June 22, 2018
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Jack of all trades, master of none

Erin Donovan
By Erin Donovan, Special to the BDN

On occasion, I am asked to host events. Sometimes I commit and sometimes I don’t, depending on my schedule and whether my children are vomiting much. Mostly it depends on whether the event folks describe the event as “hosting” or “emceeing.” If they bill it as emceeing, I am bound to concede because being called a Master of Ceremonies holds great appeal to someone who possesses a closet full of participation trophies and medals for good sportsmanship only. I also have a Girl Scout sash filled with patches that my mom made out of tinfoil and napkins for “Turning Off Phil Donahue and Trying Anything (Other Than New Varieties of Snackwells).”

In short, if given the opportunity, I will be a master of anything.

When an organization called PechaKucha asked me to host their midcoast event, I was in the midst of what we all know to be The Great Lymphoma Scare of 2014, and I thought it might be good to see the light of day outside my cancer ward.

I pictured myself like The English Patient, being unwound from my bandages and stepping out, blinking, into the sun, only the hollow echo of clapping hands to bolster my tentative steps. After my tonsils were removed, lymphoma was swiftly downgraded to tonsillitis, which was further downgraded in my own mind to bad breath. Now that it’s all behind me, and bad breath can’t tear-gas the front row, I am feeling the need to get before an audience.

My first step was to find out what PechaKucha actually is, seeing as I’d already committed to do it. I asked some friends because that seemed a more practical approach than Googling something in the privacy of my home. This is another aftershock of the Great Lymphoma Scare of 2014; I am terrified of Google. It lashed me, unrelentingly, with facts — and a lot of images — of the ruins of lymphoma. The feedback I received from the friends I asked was mixed. Everyone seemed highly pleased that I was doing it, but really surprised I was asked.

“Did they ask you or did you ask them?” escaped a few mouths, a question I’ve been fielding since I went on my first date.

“You don’t seem the usual choice,” was murmured quietly and then even more quietly followed with, “If I were you, I would notice how many times you would swear if it were a comedy routine and then subtract from that the exact same number.”

The reason I wanted to do the event, apart from being a master for the night, is that a certain friend, one who had actually been included in the lineup of a previous PechaKucha event, described it as, “a night spent honoring people who do really impressive work.”

That sounded compelling enough on its own, but then I was made aware of the 20×20 format which means that each presenter has to condense their talent into 20 slides, each one lasting 20 seconds. It sounded like speed dating except I wouldn’t have to go home with the phone number of a guy named Stan who wore adult braces.

For exactly 46.6 minutes, I plan to stand before a crowd of my community members, plus a lot of interlopers from the suburbs of Philadelphia given the time of year, and be amazed by the till-now-hidden abilities of people we bump up against every day, at the store, at the bank, at the coffee shop, in this little town. I want to cheer with the onlookers as each one completes, at rapid-fire pace, the revolution on their wisdom, their art, their methodology.

I will be a master of ceremonies, but mostly I will be a master of awe.


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