Response to Shy

Dear Karen,

I too am shy. Or I was anyway. Now I would say I am not so shy, but I am still very much an introvert. It amazes me how many writers can hang out at the bar after a full day of workshops and lectures. Me, I have to go to bed. I need quiet time. If we are in a hotel, I need my rented room. The door I can close to all the human activity outside. A bath. Maybe TV if I just feel worn out with words. A room service dinner, even if the price of my conference fee, or the pay, if I am in the club of presenters, includes meals. When it comes to being around a lot of people, I find that I reach a breaking point, a point where I have to be alone, I have to have quiet, I have to recharge. It surprises me that I find myself here, wading out into the rapids of public life. I have not always been able to manage it.

I found school overwhelming, an environment with too much stimulus. I made terrible grades. For most of the last two years, I was hardly there, preferring to make an appearance in homeroom so I could be counted as having attended, and then hitchhiking into town to hang out alone or with a few friends. I graduated high school, but barely, and I never went on to college. I didn’t think I could handle being around that many people again. So I entered the world of work. And the world of work led me here.

Like you I’ve had a bazillion jobs. Mine have ranged from stall mucker to drum maker to house cleaner to bartender, hundreds more in between. Now I am a writer and I see how well my working experience can serve me. The story I am playing with is set on a dairy farm. I have a few details at my fingertips because, for a brief period of time, I worked on a dairy farm as the weekend milker. However, I did not let the fact that I’d never been to Texas or Louisiana stop me from writing the last book. I just muscled through. So much of writing is just muscling through.

I recently read an article in an old National Geographic magazine about a tribe of nomadic people called the Raji living in Nepal. The Raji fish, and gather honey from very tall trees. Two quotes from Raji men struck me. The first: “We begin our life by weaving a fishnet. We end our life before ever finishing it. We’re always weaving a net and forever fixing it.” (spoken by a man named Pagou Ram)

It seemed like something a robed spiritual teacher would say to the throngs gathered at his feet. But it was spoken by a man who fishes and gathers honey, a man who works with his hands. I grew up in suburbia. I was meant to go to college to get my M.R.S. as my mother called it. I was not raised for the world of blue collar jobs, but in this world I found many wise people, and I grew in ways I could not have grown if I’d followed the path of my birthright. But there is prejudice and classism against people who work with their hands, as if these folks are less smart than someone with a desk job. I absorbed this cultural prejudice, and turned it against myself (never anyone else) so that during the time I worked these sorts of jobs I felt like nothing, a failure. I still feel it, although I am less sensitive to it than I was. I am sure that this is one reason that being known as a writer can feel too important to me now, as though having written a book validates me somehow, proves to the world that I am smart after all. I’m embarrassed to say that. I think it’s f**ked up, but it is the truth, and if I am honest I know it is the source of most of my anxiety around writing, and remaining seen as a writer.

The questions with which we began this conversation are still key: “How do we manage the public and the private life? Are we allowed time to decompress and return renewed to our creative lives?” The underlying question for me is: Will I be forgotten if I take this time?

Here is the other quote from a Raji man that struck me as wise. In speaking about climbing high into trees without ropes in order to harvest honey a man named Bahadur said simply, “You fall when your life is over.” In our western society we think the opposite. “Your life is over when you fall,” but I prefer Bahadur’s take, that the falling is not the cause of a life ending, but a part of it.

Much love my writing friend, Nancy

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