Last night, in my dream, I could curl 29lbs over 30 times. Which if you are a girl means some serious arm muscle, some serious strength. I tried the 17lb dumbbell first because I knew I needed a challenge (I’d been curling 10lbs, 15lbs), but even the 17lb was too light, so I moved up, grabbed a dumbbell that was really off balance and oblong – one side was larger than the other – but it didn’t seem to bother me. And I curled that 29lbs up and down and up and down and over and over and it wasn’t even hard to lift.

This dream has everything to do with last night, real life last night, where I stood up in front of bright lights and a live studio (albeit small for a studio) audience and gave out an award to high school art students. Somehow I’d gotten roped into doing this for work and after I agreed, she said “Did I mention it’s televised?” Um. no.

I was late to the dinner because I was late getting home and I couldn’t find my tights or my shoes and Pat’s pants didn’t work with his tie and his face started turning as red as his shirt. The iron smelled of burnt clothes and kept hissing. The hallway can suddenly become very small with two people running  in opposite directions, with the cat crossing into the traffic at your feet.

We were late, but it didn’t matter. It was much less formal than I thought it would be. Rows of those cafeteria lunch tables were covered in red table clothes, the chairs black plastic that never fit the shape of anyone’s back. Who do they make those for? The centerpieces were small vases with white and pink flowers.

They sectioned off a part of one studio and turned it into their banquet hall. Buffet-style food and surprisingly I was starving and ate a piece of lemon chicken and pasta, avoided the brown stew of meatballs  (eew) and had a salad and a buttered roll. And water. Lots of water.

We were forced to sit across from strangers, which can sometimes be plain awful, but we had a fairly nice conversation with another presenter. He spoke softly and quietly, had yellow teeth and worked at a local college here. We talked about beer, which of course there was none of, but I wished there was something to take off a little of the edge. A shot of something, just one. Just something quick.

The man mentioned that in previous years the event was live. *COUGH SAY WHAT?* But that this was the first year they decided to tape it. Enter my nervous laugh.

When I looked at the program, I noticed I was the last to speak. Of course. But they spelled my name right and got my title right and it seemed alright. I was sweating for sure, but hid it very well.

After dinner  they moved us all into the studio. Presenters and award winners went in first to get the lay of the land. Audience members came after. They stuck the presenters in a little side studio. The walls were covered with sound foam, the patterns criss-crossing like slate waves. There were two other young women from various companies in the area. A few older men, educators, PR people, bald white guys and the yellow teeth man. There were two older women wearing too much make-up, one with her boobs out like brown sausages. She fake and baked. But she snorted when she laughed and it made every one else laugh. And she led me to another room to show me the art of the students receiving the award from me. “You have to see it to appreciate it, to give out the award. Really.” The one piece was very nice, a girl next to a train, her skirt blowing away from her, her face hidden. But the other – a black and white charcoal still life, was pretty amazing for an 11th grader. The light he saw, the detail, the precision of his lines.  When I shook his hand later after handing him his plaque, his hands were the clammiest hands I’ve ever touched. Sponges. He didn’t have to say anything on TV, but I could tell he was nervous. I was nervous too. I understood. As artists we are more comfortable in controlled spaces. We are usually behind something instead of in front. I like being behind things, too.

From the little side studio, I watched everyone present in front of me on a large tv with 5 different camera angles on it. One by one, the presenters left and a few came back into the room, but at a certain point, they all left entirely. There was no reason for them to stay.

I read over my short speech again and again. Felt flurries in my stomach every so often, but I wasn’t as panicked as I thought I would be, as I would have been maybe a year, two years, three years ago. A few presenters before me messed up a little, looked down the whole time. I figured I wouldn’t be any worse. And finally as it was my turn to stand up and walk the small stage to the podium in front of huge lights and cameras and people; I listened to the woman introduce me, listened as she said my name right (win!); listened as she promoted me accidentally from a features designer to a “features director” (I’ll take it); listened as the blood sent a hurricane through my body, the pumping – a drum in my ears. I could barely hear anything else, just the heaving of my heart, the strange buzzing of blood, the lightness of your body when your insides are moving that fast. But slowly, I leaned into the mic with what must have been a confidence I’d been lacking for years and spoke with what Pat said later was composure.
And I didn’t even turn red.
And he said I looked pretty.

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