I attended my high school reunion this fall, which provided me an opportunity to contemplate the person my classmates knew then, and who I am now. I was incredibly shy as a young girl, and a painfully awkward teen. Awkwardness manifests in many ways. My particular brand of awkwardness was a lack of social grace, of assurance. I was easily embarrassed, and I’d chastise myself repeatedly for stupid things I said or did. There is something about awkwardness that begets more of the same, and it can take over one’s life. I was quiet, introverted. I didn’t have many friends. However, I still involved myself in activities (band, track team, yearbook staff, basketball statistician), and despite a mortifying experience in drama class, I tried out for a part in a play. I didn’t get the part, mainly because I couldn’t project my voice, but I did become involved backstage.
One might say my life has been a journey from backstage to onstage. Of finding my voice, and with it, my self-assurance. Embarrassments? They haven’t gone away. I still rewind and replay my last conference, my last speaking engagement, and cringe at that one thing (or two or three) that I said or did, that I regret.
It’s amazing I kept at it, pushing through all these interactions, and then beyond, into new situations. Over the course of my first career, I got used to speaking to governmental groups, first locally and then nationally. But my first science fiction convention? Back to square one awkwardness. It was as if I’d checked my self-assuredness at the door and become a teen again. Yet now, after years of keeping at it and networking in that branch of the publishing industry, I’m once again on comfortable ground. Except, of course, for continuing reruns from Anxiety Closet Theater.
What to make of this shadow side? If I were a DC comic, I’d be Salu Digby—Shrinking Violet, also known as Atom Girl. Video tribute here.
Here’s what I think. If nothing bad ever happened to us, if we were never challenged in any way, we’d be pretty shallow people. It’s the shadow that gives our characters more definition, and more dimension. Those of us brave enough to break out of our comfort zones and investigate our unique selves are bound to run across our nemesis or shadow nature. How we face it, if we face it, and what we do with it or in spite of it, shapes our lives. Then when we look into others’ eyes—like at a high school reunion—and see ourselves reflected back, we can see how far we’ve dared to come.