Following a trail at
the Elk Grove winery in Oregon
And speaking of quiet, what happens when a shy, quiet person like me comes to a place like this, with the potential to make invaluable connections with other writers around me, if only I can emerge from my shell and speak? I'm finding out, and I'll let you know. Here's a piece I wrote on the subject after attending the Trinidad's Bocas Lit Fest in April.
The problem is, when I’m at events like the NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Tobago, my shyness becomes a little inconvenient, when it comes to taking opportunities to network, to get to know other writers. You might think being around writers whose work I admire would be the time for me to get out of my shell, but it often turns out to be quite the opposite. I retreat further into myself, watching them in awe. I could, of course, just go up to them and ask the questions I’d want to ask, but instead I silently guess their answers, and stand around thinking up poems about their shoes.
At worst, my shyness may come off as rude. Example: Trinidadian poet and musician Gillian Moor, just finishing a set of excellent music, tells me she really enjoyed hearing the poem I read at the afternoon’s open mic. My response: “Uh-huh!” I don’t realize until after she walks away that “Uh-huh!” doesn’t translate to what I really want to say, which was more like, “Thank you! I really loved your music. Where do you find the inspiration for such moving lyrics?” I probably seem like a snob.
At best, perhaps, my shyness around great writers may come off as somewhat idiotic. Example: Earl Lovelace (that’s the Earl Lovelace) holds out his hand to meet me. My response: Silence. Silly grin. Earl: “And you are…?” In moments like these, I can benefit from trusting myself a bit more, seeing myself as worthy of talking about. But at the time I’m thinking, “You’re the Earl Lovelace, what the hell do you want to know about lil’ old me?”
And maybe it’s a little unfair to myself to say that’s the best. So at best, perhaps, I might come off as silent and smart. I’ll drop one well-rehearsed, intelligent line, or maybe just one with some big names, something like, “I’ve been working with Kwame Dawes and Marvin Bell.” And then I clam up, perhaps giving the impression that what I’d have to say next is so profound that I’m keeping it to myself. Or…something.
But none of these things are true about me – I never mean to be rude, and I don’t think I’m too idiotic, and profoundly silent, no, that’s not me, either. I’m just quiet, and a little strange – see Awkward Black Girl, or even the socially awkward penguin, for a sense of the type of strange.
All this isn’t totally damaging to my writing career, but perhaps I could be getting more out of the connections I make if I could make our conversations go further, rather than admiring the people I look up to from afar. After all, how can I expect to create change in the world around me if I can’t even interact with it?
So if you and I ever cross paths, and I stare at you silently, rather than speaking, just know that I don’t mean to be rude. I’m probably somewhere in my head, writing a poem about your shoes. Don’t worry, I’ll be kind. And soon I’ll speak up. I’m working on it.
“I am not meant to be alone and without you who understand.”