In May 2016 I received an e-mail from Mannheim University asking me to give a talk at their TEDx event in September. The “x” connotes an independently organised TED event, in this case organized by the German university. I read the e-mail while in a Tokyo hotel and I jumped up and down on the bed, I was so happy. I’m not sure why I was so excited about the idea of talking in front of a lot of people and being filmed at the same time – generally this sounds terrifying. I think I was thrilled because this was my chance to explain what I want to accomplish with my photography through telling my own life story. It was going to be difficult to stand in front of everyone but I knew I could do it. The theme of the event was “Passion Changes Everything”. Somehow it made a lot of sense because it was the passion I had for photography that led me to where I am in my life right now. So I said yes.
The months counted down, the day soon approached and I started to feel very nervous, thinking I should have prepared better and practised more often. As I stood waiting for the train to Mannheim to arrive, I started to repeat my speech to myself – I kept doing this throughout my 5-hour train ride, receiving lots of concerned looks as I did so. Everyone probably thought I was crazy and talking to myself. Well, I was talking to myself. I kept rehearsing almost non-stop until the actual event.
We had a rehearsal in the morning on the day of the event. Afterward I took a walk around Mannheim, listening to my own voice as I walked. I passed by a Saturday market, stared at fruit and vegetables and felt absolutely brain-dead. I had been hearing my own voice talking inside my head for two days now and it was driving me crazy. I saw a wedding in front of a church, and as I took my headphones off they released a big bag of red and white balloons. I could not practise anymore.
The evening came and I was on stage. I could not see anyone’s face. I was blinded by all the lights directed at me. There were two on my left and two on my right. It felt as if there were two suns in the room. I knew there were all these people in front of me, the whole room full of people watching me, listening to what I had to say. I could not see if they were actually seeing me or hearing me but I knew they were there in the room with me.
It was warm and my palms felt sweaty. My heart was beating as if it wanted to tear through my dress and leave my body. Why was I so nervous? Was I uncomfortable because of the attention or just scared that I would forget what I wanted to say? I don’t really know.
I had done absolutely nothing until the last month. I thought I would have a loose structure to my talk but also keep it a bit spontaneous – I did not want to sound like a robot that simply memorized her words. That idea made me cringe. I have seen a lot of these talks and I really did not want to appear like I had been preparing for this all my life. The three glasses of white wine that I had before the talk helped! I definitely was not a robot, and if so, then I was a drunken robot that made mistakes. I forgot two of the paragraphs I was supposed to share, for instance.
The title for my talk was “Herrenlos”. I forgot to explain the story behind the title but you can read about it in my next article on DailyBreadMag and what I had originally wanted to say but failed to. Stay tuned for the rest of the story and the link to my TEDx speech!