"I can't think of an opening story," Jared said once has he prepared for a public talk. He eventually did, and I bet it was a good story. He is a good storyteller of both fiction and non-fiction.
When preparing for a recent talk at the Wild Ones (what a great name!!! Native plants and the people that love them are hip as heck!) conference in Minneapolis, I remembered Jared's quest for an opener. I didn't have one.
[Side note: I kept referring to Minneapolis as Milwaukee until Jared exclaimed, "It's MINNEAPOLIS!" Then, I referred to Minneapolis as Milwaukee at least 5 more times, except I noticed when I did. Yes, they are very different cities, and I considered moving to Milwaukee about ten or so years ago because I had such a blast there with Jared and our friends John and Jude. And, at that time I once again had to figure out where the h/ll to live.]
So, an introductory story, I had nothing. I usually turn an upcoming talk's topic over in my head again and again. I think of related stories and experiences. I think about painting images of places, of people, of plants, because my talks are about wild plants and people.
In my head, I tell the stories over and over until they solidify. I toss away some of the stories. I save others for later, later in the talk or for some other talk.
I think about my goals, which are usually something like this:
1.) I want people to like wild plants. (I toss in the word "wild" because I once went to a 'green drinks' networking gig, and I was introduced to someone who thought plant=factory, as in a manufacturing plant, rather than plant=plant, as in plant=plant.). I like wild plants as much as I like people. Native plants are rad. I want to hear more bands that sing about plants (plural). I want to read more books in which the author mentions plants (plural). Etc.
2.) I want people to like me. I am absolutely shameless and fearless about saying this. This serves goal #1 (have you ever listened to a talk and hated the person but been completely won over by their idea...probably not.). This also means that my feelings are upfront. I like human connections, especially good ones. I'll take the bad ones, too, because there's something to learn, no matter what. Being shameless and fearless about saying that I want to be liked doesn't mean I will do anything to be liked.
Can't please everyone, after all. I can admit that I have fears about not being liked. I can shine light on those fears. And, maybe some paralyzing shame and fear can take a hike. Yes, Fear and Shame, you like each other so much! How about you two take a long hike along a beautiful trail with wild ginger, American linden, and how about some bloodroot, too. And, get lost!
Realizing goals are not guaranteed. Nope. There are people who don't yet realize that plants are rad, cool, hip, boss, right on, and so on. Unbelievable, I know!
And, not everybody likes me. Sometimes that is because I fearlessly and shamelessly say into a microphone, "Sadly, butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) is invasive." I do my best to offer empathy and options. (Come with me to SteelStacks in Bethlehem, PA to see a right on rock band sing about Linneaus and Lindera benzoin and I will point out the shocking numbers of butterfly bush that flank the roadside).
Sometimes, I am not likeable.
But still, I have a job to do on behalf of the plants.
I had about an hour before my talk at the conference. I still did not have my intro. I strolled along a row of vendors, who were exceptionally friendly. I chatted with one, and we talked about communicating with clients about native plants. We talked about "open doors".
Where is the open door? It is where I don't have to fight. It is where I don't have to bang my head into a solid wood or even hollow core door. It is not force against force.
You don't like wasps and snakes? OK, let's not talk about nature's very important /ss kickers. Let's talk about pretty butterflies (some of them eat sh/t, not nectar!). You like a tidy yard and neat rows. OK, I have the plant for you, it's called little bluestem (Schzichryium scoparium)! You need some extra food for your family, then, the open door is edible plants. You like yellow, then the open door is yellow plants.
All that matters is that we find the open door.
For me, people, likeable people, are the open door. I find invasive species so depressing (and interesting). SO DEPRESSING. Yet, I was hired for a great job focused on invasives. I worked with great people and met even more great people that work with invasives. So, I went down a long corridor plastered with invasives. Some people are willing to walk down dark hallways. I am one of them. Long, dark hallways with distant, distant open doors. It was the people and still is.
What's your open door?