Welcome. It has been quite a year. These last months, especially, have been difficult. We have had much to lament, much to despair, and while I wish that I could tell you otherwise, I regret to inform you that our speaker today will bring us only a moment of joy before dragging us lower. Our speaker today will almost certainly give us further cause for despair. If you are not excited, we understand, but urge you to stay and reconsider.  You have never felt despair like the despair our speaker will introduce to you, I can assure this.

Our speaker has traveled to the outer reaches of despair and tonight our speaker will share with us his findings which are, the committee must admit, unpleasant and disheartening beyond measure. Indeed, when the committee took our speaker out for the usual dinner at the local bistro – just prior to meeting you all here – we found that not a single soul among us could enjoy what they had ordered, and this was only after engaging our speaker for a mere taste of their work. Our speaker, it turns out, has much to say, and his new project is not what we anticipated when we booked him last year. As the world has changed, our speaker has changed with it, which we are surprised by though perhaps we should not be.

Our speaker is a pleasant individual, generally — we think this may go without saying given what you may know of their previous work – but if you came here tonight hoping to be intellectually stimulated and entertained and wishing for the speaker to challenge your beliefs, your research, you will surely be only partially satisfied.  We are sure that your beliefs will be challenged. There is no doubt. If you thought – for instance – that you understood something of basic human decency, regional morality, the kindness of strangers, the roots of religious doctrine, the balance of the human soul, the goal of politicians, the ethics of doctors, the honesty of key figures in our collective history, or, maybe, of the triumph of logic or the unbreakable endurance of the human spirit or the non-judgmental friendship of our domesticated pets, and so on, and so on, we must warn you that our speaker may provide cause for something within you to fracture.  I myself felt – during the aforementioned bistro dinner, while allowing my steak frites to reach an unappetizing room temperature – something just below my heart, or possibly tucked behind my gallbladder (I have never been very good with anatomy) dissolve very quickly. My esteemed colleague, too, shared a similar sensation as we picked at but did not eat our desserts.  His, however, was located as a general hollowness across the entirety of his chest whereas his partner’s was centered in the throat.

Because of this, we must let you know that this is a sensation that you yourself may experience.  In the event of a sudden hollowness or feeling of dematerialization, we urge you to remain seated and try not to be alarmed. This is, it seems, merely the effect of our speaker in their current form, and you, we must insist, are likely not different or special or physically and psychologically stable enough to sustain the tremendous burden of the despair he’s about to present you with.

It is also likely that some of you will feel a kind of anger about our speaker’s words. This is especially possible for those who tend to be more emotionally distanced – note that distanced feels a kinder word to me than, well, repressed or divorced or even, in the case of one or more of you, sociopathic. I must be honest today, I feel compelled to such honesty – but yes, even you will feel this and you will likely fight against the creeping, overwhelming despair of our speaker’s words. You will feel this breakage and want, very much, to resist or worry that you are being changed in an alchemical way. You may want to strike a pose, to hem and haw and roll your eyes, to mutter under your breath, storm out, or yell that our speaker is trafficking in a type of low emotional pornography though you will know very much that this is not the case. We understand that some of you are simply not accustomed to feeling the despair our speaker’s words will surely trigger.  We ask for the understanding of all present in cases where some members of the audience fidget with intent or, perhaps, even walk up to our speaker only to yell very loudly one prolonged note just an inch or so from their face. This is a natural process. Our speaker has confessed that they are intimately familiar with the spectrum of reactions to their words.

We ask for your patience. We ask for your careful consideration. We ask that you not run away screaming or set any small fires. We ask that you abstain from popping any pills or medication you have on your person. We ask that you please remove any items that may be used as a weapon – we will pass around one of our fine charity tote bags to collect these in, yes, even small nail scissors or particularly sharp pencils. We ask that if you feel a dissolve, that you quietly experience it and practice, perhaps, a meditation to the best of your abilities. We ask that you remember that you came here of your own volition and that we never promised uplifting distraction. We urge you to note that no member of this department, myself included, can truly be held accountable for anything that happens here tonight. We apologize for these further causes for despair. We think it is likely that here, together, we will all live through this evening. We are fairly convinced that this must be true and have run numbers that indicate we are correct. We apologize, too, for the length of this introduction.  We apologize for your doubt. We apologize, we apologize, we ask that you make note of the fact that we did and do apologize.