There is a reason that I am a writer. I’m not referring to any real aptitude or skill set here, so much as I am the comfort zone that I have when it comes to writing. Having the ability to very selectively pick and choose my words, and then go back and flip/flop them all around until they strike my fancy is a wonderful thing, to me. It’s very comfortable.
Conversely, this comfort zone that I have discovered through the writing process also tends to highlight the incredible lack of comfort that I feel when speaking – speaking publicly, to be specific. There is no edit button, no delete key, no margins for me to doodle in and scratch through my thoughts as they take shape. The waters of public speaking seem murky and unpredictable and rife with opportunity for stumbling and missteps along the way – very uncomfy. I have no idea where or why or how my strong distaste for public speaking (or public anything, really) began, because I know for a fact that during childhood I was a total ham. There are VHS tapes stashed somewhere in my parent’s house to prove it. But, I am almost certain that I can tell you exactly when it was that I noticed this sea change in myself; when the thought of taking a dip in the world of the written word started to seem far more appealing than that of the spoken variety. Yes, I’m pretty sure it had something to do with that one time I tried to audition for a reality cooking show and
I was living in Saint Louis at the time with my husband, working a job that was almost painfully uninteresting and uninspiring. Not to sound whiny, but it was. I, as it turns out, am not very good at being uninspired. I get all wonky and down and annoying and well, whiny.
“We’re carrot people, Lauren. We both need goals to reach for in life; We have that in common.” I can hear my Dad’s words from many years ago so clearly now as I write these of my own. He was so right, though. Life is much more fun when you’ve got something to work at, to strive for – something that gives you butterflies. Maybe butterflies aren’t necessary, but they sure are nice. So there I was, sitting in my cubicle – just one in a sea of hundreds – daydreaming about carrots. Thanks to the modern-day miracle that is the Internet (and also my apparent lack of workplace supervision), I was able to discover, debate, and determine exactly what my next “carrot” would be. For in the sidebar of a random Google search, sat a small and unassuming advertisement for a new TV show called, “Masterchef.” First time in America! It said. Australia’s Hit Show Comes Stateside! Chicago auditions begin Feb. 1 … Do YOU have what it takes?
Why yes, I think I do. A reality TV show! Eureeka! This is it. My calling! My carrot.
You know how, when you get really excited about the possibility of winning something, you completely abandon all sense of reason and imagine yourself as the winner, nay – you believe that you actually ARE the winner? It’s like buying a lottery ticket. Somehow you start to imagine just what you’d do with the winnings that you will soon receive. Impossible odds be damned! Victory will obviously and most certainly be mine. Perhaps this is a quality reserved only for the hopelessly hopeful, such as myself. I somehow managed to do all of this daydreaming before I’d even clicked on the actual ad. How’s that for “head in the clouds?”
So as it were, I recruited three girlfriends to accompany me on this first step of my journey to culinary superstardom, otherwise known as an open call audition. We piled in my small Hyundai and drove through the cold February night to Chicago, with a cooler full of gazpacho tucked away safely in the trunk. You see, all hopeful auditioners (auditionees?) were required to bring a dish for presentation, and after a much agonizing internal debate, I settled on something I knew would be fine at or below room temperature and that would only get better with time: gazpacho. A bit of a seasonally inappropriate choice for a cold Winter’s day, but I held firm in my belief that it was the right choice. Lucas liked it. My friends liked it. I was a shoo-in, clearly. I’d already begun imagining what witty little food slogan I would coin on the future TV show that I just knew I would be handed upon my winning of Masterchef, season 1. Let’s see, what can I contribute to the culinary lexicon that hasn’t already been used …
“Aren’t you just SO excited? You’re going to do great, Lauren. You’ve got this!” My friends offered me sweetly supportive assurances and lovely encouraging words as we pulled into the large parking lot of the suburban Chicago Sur la Table where the auditions were to be held. I started to feel butterflies again, at the thought of being chosen as a contestant on this show, but they weren’t the pleasant butterflies this time. No, this time the goings on in my stomach were of the nerve-wracked, highly nauseating variety that makes you want to run away from a thing, rather than toward it. My lovely carrot had morphed into another thing entirely; a poisonous fungi whose evil side effects took hold of my nerves, confidence, and apparently, my ability to walk or coherently talk.
I thought it would pass, that my sickening feeling was just “a case of the jitters” and that I would feel much better once I downed a latte’ and took my place in the looooooooong line of eager contestant hopefuls, but such was not the case. I was imploding by the second and wanted nothing more than to run like the wind back Saint Louis, to my cozy bed in my little row house, and just DIE. I blame the giant cameras for this. I took one look at those things, what with all of their unflattering bright lights, oversized microphones and giant lenses, and I just choked. Done! Finished! It was all Lights! Camera! (in)Action!
Don’t be such a chicken, Lauren. Bawk bawk baaaaawk! This is just sad. Even the voices in my own head are calling me out.
I’d love to be able to say that my friends were able to talk me out of retreating, out of totally chickening out and heading home without even trying to audition. But such is not the case. This is not a story of success or of overcoming obstacles and giving fear the finger and all that jazz. I have those stories, sure. But this is not one of them. No, this is a story of complete and utter failure. Failure to conquer fear. Failure to “suck it up.” Failure to be a winner. I didn’t even try and then fail. So, I even failed at failing properly, if that makes sense. It was pretty pitiful, to say the least. To say the most, actually.
“Hey, at least we still have the gazpacho!” I said sheepishly, tail tucked between my chicken legs as we drove away from the most anti-climactic road trip ever.
I don’t know, maybe there will come a day when I feel the good kind of butterflies building up again and I will give realty show cooking competitions another go. Speaking to a camera isn’t really such a scary thing is it? Maybe I will even make it through the front doors next time and not be such a coward. That’s probably a good starting goal. You can’t do a whole lot of winning if you don’t move your feet forward through the big, scary “front doors.”
But for now, I will take my gazpacho in the comfort of my own kitchen, far from the intimidating glow of any lights and cameras, with the reassuring smiles and affirming nods of my non-judgemental family members. And also, because I can make fun of myself, maybe even with a little side of chicken.
Spicy Watermelon Gazpacho with Tangy Roasted Chicken and Feta RECIPE