miscommunicamp by steph katzovi header 02

Matters of Life and Steph: “‘Fear’s’ Looking at You, Kid”- Musings from a Children’s Writer

At the age of nine, I once told to a child, “We’re gonna dump you in the river!”

Now, before you start thinking I was up to something no good, I should clarify that this was my line from a summer camp play. I was cast as “Robber #2.” I can’t tell you the name of the production (though I’d use the term “production” quite loosely), nor can I tell you what the play was about. But for some reason, I can still remember my line. 

Actually, I know exactly what the reason was. I still remember my line because it represented a major accomplishment for me—I faced one of my biggest fears: public speaking. When I was younger—and frankly, still to this day—I didn’t enjoy public speaking, and I hated performing in front of others. Let’s just say that’s my “oratory purgatory.”

But here’s the thing. Deep down inside, I knew that doing something I was uncomfortable with was a good thing. And that brings me to the life lesson I learned at the Marist College Music Summer Camp for Kids: it’s important to push yourself and do things that make you uncomfortable. I’m not suggesting that we all live in a state of constant anxiety or discomfort. But I do believe that, from time to time, it’s healthy to bite off a little more than you can chew.

Here’s my story…

Just for show

I have written before that I was a shy child. Unlike people with big personalities, when I walk into a room, you may not notice me right away. It takes me a while to warm up. Perhaps my mother thought that by signing me up for arts camp, it would help bring me out of my shell. (Not-so-coincidentally, my mom had also been taking a course at Marist College that summer. So, it was probably super convenient for her to park her kids somewhere that didn’t require an extra drop-off.)

Needless to say, I didn’t like anything about this arts camp.

First, there was a camp performance at the end of the session. I despised having the weight of a performance hanging over my head. Every day was focused on preparing for “the big show.” Second, the camp performance also included musical numbers. I do not sing in public. I can guarantee that I have mouthed the words to every single song I’ve “sung” in group events. Regardless of whether I can carry a tune, I don’t feel the world needs to hear my voice.

The third big reason for disliking arts camp was the fact that there were costumes. As you may recall from my previous blog entitled “Pants on Fire,” the last time I dressed up was the one freakin’ day we had a fire drill in nursery school. I’ve had a phobia of dressing up ever since.             

But, my mother had no back up plan for me during those two very long weeks. So, I was just going to have to suck it up and live in my oratory purgatory until arts camp was over.


Near the end of the second week, we were told what costumes we should bring from home. The guidance for Robber #2 was simply “wear a striped shirt.” I had selected my favorite red striped t-shirt for my scene. Although it wasn’t quite as robber-ly as, say, a black-and-white striped top, my mother made it clear she was not purchasing anything new for this show.

Unfortunately, we were not given as much room for interpretation when it came to the musical number outfit. The guidance was quite specific: girls should wear a dress. If “come again?” been a catch phrase in the 80s, I surely would’ve said that. At the time, I did not willingly wear a dress unless there was an ice cream sundae or birthday cake incentive at the end. (I still kind of feel that way now.)

Apparently, we would be doing a high kicks chorus line to the number “New York, New York,” and the director felt that dresses would really bring home the “wow factor.” Puh-lease. To this day, l hate “New York, New York”; my apologies to any Frank Sinatra fans reading this.

As my small form of protest, I didn’t even mouth the words to the song. I felt like the other kids who were scream-singing would probably divert attention away from me anyway.

Yes, you can-can

Even though I only had two lines and could easily blend into the chorus line, I still worried about my performance; arts camp put me smack dab in the center of my oratory purgatory. I was too young to appreciate that pretty much every child had no acting ability in that camp. As long as I said anything close to my lines at the appropriate time, I would’ve been fine. I also didn’t realize that the director—and certainly none of the parents—harbored any expectations for a dazzling display of artistry by the performers. In fact, I’m sure everyone assumed the play would be terrible. And it surely was.

Still, nine-year-old me worried that I’d mess up my lines, that I’d trip, or that I’d somehow embarrass myself and everyone would laugh at me. The only things going in my favor were that I knew my cues during rehearsal, and I had always gotten my two lines right. But the fear of failure was always in the back of my mind.

When it came time for the performance, I remember how bright the stage lights were. My heart pounded in nervous anticipation of delivering those two lines. Right before the show started, I recall being grateful that I had only two lines. There was another girl who had a bigger part than me. She could only memorize about half of what she was supposed to say. I was surprised that she didn’t seem more concerned; she should’ve been in an oratory purgatory way more than me.

I remember the director giving me a gentle push to hit my mark. Right on cue, I shouted “We’re gonna dump you in the river.” Thank goodness I got to the right place and delivered my lines at the right times. The audience even laughed appropriately.

Once I finished my scene, I started to relax a little. I didn’t mess up after all! But, we still had “New York, New York” to get through.

Change your tune

For the song-and-dance number, all the kids were hoisted onto a little staircase that we would then walk down to form a chorus line. Then we kicked our uncoordinated legs as hard as we could. I’m pretty sure I accidentally kicked the kid next to me who was “New York, New York-ing” in the opposite direction.

The performance must’ve been hysterical, because my parents still laugh whenever we hear “New York, New York.” Or perhaps they remember how I refused to smile during the song—despite the director making the “smile” gesture numerous times to me. Through my clenched teeth, I wanted everyone to know I was irritated at having to wear a dress for no good reason.  

Either way, the play was a triumph for shy little me. I said my lines and I did the dance, despite being incredibly nervous and uncomfortable the whole time. I got out of my oratory purgatory.

While it took me several more years after my first and last theatrical performance to fully appreciate how to apply those principles in life, each time I’ve pushed myself, the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

Take that, oratory purgatory!

Let it grow

Projecting confidence and being at ease with oneself in a group setting are not traits that come naturally to me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that public speaking (though not public singing) are incredibly important skills to have. However, if I want people to know about me, my books, or my messages, I have to put myself out into the world. As a result, I now force myself out of my oratory purgatory on a more constant basis. It’s both awful and awesome at the same time. 

As a result, I’ve gone on tons of podcasts, spoken at schools, and I also publish these (amazing?) blogs. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll go on TV. As much as I hate the marketing part of my life, I know it’s important. The end result of sharing what I’m passionate about outweighs my discomfort. I guess Franklin D. Roosevelt was right when he said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

Although I still can’t watch or listen to myself, thanks to my loyal fans (my parents, dear husband, and at least one child), I have on good authority that I’m actually pretty good at this oration thing.

And perhaps the best part? It feels like my fear and anxiety over public speaking gets a little bit less each time I do it. Even if it’s just a miniscule amount, inching your way out of your oratory purgatory is better than nothing.

While I’m not sure if I’ve reached my ten thousand hours of public speaking yet, I know that I’m well on my way.

So, whether you face your fears by force or by choice, push yourself; it’s only then that true growth can occur.

By the way…if you ever see me singing in public, just know that I’m not doing any growing because I’m definitely mouthing the words. 

Do you recall a childhood experience where you faced a big fear? How did things turn out? Please share your stories with me in the comments section.

Don't Miss Steph's Posts!

Submit the form below to sign up to receive a notification when Steph posts a new blog.

Buy Miscommunicamp NOW:

Buy Hurricamp NOW: