The Other Me
‘Life’s Short Interruption: Part II’
Once I was back at school, all the fears and awkwardness of twenty years earlier returned, as well as the embarrassment of sharing what little I’d done with my life. There were other mature-age students, but I was so far behind them and where I should’ve been. The exception was the world of writing, where I’d learned about writing, revision, and submitting. In that regard I became somebody to look up to.
It didn’t seem very much.
The social phobias of being in school also scared me. Whenever we had to partner-up for assignments, I’d sit mute. During breaks, I found it near-impossible to intermingle. When we sat in groups, I was quiet. It took a while before I grew comfortable enough that my natural exuberance emerged.
School forced me to grow beyond my comfort-zone, though. I still had difficulty writing because of post-Aropax life, but the assignments pushed me to try. Sometimes, I did it with one or two beers. But I did it.
I also had a knack for editing – partly because I’d been doing it for years with my own stuff; but more so because of the way my mind worked, the way it hyper-analysed everything, kept prodding beneath the surface, pulling back a layer, and then continue to prod, and on and on, trying to make sense of what it was seeing by pulling it apart, then putting it back together. When I read stuff, it shaped in my head like a pattern where I could see what didn’t work. Then it was a case of articulating it, breaking it down in terms of the narrative, structure, and things like plot and characters (if applicable) to try get that pattern right.
I also had to do things for school that I’d never done before, like give presentations for class, or read my work in public at monthly school readings. Before I ever had to give a presentation, I spoke to a teacher after class about my diffidence, explaining where I was coming from mentally. He was understanding and was sure we could arrange a compromise – possibly just to present to him and the other senior teacher. When I told Allie, she blew up, claiming I was using my anxiety and depression to try and get out of work, and I just needed to do whatever needed to be done.
That wasn’t the case – at least I didn’t think it was. It was just hard to go from an environment where I’d been largely in isolation for a bulk of my adult life, to something so open and interactive. For somebody who’d been agoraphobic, it was a transition that was alien.
The first time I read in public – at an event held at a café bookshop – it was nerve-wracking. It seemed the whole school was there, as well as Allie, who’d come to watch.
As I waited to be called, my breath was short. I told myself reading in public was no different to reading in class – the same principles applied. And I kept telling myself that I’d be awesome. Not just that I’d be fine, or okay, because there was no point aiming so low. If I aimed high and missed, I’d still end up somewhere better-off than had I aimed low.
I got through it without imploding, returned to my table.
‘I could never do that,’ Allie said to me.
I wasn’t sure what to say to that.
As the year went on, there were other public readings, as well as presentations. The nervousness always remained, but I always talked myself through it. Later, people told me I was self-assured; a friend – who had to give a presentation and was wracked with nerves – told me, when I tried to assure her, that not everybody could be as confident as me.
Inside, the anxiety was volcanic.
Years of practise had taught me to wear a mask.