Rant: The quiet people…

July 13, 2012

I write because I love it. I write because I can’t paint. I write because it’s a solitary profession, perfectly suited to an introvert like me. But I’ve discovered it’s no solitary profession—for every hour I spend writing, I spend the equivalent speaking in public, or preparing to speak in public, or having a nightmare about speaking in public. I’m sure the fear of public speaking isn’t limited to introverts, but I’m willing to bet my signed Winton that for us, it’s worse.

Some days, as I hover outside the classroom during the school drop-off and pick-up, I eavesdrop on conversations (as a writer is wont to do). I listen to concerned parents who worry that their child is too shy, anti-social or lacking in sporting ability. ‘Johnny’ isn’t socialised, he’s over-sensitive, he daydreams all the time. He loses himself in books. So Johnny’s plonked into a remedial program to make him conform to society’s ideal of a well-adjusted, outgoing child.

I was lucky. When I was a kid, my parents never told me to ‘put that book away’ and ‘go play outside’. They never made me feel that shyness was an affliction, or that liking my own company was weird. It was only when I hit my teens that I started to suspect that it wasn’t cool to be an introvert, and I grew to accept that the quiet people are often overlooked in life, in their careers, and in love.

Recently, I had a tough act to follow in a wonderful, vibrant author who worked the stage like a professional. Nearly a thousand cynical teenagers were transfixed. Then it was my turn.

Now, I can’t shout without my voice cracking. I rarely raise my voice. I’m not animated or vivacious or comedic. My kids have learned to listen for the deathly quiet that means they’ve been too busy yelling at each other to hear my mumbled command—they know a stealth attack is imminent. Combine the life-force of a fossilised beetle with stage-presence of petrified rock and you have: me.

I took the stage and started talking. Whispers started in the front row and rolled like a Mexican wave to the back. Snickers. Glowing phones. I was sharing the stage with another wonderful, assured author, but all I could see was the lights, the shadows of tiered seating like the frickin’ Colosseum and, to my left, the yawning dark of the stage entrance where they let the lions in. I brushed my hair away from my face and inadvertently dislodged the mic that was hooked over my ear. The malfunction made my voice even smaller and, while I was swallowing bile and trying to figure out how to fix the damned thing without making any more ‘schchshschsh’ noises, one blessed student shyly asked me a question.

‘What did you say to the ghost?’

Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

So I told the story about the night I talked to a ghost. It’s a simple anecdote that I use to demonstrate how ideas are born, and it started a chain reaction. The wave rolled back and the theatre fell quiet. The more quietly I spoke, the more they listened. And so it went; I made it through. At the end I felt an intoxicating relief that is becoming addictive in its own way.

We can’t all be extroverts. If we were all shouting at once nobody would learn to listen for the quiet. So, to all those parents who worry about their quiet little people: Johnny is probably just fine the way he is. And life might be more of a challenge for him, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be amazing.

 

Categories: General, Rant, Vikki Wakefield, Tags:

Comments

  1. 's Avatar
    phew, that helps. i feel confident enough in smaller groups. but talking, as in a presentation? nuh uh. it gets better though. recently i went to a wedding with literally hundreds of other guests attending and i said to myself "this time you will NOT be sitting on your bum all day long, girl! you WILL talk to people" and it was awesome, because i did. not a whole bunch, but a couple of few i didn't know. strangers who are no strangers anymore. some i liked more than others. when we got to the dancing (bollywood's calling!!) i went to! and the best part? i haven't had this much fun in a long, long time. - joe
    July 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm ·
    • vikki
      Hey, Joe. You're right, weddings can be awkward, especially if you're a) unmarried or b) can't dance, or even c) having a wardrobe malfunction (which seems to happen to me a lot at weddings). But the best times I've had were when I drank enough to stop worrying about whether people were looking at me (and they weren't, unless you count the time I trod on my hem and ripped my own skirt off doing the BusStop). Yep, it does get easier. Sigh.
      July 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm ·
  2. Holly
    I'm a teenager and I fully agree, society says being introverted is bad, or at least not as good as being an extrovert. Today, I'm supposed to go and watch a movie with some classmates but I don't really feel like it. Even though being stuck at home all day bores my brains out and I want to connect to another human being, there's always excuses. Half-hour bus trips. Dad won't let me drive his van. Mum won't let me out after dinner. But honestly, I don't feel like interacting with you all socially right now. I can imagine the fake laughter that will spout from my lips and the pasted grin. I will leave feeling only slightly better. But I will never know because I didn't go. And it's all these silly little things I opt out of that scare me. Future me will look back and say... why didn't you go? A similar thing will uni, your worth as a person is the sum of your leadership achievements. And if you aren't already great, you won't be. This isn't making much logical sense, but in a nutshell: I relate.
    August 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm ·
    • vikki
      Holly, you're making complete sense. If it helps, I don't think you should be worried about liking your own company - it's probably an indication that you're fine the way you are. It might take longer for the world to discover you - and for you to take on the world - but don't ever stop believing that your life can be amazing. I strongly suspect some of the world's most influential people are (were) introverts: Albert Einstein, Lady Di, the Dalai Lama, Steve Jobs etc. I just try to say 'yes' to something that scares me once in a while.
      August 30, 2012 at 10:53 am ·
  3. I agree with the post above, Well done!
    October 21, 2012 at 4:15 am ·