In my last job, as a bookkeeper for a moving and storage company, one of the salesmen nicknamed me Quiet One. It was a pleasant, anonymous, back room, part-time job. I went in, did my thing and left. I enjoy working with numbers, but they do take some concentration. I tend to just put my head down and work.
When I commented to my very gregarious boss that because I was quiet people often thought that—
“You’re timid.” She cut me off.
I was stunned. Timid? Me? Surely not. Suddenly I wanted to start listing all my adventures.
I left home at eighteen and just kept going. I’ve driven coast to coast a handful of times, alone. I lived alone in Boston, LA, and smaller cities. I’ve studied martial arts. I've been in earthquakes and sandstorms and hurricanes. I drove through the Rockies in a white-out blizzard. I’ve, I’ve… and then it occurred to me that telling them defeated the purpose. They saw me as a quiet, introverted, soft spoken spinster. What I needed to do was understand why I was projecting that image.
Over the years I have tinkered with various careers, personal philosophies, diets and locations. My family jokes that I inherited all the wanderlust from both sides. I always pull Tarot cards that say I am seeking. I am of the firm belief that you can achieve anything with enough research and hard work. I was a travel agent when I decided that I wanted to work in the film industry. It was a little over a year later that I was in a soundstage in Studio City painting a brightly patterned floor for a children’s game show.
So how could these people think I was timid?
Many years ago, I worked for a summer as a camp counselor in Vermont. One morning, as I tried to get through breakfast with the noise of 120 adolescent girls crashing around our small eating hall, another counselor approached me. She was well loved by the campers, very athletic and outgoing. I admired her for her high energy and easy way with the girls. She asked if she could sit by me, because I was so calm. She needed a respite from the chaos. She wasn’t the first to make that comment. I am usually a very calm person. But not timid!
When I was studying theatre design, one of my classmates asked me about my husband and children. When I told him I was single, no kids, he was amazed. He said I seemed like I was married. I like to interpret that as seeming content with myself.
Just after learning to ski, I was recounting a story of falls and mishaps to my roommate, a ski coach. I told him how I had lost control of the skis. His response was, “I’d like to see you out of control.” My life was lurching along in freeform at that time. I wondered why he thought I was so very much in control of things. Calm, content, controlled, those perceptions, wrong as they might be, were all fine and good. But for Pete’s sake, I am not timid.
Maybe I was just quiescent. I was in between adventures, resting. I was daydreaming and planning and perhaps not enough in the present. Not timid, simply elsewhere, going through the motions to get me through the day. I was passive, observing the people around me without much interaction.
It was a shock to them when I sold my house and moved to a place I’d never been before. Not something a timid woman would ordinarily do, I suppose. However, it was something I have done many times. They didn’t know me, only made assumptions from the surface. Maybe they thought I snapped from all the repressed actions they expected of me. Hard to say since I've lost touch with them. I wonder if I will always be just Quiet One to them.