The steep switch-backed descent from Bent Mountain into Roanoke is enough to make a person queasy. I could hear the watch on my wrist ticking as I drove down it on my way to the WVTF Public Radio station to record my latest essay. Resisting the urge to distract myself, I did not turn on the radio (even though I knew The Diane Rehms Show was on, one my favorites that doesn’t pick up in my house). I wanted to stay calm and focused.
But I wasn’t.
When I first started recording my essays last year, I could almost convince myself that it was just me and Beverly, the WVTF Morning Edition Host, who were listening as I read. Now that I was about to record my 5th essay, I knew better. All the calls and emails I received from people who had heard me on the radio, and the friends who stopped me in the street to say ‘good job’ were fresh in my mind.
But my nervous condition started long before the ride down the mountain.
After I wrote an essay for my father’s 80th birthday in tribute to his service as a WWII vet, which aired on WVTF last Memorial Day, my mother said to me, “I hope you’ll write one for me when I turn 80.” I started to sweat right then and there.
My father, who died this past November, 4 months after he read the essay I wrote for him, was a colorful and funny character, easy to write about. Not only would my mother be harder to write about, but I’ve never been good writing on cue or dealing with performance pressure.
Last summer my mother turned 80 and I didn’t have an essay written, but I promised her I’d have one by the following Mother’s Day. After my initial resistance, I began to see writing something for her as a challenging opportunity to honor her life. During a month long visit with her and the rest of my family that same summer, I spent a week alone, camping with my laptop, and was determined to write the piece.
And I did. I had the whole thing flushed out, first in scribbled notes and then on my computer, and I was actually excited about how it was coming along. “Ma, I’m almost done with your essay!” I later told her.
Not long after that, I fried the USB drive that had the Mother’s Day Essay on it. I was devastated to lose the progress I had made and, even though I still had scribbled notes, I seemed unable to face the piece again. As the months flew by and I got no work done on it, I realized that losing what I had written about my mother paralleled some of my early childhood issues. I was separated from her and all my family members on two occasions (for a month each time) before the age of 1.
It was a struggle to regain the momentum that I had lost, but I eventually did. And now I was about to read a tribute to my mother on the radio and was hoping my voice wouldn’t quiver.
“Oh No! It’s 7 minutes long!” Beverly announced after the recording was made. Seven minutes was twice as long as the station's recommended time for a morning essay. Not only did we have to perform emergency surgery on the piece, Beverly discovered a grammatical error which we set about to correct. (Whew! Nice save, Beverly.)
After the reading, on the drive home it was hot, and so I cranked up the car’s air conditioning. I decided to stop at The Tanglewood Mall, where I sat for awhile on a bench watching all the people who didn’t have to read an essay on the radio that morning. Then, I went into TJ Max to try on a few bathing suits. That was a mistake. Looking at myself in a bathing suit for the first time since last summer only gave me something new to sweat about.
~ Originally posted on looseleafnotes.com on May 9, 2006