As many of my readers know, I am very actively involved in Toastmasters, a public speaking and leadership organization created to empower individuals and help them to build confidence in these areas. In Toastmasters, whenever you start a new learning path, you are asked to do an Icebreaker speech to introduce yourself. I have shared some of these types of speeches here before. Today I was asked to do another Icebreaker, but since I’ve been giving more typical speeches about myself since 2004, today I decided to introduce someone new: “my other half”. I hope you enjoy, or are, at the very least, entertained by this look into my writer psyche.
Icebreaker speech from Rise Higher Advanced Toastmasters club meeting – July 16, 2022, Learning Path – Visionary Communication
My name is Cathryn Kusner Thompson. Or Cat K Thompson as my Twitter friends say. I was born during National Novel Writing Month in 2011. I know what you’re thinking if you’ve done the math. Ten years old? Yes, I look very mature for my age. Don’t let the face fool you. That’s only the teacher who inhabits the other half of my brain. Which makes it sound like I’m some kind of evil soap opera character in a multiple-personality storyline. But I’m actually just her writer personality. I consider myself more than just a nom de plume. There is more to me than just concealing someone else’s identity. I’m Cat. I am the creative side of Mrs. Smith. (You didn’t think I’d share her real name, did you?) While Mrs. Smith pretends to be an “average” mom, middle school teacher, and Toastmaster, I allow her imaginational overexcitability to live and breathe. And because I’m the writer, most people won’t call me crazy. Allow me to elaborate.
While I may have been given a name only a decade ago, in truth, I existed long before that. And, being a writer, I can admit that as a child I played with Barbie dolls far longer than one is supposed to. I also put Barbie through far more than just the usual date night with Ken. My barbie dolls had torrid affairs, unexpected pregnancies, and broken bones from car accidents and falls from horses. They saw more action on a Friday night than an episode of Dallas or Falcon Crest.
Lots of people read celebrity biographies. But when I was young, I, the writer, read them and then speculated about the lost loves and poignant goodbyes with the childhood sweethearts they didn’t tell us about. I invented the backstory to the backstory that was never published. It was like my own version of real-life fanfiction. Oh, I knew it wasn’t real, of course. But say what you will. I know that my love of a good story, a good twist, was born out of those bits of imagined angst and unrequited love. Of course, the summers my teacher counterpart spent keeping a soap opera journal didn’t hurt either.
I must disclose that I often talk to myself. I answer too. In fact, I make for damn good conversation. It truly is the best way to create believable dialog. I do it all the time –talk out what the people in my stories might say. I do it in the shower…while folding laundry…cleaning the kitchen. And my favorite place to chat is in the car. Some of my stories’ most dramatic moments were written while the teacher was driving to school, nose running and tears cascading onto the wheel. Of course, it did make things awkward for her to walk into the school and start class with her eyes red and puffy. I mean, she could hardly explain my “writing process” to the students.
The teacher might have a problem explaining my search history too. But as a writer, it’s perfectly acceptable to research things like, “Can you drink beer with only one kidney?” and “How long does it take for a body to fully decay?”. You can imagine the teacher’s husband’s concern when he found those pages bookmarked.
You see, if she admitted to all those things, people would think her mad. But me? I’m a writer. Writers are meant to be eccentric. And I can get away with quite a lot living behind her façade.
You might think it’s difficult to live a secret life like mine, but it does have its perks. Considering I’ve been able to put my name on two pieces of contemporary romantic fiction. Mrs. Smith gets none of the credit. She’s too busy hiding from a bunch of nosy 8th graders with a propensity for googling and gossiping. Whatever. I’ll take the glory.
And it’s not lonely in my world. Even though I rarely get recognized by “real” people. But I’m the one with a thousand Twitter followers. Not her. And I have lots of friends. You might call them characters. You might think them imaginary. But they are friends to me. They have hopes and fears. They live and love and grow and change. They have histories and futures. The only tricky part is, that once the third book in the trilogy is done, their story will end. Readers might be left with a sense of closure and satisfaction. But I will grieve their ending. Like a parent sending the child they’ve nurtured off to college and a new life, I will need a new purpose. I will have to make new friends. I will start a new chapter. If you’re a reader, I hope you will join me on my adventure. After all, a writer needs readers. And I just know we’ll all have crazy fun along the way!