"You're in Room 3," I'm told. "Do you have everything you need?"
Knee-knocking nerves? An anxious dry throat? Slightly sweaty palms and a strong suspicion I didn't put enough deodorant on? Check, check, check and check.
"Yes, I have everything I need," I nod and suck in a deep breath. I suppose I better head to Room 3 then.
Of course, Room 3 is a maze of corridors and staircases away. Hauling my three bags along with me, I balance the probability of getting lost with the possibility that this small Crystal Maze mission will put people off attending my workshop on getting started as a freelancer. Then I hear footsteps behind me. Someone else is coming, following me, making their merry way to Room 3, hoping to learn something. Did they have any idea that the woman in front of them, the one wearing a £2.00 dress from a Phuket market and old cowboy boots she picked up in a thrift shop in Arizona ten years ago, that she was the one on whom hopes of learning something were pinned?
Walking through the door to Room 3 I can almost feel the simultaneous prickling of more hopes being pinned on me as I notice a small group of seven, maybe eight people scattered around the rows of desks, laptops out, iPads propped up; they're ready to learn. The pinning tightens my rib cage and makes me strangely aware of the breakfast I ate earlier that morning, bobbing up and down on the wave machine that has started in my stomach. I clunk my cowboy boots to the front of the room and offload my three poorly packed bags on the front desk, my silhouette bouncing up on the large rectangle of a projected image behind me as I walked in front of it.
There you go, Frankie, if all else fails you could just do a shadow puppet show, I thought. Except I don't know how to do shadow puppets. Oh my, I don't know anything. What am I doing here? I have nothing to offer these people! I'm a useless impostor!
Just as I'm about to make a running dive for the open window, a young man in a black T-shirt approaches and he starts tapping keys on the laptop that has been left for me to use. He is explaining something to me, about the connection to the projector and how it doesn't work, but I'm not listening. Instead I'm watching a steady stream of people walk through the door to Room 3. Pin, pin, pin, pin, pin. They deflate any confidence I had. They are more hopes for me to let down. I think about the window again, I think about locking the door, I think about removing all the signs to Room 3 and directing them to Travel Photography with the fantastic Tom Robinson, which would surely be much more interesting and inspiring. For a split second I actually just think about stamping my foot and crying. Imagine them all naked, my friend advised me when I told her I was nervous. The problem is I'm the one who feels suddenly naked.
"Yeah, it's not working," the young man is saying. "I'll be back in a minute," He disappears.
My new friend Jayne approaches me. She's so fabulously dressed and looks so composed. I can't believe she's talking after me; she looks so ready, already. Maybe I should offer to swap? Or maybe she could do mine for me too? She's a freelancer; I'm sure she has two hours worth of interesting things to share, for a start she could tell me where she bought that necklace... But she's already helping me out without me realising when she offers her laptop for me to try and see if the connection's better.
It's funny, the problem with the hardware - the laptop and the projector not working - doesn't even cross my mind as something I should be worried about. And yet, if these don't work I am really stuck. I am too busy thinking about the ways I could really embarrass myself by falling over my own feet, my underwear losing its elastic suddenly or realising my dress is on back to front. We - and by that I mean Jayne and her lovely boyfriend Justin - have the laptop and my presentation working in no time. In fact, by the time I've returned from grabbing a bottle of water and doing a few air punches and some game face gurning in the mirror of the nearby disabled toilet, it's time for me to start.
I walk back into a packed Room 3. No seat is free - pin, pin, pin, pin, pin, pin, pin - except my own.
So I clunk on over - maybe cowboy boots were a mistake? - and I stand in front of the projected presentation I've been working on for weeks. The one I practiced to an empty room at 6.30am that morning. The one I have been discussing over dinner with NewMan for the last four nights. The one I prepared for a very personal reason. I suddenly remember why I'm doing this. This is the talk I wanted to hear two years ago when I was considering changing from a full-time career to freelancing and I was all but paralysed with fear and a lack of information. I designed the content, exercises and a lengthy resources page in the hope it would help someone. With over thirty faces staring back at me I realise that this is the only hope pinned on me that I have to live up to. I'm not going to imagine these people naked. I'm not going to worry about my dress being tucked in my knickers. I'm going to do my best to help somebody today.
I open my mouth and begin to talk.
Frances M. Thompson
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