Monday, March 30, 2009

Conquering Shyness

[photo credit Madonna Dries Christensen]

The class assignment was to write our top five fears. I don’t remember what I wrote at age fifteen. I only remember what was not on my list--- spiders.

I recall the day because of “him.” He dared to initiate a conversation with a girl who should have written “my own shadow” on her list of fears.

Evan* sat next to me in my high school religion class. I had noticed his ice blue eyes, his straight white teeth framed by tanned skin, and his shaggy caramel colored hair before. Yeah, ok, so he was good looking. Therefore, I felt safe in the fact that he would never talk to me.

Until he did.

Evan, peering over at my list: What? You’re not afraid of spiders?

Me, suddenly aware that those white teeth were flashing at me in a grin, those ice blue eyes crinkled in mirth: __________________________

Yup. That’s what I said all right. Nothing. Instead, I barely shook my head and let my long hair fall down over my face.

I spent the rest of the year hoping for a second chance. I kept my hair out of my face on the side facing him. I positioned my body slightly toward his desk. He never spoke to me again.

My two sisters, one eight years older than I and another four years younger, were spared the shyness gene. Instead, they had the pretty gene. They had long dark hair, were cute and were cheerleaders. Guys loved them. I got stuck with the brains gene.

I have no problem whatsoever admitting that I was a homely child. Where my sisters had thick, glossy, nearly black hair, mine was fly-away mousy light brown. I had buck teeth and glasses. My looks, combined with my love of all things scholastic, qualified me as Nerd Princess, Wallflower Extraordinaire, The Queen of Shy. I dared not speak to anyone first, fearing that if I did, the other person would flag down the police saying, “Officer! Officer! Excuse me, but why is this homely chick talking to me?”

My teen years were excruciating. The thoughtless comments of others didn’t help. My dad loved to party and when his friends came over the alcohol began speaking for them.

“Your sisters are so cute—what happened to you?” Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha.
“The way you look all you’ll ever be good for is a bar maid. By the way, bring me another beer.” Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha.
“Looks like you’ll be the last one of the sisters to get married.” Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha.

I believe they thought that if the room full of men laughed at their comments, it wouldn’t hurt.

Throughout my youth, I retreated into my books--- classics, sci-fi, textbooks, novels, or The Bible. It didn’t matter. A book was a book was a book was an escape.

My shyness level remained constant throughout high school. Rude comments forced me further inside myself, but having a job extricated me back outside. I never had a date. Never went to a dance. If I had to phone someone I would first write down everything I needed to say.

As is typical of many people who experience physical or emotional pain, I found comfort in religion. I pored over the New Testament especially and sought to live a good life. I tried to be moral, loving, unselfish, and kind.

The moment

During my early college years, I made a few changes. I got my braces off, cut my hair and got contacts. And I read something that forever altered my life. I can’t remember where I read it or who wrote it, only that for me, it was a Saul of Tarsus moment. The statement was something like this:

Shy people are the most self-centered people in the world. They think
at any given moment that everyone is watching them, waiting for them
to err, ready to pounce upon their slightest faux pas. If shy people would
only realize the world doesn’t care, they wouldn’t be so shy.

I took great offense at that statement. How dare anyone suggest that I was selfish! I took great care to not offend, to not say anything hurtful, to be a good person. I read my Scriptures constantly. I felt sorry for people who had less than I did. The gall of that author! I knew I was shy, but I was not self-centered.

When I calmed down, I realized that I was a hypocrite. I was self-centered. I thought back to that day at school with Evan. I was thinking only of myself and what Evan would think of me. What if he thought I was weird? What if I said something stupid? How could I respond in a way that was witty or clever? Me, me, me, I, I, I. Did I even once in those brief seconds think about how he felt? Nope.

I reflected on classes in high school or college in which I had to give oral reports. I had obsessed, wondering what would happen if I mispronounced a word or stumbled on the way to the podium. What if my classmates were picking apart my outfit or my hair? I heard not a word of anyone else’s reports. I was too busy hyper-analyzing my own.

Me again. I, I, I.

I was kind, unselfish and good all right--on the inside.

On the outside I was self-consumed, concerned only with how I appeared in every social transaction. If that was not the height of self-centeredness, then what was?

After about one momentous hour of self-introspection, I knew that I had kidded myself for many years. It was time to change.

I vowed that day to start anew.

I would now always volunteer to do oral reports first, rather than wait until the end in hopes that a meteor would strike the earth and I would not have to speak. I would realize that if I did make a mistake it might ease someone else’s discomfort at the fear of making his own blooper. I could then focus fully on what my classmates had to say.

If someone spoke to me, I would give him or her full eye contact. I would listen to what they were saying instead of worrying about what I was going to say. I would realize that if I said something stupid it was OK. It would only give others the freedom to say something stupid too.

I would now externalize my kindness instead of keeping it inside. If someone tripped and fell, I would offer a hand, rather than worrying if they thought I was a weirdo for stopping to help. I would write a note of appreciation to someone, instead of safeguarding that mental note.

I promised to be aware of the shyness of others and try to make them at ease. I would speak first instead of always waiting to be spoken to. I would realize that everyone wants to feel charming, so I would focus on what the other person had to say.

I woke up that morning painfully shy. I went to sleep that night an extrovert.

I had always admired one of our female customers at the restaurant where I worked. Joy was beautiful. She had softly slanting eyes, short dark hair and a perfect set of teeth. Had I heard of Laura Bush at the time, I would have compared Joy to her. She was elegant, impeccably dressed and spoke with a delightful southern accent.

One day I was walking across a grocery store parking lot, ready to shop after work. As I got closer, I saw Joy exiting the store. I felt slightly jealous. Joy, even in the middle of winter, looked beautiful. She was wearing a white coat and gloves with a white furry hat. She looked like a First Lady, I thought, or perhaps some visiting dignitary.

As she stepped off the curb, a car came careening through the slush, into her path. I was too far away to do anything so I watched helplessly as Joy stumbled and lost her balance, trying to get out of the car’s path. She was able to right herself, but the car’s tires splashed mud on her as it continued past, Joy now safely out of the way.

We are all the same, I thought. Even someone as poised as Joy will lose her dignity and her bearing in an effort to save her own life. Strange how a few seconds can change your perspective.

I Changed + My Life Changed= I Changed My Life

It seems odd to say that my life changed overnight, but it did. I stopped being shy in a day and started living a whole new life.

I got asked out on dates—lots of them.

I made so many new friends that I actually had to turn down fun things to do.

I got asked to speak in front of large crowds (300+.) No fear.

Celebrities or community leaders no longer intimidated me. (I knew that if a car was coming at them, they would still look ridiculous trying to save their own lives, right?)

Yeah, I got my teeth straightened and got contacts, but my face still really looked the same. The changes in me had nothing to do with how I looked. The changes came because of how I “out-looked.”

I realize that not all shy people are shy for the same reasons. Many enjoy their shyness and really have no desire to overcome it. Others are shy and not self-centered. But for those who would like to become less shy, I ask you to think of the statement that I read so many years ago, and see if it applies to your life in any way.

If it does, I challenge you to ask yourself if you are mostly thinking about yourself in social situations. And if you are?

To quote Mohandas Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

And yes, the hot chick in the pink cat-eye glasses is me.

*Name changed to protect me, not him

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Me me me! No wait....Meme

I’ve been memed! (Why does it sound suspiciously like “I’ve been slimed?”)

For those who may not know, a meme is a form of online tag played by really silly adults who would happily play real outdoor tag if only the backs of our thighs weren’t stuck to the cheap plastic of our computer chairs. (Eeewww…I just gave myself a mental picture of that lady who stayed stuck to her boyfriend’s toilet for two years. Creepy.)

There are complicated rules involved in a meme.

1. Link to the original tagger and list these rules in your post.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself in your post.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged.

I am publicly blaming Sean Platt of Blogopolis Blueprint who snuck up behind me and got me when I wasn’t paying attention. But wait. Is this the same Sean Platt from Writer Dad? Aye! I check both of these sites daily—Blogopolis when I want to learn the ins and outs of the blogging world, and Writer Dad when I want to be spoon-fed beauty.

The fun part about a meme, is that you get introduced to the blogs or websites of people you might not otherwise come across. It’s like saying, “These are the people I love and I hope you love them too.”

Hang on while you learn 7 mind-spinning facts about me…

1. I hate onions. If I spread butter on my toast, and can detect that a knife that previously touched an onion, also touched that butter, I will throw out my toast.

2. Major comfort food: Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup. The kind in the box.

3. I used to be deathly shy--the kind of shy exemplified by Violet in The Incredibles who wears her hair hanging over one eye. That was me, except I covered both eyes. One day, in my early twenties I decided I was no longer shy. And then I wasn’t. (Stay tuned—it’s a future blog post.)

4. I have no idea how to even say “meme.” Is it “me me” as in severe narcissism? Is it “meem?” Is it “may may” or “meh may?” Help me, someone.

5. I’m afraid of animals. I live a scant mile from a National Forest, but rarely go up into the mountains. What if there’s a bear? Or a mountain lion? Or a tick? I also love going on walks, but am afraid of roving dogs. When I first moved into town, I ran home in the dark after attempting a walk, because a wild animal nuzzled me over a fence and grunted.

I went back to the scene the next day. It was a sheep.

6. I can’t believe Sayid shot little Ben. Did anyone see that coming? (Lost spoiler.)

7. Humidity is the only thing I don’t miss about Iowa. Everything else, I miss----being able to see the sunset (can’t see it when you live between two mountains,) the smell of summer rain, the lipstick-pink peonies, the amazing work ethic, the focus on quality education, the electrifying way your arm hairs stick up right before a tornado hits, driving in white-out blizzard conditions in below zero weather. Hmmm. Strike the last one.

I have carefully selected my tag victims.

1. Stephanie at We May Not Have it All Together, But Together We Have it All. Stephanie writes a private blog for family and friends, but has not recently posted. I’m tagging her so she will resume her blog for those of us who miss hearing what she has to say.

2. Kim from Chamomile Tea. I visit her daily because she is hilarious and because she gives away cool prizes!

3. Madonna Dries Christensen from On Worlud Pond. She is the author of Swinging Sisters and Masquerade: the Swindler Who Conned J. Edgar Hoover. Her writing is funny, poignant and informative. She’s got incredible talent, plus duh—we’re related!

4. Daisy at Answer Starts with You. Another daily fave. She’s both funny and insightful—one of my favorite combinations!

5. Cindy, aka Writer Dad’s Daisy. I picked her because I had to get even with Sean for sliming, I mean memeing, me to begin with. No seriously, I picked her because she is one of those online people that you “meet” and wish she lived next door. She’s an amazing educator, mom, and writer and I want to learn seven new things about her!

6. Shirley Bahlmann. I have read many of Shirley’s books. She makes history come alive when she writes and is one of those people who lives life courageously. I once came in second in a writing contest and was extremely honored to take second place, because Shirley got first. I look up to her. She is six feet tall.

7. Robert Brault. His quote graces the top of my blog. He has the ability to take life and condense it into one sentence. I call him a modern day Confucius.

To those I have tagged: Please do not feel any obligation to participate. This is meant for fun only, and not meant to be an added stress. At the very least, it’s my chance to say “I appreciate you.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

How to Tell When Spring has Sprung...

The socks start blooming in the trees!

Really. Why would someone stick a pair of socks in a tree?

Maybe it's more logical than I think. Maybe someone dropped a pair of baby socks out of her diaper bag. Along came a stranger and said, "Look! Baby socks on the sidewalk! What if the owner realizes the socks are missing, and retraces her steps to find the missing socks?

"Maybe I will stick them in a tree so she will be more likely to find them!"

Monday, March 16, 2009

His Dentist Would be Proud

After school today, Jeremiah showed me a package of Orbit gum that he had gotten from his teacher. The conversation that ensued led me to one very shocking conclusion.

Jeremiah: She gave us treats for doing all of our homework last quarter. We didn’t all get the same thing though. Jordan got some of that gummy candy.

Me: Gummy worms?

Jere: No.

Me: Gummy bears?

Jere: No.

Me: Gummy sharks?

Jere: No.

Me: Gummy Lifesavers?

Jere: No. It’s that gummy candy that’s like an egg.

Me: Well, you have me stumped.

A few thoughtful seconds pass.

Jere: Jelly beans, that’s what they’re called!

Ah, jelly beans. That extravagant candy that is so rare that no one can remember what it’s called.

It didn’t end there.

Jere: I didn’t get just gum either. I got some of that Hershey candy; what’s it called?

Me: Hershey Kisses?

Jere: No. It’s like Hershey Kisses, but it’s not. It’s like a pie.

Me: Like a pie? Was it a chocolate pie?

Jere: No, it just looks like a pie.

Me: [Thinking, thinking, thinking…stumped again.]

Jere: It’s a pie wrapped in brown paper with the metal wrapping over the top of it.

Me: [What candy looks like a pie? Sheesh, this is tough. Thinking….thinking…thinking. Suddenly…]

Me: I’ve got it! You mean those mini-Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?

Jere: Yeah! I got two of those.

My conclusion?

I don’t give my son enough candy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Results are In!

It could have been the move back to fourth grade. It could be the daily doses of fish oil and Attentive Child. It could be that he listens better for someone whose name is not Mom. It might be the advice we followed from Eric Hamm and Daisy on how to handle ADHD. It’s probably a combination of all those.

Whatever the reason, we are ecstatic that Jeremiah brought home a 3.1 grade point average on his report card! (The previous average was a 1.0, as in the letter D.) He missed honor roll by four tenths of a point.

He still hates school.

He describes his dream day: “For math we would go around and have different business men let us help with their businesses and in building things. For science we would go outside and learn about the trees and stuff. For history we could go to all the different museums. We wouldn’t even have language because I already know how to talk. And for spelling, we would all jump around on the trampoline and spell our words.”

At least now, with his recent success, he is no longer internalizing his misery. He is not consumed with feeling “stupid.” It’s been nine weeks since I’ve heard him say, “Why do you love me so much when I am so dumb?”

Now he believes me when I tell him he is smart. And he knows honor roll, for the first time, is within his reach.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I Get By With a Little Help...Four Lessons From My Friends

I’ve been blessed in my life with amazing friends. They have bailed me out when I was floundering in confusion. They listened to me when I wallowed in self-pity. They’ve provided me with moments of joyful abandon. But most important, they have left me with their thoughts and visions of life. Here are just four of the most profound things my friends have said.

1. “I can forgive a beautiful woman for almost anything she does. A woman who’s not that pretty? Well, she had just better do her best to stay on my good side.” ---Ex boyfriend, K.

K. hit on a reality of human nature---people usually favor the attractive over the not so attractive.

The best looking person often gets the job, not the most qualified person. A Hugh Jackman look-alike slacker with no morals gets all the phone numbers written on a napkin, while his nice-guy friend with glasses and the Wi-Fi Detector shirt stays home alone. (Until he forms his own software dynasty and makes mega-billions a year.) The plain young woman who epitomizes Proverbs 31: 10-31 languishes dateless, while blonde bimbo beach bikini babe has men offering to sweep up the tracks made in the sand by her flip-flops.

I have talked to too many women who feel their husbands or boyfriends don't find them attractive. Maybe they gained a few pounds during pregnancy or haven’t had time to do their nails in years. I have watched some men friends get passed over as a potential mate time and again, even though they are angels in disguise, but have a receding hairline.

So yeah, K.’s a bonehead. But his statement has caused me to examine my own behavior.

I always tried to make sure that my decisions on hiring someone were based on qualifications only. I tried to make sure that I didn’t automatically brush off the slovenly customer who had matted hair and no teeth.

I now try to constantly be aware of when I might be judging someone on looks alone, and I especially try to be cognizant of someone else’s pain. I never want to hear again something like I heard from my very beautiful friend Gut Laugh Girl at a singles dance. When I asked her why she didn’t ask someone to dance she replied, “Because all the men here are praying, Dear God, please don’t let the fat chick ask me to dance.

2. “I used to wish that I could play the piano well, but then I had to face the truth and realize I did not want to play the piano well at all. What I really wanted was to play the piano well without having to work at it.”
My friend T. is definitely not a bonehead. She is someone who thinks a lot about life and truth.

I think her statement is indicative of our throw-away immediate gratification culture. We want to be talented and skilled, we just don’t want to have to work to get there. It takes too much time. We want to be able to speak Spanish better, but Grey’s Anatomy is on tonight. We want to get in shape, but Saturdays were made for sleeping in. We want to become better writers but ctn bcuz i @wrk & bos so hav2go. TTYL.

T.’s statement haunts me whenever I try to rationalize why I don’t do or haven’t done something. It all boils down to wanting all the rewards without having to do all the work. It’s about assuming that talented people are just “lucky” and since “we” are not that lucky, we are absolved from having to exert effort.

The fact is, talented people work hard.

3. “Don’t confuse activity with results.”---JC

This quote was hanging on a plaque in my friend’s living room hallway. His name was JC. I call him “a person with a clue.”

When he was in the process of buying a new house, he was getting a little frustrated with his real estate agent. It seemed the agent was taking far too long in getting things wrapped up, but kept making excuses and telling JC that he was working very hard on getting things done. To which JC replied, “Don’t confuse activity with results.”

This caused the agent to reflect. When JC finally moved into his new home, he was surprised to see his admonition engraved on a plaque and hanging on the wall--a gift from a grateful real estate agent. He said it had changed his life.

Is your life a whirlwind of activity? Do you feel like you are always going 100 mph? At the end of the day, do you wonder what you have really accomplished?

It’s kind of like when I used to go for a walk on my treadmill. I would look at the gauge and be happy because I just walked 2 miles! But you know what? I was really still just standing in the same spot as when I started. A lot of activity but I really didn’t go anywhere.

I’m a Franklin planner freak. Yes, I make to-do lists. I prioritize.

Although I still allow those non-important but urgent interruptions to get me off track sometimes, I can’t imagine life without my lists. It would be like walking backwards on that treadmill.

If you feel like you are busy, busy, busy, try The List. Make use of The Check Mark. Feel good because The List is Done.

4. “The worst thing a parent can do to a child is not to convince them that they are unloved, but rather to convince them that they are unlovable.”---Dr. F.

During my college Shakespeare class, my professor, Dr. F. was in a melancholy mood, and said this to the class. It broke my heart because I knew he would not know it unless he had experienced it. He was an unloved child.

It was an enlightening moment because I knew from that day on that one of the most painful life experiences would be to feel as if you are incapable of being loved.

It’s not just children who feel unlovable.

Man, does your wife know how much you love her? Does she always have to wonder? Does she feel unlovable because of your treatment of her? Does she feel ugly around you?

Woman, what about you? Does your husband feel adored when he walks in the door? Does he know how great you think he is? Does he feel lovable enough to want you with him at all times? Or do you make him feel like such an oaf with your constant harping that he soon begins to wonder if he has any worth to anyone?

Parents, do your children bask in your love? Do they have the confidence to meet the challenges that come from a sick society because your love makes them feel they can do anything? Or do they know without a doubt that they are the least of all the priorities in your life? (Add them to The List.)

People who doubt whether or not they are loved, soon fall into depression, or feel that they cannot accomplish even the simplest tasks.

People who are loved, and who feel that love constantly, bring a synergistic effect to everything they do. Burdens seem lighter, tasks seem easier and the thought processes are more creative.

It’s up to you. Your treatment of your family plays a large part in determining whether they will become builders or destroyers.

While you’re at it, cherish your friends too. Friends keep us grounded and keep us from feeling like we’re swirling in a toilet full of muck.

So the next time you’re with your friends, really listen. They have enlightening things to say.
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