Friday, September 4, 2015

Quiet Curse

I’m a naturally quiet person.  I observe and listen more than I speak.  I’m shy.  I enjoy time alone, and when I know I am going to a party or something with a lot of people, even if I know them, I get tense.  My heart starts racing, my stomach starts somersaulting, and I’m exhausted before I even get there.  I’ll spend much of the evening listening, trying to think of something interesting to add amidst the chatter, and when I finally work up the nerve to do so, I’ll get the inevitable blank stares, overly polite laughter or looks of, “Oh, Tanya, I’d completely forgotten you were there.”

I’ve had family members, friends, people I barely know tell me things like, “Wow, do you ever talk?”  “You’re so quiet.  I don’t think you’ve spoken at all.”  I’ve had professors threaten to fail me if I didn’t start speaking up and contributing to class discussions.  On the playground in school, I hung around the big group of girls my age, but was always just on the outside, never really speaking up and honestly, never really interested.  In case you can’t tell, I’ve never been the most popular person.  People don’t naturally gravitate toward me.  I don’t make friends that easily.  I’m not bubbly or overly excited and it’s because of my quietness and my shyness.  It’s sometimes to the point that I give off an impression of snootiness.  A girl I became friends with in college told me that her first impression of me was that I was aloof, and then she got to know me.  And as I look at the synonyms for that—remote, reserved, standoffish—I can’t help but agree.  My timidity, my inability to find what I want to say the exact instant I want to say it, make me that way.

I remember something I once heard my aunt say about me to someone who said I was the quietest person they’d ever met: that I will contribute if I am interested in what you are saying.  I get that from my dad, I think.  He can talk on and on about subjects that interest him, but he does tend be quieter on ones that don’t.  The thing is, he doesn’t seem to mind if others talk about things he’s not interested in.  He goes about his own work and that’s that.

I, on the other hand, tend to feel left out, excluded, sad, when I’m not included in a conversation. And let me tell you, it doesn’t take much to make me feel that way.  One look, one lack of acknowledgment, one odd tone toward me and all of a sudden, all of these aforementioned emotions are running rampant in my mind.  I’m overanalyzing, thinking, questioning, “Okay, what did I do or not do? What did I say or not say?”

When it could be nothing at all.  But the thing is, why?  If I am not really all that interested in the first place, why does it bother me when they don’t include me or acknowledge me?

I suppose it partly comes from my grandpa.  I remember him asking my mom once if a co-worker of hers was in a bad mood or if he (my grandpa) had done anything to insult her co-worker because he’d snapped or something.  This is just one example.  I have quite a few of my own that remind me of my grandpa, like when I attended bridal and baby showers I was invited to, and sent emails and Facebook posts and then when I invited these people to my own baby showers, they didn’t show.  And there was barely a response to my posts and emails.  Hmm, okay feelings a little hurt.

I remember once a Creative Writing professor, one of my all-time favorites, telling us students that writers are usually very sensitive people and to remember that when critiquing one another’s works.  Sensitivity can be a good thing to have as a writer.  It means I’m more keen and aware, but it also means I feel like a turtle without a shell sometimes, like when I got my feelings hurt.

I’ve taken the long way around and written a lot, but I guess one thing I am trying to say is this is another reason I call myself a writer, why I gravitated toward it and why my love for doing it has not waned in twenty-six years.  Writers listen to and observe society, and they reflect it in their work.  I love writing about the things I’ve seen and done and experienced.  It’s therapeutic.  What’s more, I love taking my time and thinking about what I have to say before I say it (or write it).  I know some people who don’t enjoy or prefer writing for this very reason because it does require a lot of work and time and thought.  But that’s a beauty in writing to me.  Sometimes it does take me a while to realize exactly what it is I want or need to say.  If I put something down, I can always take my time.  And if I read over something I’ve written and decide, “Oh, that’s not what I meant or wanted to say,” I can change it until it is.  This is not always an option when speaking.  When it’s done, it’s done.  There is no delete button, no revision there, and oftentimes if you try to go back and revise or clarify or change what you’ve said to the person you’ve said it to, it only makes it worse (ever see the episode of Frasier in which he and Lilith are trying to get their son into a prestigious prep school and keep saying the wrong things to the headmaster? Illustrates the point well). 

So this quietness, this sensitivity and shyness, I can critique these aspects in myself all I want and accept them all I want, but the thing is, I hope I learn to embrace and cherish them one day, because they’re part of the reason I discovered the writer in myself, and why I’ve kept writing all these years. 

In the meantime, I think I’ll just keep in mind something Ernest Hemingway, one of the best and most well-known American writers once said: “A writer must write what he has to say, not speak it.”

I hope I remember that the next time someone comments on how quiet I am.  Even if I don’t say it.  J

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