birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Mea Culpa!

Many folks have made a big first impression on me. But there were a few times I was aware, in a meta-observational sort of way, of times I’ve made a dominant first impression on a group of others. These experiences would seem so rare in my life that I’ve apparently committed a few of them to lasting memory.

The first was in a speech class at Cal State Northridge. I was an undergraduate, painfully shy in group settings, and taking a required class, with little official speech experience in my past. I can’t remember what the assignment parameters were, besides persuasion, but I set out to convince the class that Springsteen is one of the greatest rockers of all time--a perennial truth that should need no overt persuasion—but anyway…

I don’t remember much of the actual content, except that I started by painting a dramatic picture of a Boss concert, with the lights down and the tense expectation and the crowd clapping and stomping in time and lowing “Bruuuuce”, which always sounds like cattle mooing, but we faithful know our sweet call of rock greatness. Anyway, as I spoke my little 3 minutes or whatever it was, animatedly poking the air with my hands, making sure to glance only occasionally at my notecards, and forcing myself to look in peoples’ eyes, or maybe right above their eyes, a weird thing happened. I became aware people were looking at me with rapt engagement. They were slurping up my every word. They were hungry for more. And in that instance I realized, “Oh! So this is the power of compelling attention on a stage.”

I got an “A” and excellent comments from the professor, and even a video on which I could watch my “performance.” In that moment I recognized secret burgeoning gifts in me I never knew I had.

Another moment of impact upon others came when I was maybe 20, at friend’s 21st birthday party thrown in a swanky country club that looked from the ridge of the mountains onto both the L.A. Basin and the Valley. I was wearing an ‘80s new-wave get-up of snug-fitting camouflage pants, a red blouse with a large ruffle at its neckline, and super-pointy red “winkle-picker” pumps. I loved to dance privately in my room to anything from the Jackson 5’s “ABC” to the disco hit “Knock on Wood” to Bowie’s “Young Americans,” but in public I was usually too shy .. Then, at the party, Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” came on. I found the lyrics, insipid, but suddenly my body could not resist the beat, and I started, literally, dancing with myself all around the ballroom we were in, boogeying and pirouetting in a most energetic way. The critic in my head screamed“What-are-you-doing-you –are-causing-a-scene!” and my creative angel shouted back “You are having fun, baby! Feel the music! Don’t stop till you’ve had enough!”

Out of the corner of my eye, as I ricocheted around the room, I caught astounded glances of my friends and strangers, with the question on their face “Who is this person?” Song done, I collapsed into a chair, panting, sweating, grinning. And several males approached me with approving, slightly hungry grins (see my Boys and Girls entry) —the types of looks I’d rarely garnered in the past. In the moments of that dance I unleashed a certain power in myself—and savored the effect it had on others.

The Pressure to Be Enough

For the Record