Breathing in Brooklyn
Last fall, I was invited to give a lunchtime lecture at Hyperakt, a groovy design firm in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Much to my surprise, I don’t get terribly nervous before large groups. Maybe it’s because the lights are out and I’m speaking into the darkness, unable to focus on my audience’s sleepy eyelids. But give me a group that I actually have to make eye contact with and I simply lose my words. The Hyperakt space was about the right size to send me into a psychic tailspin.
I arrived typically early and sat on a bench a few buildings over from Hyperakt, peering nervously at the office’s exterior (a cool storefront). A few young designers were busy hauling plastic covered food platters, which I assumed were for my lunchtime soiree. I suddenly found myself gasping for breath and leaned back on the bench to suck in some crisp October air. I was probably twice as old as those kids; what on earth was I so anxious about? I was twice as old as those kids; that’s what I was so anxious about.
The oldest-person-in-the-room thing is happening to me more and more these days, and I am not amused. Part of me still wants to consider myself a peer to these young designers, but in reality — gasp — I’m now their parents’ contemporary. Nick at Nite is not ironic TV viewing for me; it’s iconic. I actually remember when TV shows were ‘brought to you in living color.’ I am getting old. Ye olde.
I am a naturally shy person, with a speaking voice that makes people lean forward to understand what has been termed ‘mumbling.’ Somehow, I manage to summon a different, alternate persona when I’m speaking in public; a Gail who is articulate and even occasionally funny. I am able to muster a confidence that eludes me in the rest of my life, and about a year ago, oozed into my professional sphere as well.
The frighteningly youthful designers seated only a few feet in front of me looked eager to soak up some old fogey wisdom. The lights were not turned down, and I was told that I should expect to be interrupted with questions since it was an informal, intimate chat. I feigned shock and recoiled to a corner, noting that I wasn’t used to that many strangers looking at me.
I worried that perhaps I was a bit too revealing in my little Brooklyn moment, but the feedback was surprisingly positive, and people were smiling. Those young designers I feared approached me with helpful suggestions and encouragement, like they were rooting for me to succeed. They ended up having more words of wisdom for me than I did for them. I basked in their warmth, and was ready to set up shop in Carroll Gardens at the next available desk, or perhaps more appropriately, sign adoption papers.
Illustrations by the always-stylish Jeff Rogers
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