Brain Dead and Other Ailments

Anyone who’s ever had to write a report, story, poem, speech—you name it—can remember a time when the words would not come. The blank paper stares back like a face in a mirror. You know it’s not going to go away unless you drop dead.

The answer, I’m told, is to write down why you think you can’t do what you’re supposed to do. Not enough preparation. Too tired. Stress. Who cares what I think, anyway. Lazy. I’d rather eat chocolate. I can’t think. I’m brain dead.

Ah, brain dead. I actually experienced that…or I thought I did. It was years ago when I was a candidate for a job I really wanted and I had to give a speech in front of all the other finalists for the job…plus the evaluation panel. I was the only woman in the room. I couldn’t screw this up.

The topic wasn’t a surprise. “Tell us about yourself and why you’re the right candidate for the job.” It was the opening topic in all the other assessment centers I’d ever participated in. It was a speech I didn’t have to write. Who doesn’t know about themselves?

It was my turn. I stood and faced the group. I folded my hands in front of me. I smiled. I opened my mouth. Nothing came out.

I couldn’t remember anything I had prepared. I couldn’t remember why I was there.

“What’s your name?” came the prompt. I felt heat creeping up my chest into my neck and cheeks.


The nervous shuffling of papers around the room told me people weren’t looking at me. It was too painful.

“Thank you,” I said.

I sat down and the next name was called.

When I look at a blank page and the words won’t come I think about that humiliating experience. When my breathing is normal again, I start writing and voila! Words magically appear on the page. They often need editing—lots of editing—but I can do that. Nobody is watching me. Nobody is judging me.

And I can look at the screen and quote those famous words from Monty Python.

“I’m not quite dead yet.”





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