practised, rehearsed, refined, and edited my speech, ‘You Call That Progress?

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Wednesday, 31st was the day of the Contest. There were five of us in the fray. It’s a strange animal, the contest. Some people thrive in those situations, others don’t. When you’re faced with judges holding pens at the ready, as they frown over their scoring sheets, the words start to get jumbled in your head.

While I’d imagined a year of my attending Toastmasters meetings would have helped banish the nerves, no, it was just as terrifying as the first time. I found the speech I knew so well at home suddenly became slippery and ethereal, slithering through my fingers. The same thing happened last year, when I went blank in a couple of spots. I did recover and carry on, but it had rattled my composure. And any humorist worth their salt will tell you, it’s all in the attitude. Once you lose the swagger, you’re lost.

The person who won deserved to win. Her speech was amazing. What got me was that the lovely friend who came second, put his speech together in 10 minutes! Agh, the injustice.

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I went through a real journey after the Contest. First, I came home and sobbed a bit. Then, I watched the video of my dress rehearsal which I’d put on my YouTube channel, and it made me laugh. I watched it a few times and the laughter made me feel better.

Then, I realize how pleased I was for the winner. She’d said to us in the kitchen beforehand, that this was really far outside her comfort zone. She’d challenged herself to do it because it was difficult. I felt that kinship that we co-contestants feel, and there really is a sisterhood there, because we know how hard it is to do. We admire each other. The respect is earned. So, I made contact with congratulations and posted flowers on her FB page. It really felt good. I had come full circle.

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After sharing the news of my defeat with friends on Facebook, one replied, “Maybe sometimes we try too hard?” Burn!

I know I tried too hard. That’s one of the things I need to learn is, how to relax while I strive.

One of the other losing competitors and I consoled one another as we left the club on Wednesday. I said, “At least we competed.” She said, “Yes, it’s always good for the experience.” What a brilliant way of putting it. We did it. Yeah. Go, us.

As L. Frank Baum once said, ‘The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.’ What have you done lately despite being afraid?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating

Yvette K. Carol

“The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,” E.E. Cummings

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https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC08zS1p4-H-y_xmMAuL41Eg

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The thing about writing humour is that everyone has a different sense of humour.

I remember having a conversation about this with a friend. She said, their family had invited the son’s new girlfriend over, to join them for dinner. After the meal, they thought they’d watch their favourite show, with the idea that laughing would bring them all together. So they put on a comedy which they knew was side-splitting, ‘Little Britain.’ My friend said that she, her husband and sons were rolling off the couch, nearly crying with laughter, while the son’s girlfriend never cracked a smile throughout the whole show.

Humour is personal and deadly serious.

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I promised readers I’d share my journey towards the holy grail of engaging the funny bone. Let’s say, it’s been an interesting process, so far.

In my last post, there was a great moaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth about having to write the material for my humorous speech.

I got some helpful pointers from a number of responders. With regards my first idea for material, which had been my mother and her dementia, a friend on social media – the wonderfully gregarious Lord David Prosser  – countered with a great comment.

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‘If you get the chance to read the Deric Longden story Lost for Words or get the chance to see the TV film that was made starring Dame Thora Hird you’ll see that the subject of dementia can be dealt with i a funny, charming yet sympathetic way. Because we see the humour in a situation doesn’t make us uncaring towards people suffering that illness, it just means the particular situation was funny.’ ~ David Prosser

Thanks, David.

However, for the upcoming Speech Contest, I decided to go with the same topic I covered last year, something I know intimately – being a parent. Since then, after many anxious, feeble attempts at writing it, and wringing of hands, I began to despair I’d ever be able to write anything good ever again!

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I watched footage of award-winning humorous speaker, Jeanne Robertson http://www.jeannerobertson.com (thanks for the link, Jenny), and read a post or two by my friends who write funny blogs, like the self-confessed undie chronicler, Jenny Hansen, https://jennyhansenauthor.wordpress.com/ and sweet blogger, Bun Karyudo, whose excellent “Lovingly Hand-Crafted Humor Blog” is always good for a chuckle.

I thought Bun’s recent post, Teaching My Son to Swim? It’s Just Not Going to Happen https://bunkaryudo.wordpress.com/2016/08/13/teaching-my-son-to-swim-its-just-not-going-to-happen/ was hilarious.

Here’s an excerpt, where his wife is convincing a reluctant Bun why he ought to teach their son to swim:

“When someone makes a promise, isn’t it only right to keep it.”

When someone made a promise, I nodded, it was only right to keep it.

“Right then,” she said, “I promised our son you’d teach him to swim. How can you possibly refuse?”

Bun, however, has a natural gift for turn of comedic phrase. I don’t!

Still stumped, I gazed upon these people’s brilliance and felt unable to produce anything of credibly feather-tickling value myself.

I’ve been having the same conversation everywhere I’ve gone, what makes comedy?

This week, a friend asked me, ‘Look at this way, what makes you laugh?’

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Terrific question. I can tell you, one-liners leave me cold; I prefer it when there’s a storyline, and the humour comes through what happens.

A light went on! I realized that my earlier attempts had failed, because each was basically a series of one-liners strung together.

Yesterday, my two youngest sons left to spend the weekend with their father. Last night, I relaxed and listened to some music, as you do. I was thinking about how different childhood is for kids these days, compared to say, when I was young, or say my parents, or their parents before them.

A few words wafted by me on the wind. If you consider that my grandmother was born in 1901. She lived in the “pre-nuclear age…” I thought, Gran had perfect recall, while I have trouble remembering something from one room of the house to the other… that’s a funny idea! Lucky for me, I was fleet of foot and captured the words before they flew on by.

I had the start to my speech.

The concept of comparing childhoods in our family, from my gran through to my youngest son, gave me the all-important narrative I needed. The rest flowed from there.

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Here’s an example of the content as it stands so far: ‘They say there are more crazy people on the streets these days than ever before, we parents get warnings to keep an eye on our children’s whereabouts at all times. I know my children’s whereabouts – couch one and couch two in our living room, where they can get the wifi.’

Therefore, the raw material for my humorous speech has finally been produced. A labour of love, no less.

Now, I just need to figure out how to deliver the speech to achieve maximum impact. Wish me luck! Any tips for comedic timing/inflection that works,  please let me know! There’s a chocolate fish in it for you (nah, just kidding).

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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It is impossible to look cool while picking up a Frisbee. ~ Peter Kay

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At this same time last year, the president of our Toastmasters club asked us, “Who wants to enter the Humorous Speech Contest?” Out of the twenty-five people in the room, four people put their hands up. I put my hand up, too. I’d only joined Toastmasters the month before and I had no idea what was involved. Yet, a number of people I liked and admired, had put themselves forward, and I felt it was only right I should join them.

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In my mind, I imagined we’d be delivering our talks, as we did each week, to one another, in the usual club setting. Have a laugh. A cup of tea. End of.

Little did I expect what was to follow.

When I trucked up to our club rooms to give my speech in the contest that day, I was surprised to find the room was full of people. And at least half the people there were strangers. This is always a big step up for any aspiring public speaker. That moment when you go beyond the friendly faces and atmosphere of your club setting.

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My reaction was to go into panic and meltdown.

No one had warned me. I had had no idea that this contest was on a big scale. Turns out there are four big contests in Toastmasters a year, and all of them work to funnel the best speakers in the country to the top of the pile. At the end of each year, the best speaker from New Zealand goes over to the Annual International Convention, this year being held in Washington D.C, to compete against the best speakers from all around the world. Like, it literally couldn’t be any bigger. So, for the club level contests, there have to be guest judges, a contest chairperson, tally counters, the works.

Now, I’m not a competitive person. I never have been. I only entered thinking I was participating in something a bit fun within my club. Once the event was under way, I was terrified, thinking about the scope. I was waaaaay out of my comfort zone. But, it was too late to back out.

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Long story, short, I ended up winning. The moment they called my name, I thought, Oh, crabapples, now I’m going to have to compete at the next level. I tell you, there is no way I would have put myself forward into that position, if it hadn’t happened completely by accident like that. So it was a comedy of errors to get to that point. Like a row of dominoes.

Anyway, on the night of the next level of the competition, my nerves were off the charts. It was the only time I’d experienced a panic attack. When I started speaking, my nerves got worse and worse rather than weaker and weaker. So much so, that I ground to a halt twice during the delivery and went completely blank. I felt I’d flubbed it. But I won second place.

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I came home, shakily, needing a week to recover. I had never been more afraid. I had never felt more exposed. I had never felt more adrenalin. I said to myself that was one of the worst experiences of my entire life. I’m never doing that again!

This week, at our club meeting, El Presidente asked, “Who wants to enter the Humorous Speech Contest?” and I found myself putting my hand up. I know it’s going to be utterly terrifying. I know I’m going to want to kill myself for putting myself in that situation, on the night of the competition. Yet, I put my hand up.

Why?

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Because it’s like I’m in competition with myself: I have to do better than I did last time. Not to come first. But to deliver the whole speech and not to freeze up when I felt so previously stricken.

Yeah, that’s the crux of it: I want to do better than that.

It’s a personal challenge. I’ll let you know how I go.

Which personal challenge are you the most proud of overcoming?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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I think my securities far outweigh my insecurities. I am not nearly as afraid of myself and my imagination as I used to be. ~ Billy Connolly

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My grandmother was a fairly formidable creature. Nan Hefferan was the only one of our English relatives who made the move to New Zealand. “And, she made the move at the age of 79!” as my father is fond of saying.

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Gran lived here for the last nine years of her life. For most of that time, I lived five minutes’ walk away. She was the only grandparent I had the privilege of getting to know.

I’ve always revered grandparents, I guess because I grew up far away from mine.

Where my older sisters had grown to the ages of seven and five in England, my brother and I were born here, and our only relationship with our grandparents had come through letters, and parcels at Christmas.

In person, Gran lived up to my every hope of what a grandmother would be. She was a truly exceptional, wonderful woman, who had achieved a great deal in her life.

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I enjoyed getting to know her.

Born in 1901, she had lived through the last World War. Her memories were revelations of another era, and therefore, truly fascinating.

We had lunch every week, on a Tuesday, just her and I.

Mostly, she would talk. I would listen to all of the family stories I had never heard before. Through this precious human conduit to our family’s heritage, I gained glimpses of a different life. Gran told of a lost world: that of the past, and all the amazing things that had happened there, to members of our own family, our shared ancestors.

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Being a writer, I had to ask questions. I wanted to know more: what else happened? Why? When? All she needed was a gentle prompt.

She had what they call, a “pre-nuclear age” memory, i.e. she could remember facts, figures, dates, and names with precision.

To my creative mind, her details painted pictures.

Gran was also a great cook. On every visit, there would be some humble, great lunch. Meat pie she’d made herself, right down to the pastry, served with gravy, potatoes, peas and carrots. Or her famous cheese and onion pie, so heavenly, her homemade short savoury pastry crust was divine. She would always make the dessert herself, a cake, or a sponge, or a steamed pudding. There would be custard or cream. And tea served in a teapot on a tray with china tea cups with matching saucers.

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She liked to feed me until I couldn’t eat another bite.

After our delicious lunch, we’d take our tea and shortbreads, or chocolates, over to the comfortable chairs in the living room. There, Gran would start to talk, about her life and the stories of her parents.

She would talk all afternoon, and I would listen.

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I could not leave my grandmother’s home without her saying something significant. It was to me, as if she lived so close to the veil, that any moment could be her last and she lived with that truth. No moment was to be wasted.

After giving her that final hug, I’d walk towards her front door, and Gran would say, “Remember, my dear, reach for that star and you will get there.”

Or,

“Remember, my dear, whatever happens in your life, if you look for the silver lining, you will find it.”

I’d walk home with those parting words. I took that sustaining, empowered, heartening feeling away from every visit.

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I’ll be ever grateful to Gran, for having the courage after her husband died, to move to the other side of the world. She wanted to be with the family for the last part of her life. Our lives were enriched.

This week, I’ll be delivering my tenth speech for Toastmasters. The project title I had to tackle this time round was “Research your Topic.”

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I decided to talk about my grandmother’s contribution to the war effort.

Gran inspires me to be a better person. It does bother me, that all the wonderful things she achieved during WWII boil down to a yellow newspaper clipping, which lives in a drawer at my father’s house. So, part of the theme for my speech, is to bring light to the lack of the female voice in history.

Have you ever asked your mother or your grandmother what she did in her life? The least we can do is to ask the questions and wait for the answers. Our daughters and granddaughters may ask us for the stories one day.

There is so much more to say. Talk to you later.

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Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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What you do when you don’t have to, determines what you’ll be when you can no longer help it. ~ Rudyard Kipling

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

‘Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think.’ ~ Brené Brown

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A year ago, I lived with a debilitating fear of public speaking. In other words, I was paralyzed by the fear ‘of what other people think.’

Yet, two weeks ago, I delivered my ninth speech, ‘The Phoenix,’ at Toastmasters. I achieved something I thought impossible, through the help of my local Toastmasters club. I thought, yes, I’m doing so great. I can memorize a whole ten minute speech. I can get up on stage without falling flat. Yes! I’ve made it. Uh, no. You haven’t. Why? Because there’s always more to learn.

Part of the Toastmasters leadership program is the “CRC” system, or “Commend, Recommend, Commend,” by way of oral and written evaluation. My evaluator’s “recommendation” after watching, ‘The Phoenix,’ was that I looked like I’d rehearsed to a mirror and had simply written and learnt a speech by rote. I needed to learn how to connect with the audience.

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I’d never thought about it that way before.

My sister sent me a bunch of links for incredible talks on the TED channel. I could see the difference and began to understand what the next level of speaking could look like. My evaluator was absolutely right.

I realized I had bumped up against another of my own self-made limitations.

At our club’s 20th anniversary celebration the other day, founding member, Bruce Powell, gave a speech about the formation of the club. He told us stories, like the one about the girl who, upon hearing the “recommendations” of her evaluator, burst into tears and ran out of the room, never to return. Or the one, about the aspiring politician who joined our club, he later became elected to parliament.

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It’s true. Even on a good day, the “recommendation” part of the process can be hard to stomach. I had worked so hard on my speech, and when I got my evaluation it felt as if he burst my balloon. Yet, sometimes, a bit of balloon-popping is just what we need. You can either run from it and stay the same, or you embrace it and grow.

It’s good to prune the ego sometimes, to go, ‘hey, I’m not always right.’ That’s a stable, balanced way to go through life.

It’s wise to cultivate within ourselves, the ability to say we’re wrong. Not to just to pay lip service to a nice idea, but to really then put in the work as well, to make change.

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At the moment, I’m taking a free writing class, Story Fundamentals, with Daniel Jose Older. The brief for our writing assignment was given during the video presentation, and then, we were to post our efforts in the online classroom. There, our beloved, sweated-over prose would hang out in the public forum, waiting for “likes” and/or “comments.”

The assignment was to write a short story. My least favourite form of fiction. My taste lends itself to the epic form, I like to sink my teeth into a meaty book or writing project. I’d also traditionally shied away from writing short story, believing I wouldn’t do it justice.

But, sometimes, I think when we have an instant, “no, I can’t do that” reaction, this can be a pointer, a sign-post to a hidden limitation we’ve held about ourselves.

My dear friend, writer and artist, Steve Attkisson, said, ‘Someone told me that the stuff you try to avoid makes for the most powerful literature.’

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I decided to go boldly forth and tackle this assignment, regardless of whether I wanted to or not. I sweated over my short story, ‘Birdma, she Taniwha’ for two days and posted it. I’ve returned and edited the story every day this week. Still no likes, no comments. Sigh! Yet, despite the lack of response, I still feel good. Victorious, even. Because this story represents yet another hurdle I’ve overcome. Another thing I said I couldn’t do.

These personal milestones are what we live for. Or they should be. Because, it’s in proving to ourselves first that we are worthy that we disengage from that old fear of ‘what other people think.’

It starts to become more important what we think of ourselves.

Fear is a Gift

Some of our self-made armour comes off with each limitation we overcome. Is it frightening? Yes. L. Frank Baum once said, ‘The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.’ Even a single display of bravery towards oneself carries rewards, and brings more courage. We grow incrementally. We start to build our first real foundations of self-confidence. Know thyself. Healer, heal thyself.

If you think of the opening statement, by Brené Brown, that our armour was keeping us from really living into our gifts, then we’d imagine that by releasing some, and putting ourselves out there, we start to achieve things. We can connect with an audience. We can write a short story.We can get elected to parliament. We gain the forward positive momentum we want in our lives.

Just think of all the unexplored adventures ahead! What do you want to achieve?

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See you in the funny papers!

YC

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Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.  ~ William S. Burroughs

The hero’s redemption (and ultimate victory) hinges on their transcending their self-concern. ~ PJ Reece

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What is it about wanting to win father’s approval that never leaves us?

I have been dwelling on this thought this week. Primarily because I gave a speech at Toastmasters, and the no-nonsense evaluation set me back on my heels for a minute – taking me straight back to childhood and getting criticism from dad.

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My fellow Toastmaster gave a fair critique, a good critique aimed at pushing me to the next level of speaking. He spoke the truth even though it was difficult. I admire him for that.

Yet, what no one knew was that inside I crumbled out of all proportion. I knew I was being pathetic, so I hid it well until after I got home that day, until after I’d put the kids to bed. Then, I sat and ate chocolate and moped like a proper baby. I felt so sorry for myself. It felt like wounding, pain inside.

I felt devastated over a single evaluation? I took a minute and examined my reaction. I asked myself questions, why do you feel this way? Why?

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Finally, it came down to this; I realized that I’d internalized my father’s demands for perfection in my work. In an earlier post, The Influence of Fathers, I related how my childhood strivings to get approval from my father had shaped in me the exact traits I needed as a writer:

‘The last project I did at junior school, before I moved on, and past the need to show my father everything I produced, was a book review. I produced, ‘A Commune on the Pearl River Delta,’ in a round format, with tissue paper glued in between each page. There were in all a dozen round pages with words and images, carefully nestled between tissue paper, crafted in dense colour pencil and pen. The review begins with the “tour guide,” Mr. John Know-it-all, introducing himself to the reader, and then, John leads the way through the book and the region it depicts.

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It was a work of art. A triumph. The first time I ever got A++ What did my father say when I presented it to him? “China is spelt with a capital C.”

It makes sense to think that by utilising what we’ve been given in each of our unique circumstances, we’re uniquely prepared to move forward to better things. My ability for perseverance came from my childhood strivings. Stick-ability, patience and focus are the very assets a writer needs.’

At the same time, there is a legacy to this situation I still have to deal with. A little bit of emotional fall-out.

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I realized, through this somewhat discomfiting experience, this week, that yes, I had internalized my father’s demands for perfection in my work. When I write a speech, it is like presenting my project to father all over again, will he give me a thumbs-up this time, or will he point out the date is wrong?

When my friend at Toastmasters gave me the somewhat harsh evaluation, I reverted to that kid who showed her prized work to her father, only to have her mistakes pointed out. I didn’t care whether he was right or not, I just wanted a pat on the head.

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The great thing was, as soon as I saw that this was the case, and I was repeating that old childhood pattern, it felt different. I was already one step removed from it. I think I read about this technique of asking yourself ‘why?’ in a magazine somewhere, and for some reason, the idea stuck. I’ve used it ever since, and it’s an effective way for figuring the motivations behind why we do things.

It is a good thing to build one’s repertoire of understanding oneself. As was said in times of old, ‘Know thyself.’

Where the need for father’s approval is concerned, I forgive myself for repeating a pattern from childhood. Okay, maybe I’ve used my father’s drive for perfection, and the need to prove myself to him, to overdo things a bit, thus far. I forgive myself. It’s okay. I’m human. I can do better tomorrow, and the next day. That, too, is human.

I find myself intrigued by the depth of this question all over again, What is it about wanting to win father’s approval that never leaves us? Is your father a powerful figure in your life?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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I believe now from my own experience, that motherhood and fatherhood and birth and children are actually as valid a path to enlightenment as any other, and in my opinion at least, far superior to most.  ~ Hellena Post

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

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