May 6, 2009
Growing up I was painfully shy. I walked to class with my head down, fearful of making eye contact with anyone. On my way to Mrs. Johannsen’s second grade, I ran smack into a pole because I refused to look up. In third grade I cried and cried when my mom informed me that if I wanted people to come to my birthday party, I’d have to call them myself. Actually talk to people and ask them to come over? NO WAY. I was even placed in a club for social spazzes. It was called The Garfield Club, named after the famous lasagna lovin’ comic cat. I know, so nerdy.
I survived junior high and my shyness lessened in high school. My immediate circle of friends was a conglomeration of AP geeks and music nerds, but I was also able to come and go as I pleased amongst other groups. This shy girl had somehow become friend to all and nobody was more surprised than me.
As an adult, my shyness lies dormant ninety-eight percent of the time, leaving two percent of the time for it to explode in spurts. Last Saturday I zipped down to Chico for the Northern California Writing Project Summer Institute Orientation. (Wow, that’s a mouthful.) I absolutely loved the Summer Institute last year. It changed who I am as a teacher in powerful and exciting ways. I was thrilled to be accepted again this year.
And yet my stomach was boiling with nerves. I would be in a roomful of people. People I didn’t know. People I’d have to talk to. As I closed in on Chico, my nerves threatened to erupt and spew bits of shy girl magma all over my car. Walking upstairs to the classroom, my upper lip dotted itself with sweat beads. Entering the room, I said hello to one of the directors and made a beeline for a desk without neighbors on either side. I sat there for a moment, looking around at the other participants. All of them had their noses buried in the folder of handouts. The singular noise was the shuffling of papers. This is ridiculous, I thought.
So, I made a bold move. I gathered up my stuff and plopped down in a desk between two women. Then I made an even bolder move. I introduced myself and asked where they were from. Somehow my lava flow of shyness had cooled and crystallized into a coherent mass of functioning social skills. The sweat beads dried up as we chatted. I found out that the woman two seats to my left is one of my mom’s colleagues. And in a surprising turn of events, the woman two seats to my right is training for the Tahoe century ride. By the end of the day, I’d managed to find myself a carpool buddy and a cycling companion.
In addition to being welcomed back to the Summer Institute, I was also selected to attend a writing retreat at a spa/resort in Arizona. In July I’ll spend four days writing, learning about writing, thinking about writing, and reading about writing. It sounds heavenly. Except for the fact that I will be surrounded by people I don’t know. People I’ll have to make eye contact with. People I’ll have to actually talk to. I can feel the deep rumblings of my shyness already. The only thing that will save me is also the cause of the rumblings. Upon arrival I will have to make eye contact, maybe even shake a hand or two and utter the most terrifying word in the English language. That’s right, I’ll have to say hello. Either that or I can die in an extravasation of sweat and molten timidity. Right now it’s a toss up.