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Not Loud, But Proud: How Giftedness, Creativity, and Introversion Helped Me Find My Way

[Author wishes to remain anonymous]

Age 8:

I’m in the backseat of my mom’s Volvo. A Beatles cassette is playing over the stereo, and I have my cheek resting against my seatbelt; my gaze drifts out the window at the passing scenery. But I can feel my eyes going out of focus as I start to I pay less and less attention to my surroundings, and slip into something that’s becoming a safe and happy place for me: my own mind.

I start to think about all the fun things in life, the warm and nostalgic things, the things that make my intense childhood mind flare with joy. The green grass and sunlight at my kindergarten “graduation” in the park. The texture of flour and scent of sugar as my grandmother helps us cut cookie dough into the shape of Christmas trees. The way raindrops make little ripples in puddles on chilly wet days. The red comforting walls of my family’s cabin, surrounded by towering trees older than time; the sliding glass door foggy from the heater in the morning, the deck doused in cool shadow and shaded in redwood needles.

I love thinking about these things so much—I love it in a way I can’t put into words. I just love reflecting on them. Absorbing myself in the thoughts of them.

Vaguely, I’m aware that we’re almost at school, and I’ll have to try to engage my mind in another boring day. But I don’t want that. I just want to stay in the car, and keep thinking, forever.

Age 10:

One day, my teacher keeps me inside during recess to talk to me. “Why don’t you have that many friends?” she asks. “You’re such a talented, good-natured kid. Why do I always see you spending time alone?”

I’m confused at her concern, because I honestly hadn’t thought about it. It’s true, I don’t have many friends. It’s my first year at this new school and everyone in my class already knows each other. But I have two good friends who also went to my old school; I play with them at recess. And at home I have my sister, too. I’d never really thought that having only them was a bad thing.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I leave the classroom feeling shaken. I don’t learn much from that teacher that year, but that one thing sticks in my mind: she thinks there’s something wrong with me.

Age 12:

My fourteen-year-old sister does not understand my habit of going off in my own world when we’re all in the car together. She jabbers away with our mom in the front seat, while I imagine movie scenes to the music we’re listening to, or otherwise think about the stories I’m writing or the books I’m reading. (If I wasn’t likely to get carsick, I’d be reading those books in the car, too.)

“What do you think, Mel?” my sister asks, in the middle of one of their conversations. I blink and try to recall what they were talking about. “MEL,” she shouts, trying to get my attention.

“I wasn’t listening.”

“Why not?!”

She doesn’t get it. Even when I try to listen to their conversation, my mind grows antsy, ready to burst from the noise of it all. I need that time in the car, especially after school, to focus on my own thoughts for awhile. I need it like I need to breathe.

Age 14:

I’m in the most boring elective class I have ever taken: graphic arts. We get occasional art assignments, which I complete the day they’re given. Other than that, kids have free reign of the classroom while the teacher grades homework and works on lesson plans for his core classes.

My classmates mostly ignore me in this class, thankfully. But being around them sometimes is painful, even if they don’t torment me. Watching the way they laugh and obnoxiously try break school rules in class, hearing their inane jokes for over an hour nonstop, unable to escape… it grinds at me.

I open my notebook, and begin to write. And slowly, everything else falls away.

I can focus myself entirely on the world I’m creating in my head: the characters and their relationships and their magical powers… it’s all that matters anymore.

Until one day the teacher yells at me for writing in his class.

“You think this class is a study period!!”

I shake my head at him, unable to breathe, unable to even tell him that I already finished today’s assignment. He continues to yell for a minute or two, but I can’t process what he’s saying; my face is growing hot as the class avoids looking at me. “Put that notebook away!” he finally snaps, and storms back to his desk.

After that, I spend a lot of time in the bathroom and the nurse’s office during graphic arts class, trying desperately to avoid the class where I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my brain.

Age 16:

I have a thick blue binder in my room that’s filled with college-ruled paper, and I love that binder more than almost anything in my life. I can write and doodle anything in there. Story ideas, journal entries, song lyrics, poems, ideas for YouTube video blogs… It all goes in the binder.

I don’t write in front of people anymore. I try not to zone out in public, even if “in public” is just in the car with my mom. She usually just asks me what’s wrong whenever I’m quiet, and interrupts my thoughts.

I keep this side of me private: the side that loves to spend time alone. Even though I still love and need this “recharge” time. It nourishes me, like nothing else can.

As my classmates and friends venture into the world of high school parties, I discover that I’d much rather stay in with a few close friends and watch a movie than go out and party with a crowd. Loud places stress me out. Hordes of people make me anxious. I prefer somewhere where I have room to breathe and my mind has space to think. And, I think, that’s probably okay.

Age 18:

Nothing about me is okay. I’m in my first semester of college and everyone, everyone is out partying, every weekend. My whole floor is empty by 7 pm every Friday, and I don’t go anywhere. Sometimes, I skype my friends from home, who are usually also in their respective dorm rooms avoiding the drunken crowds.

I try to remind myself that it’s okay that I don’t want to go. It’s okay to be introverted. I’ll eventually make college friends who are like me, who aren’t into being loud and getting drunk in front of tons of new people.

“Melodyyy,” whines one of my floormates one night. “Why are you staying in? It’s Friday!”

I shrug and try to act like her opinion doesn’t matter to me.

“There’s going to be something seriously wrong with you in the head if you don’t come have fun every once in awhile. Come on.” She holds out her hand. “You have to shake my hand and promise me you’ll come out and party with us at least once.”

“I don’t want to, though.”

“You have to shake my hand and promise me.”

Just to get her to leave me alone, I shake her hand. Her face breaks into a laugh. “I was just kidding, dude!”

Great. Maybe college isn’t that different after all: people will still pick on me for being the way I am, and they still think there’s something wrong with me.

Age 20:

I’m in a campus house with my four friends. The lighting is low and warm, and there is little noise except a gentle tapping as we each type away at our laptops. The faint buzz of music comes from one friend’s headphones, and I smile as she bobs her head a little in time.

I made my first two college friends through our school’s National Novel Writing Month Facebook page. We were all working on our novels in the November of our freshman year, and three of us from the page decided to meet up in the dining hall for a little writing party one night.

That writing party with the three of us turned into a weekly event… and then, a nightly event.

Before we knew it, we were lending each other books… then baking cookies in each other’s dorms… binge-watching TV shows together… playing together in the snow… going for walks to see the Aurora Borealis when it was visible from the pier…

We were friends.

I got to know their other friends and roommates, and we started to form a core group of introverts and fandom nerds. Our version of partying meant staying in and watching Avatar: The Last Airbender all night. Drinking games involved tea instead of alcohol.

And finally, my writing didn’t have to be a private affair anymore. We had made it almost a ritual to write together. Retreating into my worlds of fiction was no longer something that set me apart: it was something I had in common with some of the best people I’d ever met.

I had friends. And it all came from us sitting quietly and writing… doing with my brain what had come so naturally for all my life.

Sitting here in the calm hush with my friends, I can’t help but smile. For the first time in years, I know there’s nothing wrong with me. My introversion has blossomed into the joy it was always meant to be. I’m an introvert, and proud.

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