Where I’ve Been

Hi. It’s been awhile.

The last eight months have been hell. I’m not exaggerating.

On June 30, 2018, my horse and I hit a jump. I hit the ground, shattering the center of my collarbone into three pieces. (It refused to heal, and I eventually had surgery in late November to repair it.) On July 11, 2018, my dad started chemotherapy for prostate cancer. (In 2017, he went through radiation and two surgeries related to the cancer.) On August 11, 2018, my mom had a heart attack. She went into intensive care the next day. Four days later, she was transferred to a hospital in Kansas City (eight hours from my home in Indiana, four from my parents’ in Missouri ) to undergo an advanced surgical procedure that would have essentially replaced half her heart.

She passed away on September 5.

So, yeah. Hell. You haven’t heard from me in a long time. I did write a post about the experience I had, living in a hotel for four weeks, walking around and driving with a broken collarbone, supporting my dad through chemo, visiting my mostly-unconscious mom in intensive care, sitting with her in her final moments, but I couldn’t publish it.

Honestly, I couldn’t publish anything. I could barely function for weeks after her funeral.

I’m still not really sure how to be ‘normal,’ whatever that means, because I have no idea what normal looks like now. But somehow I’ve been writing, reading books, playing D&D, riding my horse, living life. There are times when I stop and realize I am no longer the same person. My life is not the same, even as I do the same things I did before any of this happened.

There are good things. My dad finished chemotherapy last fall, and we’re counting down the weeks till official remission can be declared. No Saving Throw will be out on May 14. Life carries on, I guess.

I don’t have any words of wisdom. Someday I may post what I wrote last fall about what happened, but it’s so raw I can barely stand to read it, let alone inflect it on someone else.

So if you’re still here, if you’ve liked some of my Tweets or posts or books over the years, thanks for sticking around. Truly; thank you. The support I’ve gotten from my online friends and family has been incredible, and I think that support network is half of what’s kept me going when I’ve been at my worst.

If you’d like to see more of me, I’m pretty active over on Instagram, where I post little snippets of my gaming, knitting/spinning, and horsey life. (There are also loads of cute bunny and cat photos if you’re into that.) I tweet, too, if that’s where you hang. I’ll try to update here a little more often, especially as release day approaches.

Finally, if you actually want to MEET me, I’ll be on the Writer’s Symposium programming at GenCon in Indianapolis this year, and that includes a couple of signings. I’d love to talk writing and games with anyone who wants to chat with me. I’ll likely be carrying a MtG deck and a Keyforge deck, too.

As for how I’m doing… Well, I’m here. I’m compulsively knitting socks, I’m creating a new D&D character (Dragonborn rogue, hell yeah), I’m obsessing over Age of Sigmar. I’m dragging my dad to a ranch in Wyoming later this summer, and I think I’ll finally venture over the pond to Scotland in November to hang with my bestie. There’s a lot of life ahead of me right now, and I’m doing my very best to keep living it.

Roll 20s, y’all.

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October 3, 2004

Do you remember exactly what you were doing on this day, twelve years ago?

I do.

You never know the days that will change you forever. They start out like normal days, with normal things. Breakfast and tying your shoes and buying groceries. But by the end of a day, you’re a completely different person. Everything you did takes on an awful significance; you think about the day before, and the day before that, and wonder if you’d done one thing differently—not recommended a movie or picked up the phone instead of writing an email—the day might have had a different ending. Everyone has those days. They become the landmarks of our lives, forever burned into our hearts.

Twelve years ago, it was October 3, 2004. I was 19, a sophomore at the University of Dallas. I lived in Catherine Hall with my friends. It was the weekend before Charity Week at UD, one of most students’ favorite times of year, a golden time on the cusp of midterms when everyone pulls together in silly stunts and festivities to raise funds for the junior class’s chosen charities: hard work and hard play mingled together for a good cause. My parents were in town for the weekend.

I’d recently gotten out of a longish relationship, one that had me feeling trapped and miserable, and for the first time, I was free and single and really, truly happy. My friends were all within shouting distance, I loved college, and I was going to spend the next semester in Rome. I felt like things had finally fallen into place for me.

So when I dragged myself out of bed after going to bed at 2 or 3—my friends and I had gone to a late-night showing of Ladder 49, of all things—and I went to meet my parents for breakfast, life felt pretty perfect. After my parents left, I did normal Sunday things: laundry, homework, a quick trip to Kroger, chatting with my brother on AIM.

I distinctly remember telling my brother I needed to get tea. He told me to get green tea instead of black tea because it was better for me. Those were the last words he ever said to me.

Oddly, I remember scattered things from later in the day more clearly. I bought Stash Chai tea because my dad had just introduced me to chai from Starbucks and it was so delicious, I needed more. I had an economics test the next day, but I didn’t study. Instead, I went to my friend Alicia’s room and we watched our favorite scenes from Return of the King. At dinner, I ate a bowl of whipped cream on a dare. I went back to my room, and I still didn’t study, which is, of all the quirky things I did that weekend, the most out of character for me.

I was lying on my bed, staring blankly at my notes, and I turned to my roommate and asked if she was going to Mass that night. She said yes, and I packed up my notes and went with her. Skipping study for church wasn’t something I did, ever, and I still wonder why I did it.

After Mass, I tried to call my parents. No one answered. I left my brother a message on AIM, asking where everyone was.

Eventually, I gave up on studying and went to bed.

When the phone rang at about 4 a.m., I knew something was wrong. I answered. My parents were at the dormitory door and needed me to let them in. It had to be bad, for them to have driven three hours home and three hours back again. My hands shook as I tied my new robe–purchased that weekend with my mom–over my pajamas. I still have that damned robe, for some reason, even though I think of this night every time I wear it. I ran through the halls and down the stairs to front door. My parents were there, pale and red-eyed.

My dad told me there had been a car accident, and my brother had been killed.

He was 24.

After that, the flashes of memory become more scattered and much more vivid. My hand shaking as I tried to unlock the door and let us back into the dormitory. Sobbing on a couch in the common room, asking if Brandon knew how much I loved him. The RA poking her head out of a study room door, wide-eyed, asking if she could do anything to help. The moment of renewed horror when I realized my brother had died while I was at church. My roommate tucking my rosary into my backpack before I left. The stuffed rabbit that went everywhere with me when I was a kid, waiting for me in my parents’ car. The message I’d sent my brother on his computer screen, unread.

There are other memories I won’t tell you about—memories I wish I didn’t have, and I have no desire to share that pain. We’re all shaped by our own pain, and putting more of mine on you won’t help lessen the hurt.

I am not who I was. I am not who I could have been. I am me—but the other me, the me that could have been, died in a car accident on October 3, 2004 with my older brother.

I don’t have a nice resolution to this post. I could say happy things about who I am now, how my brother would be proud of everything I’ve done, that my family and friends saved me from my grief, over and over again. That’s all true. But that’s not the point.

The point is to say that those memories, awful and jagged as they are, are a part of me now. Sharing them won’t make them go away. And I know that everyone reading this probably has a day like this one.

I simply hope, for everyone who has an October 3 in their life, that someday you reach a day, a year, a lifetime, when you don’t have to stroke those jagged edges with fretful, anxious thoughts. I hope that someday you can look over them with the clarity that tells me now that there was nothing I could have done. I hope someday the obsession that resurrects those painful days at the worst moments of your life gradually eases its hold on you.

I hope, above all, that you have someone who listens when you want to talk or distracts you when you don’t want to think.

And if you need someone, I’m here.

 

You Can Take the Girl Out of Texas…

You know the old adage. “You can take the X out of Y, but you can’t take the Y out of the X.”

Well, this little X left Texas in the dust almost a decade ago (and to go to Rome, no less!), and I like to think there’s little of the Lone Star State left in me. Sure, if you cut me, I’ll probably bleed Dr Pepper. And more than one of the anecdotes in my mental file of “Funny Stories to Tell at Parties” involves an armadillo. (C’mon, you know you want to hear my armadillo stories.) And fine, yes, I spent a large portion of my high school career at football games, but I was there for the marching band, and I haven’t been to a sporting event since.

Bottom line: I’m totally not a Texan. I lived there, grand total, about eight years. My southern accent is 95% gone, I haven’t worn spurs since I was knee high to a—well, to many people, since I’m the same height I was at 12. With the exception of two of my best friends, I don’t miss anything about Texas.

Except, curse you, the food. THE FOOD.

I’m obsessed with Tex-Mex, Mexican, New Mexican, Southwestern food of all types, colors, and degrees of spiciness. My stomach still growls when I think about certain breakfast burritos of my past. I drool at the scent of roasting Anaheim peppers, and I even know how to make green and red chili sauce. I own and regularly use a tortilla press. I gained ten pounds I still haven’t lost the year my husband and I lived in northern New Mexico, and I have no regrets. I would choose a pillowy, hot sopapilla dripping with honey over a donut any day of the week.

You get the idea. My attachment to Mexican food is almost unhealthy. I reject any and all Midwestern Mexican restaurants, almost out of hand. It’s tragic. They just don’t meet my standards.

So when I first moved out on my own and started venturing into cooking, one of the first cooking blogs I got addicted to was The Homesick Texan. I don’t remember how exactly I started craving soft, squishy flour tortillas—it probably had something to do with nostalgia for my midnight runs with my roommates to Taco Cabana, where we’d get tortillas and queso and eat them on the floor of our dorm room. We don’t have Taco C in the Midwest.

Excuse me while I wipe a solitary, queso-less tear from my transplanted southern cheek. *sniffle*

So when I found Lisa Fain’s recipe for flour tortillas all those years ago, it felt like a warm, delicious homecoming, and I didn’t even have to face the unbearable heat and questionable fashion choices of life in Texas. I bought her first cookbook as soon as it came out, and it’s one of the most stained, battered books in my collection—and I’m a vegetarian, mind you, so I can’t eat half the recipes in it.

Last weekend, feeling nostalgic again, I made kolaches. If you’re not from Texas or, oddly, central Europe, you may not yet know and love these delightful pastries. In a word, they’re rather like Danishes. In a sentence, they’re soft, buttery cakes with either a sweet or savory filling. But I could write more than a sentence: I could write a poem, a novel, an EPIC about kolaches and my love for them.

In a strange twist, the kolaches I ate so many early mornings in central Texas were actually made by a Korean family who had somehow landed in my small town. (Yep, Korean immigrants making the food of Czech immigrants for a Midwestern transplant. WTF?) I probably ate hundreds of their small, delicious sausage and cheese rolls, like pigs-in-blankets but infinitely more delicious. But being vegetarian now, I was more keen to try making a sweet kolache rather than one filled with greasy pork sausage.

I chose Lisa Fain’s Strawberry Cream Cheese Kolaches, a recipe you can find both online and in her first cookbook. And my goodness, was I rewarded. It’s a multi-step process: you have to make the filling beforehand and refrigerate it, mix up and knead the dough and let it rise multiple times, and you have to keep your out of control saliva glands dry long enough to keep yourself from drooling all over the individual components.

But when they baked, they filled my apartment with an amazing sweet, rich smell, and the first bite was so nostalgic (and delicious!), I could have closed my eyes and drifted away on a sea of buttery bliss. With one taste, I was fifteen, it was dark outside, and I was riding in the back of my parents’ car on the way to visit my brother in Waco.

Food more than anything can tie our senses to experiences: a whiff of scent, a nibble of food, and suddenly we’re in another place and time. I may have left Texas and my Texan life behind me, but my love for the food of the Southwest will be with me till I die. And it’s so delicious… I’m perfectly okay with that.

What food makes you nostalgic? Are there any regional cuisines that make you drool over mere photos of an entree? 

Hard Lines and Social Media

Image by Michael Gil

It’s time for Kristin to take off her whimsical hat and put on serious hat, because we need to talk about something real today kids. *waits for you all to put on very serious hats*

I, and many of you, dear readers, are on social media a lot. Between Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and all the rest, we all put ourselves and our words out in public—for the whole wide world to see—on a daily basis. While in theory you can lock down your privacy settings, it may take a NASA engineer to figure out how to do it: posts and photos sneak through to the wider internet regularly, even from my fairly-private Facebook page.

Between my writing-self, my ADF-self, and my SDF-self, I’m in public almost nonstop. Whole areas of my life are shared with folks who look to me as a colleague or even a leader, and I take that responsibility seriously. Because I serve as lay-clergy, I try to make myself accessible to folks who might need me—but because I also use social media for personal communication, I have to take care what I say, when, and to whom.

As always, there’s a flip side to rules of personal conduct. Just as people can see me pretty much any time their little hearts desire, I’m seeing them, too. And in the past few months, I’ve discovered that I have some hard lines about what I will and won’t accept in my social media feeds.

That’s right, readers. Let’s talk etiquette.

I’ll preface this post with the following warnings:

Yes, these lines reflect my personal politics. But these lines aren’t about those politics: they’re about how we all express our personal beliefs, and how we interact with those who don’t share those beliefs. Please keep that in mind.

This post will contain some unpleasant language. I’m making a point about how people behave in public, and it’s difficult to do that without being specific. Get your smelling salts or avert your eyes if you’re not comfortable with R-rated language. Like I said, I’m serious about this stuff, readers, and it’s time to get real.

Kristin’s Hard Lines of Social Media

The following behavior will earn you an automatic unfriend, unfollow, unpin, or even block: no saving throw, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

1. Calling someone—anyone—a faggot, for any reason. See also: nigger, cunt or any others you can think of. Nope. No way. Don’t do this. No need to elaborate. However, this goes right into…

2. Using someone’s race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or anything that makes them unique as a shorthand insult. If you and I are arguing and you call me an ignorant, judgmental know-it-all, that’s not great, rhetoric-wise, but it’s still fine. It may even be accurate. But if you call me a dumb cunt, that’s unacceptable. Telling me to check my privilege would be more effective, particularly if you’re trying to say that I’m letting my unconscious race/class/whatever biases unjustly influence my thinking. Telling me I’m a woman (or reducing me to my sexual parts) and therefore stupid and uninformed, well, that’s not okay.

This rule extends as a soft line out to using gay/queer/retarded/whatever as bigoted shorthand for pointless, stupid, laughable, or whatever you’re trying to express. If you’re a teenager or other young adult and you’re using these words as slang, please—oh please—stop and think about what you’re saying. And then, as my parent-friends are always telling their two-year-old, use your words. There are clearer, more accurate ways of expressing your displeasure with something

3. Describing a politician or other public figure as a Nazi, Hitler, or any variation on this theme. I see this applied to President Obama pretty regularly, but this extends across the board from left to right. Once again, use your words. If you think the President’s policies are unfair and overpriced, and extend beyond the bounds of what you believe the government should be able to do, SAY THAT. If you think Michele Bachmann is an atavism of a sexist time when women were treated like chattel, say THAT. Hitler is not an appropriate synonym for oppressive or “does not share my beliefs.”

4. Using language of rape as a scare tactic to make a point about any other issue. Rape as rhetoric is just another exhibition of rape culture. Do NOT do this.

5. Forcing violent or bloody imagery on me as a way to further your cause. Even if you’re advocating for something that should be a basic human right, don’t take away my right to CHOOSE what media I consume. I know that people are suffering in nations far from here. I know that abortion is bloody. I know that abuse of children and animals occurs right around the corner from me. But language is a buffer between the individual and the world at large, especially in the text-heavy universe of the Internet. If you want to share these images, please use your words to draw me in. Make me care before showing me images I would never pull up in a public place.

This one is going to be a squidgy for many people, and I did hesitate when putting it here. I know we need to care about bloody and horrific causes, and I know it’s a form of whitewashing to ask people to erect an artificial barrier between social media and real-world issues. But we can’t always know what will trigger those we’re forcing to look at these images. We don’t know the story of everyone who follows us on Twitter or Facebook. When we share an image publicly, we are forcing every individual within range to not just acknowledge but also to WITNESS what is portrayed. Think very, very carefully when putting these things up for the world to see, and do not use this privilege to promote a personal agenda.

6. Behaving like a bot. This goes for self-promotion, politics, jokes, horoscopes, or any other automated content. If all I see from you is pre-scheduled or third party, even if it’s wise or funny, I’m going to unfollow you. Act like a human person if you want me to treat you like one.

Kristin’s Soft Lines of Social Media

These will earn you a reduction in following: an unsubscribe or a shift to a list I don’t often read. 

1. Daily promotion of your beliefs. Religion, politics, or your own awesomeness: if you’re posting daily Bible verses or politic rants or self-congratulations, you’re starting to act like a bot. Lighten up, shake it up. Share a cat meme or a photo of your lunch or something.

2. Too-frequent sexy, fish-lipped selfies or reflections of your awesome muscles in the mirror. If I wanted you to pout at me every day or if I wanted to fondle your man-boobs, I’d be married to you. This rule may just be one of my own, but it annoys the crap out of me to see close-up photos of someone I don’t know very well first thing every morning.

3. Using social media as a bridge into my personal or private life in a combative or inappropriate way. This one would (and probably should!) be a hard line for many, but since I’m acting as lay-clergy, I don’t draw as bright of a line as many of my friends. Emailing me at my SDF account for clarification on a subtle point of druid belief is fine. Emailing me when you have a fight with a friend is also good. Texting or calling me when you feel like you just can’t carry on is GOOD. DO THAT. Texting me at two a.m. to discuss ogham is not okay. Initiating arguments with me or challenging me at my personal accounts is also not okay.

Respect my boundaries, please.

What do you think of these lines? What are YOUR rules for social media?

The Big-Balled Squirrel and the Fairy Princess

Last Saturday, this fairy princess woke up late. I’m never an early-riser, and I’m not at my best even at 11 a.m.

Especially when I pick up my phone and instantly receive a message like this one:

Emmie Mears: Drew just sent me a picture of a squirrel with big balls and said it was him as a princess. O___O LOL

Picture me looking at my phone kinda like this:

…whut?

I said nothing, just tried to process that combination of words with my sleep-brain. I did not succeed in making it make sense.

Emmie Mears: I told him that Princess Drew has illustrious appendages.

At this point, I had to speak up.

Kristin McFarland: What on earth… I’m still in bed. LOL

Emmie Mears: HAHAHAHA. Whoops. Good morning?

I was also so completely bemused that I said out loud to my husband…

“What on earth did you do to Emmie?”

He quickly came to his own defense, and appeared in the bedroom.

Spouse: Remember last night, you said I needed to learn to be a princess? Well, I sent her a picture of me as a princess!

It all came screaming back to me then. Part of why I slept so late was because I was up late, talking with Spouse and some Twitter-friends about how Drew doesn’t like his birthday and needs to learn to be a princess and celebrate like a man. (Those might have been my exact, nonsensical words.)

One of our friends—and between you and me, internet, I’m not even sure it was Emmie—demanded a picture of Drew as a fairy princess. I said I’d do my best to oblige, and promptly forgot about the whole thing when I went to bed.

But Drew remembered, and sent Emmie a picture.

Kristin: She says you sent her a picture of a squirrel with enormous testicles.

Spouse: What? No! I sent her a picture of a guy in a princess outfit!

At this point, I turned back to my phone.

Kristin McFarland: He is puzzled. I think perhaps you got the wrong picture.

Emmie Mears: LOL. Oh, it is an error. Apparently that’s their default error picture…….a big balled squirrel.

And then she sent me the picture. This is what I saw:

No, I can’t read the Russian caption. I don’t think I want to know. And no, Drew does not look like this guy.

Kristin McFarland: …I get a chubby guy in a pink fairy costume.

Emmie Mears: Awwww, why can’t I see it?

At this point, I lost my shit, as they say. I was laughing so hard I could barely type.

Kristin McFarland: I am laughing so hard. I want to see the big balled squirrel!

Emmie Mears: This is the pic I got.

Illustrious appendages, enormous testicles… This, friends, is a big-balled squirrel.

Emmie Mears: This morning is off to an awesome start.

Yes. Yes it was. Four days later, and I’m still giggling about it.

Welcome to my life, internet! Chubby fairy princesses and big-balled squirrels abound.

Don’t Discount Yourself

Dear self,

I’ve noticed a habit you have, and I want to talk to you about it. It’s not a good habit, or I’d be congratulating you for being awesome. It’s a bad habit, but not one I want to slap your wrist for, because, knowing you, you would just apologize.

And you already apologize too much. (Don’t apologize.)

This habit is similar, because it makes me so sad for you—and it’s such a hard habit to correct, because it comes from a place of genuine modesty and even kindness. It’s a habit many women share, a habit we’ve all developed because we don’t want to overstep ourselves or seem bitchy or whatever it is we’re all trying to avoid.

Have you figured out what it is yet?

It involves a few words and phrases that seem innocent enough. Only. Not really. Just. Well. Words we use to prevaricate, words we writers systematically eliminate from our books because it means we’re not sure what we want to say. But. Sort of. Kind of. Enough. Yet.

Still confused?

It’s the habit of discounting yourself, of evading compliments, of not taking ownership of your accomplishments, however small you may think they are. You think you’re being modest—and most of the time you really do feel that your accomplishment is not worthy of praise. But you’re selling yourself short. You’re telling whoever wants to compliment you (and the rest of the world with them) that you do not deserve praise, that you have not created or accomplished something worth noting. You are saying to the world, “No, I am NOT worthy of your praise or even your notice.”

I’ll stop now, because you’re giving me that look that says, “Well, I’m just being honest, and I’m really not that—”

Well (I can say well, too!), JUST STOP IT. Just stop and listen to yourself.

“I’ve only been dancing for about a year.”

“I’m not published yet.”

“Well, it’s not really that hard to make.”

“I haven’t done enough reading to make me an expert, but…”

“It’s sort of goofy-looking.”

“It’s just the pattern; I only knit it.”

You see what I’m getting at here, or shall I go on?

You’re not the only one to do this. Many of your friends do the same thing. It’s something we’re trained to do, I think, though I’m not sure when the indoctrination starts. As kids, we’re taught to say “please” and “thank you” and all the rest. But when are we taught to deny compliments all together? Was “thank you” not sufficient for expressing gratitude, and we decided we debase ourselves in acknowledgement of praise?

Trouble is, when you bow out of a compliment, you’re essentially saying that the giver has no taste. Think about it:

Person A: “Wow, you made that?! It’s gorgeous!”

You: “Well, you can see that some of the wires are loose, and I was really just following a pattern.” (Subtext: “You’re clearly blind, and anyway, this is something so commonplace, a monkey could make it.”)

Person A: “Whatever, think it’s nice.” (Subtext: “And here I thought it was pretty. See if I try to compliment you again!” Or, worse, “And here I thought it was pretty. I must have horrible taste! Now I question my entire belief system…”)

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but no one wins in this situation.

I can see you feel bad now, so let me give you a little advice. You won’t want to hear this, I know, but try to listen and accept what I’m saying without trying to dismiss it or wave it away with the rest of the nice things I tell you. So listen up:

You are talented. You are skilled. You are worthy of praise and deserving of notice. You work hard and earn the things that come to you. You are amazing, and you can say, “THANK YOU!”

Now you’re rolling your eyes and telling me that’s not advice. So here’s your mission:

Accept praise. Express gratitude for compliments. Stop trying to deny your own worthiness, skill, and creativity. Take responsibility for the good that you do, as well as the bad. The next time someone says something nice about you, smile, and say your thanks. You can do it—you’re a talented and gracious woman.

So, there, self. I hope you listen to me and take my advice. This is one of those instances where you’ll want apologize for something that’s not that bad and pretend none of this ever happened, but I know it’ll light a little fire somewhere inside you. Maybe the next time someone compliments you, you’ll think of this moment and offer thanks.

Maybe you’re saying thank you right now. Telling me I’m wise and you should listen to me more often.

And you know what I say to that? THANK YOU.

Sincerely,

Your self

The Worst Possible Advice to Give a Shy Person

I am both shy and introverted.* Dreadfully shy and extremely introverted. I used to get nervous calling to order pizza. As a newspaper reporter, I would shake violently before interviews. I’ve overcome a lot of this, but I still have to fight against my own nature when dealing with social situations.

And I get a lot of advice about how to deal with my shyness, most of it unsolicited and still more of it unhelpful. But the cruelest, worst possible advice you can give to someone who is shy?

“Don’t be shy.”

People say this to introverts and shy people alike, and every time I hear it, I want to punch the person who says it in the head—but of course, I’m far too shy to either threaten to do so or to act on the threat.

Think about that piece of advice. Really think about it. When you say that to a person who is shy and can’t help it, you’re telling her to turn off one of the most powerful and crippling parts of her personality. If she could turn it off, she would.

It is NEVER that simple. Tell a person who is scared of heights to just stop being afraid. Tell an alcoholic to quit drinking. Tell anyone to stop being who they are, and you’ll get nowhere, and probably offend them in the process.

Being shy is not a choice. Being shy is part of who I am.

Over the weekend, I was at a festival all on my own. I had lots of acquaintances there, of course, as well as a few friends, but for the most part, I was attending all by my lonesome. And when I’m surrounded by people who know each other, I tend to pull deeper into my shell.

At one point, I called my husband and said, “You know, I think X-Person sees that I’m shy, and he tends to treat me like you treat Portia (our timid cat): like I’ll freak out and run away to hide at any moment. Is that how people see me? Do I really seem that scared?”

“Yes and no,” Drew said. “X-Person knows you’re an introvert, and he’s trying to make you comfortable. But you do seem nervous in crowds.”

I sighed. “I feel like Portia right now. I feel overstimulated and freaked out and I want to go sit in the corner and groom myself frantically until I feel better.”

And I did. (The sitting in the corner part, not the frantic grooming part. The frantic grooming seems to cause hairballs and vomiting. At least in cats. I haven’t really experimented much with this stress-management technique.)

But in humans, it’s a common trait of introverts that we feel drained, exhausted, and nervous in crowds: overstimulated, like we say of our cats when they start freaking out and have to hide in the closet. That’s a normal thing, and I’m not being antisocial when I have to step away from a crowd.

“Don’t go hide in the dark,” people would tell me. “Come sit with us.”

They didn’t often understand that sometimes I hide in the dark because I have to. Because I’ll start weeping with exhaustion if I have to sit in the middle of a laughing, boisterous crowd any longer. Because I just cannot handle that many people around me for long periods of time.

I write all this to tell you that it’s normal to need a break, normal for an introvert to need to step away from a crowd. I know these people meant well, but they were telling me to change a part of who I am.

So next time you’re dealing with someone shy or introverted, think about what you tell them. Appreciate their need for space. Go slowly. And take it as a compliment when they start to open up to you, because that means you’ve made them comfortable.

 

*I include a note here because I’ve noticed that it’s become trendy common for people to post articles about how they are introverts but not shy, and how introverts are harder to spot than you think. Every time I see someone who is the life of the party sharing one of those articles, I want to cry for those of us who identify as shy AND introverted: they’re throwing the curve off and changing expectations for the rest of us.