“Quiet” and “Shy” Are Not the Same Word

At one time, like a lot of reserved people, I considered myself shy.

I like quiet, thoughtful people who contribute intelligent discourse to any conversation. Promenade by Steve Henderson.

The misconception is understandable, given that once a room fills with more than four unrelated people, I clam up like an oyster trapped inside a mussel shell, thanks to some pig-tailed second grader in my deep past who blurted out, “Oh look, Carolyn’s got her hand up again with the answer! She never shuts up in class.”

Thanks, kid. From that point on, I did.

And because I no longer raised my hand in large, artificial groups of random strangers which possessed at least one pig-tailed girl blurting out inarticulate nonsense and keeping the discussion going 45 minutes longer than it should, I am labeled, and for many years labeled myself, shy.

But I’m not. It took awhile to recognize that “quiet” and “shy,” were not synonymous. I am under no obligation to treat them as so, even though the culture I live in does.

I thought about this the other day at the local office box store, where I stood with two 3 x 4 foot packages of paintings ready to ship out. The Norwegian Artist had run out of packing tape at the last minute, and I assured him that I would have no problem buying a roll and doing the final job on the edges and corners myself.

And there was no problem at all. The shipping attendant being busy with some fussy man who kept shuffling through requisition sheets and consulting his phone, I bought a roll of tape and got to work.


Anyone who has ever used packing tape knows that it is not a silent process, especially when you are unfurling 40 inches at a time. Because I am efficient, focused, and attentive, I taped edge after edge after edge in unrequited clamorous dissonance, and I was not inurred to realizing — because I am a quiet, reasonably sensitive person — that I was drawing attention to myself.

I assure you that the entire population of the office box store saw, and heard, me, as I was a whirling dynamo of activity and light. Mesa Walk by Steve Henderson.

The man with the forms in triplicate edged away. Another man, sitting behind me, legs crossed and gently swinging (how long does it TAKE at these places, if management recognizes the need for seating?) rested his head against the cushions and watched. The clerk who sold me the tape, in his checkstand 30 feet away,  looked as if he regretted the morning transaction.

But I kept at it. Rrrrrrriiiiippppp! Thirty six inches on the edge reinforced.

Rrrrrrrriiiiiiipppppp! Another 36 inches, another edge.

Rotate the box, locate the 48-inch front edge, and rrrrrrrrriiiiiiippppppp away. I wondered if I would run out of tape.

Like Beyonce, I got into rhythm: Rip, tape, rip, tape, rotate the box, rip. For a supposedly shy person I was remarkably untouched by the thought of what other people would think. Or maybe that was all part of my abnormality.

After ten minutes of this, the shipping associate, temporarily breaking away from the fussy man,  sidled up to my side and murmured, “I see that you’re getting some last minute taping done.”

Yup. Give me another minute and I’ll be out of your hair.

Far, far away — beyond the moon, beyond the rain — that’s where the shipping clerk wanted me to be. Golden Sea by Steve Henderson

I could see the sigh of relief relax his shoulder blades as he walked away.

Two more rips, and I was done, packages safely deposited behind the counter, fussy man still fussing, man behind me still gently swinging his crossed leg, shipping associate avoiding eye contact.

And lest you are the pig-tailed second grader from Mrs. Duckworth’s class I don’t know how many years ago, and you’re tempted to write in and comment that my behavior was insensitive and rude, don’t bother.

You did your damage once. I don’t listen to your kind anymore.

Reserved, quiet people. We rock.

Want to read more about being quiet and normal at the same time? Check out Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I bet you’ll think twice before you label yourself “shy” again.

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