Today I was twice reminded that I have a quirk.
This morning, I received a request to speak at an event and had to ask my standard question: “Can you describe the venue to me, please?” Here is my ideal venue in which to speak. It’s a large, low-ceilinged room, perhaps a meeting room or ballroom in a hotel, filled with chairs and/or tables (and of course, an audience of avid readers). Sure enough, the request was for just such a venue, and I breathed a sigh of relief for reasons I’ll get to soon enough.
Then this afternoon, John and I visited a new health club. As part of the tour, we were taken into the gym. John admired the hugeness of the place, the maple floors, the equipment stored against the walls, while I hung back in the doorway asking, “Uh, the yoga class isn’t held in here, is it?” (It’s not. Big sigh of relief).
It’s hard to explain how I feel about huge, open spaces (Like the train station above. Shudder). If you have any trepidation at all about heights, I can probably make you understand in this way: Imagine standing on the top of twenty story building, at the very edge of the roof, no railing between you and the abyss. That’s how I feel standing in the middle of a gym or Union Station or a giant auditorium. (Now, as you stand at the edge of that roof, try to give a speech. Ha!).
A couple of years ago I was discussing my speaking venue dilemma with a friend, poet and short story writer Maureen Sherbondy, and I told her how foolish I felt about my need to ascertain the venue before accepting an invitation to speak. Maureen said something like “But you’re a writer. People expect writers to have quirks.” So now I’m into embracing my inner quirk. I much prefer that word to “phobia.”
Where did this come from? I’ve already opened up in the blog about my selective mutism as a kid, and this may have been an extension of that in some way–the school phobia leading to the large space phobia. I had many fears when I was young, and with a fascination for all things psychological, I worked through them one by one as I got older. The fear I am most proud of conquering was my fear of hospitals. I wouldn’t visit hospitalized friends or family; I couldn’t even tolerate the lobbies. In my graduate social work program, I actively avoided classes where I knew there would be students whose focus was on medical social work because I didn’t want to hear them talk about their cases. Yet, an event in my life ultimately led me to want to be a medical social worker myself. I was familiar with desensitization and other ways of overcoming fears, so I created my own therapeutic approach to the problem. Six months after making my decision to switch from being a family therapist to a medical social worker, I was working in a hospital and loving it. What an amazing sense of accomplishment that was!
But no amount of desensitization or insight or therapy has ever put a dent in my discomfort with big spaces. I’ve spoken in a few of them, managing to find work-arounds that probably made me seem highly eccentric (an odd placement of the podium, perhaps), but I guess I’m just a quirky writer and that’s all there is to it.
So how about you? Can you stand on the roof of a twenty-story building without freaking out? Ride in teeny tiny elevators? Marvel at the colors of the snake in your backyard? What’s your quirk?