I spent months preparing a lecture on traditional navigation for a high-end group of sailors and intellectuals: A sword of Damocles, indeed.
The legend goes that the sword was hung by order of Dionysus over Damocles head by a mere horse hair to teach him that happiness is fragile no matter how rich and powerful you are. Well, even folks like myself, whose wealth and power resides only in his attitude toward life, not in vast tangible assets, the moral of the story is not lost.
There I was, happily wandering about, when I was approached by an extremely nice person who asked me to, please sir, present something interesting to her science/philosophy group that meets weekly at the local college. Perhaps something on my presumed area of expertise, say, speech and language pathology?
I hesitated, scanning about for a reasonable way out. I had retired from that profession a number of years ago and found it a nice field to be retired from. However, I quickly recovered; a light went on: I had lived for ten years on a sailboat on the island of Guam where I had studied the ancient method of ocean navigation. I had, in fact, just finished writing an adventure novel for adults, young and old, whose central theme was the survival of two teen aged boys among the islands of the tropical Pacific, that survival depending on their ability to learn those ancient secrets of navigating across hundreds of miles of open ocean without instruments.
She smiled, nodded, and said, "That sounds fine. How about January 13th?"
And so, just that easily, the sword was positioned over me by its horse hair. Just how would I go about lecturing on anything to a group of mostly retired Ph.D.s/college professors of various stripes/engineers/medical doctors/school teachers, etc, whose expectations must necessarily be pretty high.
Mixed emotions: my heart sank even as it beat faster with excitement. Being a bit of a blabber mouth/entertainer/former college lecturer myself, I figure I might actually be able to pull it off with the requisite preparation. I got to work. I found that over the years, I had learned how to put together a PowerPoint presentation and that, stored away in photo albums and Internet/computer storage devices, I had lots of pretty neat photographs to choose from. I had a few very fine books on traditional navigation, and a friend on Guam who would love to be a primary resource.
Two months later, I was pleased with my progress. I had reacquainted myself with PowerPoint, had selected and programed over fifty slides, had reread the literature, and communicated via email with my friend on Guam, himself a retired college professor. I was ready.
The proof of a presentation, though, is all mixed up in the pudding of audience, preventing technical snafus, and keeping a tight lid on personal anxieties. I figured I knew my stuff and could beg off on questions I couldn't answer. I can also do a passing good tap dance and play a mean harmonica. I'd get through this.
In the event, all went well---more than well, actually--splendid, as one audience member later commented. The PowerPoint part of the deal came off without a hitch--the college lecture theater was nicely equipped with the latest equipment to include a red-beamed laser pointer and overhead projector. The audience was large and enthusiastic and included local sailors who asked knowledgeable, insightful questions that I was able to answer. My stage fright/brain freeze tendencies took a hike and, after a minute or two, I
was in high gear and enjoying myself immensely.
I also learned something valuable that every writer needs to know: If he/she has skills/knowledge that he/she can relate to a book--in my case a novel--he/she can use a well-put-together presentation to promote that book. You can even take it on the road.
The day after the presentation, in fact, I received an invitation to repeat my show as part of a program to celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 here on the Eastern Shore. Someone else suggested that I could present this material at boat shows around the country, selling books as I go.
So, damn that sword, full speed ahead, to mix historical metaphors. You have nothing to lose but your horse hair. But bring your tap dancing shoes and harmonica just in case.
Am I tap dancing?