My costume is coming along nicely.

Thinking about Suzanne’s recent post at Stephanie’s blog about shyness. It must be excruciating to be truly shy. I think I may be shy, in a way, but I have managed my shyness by morphing it into an extreme and parodic form of self-consciousness. Pure shyness strikes me as a form of hostility in that shy people seem only to be thinking of their own anxiety and discomfort instead of focusing on what their interlocutor might be experiencing. They block the two-way flows of energy between communicators, and to me, this is a kind of hostility. I tell this to my shy students, and sometimes they overcome the worst of their shyness by focusing on the other, sometimes not. I do try to be a model of not-shyness for them so that they can feel freer to communicate. I think I try to do this for the writing community as well, but it’s less easy to measure my effectiveness in that area.

What I do experience that is something like shyness is the horrible sensation, sometimes, of practically seeing my words come out of my mouth and hang there like leaden speech balloons. In an ugly void, where everyone’s staring. Somewhere (maybe quoted in a book review? recently?) I read a passage of fiction that described this phenomenon very cogently. I guess that writers in particular are prone to this syndrome; and I remember never feeling that way so much as in the Bay Area in the 80s. There was something almost pleasurable about that hyper-consciousness, but it was also stultifying. It’s fine to be self-conscious when I say things that come out winsome and snappy, because then I can be charmed by what’s in the balloons, but sometimes, especially when I’m in the midst of some rhetorical battle (not, perhaps, my strongest mode), the statements that come out of me seem wooden, wrong, and other.

Is my extreme self-consciousness in fact a kind of “false consciousness” (a phrase I was reminded of reading a review of abook on poverty in the Times today, in which a woman rationalizes her extreme poverty and alcoholism by saying that she must have committed some grave sins in previous lives)? Am I deceiving myself that I am reclaiming roses and ruffles, and that because everything I do is steeped in performative irony I am not buying into received notions of womanhood? That my parade of images of myself is not in fact a true narcissism but rather a going-to-extremes of self-consciousness in order to work through it, as an aspiring Buddhist might lose himself in alcohol and promiscuity on the way to enlightenment? Aw, hell.

3 thoughts on “My costume is coming along nicely.

  1. Hi Nada–shyness is not a form of hostility. Honestly. It just isn’t. Think of someone you’ve loved (I assume that everyone’s loved at least one shy person at some point or another) who was extremely shy — was there not a two way flow of communication? I think it’s great that you’re so out there. But maybe part of what has enabled you to be that way is the way you were raised (sorry for the boring psychology). You posted a picture once of you and your mother and a bunch of free souls, and it said so much about you, and who you are. I don’t really know anything about your background other than that photo and bits of what you’ve written about yourself, but I can’t imagine that you weren’t encouraged to speak out, and be yourself, and basically to shine. But please don’t think those that aren’t like you are hostile. Most shy people suffer terribly from their shynesses, and very much wish they were not tortured by it.

  2. Yes, Lynne (sp?), I see your point. Perhaps what I mean is that shyness and hostility have a similar sort of effect — not that the psychological motives are the same. But when I think about it, it occurs to me that hostile people suffer terribly from their hostilities, too — and that what is fear in a shy person manifests itself as rage in a hostile person. It’s very draining to fume and brood within, isn’t it?I didn’t mean this post as an indictment of shy people so much as offering a paradigm for getting out of or at least understanding shyness.Am I a little discriminatory in my relationships? Is it maybe unusual for a not-shy person to have a shy person close to them? I’m trying to think of relationships I’ve had with shy people — besides students, I can’t honestly think of any. And of course with students I’m in the role of steward; it is my duty to be concerned for them, but we don’t come together based on affinities. None of my relatives are remotely shy. I can’t think of a single close friend or lover who has been significantly shy or who has suffered from debilitating shyness. But I could be wrong. I will keep in mind what you’ve said and keep my compassion antennae extended.My childhood was indeed extraordinary. It set me up for great disappointment in adulthood which in comparison — in this dark age! — is a blast of bitter air! Much of what I do is an attempt to recapture not youth exactly, but the feeling of that time.

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