#BeReal,  Life,  Thoughts

Left of Center

I remember the first time I ever heard that I was shy. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, maybe 6 or 7, and my family was at a party one of my step-aunts was hosting. There were so many adults and most were strangers. The only children were Β me and my sisters and our cousins, Katy and Leslie. Up until this point I had never been labelled as shy, but I distinctly remember my mother excusing the fact that I didn’t like strange people touching me as being shy. It stuck in my head like a deep splinter.Β From that point on I was the shy one, not because I was really shy but once the idea was planted it took root and grew, and I became what I had been labelled. I became afraid of meeting new people. Add to it that we moved several times while I was in school and soon, I truly was shy.

I almost outgrew it when I was in second grade. My family moved to a new home and I began a new school. My teacher there was wonderful and I adored her. She made me feel comfortable and introduced me to another new girl who soon became a close friend. This teacher discovered my love of reading and encouraged it by taking me out of the normal reading class and having me do advanced reading exercises. She sent me to the library often, almost as soon as she knew I had finished reading the current book I had checked out. I remember several instances where I’d be allowed to go to the library as soon as my classwork was done. I wasn’t the only one she did this with, mind you, but there weren’t many of us she awarded this privilege. Under Mrs. Opperman’s care, and that of my third grade teacher, Miss Crockett, I came out of my shell briefly. I suppose you could say it was the summer of my youth for that time is wrapped in my memory in sunlight and warm feelings. And then we moved again for the last time.

My stepfather got it into his head that it would be cheaper to live in the country, and so he moved us away from what we knew into something so different that it was a complete culture shock. Gone was riding my bike around my neighborhood with kids I went to school with. Gone was the environment I was responding to so well. Now, I found myself in an almost alien land with people I didn’t understand. Almost as soon as I began my new school during my fourth grade year I was the target of bullying, and not by one kid, but by several. I was the new kid, and I was short. I also loved books and school. In a country school, this is not acceptable. Plus, the teachers were strict and didn’t care if you were bullied. In fact, they encouraged you to bully back. Too soon I found myself folding in again.

From 4th grade on I kept as much to myself as possible. I had friends but not many. I rarely shared my true self with people, even my close friends. When I did it was always with a lot of anxiety that they wouldn’t like me anymore. The word shy continued to follow me. But the thing that always surprised me was that I wasn’t unfriendly. I simply had a problem being the first person to talk to others. Once someone talked to me, I could talk back to them. I could have conversations…the problem was getting me to talk to you. Because of that you could usually find me on the fringes of any group, not really fitting in, wishing I could be part of the group in the center. And yet…when I discovered that I could have been a part of the group I found that I was still going my own way, left of center, instead of conforming.

I’m still that way today. I can generally force myself out of my comfort zones and talk to people. I’ve found it’s easier to talk to those with whom I experience instant connections. For the most part though, I still stay quiet while others talk, mostly because I feel I have nothing valuable to add. I feel whatever I say will kill the conversation so I mostly listen while others talk. Some people I feel naturally comfortable with and I am grateful for these people because I can be relaxed around them and conversation flows freely. Others, however, are more high maintenance types and I can almost literally feel myself closing in and putting up a wall to protect myself from their battering personalities.

I still struggle with wanting to fit in and be the kind of person who is openly confident and outgoing. I’m still quiet and I listen. Now, though, I am comfortable in my own skin most of the time and I know my own limitations, or else I will try until I decide I can’t. I don’t let myself or others label me as shy.Β But, I’m still simply the person on the fringes going her own way and hoping to just get it right somehow.

Jesi Kay, poet and aspiring novelist, was born in the Texas panhandle where wide skies, lazy summer days, and rolling thunderstorms sparked her imagination and left lasting memories in her blood. An early reader, poetry and mythology were her passions. So much so that when she was ten years old her step-father gave her his college mythology textbooks to read, which were full of classic poetry and more than enough tales to fill her romantic and inquisitive nature. Jesi loves reading, art, going to the theater, the romanticism of the Victorian era (but not the missing conveniences of indoor plumbing and central air conditioning), running when the heat and humidity cooperate, and cold weather so she can wear her favorite boots and knitwear. Also, she still has those college mythology textbooks, a little worse for wear over time but still intact and telling their stories to her. Jesi is a contributor at The Well Tempered Bards blog and at www.octpowrimo.com.

20 Comments

  • Dawn D

    The thing that made me react the most was this: I’m so sad that a beautiful soul like you, a magician with words, as skilled as you are, would think she has nothing to add to any conversation.
    I wish you’d be here so I could hug you and we could share a long conversation while sipping a cup of tea (yeah, sorry, I don’t live in Texas and the weather hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s now summer!).

    Sending you love, Ms not-so-shy, you can be whoever you decide to be.
    <3

    • Jesi

      So many hugs to you!
      Part of the reason I feel as if nothing I say is valuable is due in part to being told by a few people that I don’t know what I am talking about in relation to whatever conversation we are having in which their point of view is the only valid one. This has happened to me so many times over my life that it now makes me question what I say. Also, bring into it that I am one of those people who brings up almost brutal questions and ideas sometimes (the ones no one wants to think about), I question everything, and I practice raw honesty because I don’t believe in telling someone a lie just because it will hurt their feelings (though I do know how to be tactful-I just know that not being honest can do more damage in the long run) and I feel as if it’s better for me to listen than speak.
      I would love to talk with you over tea. I’m sure our conversation would be very long and the night would draw in upon us before we stopped. πŸ™‚

  • bobcabkings

    When I read a story like this I have some difficulty getting hold of how I relate. I don’t recall ever being called shy, but in many ways I was also not “part of the crowd”, but also not quite a loner. When I look back with your words in mind, I seem to see my young and older self somewhere in the border land between “in” and “out”, very private and connected, intimacy valued, but with the boundaries guarded. When I learned of the idea in anthropology research of the Participant Observer it struck me as my default position in social situations, and I’m OK with that. Still, from that position, one is well advised to be careful in voicing the observations. “Somewhat Left of Center”- Yep, that’s the feeling. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Jesi

      I’ve been reading a book called The Writer’s Presence: A Pool of Readings by Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan. It’s essays and speeches, short stories, etc. from many different people and I was inspired to try my hand at writing a personal essay to try and establish what my writing voice is, that sort of thing. This is one of my practice pieces.
      I wasn’t exactly a loner either. I had a few close friends who completely accepted me and I’m happy to say that these people are still my friends today. But, I am perfectly capable of entertaining myself and sometimes I prefer my own company to others.

      • bobcabkings

        I forget who said. “If you don’t like your own company, it is impossible to truly like any one else’s.” I’ve heard that idea of a writer’s voice. I would be hard pressed to define mine and often suspect i have more than one, in which case, maybe someday they will merge. There does seem to be something about it that is more than a matter of style or subject, more in the nature of Being Real whatever the subject or form. Whatever the case, the way to find it must be to keep writing.

  • Lizzi

    I still feel like I’m WAY left of the centre, but as though I’m lucky because so many stars have moved their orbits to include me, which is what I always wanted and never had.

    My sister was the shy one. She would look at a situation and measure it up before joining in. I was more the bull in the china shop – I never stopped to think about the impact of my presence, or whether I ‘should’, or…anything really. I just went ahead, both feet in at the deep end, and then discovered I couldn’t swim. Time and time and time again.

    I’ve gone through long, long periods of thinking what I had to say was worthless or invaluable, and it’s only due to being told (and shown) repeatedly, by people who have chosen to love me, that I’m beginning to undo the constrictions of those former thoughts. The deeper-sown one, is that I’m too stupid to get things right; because I really, very often, DON’T see what’s going on around me, and I’ll miss a point or step out of turn or commit some kind of awful faux-pas just because I haven’t paid attention, haven’t measured it up. And somehow I still haven’t figured out HOW to do that – HOW to assess properly and make sure I don’t blunder.

    That’s the thing which makes me clam up – the feeling that I’m too dull, too blunt, to ever quite keep up with it all.

    • Jesi

      I very often find myself feeling the same way (that I can’t keep up)-more often I feel that I’m not quite as smart as every else. When that happens I try to remember to tell myself that in a class of over 300 people I was number 80, and that only because I wasn’t that good with maths and I had to work to help my mom and eventually, that it was more important to live than to be smarter than everyone else.
      I’m rather glad I’ve been spun into your orbit because you’ve spun me into some sort of providential gravity where I’m being bettered by the other bodies orbiting you. It’s rather a fascinating dance we’re all executing and one I find intensely more intriguing than the earthly one.

      • Lizzi

        Heheh I love that you’re one of the number of stars who’ve moved to encompass me <3

        Oh. The smartness *grimaces* I'm TOLD I'm smart. Evidence would suggest I'm smart. And capable. And all that malarkey. But…I can't help still somehow feeling as though I'm a few shillings short of a pound πŸ™

        Part of it is to do with (maybe) surrounding myself with people I consider to be Grown-Ups, where I don't yet consider myself to be one – I feel like a little kid trying (and failing) to keep up with the cool teens.

        • Jesi

          LoL…why do you think I let you girls talk when we were all together last time? I was happy to be included but felt I was missing out on something at the same time. It was no one’s fault, just me being left of center. I was simply happy to be there orbiting. πŸ™‚
          And I really just like listening to everyone.

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