New York Times  Bestselling Author

What's Your Quirk?

union stationToday 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?

13 Comments

  1. Linda Spear on January 7, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Can I stand at the roof of a twenty story building? NO. Can I ride in a teeny elevator? YES. Can I marvel at the color of a snake in my backyard. Put it this way. I will marvel at the will of the animal control expert who will accompany the snake into a cage and out of my country, if possible.

    I understand you perfectly.

  2. Lindsay on January 7, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    hey that picture is union station in toronto isn’t it!! i’m there fairly often through the year!

  3. Lindsay on January 7, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    if it’s not that’d be weird as toronto union station looks exactly like that.

  4. Diane Chamberlain on January 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    Linda, thanks for owning up to some quirks of your own, and Lindsay, great job! That is indeed Union Station in Toronto. Not that I’ve ever been there, but I thought it was a good stock photo of a place I would not want to give a speech. 🙂

  5. Emilie Richards on January 7, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Bridges that go up, up, up before they go down,down, down. Know two other writers with the same one. All of us live or want to live in places with lots of bridges. Go figure? Maybe I’m afraid of transitions?

  6. Diane Chamberlain on January 7, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I’d forgotten about your bridge thing, Emilie. The only lucky thing for you is that you’ll never be asked to speak at the top of a bridge. One would hope.

  7. Ann on January 8, 2010 at 1:44 am

    Diane, would you feel the same about the large room if it was full of people? I would not mind being in there if it was empty but do not like large rooms with lots of people in them. I would not be comfortable on the roof of a 20 story building even if I was not close to the edge. We all have our quirks, don’t we?

  8. brenda on January 8, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Not sure I have quirks, but I do have one real fear…despite taking swimming lessons many times, I can’t stand going underwater…started because I wore glasses as a child and at church camp, a good “male” friend picked me up and threw me in the deep end-not knowing I could not swim. I thought I would drown and as my glasses flew off, I could not see. I now wear contacts most of the time, but even with them, I do not really like the water past my knees…However, I love the beach…weird.
    P.S. I read Delinsky’s novel last night–quite good.
    Still Alice-I passed my copy on to a friend-I can’t get that woman out of my mind…That novel read as nonfiction…whew…

  9. brenda on January 8, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Another quirk (chuckle)…this freezing-below freezing weather…and snow, snow, snow…I have been out of the house two days since Dec. 30, and those two days were to go to school…thank goodness I thought ahead and ordered some books…the postman puts them on the porch…guess he doesn’t think I can get out of the driveway-he is right…this is making me look to the south and/or moving near one of the kids in a few years…keep writing, Diane…can’t wait for your next one…I am going to reread a couple of yours after I finish grading papers.

  10. Diane Chamberlain on January 8, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Ann, the more people the better. Anything to break up a space. I can be in very large spaces for a professional show or whatever (the American Booksellers Association, for example), but I don’t even notice the space because it’s so full of tables and people. It’s that big emptiness that gets me. Brenda, your fear of water makes lots of sense and I think many people share it. So sorry about your weather, but I’m not sure the south is the answer right now. I think the weather guy just said Tennessee has a wind chill of 6!

  11. Margo on January 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Wow Brenda…I can certainly understand why you have a fear of swimming underwater…I’m a swimmer and have no fear of it whatsoever but if that had happened to me as a child, I might not be the swimmer I am today…my mother has the same fear as you Brenda but don’t know why…she took me to swimming lessons when I was young but always refused to get in the water herself.
    Can you believe, even with these -30 below windchills I’m still going swimming at the gym…I think I’ll pass this weekend tho…we’re expecting -40 tonite.

  12. […] person point of view, since Kate’s story is told through her journal entries and I  felt a personal connection to her as she developed agoraphobia. And I loved the Shenandoah Valley setting and the cavern that […]

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