Gord (not his real name, but it just popped into my mind - well, actually, I started off with 'Gorgo', but I have no idea why: he is almost entirely un monster-like) has just returned to work after a short break to attend a local writer's festival, at which he has been a regular face for almost a decade. Gord is very enthusiastic about the conference - in fact I might go so far as to suggest that it is in many ways the highlight of his year - outside of the time that he spends with his loving partner. He is passionate about writing in a way that differs a little from my own feelings - and that's a good thing, by the way - and is keen to encourage me in my own efforts, while maintaining what I find to be a respectful distance. He doesn't lecture, he doesn't pontificate, but he tells his own story, and I am happy to listen to him as he does so. He has been kind enough to purchase Signs of (a) Life, and I hope very much that he reads it soon, because I would value his feedback.
Last night Gord suggested that I register for next year's conference, and in doing so, unintentionally (and I believe, unwittingly) struck me with an icy slap in my vitals. Hopefully it didn't show: at work (for that was where we found ourselves) I prefer to present a mask of confidence and competence rather than the reality - which is that I am still, at the age of fifty, that small and shy boy I supposedly grew out of being. While I am a little intrigued and a little excited about spending three days in the company of people who share my passion for writing, and while I very much like the idea of learning about the thing which I have so far been doing entirely instinctively, the idea of being immersed among hundreds of strangers (I can't exactly cling to Gord's jacket sleeve like a frightened child now, can I?) fills me with a quiet dread.
No - that's not true - it isn't a quiet dread; it's a noisy, panicky fear of being thrust into an environment within which I am likely to feel inadequate, unworthy and somewhat like a fish in the bottom of a boat. The prospect of being the new boy among hundreds of established and aspiring writers is just a little bit, ever-so-slightly...bloody terrifying. The annoying part about this pesky thing called shyness is that it has stopped me from doing so much over the years; so many times I have said 'no' because of the (often unreasoning) fear of being embarrassed or somehow 'shown up'. I am sure that there's much to learn, both formally and informally, from being in the presence of so many people with a shared interest, but I also worry that in order to 'fit in' to such a group, I may be forced to pretend to be somebody that I am not (I've never 'been' a writer among other writers before) - and at the very least, that can be exhausting. On the other hand, the alternative - being genuinely myself, with all my impatience with bullshit and false "I'm an artiste!" kind of behaviour - might be a little disruptive in such company...
I wish I was the kind of person who could enthusiastically and genuinely leap at every such opportunity, but I'm not. the curious thing about all this is that I have not - at least not to my recollection - had any major disasters in such circumstances, and I have in the past been a successful educator of adults. When, however, I feel like I may be on shaky ground - and as a brand new author, I feel very wobbly, very un-schooled, and very green - any pretence of confidence is a very thin veneer, and it, along with the rest of me, becomes extremely brittle. It's one of the reasons why writing is so satisfying: it is communicating by proxy, with little or no risk of immediate ridicule. It's relatively safe.
Sticking my head out of my shell is still such a scary thing to do - especially when I have no established 'role' to play when I do so.