It might come as a surprise to those who know me, or who have heard me speak somewhere professionally to know that for a long time I was quite shy and uncomfortable talking to people. Sometimes it showed, sometimes it didn’t, but oh mercy, did I feeeeeel it.
I didn’t start out that way. Apparently I was quite an extroverted, uninhibited child – at least when I was small. Perhaps it came partly of being an only child until I was 7, and having parents that always talked to me like a miniature grown up. My mom likes to tell the story of our being in my hometown mall one day while I was three years old. There was some kind of dance marathon going on (this being 1978 I can only revel in my imaginings of what music was playing and the awesome clothes and moves of the participants; sadly I have no recollection). I asked her if I could dance, and she didn’t see any harm in it, as we were far to one side and unlikely to disturb anyone else. According to her telling, I began to bust moves of such enthusiasm and extravagance that around me quickly gathered a small crowd, all agog at my gusto.
Don’t expect a re-enactment.
Fast forward to sometime later – certainly by the time I was in middle school, like most other kids that age, anything like an impromptu boogie session was completely out of the question and speech class, freshman year, was nothing but a tale of dread and woe. In college, I took a class on Irish History and was truly horrified to discover that our professor had assigned the class into a number of teams to debate issues, probably as a way to avoid the mind-crushing boredom of reading 40 papers on the same exact thing now that I consider it. Our issue: Could the Potato Famine have been prevented? We drew the Pro side, as in, “Yes, you English bastards, you could have saved millions of lives if it weren’t for your Godforsaken corn tax.” Or something, I don’t remember the particulars of our argument in great detail. What I do remember is standing in front of the class, holding notecards, opening my mouth, and no sound coming out. Nothing. Silence. I believe they call the condition cottonmouth, and it was without doubt a poisonous feeling.
I was a Journalism major as well – made the switch about the same time as my first and last foray into formal debate – and I loved it, loved everything about it, except for one very small thing: interviewing people. It can’t be that big of a deal, I reasoned; I was an extremely productive and dedicated member of my high school yearbook staff for three years without taking a single quote from anyone I didn’t already talk to all day. I even won a statewide award as Editor-In-Chief! So certainly it wasn’t impinging on the quality of our product. I would just go into the magazine writing track and I would, somehow, manage to avoid the kind of cold calling that those poor newspaper writers were always doing. Not so.
I found myself behind a reference desk where other people were asking the questions and I was giving the answers and that seemed to work just fine for me. Riding off my success at the desk, and because I recognized that being an academic librarian and wanting to work in public service meant that, inevitably, I’d have to do instruction, I girded up my loins and took a class on library instruction; and my much beloved mentor-slash-supervisor at the undergraduate library let me teach some sections of freshman English. I’m sorry kids. At my first job we’d have easily 20 sections of the same sort of thing every semester and after a while, you can’t bother getting indigestion on that level of frequency.
But, it’s one thing talking to underclassmen who are obligated to at least sit there and take it, and it’s something else to present to your peers. So that was another bit of territory to be gained. I presented here and there, now and then, mostly to people I knew (that helped) and then one day we got a crazy idea to toss our names in for a national-level event … and even crazier, one day they wrote back and said OK. The madness continued as we wrote a book and more people called us to speak, and at the end of six months and as many (library) headlining type gigs, I had a sort of out-of-body experience as I realized I had referred to the Holy Grail in relation to library websites AND THEN WENT ON TO MAKE A HOLY GRAIL NOISE. (Don’t tell me you don’t know what it is.) In front of about, oh, 100 people. Including about a zillion tweeters.
So, I thought, I must be rehabilitated! I’ve made an ass of myself in front of all these people and I think they might have even learned something (well, something besides, “Wow, that Greene just made an ass of herself”).
Having read this heartening tale of personal growth, it might surprise you even more that, to this day, I sometimes seize up and get squirrely about the most mundane of tasks: returning something, for example; or even something as simple as making phone calls. What kinds? I can dial my mom’s digits just fine, no worries there. It’s more the likelihood of potential conflict. Let me clarify. Nobody wants to call someone and get in a fight … I should say, nobody wants to call someone and have them get into a fight with you. (There are certainly times that I’d love nothing more than to punch in some numbers and loose some fighting words and then leap back on my high horse and hang up with panache. We try to avoid that.)
Lest we all pitch helplessly down a vague, formless rabbit-hole here, let me give you an example.
Because I am extremely plan-oriented; because travel budgets aren’t what they used to be; because the best way for me to feel better about something I have no control over is to take whatever action I may; because many other librarians share the first two points on this list: I’ve been looking for lodgings for an upcoming conference to be held in January. I’ve been looking since June.
Today I saw a great rate on Hotwire for a 4.5 star hotel in the city, easily $20/night less than anything I’ve seen thus far, and still $10/night cheaper than the cheapest hotel on the official lodgings list. No brainer, right? I was still sitting there in a self-congratulatory post-bargain hunting glow when I realized that I was never asked what sort of beds … and I have a conference roommate. Uh oh. You can see where this is going – fancy pants hotel, fancy pants king size bed, fancy pants make a phone call to find out if there’s anything that can be done now that you have a prepaid non-refundable reservation.
It took me close to 10 minutes to work myself up to call and ask about double rooms. The transaction was completed in about … 2 minutes once I grabbed myself by the ear and said, What is your problem?! Then I had to call back again because I’m leaving the night before my roommate and the fancy pants hotel puts a fancy pants $30 extra charge on double rooms (Is this like a single person tax?) and, really, why make one person pay more for a bed she’s not going to use, especially when she’d prefer a king room anyway for one night. It was no problem. They said fine to both. Even if they hadn’t, no harm done, really … certainly no reason to have to do some kind of soul searching.
What can I say? It’s a process. Probably hotel reservation clerks don’t have a lot of occasion to hear a holy grail noise. NOT YET ANYWAY.