"Oh! I thought you were really cold, but you're actually really nice!"
I was standing in line at the university pub and chatting with the woman ahead of me who was in the same film program. We had never talked before and her words stunned me. Cold, I thought? I thought I was really nice. Surprising myself, I replied, "No, I'm just shy."
Looking back, I can see why she saw me that way. Quiet, reserved, never daring to speak up in class. How could she have seen me as anything but closed off and reserved? My mother says that when I was young she wore me like a scarf. I was wrapped around her neck, face hidden, if anyone came to our door or tried to talk to me. I cried at my birthday parties when they sang Happy Birthday. I hid crying under a table at a family gathering when someone said to me ‘boy you’ve got a good appetite’.
I didn’t want to be noticed. I didn’t know how to be noticed. So I became the observer, the watcher, who witnessed and absorbed. My role became that of the patient, quiet confidante. The friend who listened and never needed much in return. The friend who was afraid to speak up, to have an opinion or desire.
Shy was a mask that kept me safe. Shy kept me separate. Shy hid me away and shut me off. Shy disconnected me. From the world and from myself. Shy became a chasm, or a wall, or a barrier between me and the world. Not entirely impermeable or impenetrable, but enough to dampen my energies and my experience of being.
My work has been allow myself to be seen, to be heard, to be felt, to be known. To yell, to scream, to dance with joy. To rage with anger, To weep with sorrow. My work continues as I unravel this web, as I deconstruct the way and find a way to cross the chasm.
I wonder if there is power in being shy. If it’s subconsciously a way of manipulating, or of exerting dominance with dominant people? Holding back so they can't take too much of you?
It hurts to think that I have not let myself be fully known by dear friends. When I hold back on fully experiencing my being I hold back on receiving or experiencing theirs too.
"No one has seen the night sky from exactly your trajectory. No one has loved the people and places that you have loved. Who will tell that part of the earth's story if you not?"— Pat Schneider