Monthly Archives: February 2012


To restore: from the Old French, restorer, to renew, to rebuild.  As writers, we create or build the new: new words on paper, new characters the world has never seen, new worlds, even.  Our version of restoration is also revision: once we are underway with a work, we renew it and recreate it until it fits our vision.

To revise: from the Middle French, reviser, to see again, to look at again.

I’m thinking of restoration as a way to help shape our world to a vision worth having: one with vital arts, literature, environment, and community.

There are many things that can be restored.  Here is one: a valley creek whose bed and banks were long ago excavated and straightened.  Once a wild waterway, now a drainage ditch.  Last weekend  I joined other volunteers for the Sonoma Ecology Center to plant nearly 500 native shrubs and trees along Fryer Creek–renewing habitat for native birds, creating loci of carbon sequestration, digging in plants of varied texture and color.  Around twenty local volunteers plied the soil with dibble, rock bar, and gloved hand.  We stayed warm in the brisk morning as we broke ground and planted.

Planting Native Shrubs

After three quick hours of planting, we joined the creek’s neighbors for a potluck.  Sitting around card tables draped in colorful tablecloths, we warmed up with hot chili, garlic bread, and organic salad.  We took time to catch up and converse.  We glowed with a sense of accomplishment.

These are the days that inch their way into my writing, my characters, my dreams.  Restoration asks us to fully inhabit place and community–to vision a world we want to live in.

Restore or revise something this week, and enjoy the rewards.



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You speechwriters out there know how satisfying it is to write the text of a presentation that hangs together, moves well through transitions, and, yes, perhaps even inspires.  I’m still learning about it.

Last year I joined Toastmasters International, specifically Club No. 7359, Toast of Petaluma.  I can’t say enough good about Toastmasters: how hard the members work to create an encouraging speaking environment, how dedicated they are to the growth of every person who walks in their door.  I should say how hard we work and how dedicated we are, because I’m part of them now.

Yesterday, as a competitor in the Toastmaster International Speech Contest,  I gave a speech entitled “I Was A Teenage Introvert” to a group of thirty or so Toastmasters and guests.

I’ve always been intrigued by the “I Was A Teenage . . .” genre.  I based my speech about overcoming introversion and shyness on it–a genre usually reserved for werewolves and vampires, true, but one rich in regression.

I Was A Teenage Werewolf

I was competing with three very experienced speakers, all of whom I considered far out of my league.   I’d entered because I’d been told competing was a way to make a huge leap in my progress as a public speaker.  As I wrote the speech and practiced to improve my delivery, I became convinced I had at least a shot at winning.  At least I’d win in my competition with the former me.

The fact of competing did nudge me to work harder, and I practiced the speech and delivery as diligently as I could — to be worthy of the competition.  The speeches were excellent: about overcoming crippling syndromes, about learning from the inspiration of others.  At the end of the evening, I hadn’t won any of the awards, but I had done my personal best.

Here is the text of my speech.

I Was a Teenage Introvert

(c) 2012 Rebecca Conrad Lawton


Anyone here think you’re shy?  (Raise hands.)  How many consider yourselves introverts?  (Raise hands.)  Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, honored guests.  You can see you are not alone.  In fact, fully half of adults consider themselves either shy or introverted.  And what’s the difference between the two?

The shy person avoids social situations because of anxiety.  The introvert simply prefers her own company.  At a party, the shy person—if she goes to a party at all—will be standing against the wall because she thinks she has to be.  The introvert—if she goes to a party at all—will be the person standing against the wall because she wants to be.

The bad news is neither the shy nor introverted person will get out there and dance.  Life can pass her by.  The good news is it doesn’t have to.

Living with Introversion

Take me.  I Was a Teenage Introvert.  I was bookish, didn’t try out for activities.  My grades and test scores said I was smart and accomplished, but who knew?  I was far too retiring by nature to be Very Likely to Succeed.

After high school, I went straight into river guiding as a profession—and the best days were those where I hardly spoke a word.  I simply rowed people down the river and let nature and the canyons speak for me.  I stayed in that role for 14 years—and when I was ready to leave it—I turned to a career counselor to help me find a new job.

Straightaway she gave me the Myers Briggs personality test—to measure my life preferences.  My results said I was so far to the introverted end of her scale I was almost into the white space.  I was introverted like George Clooney is handsome: one notch better looking and he’d be ugly.  It was confirmed—I was a twentysomething introvert.

Hiding Out

I chose jobs where I thought I could avoid working in groups, and especially standing up to speak before them.  But I discovered that even introverted activities like research and writing require being seen: giving progress reports for staff meetings, interviewing people for articles—every time, I croaked out the fewest possible number of words.  My lack of skill and practice turned into fear: I shook and I rattled any podium.  I rambled and went so far off topic I could have been in Timbuktu.  I made every excuse I could to avoid schmoozing or networking.  I was a 30-, 40-, and then 50-something introvert.

Early last year, I stood before a group of women philanthropists to request their support, and I blanked out in front of them.  As I searched for words, I apologized and said I’d rather be running Class V rapids than addressing anyone.  They graciously laughed, and I went on to finish, but I’d made a serious claim.  Because I personally know several people who have died in Class V rapids and, from a Google search I learned that about 50 people die in the United States in whitewater every year.

However I don’t personally know anyone who has died while public speaking, and another Google search showed no recorded fatalities from speaking incidents, presentation accidents, PowerPoint incidents (although those feel like death sometimes), or Toastmaster accidents.  In fact, more people have died while knitting or blogging than speaking in public.

 Deciding to Change

That night before the women philanthropists, I was literally saying I’d rather face death by drowning than stand up and speak to them.  And after it was over, I decided I’d do everything I could to change that.  The next day I started looking for a Toastmasters club to join.  And here I am—still an introvert, but a recovering one.

Many of us have come to Toastmasters to better ourselves.  The Toastmaster website lists several famous American leaders who used the program to gain confidence and achieve their dreams.  A study published in last week’s Time magazine said the best prescription for shy people or introverts who want to push out of their comfort zones is immersion in experience—and our thoughtful natures make us particularly great leaders if we do nudge ourselves out into the world.


Eleanor Roosevelt said this about experience–“You can gain strength, courage, and confidence every time you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  As an introvert, I am less fazed by the dangers of whitewater than standing up here in front of you.  It’s true.  But as a recovering introvert, I’m here to do that thing I thought I could not do–I believe many of us are.  We’re here to immerse ourselves in confidence, courage, and strength.

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Inspiration and Discipline

If you haven’t been to Susan Bono’s Tiny Lights website lately, visit her online Searchlights and Signal Flares for a little mid February inspiration (  Susan’s got a few upcoming questions to get a writer’s juices flowing.


From the archives: on 5/15/2005 her website asked, “Which is more valuable, inspiration or discipline?”  To which I replied:

Inspiration and discipline are both precious currency to the creative soul, and they’re flip sides of the same coin.  Inspiration comes from inspire, to breathe in.  Discipline means to teach or to make oneself a disciple, at least in the Thirteenth Century sense of the word.  Merriam-Webster says another century passed before discipline meant training, self control, and, yes, punishment.

Therefore I think of inspiration as breathing in and discipline as breathing out (becoming disciple to one’s creation).  We take in the images that excite our senses; we set them free by releasing them to paper.  And so we make room in our hearts, souls, and minds for more images.  As George Harrison said of songwriting and recording, “We had to get to the studio to record our songs so we could, you know, write more songs.”

My creation is best done in the morning, before the world has had its coffee and come fully awake.  Getting to my desk before breakfast isn’t an act of penance, performed wearing cloak and cowl.  I do it to exhale what I’ve seen, heard, and felt:  the ghostly flight of the barn owl, the voice of my beloved, the smile in my daughter’s eyes, the warmth of a river in late summer.  Releasing these images gives them—and me—space to do more work.  Without the discipline of creation, the inspiration stays stuck on the inhale.


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