Throwback Essay: Quiet

All right, I’m super lazy today. I wrote this essay for school about two years ago. I feel like back then I was a lot more sassy, angst-y, and care…y. It’s unedited except I added [brackets] to one word. I laughed when I read, “…I can find that secret place in my head where everything is okay…” Ha, not anymore, pal! Now you’re the crazy one and you have rely on others! Life is a hoot, eh?

Sorry that today (always) I’m so laxidazical. Laxedazicle. Lacksidazical. Laxidazicle. Lackadaisical! (Thank you, Google. I thought it had an x.)

Quiet

Stop and reread the title again, if you will. Again. Think about what images and feelings this word brings to the forefront of your mind. I bet after thinking about the title, most people feel a decrease of excitement about reading this, as if the very word “quiet” drains them of something that we westerners have deemed crucial for existence. If I had titled this essay “Power,” “Social,” or “Energy,” I bet you would have settled back into your seat, excited for a positive reading experience. Instead, I’ve stuck you with what will surely be a dull read.

I hope I’ve put my point across. There is definite bias against the word “quiet;” especially, I dare say, in America, one of the most extroverted nations in the world. I could ramble for pages and pages about the social injustices that extroverts inflict on introverts—in fact, Princeton University and Harvard Law School graduate Susan Cain did just that in her non-fiction book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I read this book a few months ago, and it changed my whole perspective about being “quiet.” This book illustrates and illuminates the millions of introverts who suffer the pains of western culture. I mention it because I think it is a good read, and it will answer any questions you have about quietness. However, this essay is not to be a book review.

For me personally, being quiet means a lot of things. It means holding my tongue when I know that what I want to say will fall on ears that refuse to hear me or won’t understand. It means constantly running in a hamster wheel in my own mind, carrying thoughts and ideas and daydreams and being unable or unwilling to share them. It means hiding from the spotlight, especially when others demand that I offer my opinion or tell them “what’s wrong.” It means wanting to be invisible some days, and achieving that state on days I wish people would notice me.

There is one very good thing about being quiet, something I don’t know that loud people have: no matter what happens; no matter what anyone says to me, or does to me, or thinks about me; no matter where I am or who I’m with; I am safe inside my own head. I will not tell my secrets, and I will not betray myself. I will never leave myself alone. I can count on me, even if I can count on no one else. And should the world collapse around me, I can find that secret place in my head where everything is okay and I can make it through.

This school year has held many quiet days for me. I can usually tell the night before if the next day will be quiet. If I get that feeling, I pack a home lunch and pick out my school outfit that night. I ride the bus to school, attend my first three periods, and eat lunch as I do homework in the science room. After lunch I go to my last period and then ride home on the bus with my iPod in, listening to a song to keep my heart up, depending on how I feel by then. Some days I can go without speaking to anyone, if you don’t count the halfhearted greetings in the hallways. I don’t know very many people who can do that—on the other hand, they wouldn’t tell me if they did. Do you see the injustice here? I can handle not being asked on dates, not having close friends, not being popular, not being cool—but for people to assume I don’t have feelings? That’s just wrong.

I feel like “normal” people think that since quiet people don’t always have much to say, we don’t think a lot, and therefore don’t feel as deeply. Maybe this is only an issue at [school] (Cain would disagree vehemently), but it seems that people assume “social” or “talkative”—may I say loud and obnoxious?—people are awfully thoughtful because their ideas are always bouncing off everyone else’s eardrums. Not to be intentionally hypocritical, but doesn’t it make more sense that the people who spend more time in their own heads are more thoughtful? I really think people assume I don’t have opinions or interests or problems, just because I don’t feel a desire to gab about them at all hours. And I’m not even the quietest person I know!

Just last week I was in the back of the science room, having finished my lunch, brainstorming story ideas for my novel. The teacher left the room, and upon finding myself alone, I started pacing and muttering to myself since I feel like I focus better that way. A girl walked in to work on an assignment, and I ignored her, hoping she would return the favor. She asked where the teacher was, and I told her. And then, ladies and gentlemen, she asked that timeless, insensitive question:

“Are you okay?”

I had so many things I felt like telling her; I felt so frustrated inside. But I also didn’t want to be rude, or waste my time thinking negative thoughts. Besides, when you only say so many words a day, you have to make them count. So I just stared at her and shrugged, saying,

“Yeah, I’m okay,”

To that girl, I probably seemed certifiable. But she had no idea how I felt inside, what I was doing, what I was thinking. And of course she didn’t bother to ask. Had I not been the quiet person I am, I might have explained that I was trying to figure out the ending of my book, and she would have understood perfectly, would have been interested in me; perhaps would have felt admiration and loyalty to my cause.

The truth that we cannot ignore in this situation, however, is that had I not been the quiet person I am, I wouldn’t be writing my book in the first place, and I wouldn’t have been in that classroom to answer her question.

Am I okay?

Yes, I can say this honestly, and not even in that offhand, dull, if-you-only-knew sort of voice everyone employs occasionally. I am a quiet person, and I am, indeed, okay.

* * *

And as if I haven’t already provided y’all with enough information this Tuesday, here is “From Where I’m Standing” by Schuyler Fisk (which apparently was recorded live in Park City, Utah!). P.S. I really really love this song.

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