Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Shyness’ Category

My extra disappointing nano-dating experience (and how it relates to writing)

In Shelley Widhalm, Shyness, Writing on January 26, 2014 at 11:00 am

I don’t ask men out, because I hate the sick stomach and jittery voice I get when I eek out, “Do you want to …”

But I realized (and this took awhile apparently) that if I stay stuck on standby waiting for the galloping hooves indicating the arrival of my future boyfriend, I don’t get to choose.

I am chosen.

By saying “no” to those men I should have given a “yes” to, I ended up dating a type – the bad boys (most), the alcoholics (two) and the emotionally unavailable (all).

I acted insecurely, because I wasn’t confident enough to believe I could go for what I wanted.

I wanted looks and smarts and conversation, but because I kept putting myself on standby, I settled for hidden beer bottles, unreturned phone calls, late arrivals and shortened dates, and the long drawn-out fear of the letter “C,” or commitment.

In a complaint session about this unsettling assortment of men, I told a friend about my fantasy cute guy, a man I met once through work and for some reason found to be intriguing. She informed me that I shouldn’t wait around and let life (and opportunities) slip by, because I was afraid.

I agreed (given that it was approaching the New Year and a perfect time for new goals) and promised her I would call Mr. Fantasy. She said to do it by the end of the weekend. It took me a month.

When I finally called Mr. Fantasy (let’s call him Flint) to ask him out to coffee, he thought I wanted an interview (given that I’m a reporter). “Is this social?” he kept asking. Yes! (Duh!) After 15 minutes of figuring out the logistics of our nano-non-date, Flint said he could give me a half-hour.

The day of the nano matter, I assembled the perfect outfit in my imperfect state of fear and nervousness. Upon our meeting, Flint again asked if this was social, and within five minutes, I learned he had a girlfriend, meaning I had gotten all jittery over something I could have been told on the phone. (I’m not being bitter, just factual.)

After my date, I went home and cried (seriously).

And now with my fabulous ability at hindsight, I believe that the reason for my crying had nothing to do with Mr. Fantasy (because that’s all he was) but more to do with my putting too much hope on my single brave phone call.

I wanted my first try at asking a man out to result in instant success.

The same thing goes with my writing life.

My attempts at getting published should have been successful, because I have talent, right? I cried and worried over my rejections from contests, journals and literary agents, waiting in standby for someone somewhere to pick my writing as the winner. Again, I was giving them the power to choose, so that each time they stamped “No!” I took a jab to my confidence.

But that’s not the way to approach men or writing, waiting in the sidelines (with hand raised, saying, “Yes, please put me on your waiting list!”), letting what they say and do dent your armor.

Make the call, send out the submission, email the query letter.

Keep trying.

You’ll eventually find him or her and you (with your name in print).

Writing to 100 Percent

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Shyness, Writing on June 10, 2012 at 10:16 am

Though a bit arbitrary, the number 100 relates to the writing process, but not as profoundly as does “1.”

Page 1. Get started somehow, as long as you begin the process.

This is my 100th blog since I began writing in the format, six days short of my two-year anniversary on June 16, or 6 days from 6/16, which is equal to 10, or 1/10th of 100 (I like the pattern in the numbers here).

I initiated my blog, taking the advice from my writer’s magazines that aspiring authors need to have a platform, of which blogging and having a Website play a part (see

At first, my blog felt like homework. Called Shell’s Ink, I spent the first half-year talking about my dog, Zoey the Cute Dachshund. I blogged from Zoey’s perspective in Zoey’s Paw, developing a voice and character for a 9.5-pound long-haired miniature dachshund who thinks she’s Miss Princess.

In 2011, I learned that my blog had to have a theme and relate to my writing projects, so I blogged about shyness. One of my characters is shy, Maggie Cooper in “One April Day,” which I was editing at the time.

I took on a shyness challenge, doing things that scared me into being more outgoing and then writing about my experiences. The challenge worked – at least my friends and family were telling me that I didn’t seem shy, and I no longer felt that way.

This year, I’m blogging about 52 writing topics in 52 weeks. Like my shyness blog helped me get over the last fragments of shyness, my writing blog is helping me review each element of writing. Taking the time to think about those elements, such as minor plots, character arc and dialogue, is like coloring in the outlines, making my understanding more vivid and real.

What does all this have to do with 100?

I looked up the number and was reminded that 100 is the square of 10 and the basis of percentage. Currency is divided into 100 subunits. The construction of the Great Pyramid lasted 100 years. And in Christian literature, the number 100 symbolizes celestial beatitude.

The number 100 is part of a whole. A book can be written in a 100 days, or 30 during NaNoWriMo. Becoming a good, or actually great, writer requires writing 1 million words (100 X 100 X 100, or 100 to the 3rd power). And writing and editing a book, at least for me as a part-time novelist, takes 100 or so weeks – one year to write and one to edit.

One hundred is the number of perfection. It indicates 100 percent effort, 100 percent motivation, 100 percent not giving up, 100 percent hope.

It is 100 percent of putting your heart into this thing you love.

Writing without 100 becomes too hard, bringing up pain and the past and things you don’t want to think about or deal with, causing a giving up into numbers less than 100.

In other words, 100 is an absolute need to write because without it, you can’t breathe.

2011: Writing Reflections

In Passions, Shelley Widhalm, Shyness, Writing on January 1, 2012 at 10:00 am

Shelley Widhalm reads some of her poetry during a poetry reading in 2011.

The end of the year offers a time for reflection, while the New Year is a time to make those resolutions that too often get broken.

I started 2011 with a shyness challenge with the goal of overcoming my shyness by the end of the year.

By August, I realized that too many of my friends were telling me that I wasn’t shy but quiet and reserved. I realized, too, that in most situations, I felt comfortable starting conversations with people I didn’t know, engaging in conversations in large groups and going to bars, dance clubs and parties by myself.

Though I’m reflective and spend a lot of energy on the inner life, I saw that I equally loved being social. The fact I seek the company of others probably indicated that I was not socially afraid.

So on to 2012.

I’m going to engage in a new challenge:

52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty.

Each week, I will tackle a writing topic, reflect on the writing process and remark on any beauty I find in the writing life. At the same time, I will try to get my work published and work on my fourth novel.

I’ll start with the basics, such as Plot, Setting, Character, Dialogue, Pacing, Arc and Tension.

I will reflect on how reading influences writing, what is creativity and what motivates and inspires.

I will talk about my struggles, frustrations and accomplishments as I look for an agent, write stories and poems, and try to market myself as a writer. I hope that as I write about writing, I will become a better writer and inspire a beginning or veteran writer to engage in the social side of writing: talking about the passion that gives life to words.

The Shy Label

In Challenge delay, Shelley Widhalm, Shyness on October 30, 2011 at 7:00 am

The word SHY used to be a label I branded into my identity. I considered myself too shy to do certain things, like network at a party or approach an interesting person (in a safe location like a coffee shop) to start a conversation.

I initiated a shyness challenge earlier this year to take specific steps to overcome my shyness, but for the past two or three months, I haven’t created a challenge for the week.

That’s probably because I don’t think of myself as shy anymore.

However, this past week I realized I have become comfortable in my routines and tend to choose being alone over trying too hard to be sociable if it requires work on my part. I weigh the costs and think, nah. Why, I don’t know.

I do know that I’m an introvert with some extroverted tendencies, like wanting to be around people on a daily basis and to connect with them through talking and doing things together. When I was in my twenties, I didn’t need that alone time but always wanted to go out and, even if I was the quiet one, to be in the presence of others.

In the past 20-plus years, I lived in 10 cities at 12 different addresses and had to start over with each move. I withdrew as I encountered difficulties with making and finding friends. I had to figure out things to do alone because I let shyness keep me from trying too hard, the reason different – actual shyness instead of liking my alone comfort.

With my last move two months before I started the challenge, I wanted “to fix” myself and get rid of the word I used to describe myself, one that, I’ve since noticed, no one else uses.

I don’t have social anxiety or fear of new and awkward situations.

I would say my challenge for next week is to approach someone I haven’t met yet to get myself out of my comfortable routine of letting things happen. I’m not being active but reactive, comfortable in my state of not thinking of myself as shy.

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.

Defeating Shyness

In Modeling, Shelley Widhalm, Shyness on September 18, 2011 at 7:00 am

Modeling, reading my poetry on stage and blogging about being shy all have helped me overcome my shyness.

I think.

I have learned that one way to conquer shyness is to set aside fear and dive into the situation. I don’t like approaching a large group of people where I don’t know anyone.  But if I break up that group into smaller groups or individuals, especially those who I find interesting, then I can say “hello” and ask a question or two.

People really do like to talk about themselves.
If they brush you off, it’s probably more about them, than about you.

Another situation I found to be difficult is giving speeches.

In my college speech class, I memorized my speeches and thought I had to follow my note cards to the letter. If I looked an audience member in the eye, my fear instinct took over. What if I messed up and looked like an idiot?

But I now can read my poetry to an audience, because I, for one, am not being graded. And if those in the audience don’t like what I wrote, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that I’m rejected.

Rejected – that’s how I used to feel.

I was told throughout my life that I was beautiful (on the exterior), but I felt like an ugly duckling. I didn’t go for modeling when I was a teen, because I didn’t know that you could learn how to do something and then do it. Now, that I’m checking off one of goals, I figure that it really doesn’t matter if I get turned down for modeling jobs, I just want to do it for the experience.

I went online to research about shyness, as if I’m not already an expert on the subject. One blogger wrote that she is an inwardly directed person and prefers to process the world internally before speaking up. Another blogger stated that shyness doesn’t benefit anyone.

I get that.

I read that those who are shy are afraid of rejection, humiliation and being ignored. They are oversensitive and insecure.

And that those who are inclined toward shyness are often the most thoughtful.

I still have the fear of getting rejected, but I expect it to happen here and there. I don’t mind being humiliated because it happens. And as far as being ignored, I think I experience that a lot. I say things that bounce along unheard.

But who cares?

The sensitivity I likely won’t shed because without it I wouldn’t gather words and images and life to fling into heart-rearing sentences, as if I could get rid of insecurity with careful observation.

Modeling Confidence

In Body image, Modeling, Shyness on September 4, 2011 at 7:00 am

This week, I found out I made the cut for modeling/acting, a fact I’m still trying to process.

After I picked up my mail in the post office, I opened the large white envelop from the American Mall Model Search (I was too impatient to wait until I got home) and flipped through the information packet, thinking, “Are you serious?”

I did not expect to make it – I’m out of the 20s decade. I want to lose 10 pounds. And I’m not 100 percent confident. I got an 8 for modeling out of 10 possible points, and a 7 for acting.

One of the comments under the modeling category was “confident.” I thought, wow, that’s quite a compliment considering that I’ve been carrying around my shyness label for most of my life.

But my confidence only goes so far. The packet includes a list of casting calls for movies – I don’t have any acting experience, so should I sign up with this company? What if I don’t know what I’m doing? The doubts start entering my mind. I want to be handed a contract, but I didn’t make the top cut. I have to work for it.

And then my overactive imagination took over. What if I get a part and experience a taste of Hollywood? That would give me something to write about. And what if I land a couple more parts and become famous and a regular part of “Us Weekly” and “People”? And what if my being famous made people want to read my yet-to-be-published novels?

I have another six weeks to decide.

Either way, I am glad I walked the runway and recited one of my poems before the judges. My friend who I saw that night (July 16) said that I looked amazingly happy. I was going after an old dream, that of being a model, not caring whether or not I made it. It was the doing that mattered.

“Kindergarten Crybaby”

In Communication secrets, Finding friends, Separation Anxiety, Shyness on August 28, 2011 at 7:00 am

Though I don’t have children, I’ve had the chance to witness the first day of kindergarten a few times as a reporter for my hometown newspaper.

Every time I cover the separation anxiety between parents and their five-year-olds, I’m reminded of my own “trauma.” I didn’t just cry on the first day of school, I screamed and clung to my mother for the first week – but I got over it and turned my tears into dreading the end of the school year and having to say goodbye to my teachers.

In my hometown, school for students in grades K-5 started on Wednesday. A staff photographer and I went to a kindergarten class to search for crying children. The photographer found a father trying to comfort his son, who buried his face against his father’s chest.

Once inside the classroom, the boy huddled against the wall near his desk, wrapping his arms around his knees, continuing his crying jag for the 45 minutes we were there.

I tried to get a quote from the 5-year-old, but despite my investigative efforts, he wasn’t about to talk, not even when the photographer commented on his new shoes.

The boy, I figured, might have had a case of separation anxiety, just like I did.

I don’t know the cause of his, but mine derived from my shyness. Shyness can result from the fear of entering a new situation, in contrast to familiarity with the known that provides safety and comfort.

New to the school world, I felt anxious about finding friends and not having anyone to play with at recess. I was hesitant to talk. I made little eye contact. And I felt insecure and unlikable.

My “friend” across the street who went to another school called me “kindergarten crybaby,” and if I had been more confident, I would have said “no thanks” to her meanness.

As an adult, I can get teary eyed next to the crying kindergartners, but I know I have turned it all around to the point where I really can’t say I’m shy. There are few situations where I feel uncomfortable. I know how to start a conversation. And I can look people in the eye.

The Bad Boy-Bad Dog Connection

In Shyness on August 21, 2011 at 6:10 pm

What do bad boys and bad dogs have in common?

Let’s start with the bad boy dilemma that can be epitomized by James Dean in a leather jacket with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. Give me moody eyes, chiseled cheekbones and ripped muscles with unresolved childhood issues, a penchant for the drink and some mark of rebellion from rule breaking to avoiding 9-to-5 responsibility.

Being with the bad boy is a rollercoaster ride with your arms up and a scream as you plummet into a twisting tunnel that rocks your body along the curve of insecurity. He’s a challenge, a thrill, a mystery until that jarring stop at the end of the ride signaling his rejection.

I read an online article this week exploring why females like bad boys. One of the conclusions the writer had was that women like to fix things. I agree to a point in that the bad boy presents a challenge to get through to his emotional core. But I really don’t have a clue how, even though, embarrassingly enough, I’ve tried.

I’ve dated a few bad boys, because I wanted to be with their good looks, thinking that if this epitome of maleness can like me than I must be worth something. I used to think: What better way to prove your self worth than to get a hot guy with issues to straighten his act and adore you as a result?

But it was all castles in the air.

My dating history boils down to this bad boy chase of dating moody, drink-guzzling, non-communicative, commitment-phobic men. In other words, it was a big waste of time.

But hold on. Now instead of dating bad boys, I’ve got this bad dog to change. My 9-pound miniature dachshund looks sweet and cute, but she’s got issues. It started with her barking from my second-story patio at the big dog passersby. To get her to stop, I snap my finger three times, glare into her eyes and say, “No bark.” But then another dog comes by and she returns to barking.

Or we’ll sit outside at a coffee shop patio table, where Zoey, deciding the circle around our table is her territory, has a penchant for barking at the big dogs. They give her a look like “Are you kidding?” or they bark back with their owners pulling on their leashes.

Zoey’s become more aggressive over the summer months with jaws snapping and paws flying about as I hold her in the air by her harness. The culmination was this weekend when she and Sophie, her “best dog friend” who she hasn’t seen in months, spent a weekend together.

Sophie tried to play with Zoey’s toys and Zoey barked at her. I told her, “NO!” “Bad dog,” and the like and put her in three timeouts. She didn’t stop her bad behavior.

My sweet little puppy who I took through Puppy Kindergarten and Intermediate training and read a half-dozen dog behavior and training books to raise has me doubting my ability to tame the bad boy or bad girl in any creature, whether man or dog.

I feel like I’m at the beginning of my teenage angst but instead of trying to figure out the mysteries of men, I’m trying to figure out my dog.


Losing My Shyness Identity

In Shyness, Talking on August 14, 2011 at 7:00 am

I’m a bit disappointed that I keep hearing from my friends, real and virtual, that the word I’ve been using to describe myself may be inaccurate.

I thought I was shy. A wallflower. A misfit.

I considered my name Shelley to be perfect, because I hid out in a shell, insecure of what to do or say, afraid to take risks and scared of getting hurt.

I gave my Shyness Challenge one year, but it’s only been seven months of half-heartedly setting up challenges and following through on most of the time, such as going to a bar by myself, modeling in a fashion show and reading my poetry on stage.

One challenge that I have not carried out is to talk to the hottest guy in a bar, or along those lines, starting a conversation with a man who I think is interesting.

That’s because I’m afraid I’ll look like: 1. a dork, 2. desperate, or 3. boring.

Yep, I’ll have to get over that. So my challenge isn’t over.

As my friend, Tim Byrnes, said to me Tuesday evening over coffee, “Anyone who can address being shy in a public place, well, that isn’t shy.”

Oh, okay.

A writer friend of mine said she doesn’t see me as shy but as funny and vibrant. Another friend said I shouldn’t be labeling myself as shy.

Add the fact that I don’t even feel shy most of the time.

I go to work and interview lots of people, more worried that I will forget to ask a question and leave out an important fact than about the impression I’m making. I find that I engage in multiple conversations every day with coworkers, interviewees, friends and people I encounter as I work and play.

Someone who is shy is inhibited in talking with others, being in large groups and taking chances.

That’s not me.

A shy person is distrustful or wary.

That’s not me either.

Being shy is avoiding whatever is the cause of the anxious feelings.

I don’t do that either.

But I do avoid my cool New York City-style walkup like the plague. It may be the coolest apartment in town (in my opinion), but I want to get out and about and live and not stay home doing loner activities.

I like being around people and engaging with them. Call it postmodern shyness where the state of being shy is a slippery thing that, most of the time, is not associated with my identity.


Now what am I going to do?