As many of you know, last week I was invited to be on Katie Couric’s television show. (Click here to see the post about how this happened.) What an experience! I have never done anything like it before, and I don’t know if the opportunity will ever arise again. I’m so glad I did it, and I’m grateful to the producers for inviting me to appear.
But I’m not going to lie. I was so nervous. That sentence doesn’t even capture the essence of how anxious and nervous I was. I am a high-strung person, one who spent most of my childhood feeling shy but forcing myself to learn to be extroverted, so doing this was hard for me because of my natural instincts. However, I was also excited about doing it, so I did and it all turned out splendidly.
So, here’s my travelogue about the adventure. Warning: It might be boring and WAY too detailed. But I thank you all for supporting me by watching, posting kind comments on my blog, and for sending me Facebook messages. I also got so many texts on Monday that my phone ran out of batteries! That never happens to me. Every single message calmed me down and helped me to know just how loved, supported, and lucky I am to belong to many wonderful communities.
I got to the airport on Monday morning, only to find that my ticket was not yet confirmed. After some frantic phone calls, things were straightened out and I got on my flight. The flight was delayed as well, and I think that’s the only time I’ve ever been relieved to hear of a delay. Once on the plane, before we took off, a flight attendant came on the intercom and said, “If Emily Petersen is on the plane, will she please push her call button.” I did, and they came over just to confirm who I was and that I had made the flight. I guess the show wanted to make sure that my ticket debacle had been solved and that I was going to make it to New York City.
I read The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America (2014) by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld on the airplane. I was expected to join the conversation with the authors on the show, so I had plenty of time to absorb the book’s ideas and to imagine every possible question that could be asked. I spent most of the days before the show having imaginary conversations with myself, pretending to be Katie Couric and asking questions and then answering those in the best possible ways.
When we landed at JFK airport, we sat on the runway for almost two hours just waiting for a gate. That was annoying.
Once I got to my hotel, I called my brother-in-law’s brother, John, who lives in New York City, and we met for dinner. We took the subway to Mario Batali’s Eataly. While walking there, we saw a rat on the streets. I felt as if I’d had an authentic New York experience.
When I got back to my hotel for the night, I looked out the window. It was dark, and I couldn’t see much, but I knew that I was close to Juilliard and Lincoln Center. Then, a little gleam in the skyline caught my eye. It was the Angel Moroni, a golden statue always placed on top of Mormon temples. I realized that I was just a few blocks from one of my church’s temples, and that was neat. The next morning, I walked by.
I also walked to McDonald’s and got some oatmeal and hot chocolate. That was a waste of money. As soon as I tried to take a bite, a wave of nausea struck, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat until after the show. I also hadn’t slept more than two or three hours the night before. Instead, I stayed up late watching Cake Boss and quality programming like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo because I couldn’t sleep. I really let my anxiety get the best of me.
A car picked me up at my hotel and dropped me off at ABC studios around 12:30 p.m. I got into the green room and sat, wondering what would happen next. The green room was actually green, and had lots of food (which I couldn’t touch) and lots of people and knick knacks and memorabilia. I talked with a few of the other people, one of whom kept telling me, “You look nervous. Relax. You’ll be fine. Just don’t swear.”
After hearing this advice, “Just don’t swear and you’ll be fine,” several times from various people, I finally, exasperatedly, told everybody, “Mormons don’t swear!” Well, some of us do, but it isn’t encouraged and it isn’t a habit of mine, so hearing those words were not comforting. I wasn’t worried about the possibility of swearing on live television. I was more worried about losing my voice and my confidence and being unable to put two words together!
And yes, it was live. They had taped another show that morning, and then our show began at 2 p.m., airing live. That added some pressure.
I also got to speak with Anupy Singla, the other woman who appeared with me on the segment. She brought her daughters with her, and we talked about parenting and tiger mothers and our experiences. She wasn’t nervous like I was, for she had been a television reporter. This was my first time on television, so I felt a lot more pressure.
An intern took us up to hair and makeup. I sat in the “hair” chair, and then noticed that Amy Chua was in the makeup chair next to me, but I didn’t dare say anything to her. So I stayed quiet. The hairdresser touched some things up, and then told me, “You do a really nice job with your hair. Most people miss a few of the strands underneath, but you didn’t.” I explained to her my teenage wish to be a hairdresser and how meticulous I am about my hair because I’m so self conscious about how fine and thin it is. She was kind and we had a fun conversation. Then I got my makeup touched up, and then I was miked. All of the people working with me kept commenting on my nerves. They could tell I was tense!
About ten minutes before the show started, the producers I had talked with on the phone came over to prep me and Anupy. We signed some release forms, and then talked about the questions that would be asked of us. We practiced our answers. I immediately felt relief at knowing what would be expected of me, and of knowing that I would be sitting in the audience on the front row (not onstage) and that my time would likely make up no more than a minute or two. This was a relief.
When the show began, we stood backstage with Chua and Rubenfeld, but we all stayed quiet because we were miked and could’ve been heard on the set. The hair and makeup women touched us up again, and then after the first segment, during the first commercial, we were placed in the audience.
My first thought on entering the studio was that it was so small. I had imagined it being much larger, and it looks larger on television, but it really isn’t that large of a space. Before we were back on the air, the audience warmer-upper lady told everybody to sit up and “Look alive.” This caused a mini-panic for me, as I felt that I needed to rearrange my face, but then worried it would come off as a grimace.
As the segment began, I felt nervous again. My throat was dry, and I kept swallowing because I knew a dry throat could end up causing me to lose my voice or swallow strangely while talking. I ended up having a little bit of a problem during my first question, but nothing horribly embarrassing. I felt relieved after I had answered my questions and I knew that I had survived and that I had done a good job. Nothing to be ashamed of!
To view the clip, click here: http://katiecouric.com/videos/amy-chua-three-traits-that-lead-to-success/
After the segment, we hurried onto the stage to take a picture with Katie Couric. Jed Rubenfeld told me what a good job I’d done and how what I said had resonated with him. Then we were taken back to the green room. That was it. What you saw of me and Katie Couric is all of the contact I had with her. But what a thrill to even have that much!
After I ate some food, I asked if I could see Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld to get my book signed. An intern took me up to their dressing room, and they were warm and welcoming. Chua wrote a nice note in the front of my book, which they both signed. She wrote: “To Emily—You’re so fantastic and inspiring. You deserve all the happiness in the world! Thank you for your wonderful input and deep reflections! All the best” and then her signature and Rubenfeld’s.
We had a lively conversation about Mormons. I thanked them for the evenhanded approach to writing about my faith. They asked if I was still practicing, and I told them I was. They told me about an Asian American research assistant who had helped them with the book. When they asked her if she knew any Mormon students they could get in on the project, she said, “I’m a Mormon.” They thought it was serendipitous. Their publicist was there as well, and she was bubbly and welcoming. They talked about their disappointment over the bad reviews the book was getting before its release, and they wanted people to read the book and see that they had addressed all of the criticism already.
I agree. They had been careful in addressing what critics are now saying about the book. I appreciate their ability to anticipate these problems and to qualify what they were saying in a way that wasn’t stereotypical or racist. I will write more about the book in another post, but I was pleasantly surprised at what an interesting book it was and how well they handled a sensitive topic.
What struck me most about them is that they are human. I mean, of course they are human, but for some reason, maybe because of my reaction to Chua’s tiger mother book, I expected them to be somewhat aloof and hard to talk with. Instead, they were wonderful, and I could tell that they were like anybody else: they want people to like them. Isn’t that one of the most basic human desires, to be liked and loved? I gained a lot of respect for them both, and I enjoyed my interactions with them.
After that, I went back down to the green room and changed clothes. I then had some help hailing a cab, and I went to the American Girl Place. It is four stories of dolls and books! I bought some books and a game for my daughters, and then I headed over to Rockefeller Plaza.
There, I took some lame pictures of the ice rink and the Today Show (empty, because it was afternoon). It was hard to be a tourist by myself. I couldn’t get any cool pictures of me at the locations. But it was still fun. I then returned to the airport, got on an airplane, and came home.
I was exhausted and nauseated. The adrenaline let down really got to me, but once home, I got a good night’s sleep and I had fun posting on Facebook about it. My friends threw me a viewing party on Saturday night, and it was fun to watch it again and to explain some of the behind-the-scenes happenings. I have great friends!
It is good to be home.