Friday, April 30, 2010

Too Quiet

I've always told people that I'm the quietest person in a loud family and Jay is the loudest person in a quiet family. At my family functions, people yell from room to room at each other and when you get 10 or 15 of us together, if someone says something funny the laughter shakes the walls. Jay's family is exactly the opposite, where you might see 60 people gathered for three or four hours where the lulls in conversation supersede the climaxes, and the most stimulating thing you'll say in a day is, "hi, how are you? I'm doing well."

I'm thinking about this because I saw the following post (slightly paraphrased) as a status update on my friend Jodi's Facebook page a few weeks ago:

If you insist on speaking in a voice that's just a little more than a whisper, I'm going to naturally assume that you don't want to be heard, and thus dismiss you.

I've been contemplating this comment a lot for the last few weeks. Both Jay and I have, over time, become more withdrawn. We visited a friend a few months ago, who lives somewhere else. We went out to a massive nightclub that was full of people (potential friends, models, etc.). It wasn't long before our friend looked at us and said, "You're too quiet."

We have a tendency, now, to migrate away from people at crowded events; we'll pick a quiet corner at a party, a table in the back of the room at a reception, or an out-of-the-way spot behind everyone else's backs at a fundraiser or event. And I've noticed that in public, Jay often does speak in a whisper, to which I more and more often reply with, "What?" And on the very rare occasion when I do become characteristically exuberant, it's happened before that I'll feel a tap on my arm and get a "shhh" from Jay.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's comfortable in the background. I actually like it there. I think this is one reason photography works for me; I can put something in front of my face, between the rest of you and me. And I've noticed over the years that the bigger my cameras have gotten, the less likely I am to use them in public. As my cameras grow more obvious, they're no longer a tool to keep me disengaged from you but instead draws your attention to me. And your attention is not what I was looking for.

But this is an appropriate mindset, any more. Jay and I are on the verge of having new things happening for us — some of which have already started, such as my membership on the board of Indiana Stonewall Democrats and our acceptance as standing artists at a First Friday venue — and some of which I'm not ready to tell you about yet. But between those that have started and those that are coming, the Fates are lining up to tell me that it's time for both Jay and I to step out of the background, again. It's time for us both to rediscover some lost confidence. Even speaking to the two things above, I'm not going to make a very good political activist if I can't make conversation with the attendees at our events, and I'm not going to sell many art prints if I'm afraid to walk up to people at openings.

And so this is where I am now, feeling the need to practice making introductions and small talk, and forcing myself to step out of the background a little bit. I'm not comfortable with this, but it's the next life lesson I need to get through. I can feel it.


  1. That reminds me of a study I read a couple of years back about Apartment versus house dwellers. The gist of it was that people in communities such as apartments and condos where you live in close proximity to others tend to be more sociable than those who live in detached houses.

    Not quite the same issue perhaps, but it seems to be related--perhaps as a function of age. Most of us become less outgoing as we get older and more insulated by our lives unless we get or give ourselves a kick in the pants.

  2. YAY! I think you're making significant strides! Heck you out of the blue offered to pick up a practical stranger with your partner to chauffeur them Downtown (and back, thankfully)!

  3. I totally understand how you feel, Scott. Some people (bloggers mostly) might say I'm outgoing but inside I want to die every time I have to talk to someone who isn't my husband or kid. I would be so happy to fade into the background. But I'm forcing myself to meet new people because I know I'm going to need support when my Scott heads to Afganistan. You and I can be uncomfortable together. We can do it! Fake it until you make it, baby!

  4. Totally get it. I think this may be the ultimate reason that I began blogging. I have ALWAYS been an introvert. The shy, overweight, in the background girl. Interestingly, I surrounded myself with extroverted, outgoing people. Which made me melt into the wallpaper even more. But I was okay with that. My personality came out in my writing. I was okay with that. I have found however, as I grow older, I'm more likely to let my voice be heard and have a harder time biting my tongue when someone says hurtful or stupid things. Perhaps, I'm turning into Hallmark's Maxine.