“There couldn’t be a more sympathetic audience for the story you’re going to tell,” says Peter, “than an RPCV audience.”
He’s right, of course. This is the sixth year Peter has coordinated the storytellers for the New York City Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, in addition to being a professional editor, and so I trust his instincts. I trust him, too, when he starts asking me questions about my story, digging into the details that I mostly know but have left out for time.
I don’t practice it enough. I don’t time myself. I don’t record myself and listen to how the story sounds. I have written and re-written and workshopped and edited a long version of this story, and it was one of nine finalists for The Southampton Review‘s 2017 Frank McCourt Memoir Prize, so I know this story well, and I know it’s good. I also know that no audience, however sympathetic, wants to hear me tell a 5,000 word story; it has to capture in an eighth of the length just the essence of the girl I often call “the worst tenth grader.”
Then I’m standing there in front of my friends and peers, former Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served all over the world, half of them English teachers like me if the global averages hold in this room. I have to say, I have never been more comfortable in a public speaking gig. I was shocked, when I sat down again, to find that it was twice as long as I had expected it to be, and had felt like a breeze.
You can hear the story yourself right here: