Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Fitting in’ Category

Trying to Be Me

In Artists, Fitting in, Passions, Shelley Widhalm, Shyness on October 23, 2011 at 7:00 am

Be You is the moniker for the Innovation Lab, an alternative program in Loveland, Colorado, that educates public school students by allowing them to identify, explore and follow their passions as opposed to prescribing their learning according to subject matter and state standards.

Earlier this month, I visited the Be You house, a 1910 Victorian home redesigned to fit the program with study, meeting and exploration spaces. I sat in the detox room, which is the starting point for students to let go of what is clogging their inner self, so that they can begin to be who they are.

Artists have to have some connection to their Be You-ness. Before creating something, colors, motions, sound and touch have to break the barrier of the skin and be internalized.

As a poet and writer, I try to be attuned to the sound of leafs skidding against pavement and how geese sweep from disorganization into a V of flight. I try to gather words through my observations, as well as eavesdropping on conversations that I happen upon, so that when I do write, I have an arsenal to work from that gives me things to think about and reflect upon.

This constant gathering of sense impressions is part of who I am, but is it the Be You-ness a few students are finding in the Third Street Victorian house? My art that is within comes out when I express my observations, thoughts, ideas and inner core into words after I learn, grow and do.

But I can’t do it alone. I can’t learn about other people by remaining entirely internally focused.

I need to look outward. When I do, I find that I lose some connection to my innerness. When I try fitting in, mainly with friends and the corporate culture so that I can earn a paycheck, am I fulfilling my Be You mission? If I ignore my artist self to earn a living, I notice my Be You gets ignored or pushed aside.

So, what is this question that we all have – be yourself or be what you need to be to survive, whether it’s for a moment or a year? Can we know who that Be You self is but be afraid or unsure how to get there?

The Be You realness has to, I think, offer up a balance between the internal and the external, so that both can mutually benefit without harming either one.

The Art of Communicating

In Artists, Communication secrets, Fitting in, Party, Shyness on January 30, 2011 at 8:13 am

I went to an artist’s get-together Friday night and, to my surprise, talked with people almost the entire time. Usually, I find a spot where I look like I’m okay being alone, that way I can be shy and still try, at least somewhat.

I told the artist who hosted the wine and dinner party – I had interviewed her for a features article – that I do oil painting as a hobby. I told her that I’ve been taking classes for four or five years, but I have never sold any of my work. She invited me to her get-together, which was attended by 25 to 30 people, telling me that maybe I could make a connection or two.

One woman I talked to who is in her 50s said she was incredibly shy as a child, just as I was. I told her how I’ve had to teach myself social and communication skills by reading books and, of course, by observing and learning, something I didn’t know how to do as a kid. She said a friend told her that one way to make conversation is by asking questions. She said I was good at that, inquiring about her life and her work. Being a reporter forced me to be more outgoing and taught me how to ask questions to keep a conversation going.

I stayed until 9:30 p.m. and, originally, had planned to go to this new nightclub for this week’s get-out-of-my-comfort-zone challenge. I couldn’t believe myself, but I said, in my head, I’d rather finish this book that I’m reading, and I didn’t want to go to bed late. How silly is that? I said, hey, I can put off my challenge because I did not actually set a time frame around it.

And then I congratulated myself for spending a whole evening talking, and furthermore, I stopped at this Art Lab downtown on Thursday night, where I also talked the entire time. But does that really count if I was talking to people who I interview?

I felt nervous as I walked up the stairs to the artist’s loft for the party, not at the Art Lab, because it felt more like work, even though instead of a pen, I had my dog with me.

This week, I’ve also bee thinking that it’s easier and more comfortable remaining in my shyness shell. I like it here. But I set up this challenge, and I can’t quit. So I’ll have to suck it up and put myself out there. Here I come, slow as a turtle.

The Shyness Factor

In Finding friends, Fitting in, Shyness, What's important on November 28, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I have read several how-to books about overcoming shyness. I think the advice on how to start and maintain a conversation, as well as the various explanations of the possible causes of shyness, have been helpful.

What I don’t understand is why I take this beaten-dog approach to some of my conversations. I sometimes wonder: Did I reveal too much? Did I say the wrong thing? Does this person think I’m a bore?

All of this comes to mind because I felt insecure after a wine and appetizer get-together in late November with members of my writers group, which meets on a weekly basis to freewrite and critique each other’s work.

I remained quiet most of the evening, though I was eager to tell the story about my covering a lung cancer awareness event and crying halfway through it. I wanted to tell the story because the group members (there are six or so at each meeting) knew about my mother’s hospital emergency a month earlier.

One of the members brought up that she had wanted to go to the awareness event and missed it, and I said that I was there and then told my story (as described two blogs ago). And then I segued into how I feel left out with some women in another social circle.

I felt guilty – later – about bringing up my problems, particularly the telling of the second story when I was venting.

I figured the group members all thought I was a bore, and then I realized I was taking that beaten-dog approach. I talked. I said things. And, of course, it being me saying the things I said, those listening would think I was an outcast. Get out, I could hear them say. And then I realized, it’s me being insecure, walking on the self-created eggshells, wondering how I appear to the rest of the world when, really, it doesn’t matter what people think.

It’s my first step, or another actually, in letting go of my shyness label. I’ve carried it so long, it weighs me down, so that I have to duck my head whenever I fear I’ll be laughed at, picked on or ignored.

Popular Unpopularity

In Alone, Finding friends, Fitting in, Shyness on November 7, 2010 at 8:27 am

I’ve always wanted to fit in, but I wonder what that means. I was kind of an outcast in high school, though I had friends. They were not of the popular crowd. That’s what I wanted to be: popular. I joined a few sports teams, believing that if I was an athlete, I would have instant friends.

That didn’t work, plus I was not very coordinated or good at getting balls into hoops or hitting them with bats or tennis racquets.

I became a journalist and at the small-town newspapers got a lot of attention, but that’s because sources wanted their story told, or they recognized me. They liked my writing. Or my reporting.

I liked the attention, but it didn’t make my phone ring.

Plus, I went into journalism to write.

I wanted to be the center of attention, but I was shy. And now I shy away from situations where there are lots of people. I linger on the edges. I keep conversations short. I look for any clues that I’ve overstayed my welcome.

As an adult, popularity doesn’t matter, but does fitting in? Why do I, no matter what I do, still feel slightly unpopular? It doesn’t matter how many Facebook friends I have, particularly because it’s a virtual world of social interaction that doesn’t feel real. Nor does it matter how often my phone rings, or not. I still see myself as left out. And alone. That is, until I come home from work and get a greeting from my dachshund Zoey. She makes me feel popular, at least with her.

As an adult, I know that fitting in does not matter. What matters is the meaning we make out of the friendships we are lucky enough to find – and keep – whether in human or dog form.