There are two rows of kids’ chairs, six long each, in the school library. But they’re not just chairs. These are bus seats from the 1950’s, and this is Rosa Parks’ bus. That there is Rosa Parks’ seat. That seat, ladies and gents, is mine.
I’m too young to see much of a difference between the real and imagined. To me, real is imaginary, and imaginary is real. I’m seven years old, and I take to the stage like duct tape to my hair. There’s no difference at all between playing the part and playing little old me. The world’s my stage, and the stage is my world.
“Will you get out of your seat?” the policeman asks me, Rosa Parks.
“No!” I tell him with dignity. And that is that.
Nine years later I’m back in a classroom. Three judges are staring me down from behind a table, so close I can almost feel them breathing. The timer, all six years of her, is staring at me as well. My stomach knots as I ask if they’re ready. And I begin to speak to them.
I’m not Rosa Parks anymore. I stutter, I stall, I shiver. I don’t throw up, like some newbies do. A hundred speeches later I learn that the judges stay behind the table. I’m safe. Only then do I throw all caution to the wind and share the depths of my heart with strangers, because this is what makes a good speech. Being comfortable with vulnerability. For me, that’s building an invisible wall.
Join a conversation with a real human being. There is no stage. There is no fourth wall. No screen between writer and reader, no table for judges to sit behind. This is face to face. Having outgrown the ability to work unshielded, I internalize the wall. It grows too close for anyone to pass through, except those who have the key.
On the inside of this wall is Rosa. Ready to take on the world.