Girls in Yellow Dresses

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Girls in Yellow Dresses
Remaining in the city in which I grew up means the threads of my past continuously weave their way into the tapestry of my everyday life, adding colour and context and allowing my memory to flourish in seamless harmony with my present.   I frequently pass places scattered all over town that call up images of the little girl that was me.  I see her clearly and without much effort which makes it easy to recall her feelings, her fears, her hopes and her dreams as she shares herself daily with the adult she eventually became.  One version of her comes back to me every single time I take the short cut home.  Passing by a certain elementary school, there she is, dressed up like Easter morning in a long, empire-waisted, yellow dress.  Though I was never a student at this particular school, I did have a most uncomfortable evening there when I was about eight years old.  It was an evening I’ve never forgotten, and won’t, as long as I live.  It was the night of my one, and only, piano recital.
I don’t look particularly good in yellow.  In fact, I look rather embalmed in that colour.  So of all the colours that could have been chosen for me to wear on that fateful night, yellow was, by far, the most appropriate, for as I was destined to be more miserable than misery herself, it was only fitting that I would be dressed in a colour that made me look as dreadful as I felt.  Of all the gifts that have perhaps been bestowed upon me, musical aptitude is not amongst them.  I well remember Mrs. Sammons, my piano teacher - she of the jet black hair that belied her advanced years and the insufferable metronome that sat atop her upright piano mercilessly ticking off both my lack of timing and my misunderstanding of the work I was feebly attempting to execute under her watch.  I remember her handing me the piece I was expected to perform at her annual recital.  As I gazed down in abject horror at the spider’s web of black whole and half notes covering the page, I saw a future of desperate practice sessions, day after day, all leading up to my inevitable doom, the public performance.   I don’t remember much about that actual night, apart from the horrible yellow dress, but as I don’t recall any catcalls or heckles, I suppose I managed to negotiate my way through my pantomime of a pianist without an overload of embarrassment.  But the experience taught me a lesson about myself that I’ve never forgotten.  I am not a public person.  Oh, I can muddle through if need be.  But it is not, and never shall be, who I really am.  I quit taking piano lessons before the next recital.
Recently I came across a wonderful online lecture done earlier this year by writer, Susan Cain, entitled, The Power of Introverts.  Because I’m not a shy person, I’ve never really thought of myself as introverted.  But as I listened to Ms. Cain’s insightful words, I recognized myself as clearly as if she were holding my portrait up as a visual aid.  For like her, I was also the little girl who preferred to read rather than be rowdy, who craved solitude, who lived inside books.  Research says that one or two in three of us is introverted.  Yet here in the US, our society is set up to celebrate the extrovert to such an extent that most of us feel slightly guilty when we crave being alone or perhaps choose staying in over attending a party.  As the little girl in that yellow dress, I clearly remember feeling that I was supposed to like being on stage and performing.  Why on earth didn’t I?   Ms. Cain tells us that it’s perfectly alright to occasionally let the phone go to voice mail and to cross the street to avoid making small talk, both of which I’ve done.  And she also tells us that “staying true to your temperament is the key to finding work you love and work that matters”.  I have certainly found that to be true.
This week I’m ensconced in a beach house with a couple of good friends, one of whom I’ve known since my teenage years, one of whom is a new addition to our circle of two.  Both are artists.  Both are introverts.  We split off each morning to our separate zones to work, meeting up for meals and bike rides when we choose.  We have deep conversations over champagne in the moonlight.  Life has been kind enough to teach all three of us to be true to our temperaments and we are grateful it did.  I’m so happy to have learned that lesson very early on, seated at a piano on a little elementary school stage in the South.  I’ll never wear yellow again.


I encourage you to visit Susan Cain’s website to take her quiz on introverts.
  You may find you are one yourself.  If so, I welcome you to the tribe. 
 I myself had a perfect score. 
Take the quiz HERE. 
 You can also listen to her TED lecture HERE
 as well as pick up a copy of her excellent book,
 Quiet- The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, HERE