Public Face

When I was eight years old it was fun to be the center of attention. At that age, and in your own opinion, you tend to be the center of the universe—or at least someone’s universe. Not always, certainly, but it’s common enough. You want to believe you’re a genius and gifted and destined for great things, because people will tell you so. At eight years old you’re pretty much all potential anyway, and therefore limitless. It’s a great feeling while it lasts.

I don’t know when I lost the urge to be the center of attention, but I’m pretty sure it was in college. Before that, school was easy. Now I had to work—hard—for everything. I soon ran up against the limits of my prior education and my own personal limits, and worked at pushing through them. Yes, I knew I was bright, capable, but a genius? Probably not.

Reality was creeping in just about then, but it was more than that. I also learned that I’m an introvert. Which does not mean I’m anti-social, it just means that I do not feel energized by social situations. Being around other people ramps up and recharges an extrovert, but I always find crowds a draining experience. I need alone time, and lots of it, to feel my best. A fact my nearest and dearest find really annoying, but there it is.

[If there is a point, would ya get to it already?]

Now that you ask, yeah, there is one. If you’re a writer, you have to promote your work, because most of the time no one else will. Before the advent of the internet, that took the form of book tours, interviews, readings, and book signings. Now it’s online social media and blogs and whatever else comes along. But hey, guess what? Personal appearances did not go away. Signings did not go away. I did a few, early on, usually in the context of a sf/fantasy convention or other organized bit of madness. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably did my career more harm than good.

“You need to smile more,” Carol said once.

 “I thought I was,” I said, because I had, indeed thought I was.

 “Nope, you’re scowling. It’s a miracle anyone wants to talk to you.”

 And she was right, as she usually is. I didn’t realize it, hadn’t meant to do it, but I was shy and nervous and uncomfortable signing front and center and it showed. Heck, I wouldn’t have wanted to come near me, if I’d seen what everyone else was seeing. The thing is, I liked conventions as such. There were people I’d met and liked and never got to see in any other context. But when you live where I do, conventions mean travel, and usually large distances. I couldn’t justify the expense of a convention just to meet friends, so for a long time I didn’t go to any. I kept working, and discovered the early online media, which then was Compuserve and Delphi and Genie. Now the names have changed but the theory and application aren’t that different. Much easier for an introvert like me to deal with.

But then a curious thing happened. A few weeks ago I joined a local writers’s group. Through a contact in that group, I was invited to an event at the Vicksburg Library ( blogged earlier here), and despite misgivings, accepted. Since the main hall was full, Carol and I were placed at a table right by the entrance. We were going to be the first members of the event any library patrons saw.

“This will not end well,” I thought.

But I was so wrong. It started and ended very well. I sold books. I signed books. I directed patrons to the restrooms. I talked to people. I even smiled now and then. And when I wasn’t smiling, I wasn’t scowling either. Or as Carol said, apparently to her own surprise, “You hardly scowled at anyone.” I didn’t? “Nope.” Huh. Fancy that. And one or two people actually deserved one.

So now I’m scheduled to do another event weekend after next, in conjunction with the local arts council. I have no idea how it will go, but I’m pretty sure I won’t scowl. I won’t call this transformation “growing up,” because I don’t think maturity has anything to do with this. Besides, if I was going to grow up, I’d have done it a long time ago. No, I think I just figured out, after all this time, that despite my social reservations, I like what I’m doing, and I really enjoy it when other people like what I do and are interested in it as well. If having a public face is part of it all, then fine, I’ll like that part too.

Took me long enough to figure that out, huh? Ok, so maybe I’m not as smart as I used to think I was, but I’d copped to that a long time ago. Apparently I’m still learning, so maybe there’s hope. I may not be eight years old anymore, but I’m starting to think that maybe I really can do anything.