I’m not good at self-promotion.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m quite good at talking about myself. I’m happy to tell the world anything anyone could ever want to know about me.
What I’m not very good at is actually asking people to pay attention to what I’m saying.
I’m terrible at this networking business.
I wasn’t always this way. When I was a kid, I was a natural-born self-promoter. I painted pictures and ran around the neighbourhood selling them door to door, house to house. I loved showing off, acting, singing, making up stories. My mum enrolled me in art classes where we made puppets and put on a puppet show. I created a wicked witch and I loved playing her part behind the little stage, improvising the script.
I also took formal piano lessons, taught at a convent by a group of musically-minded nuns. Because we couldn’t afford a piano, I had to practise there every day after school for half an hour. Much to the nuns’ consternation, I used to depart wholly from the pieces they’d taught me and revert to the songs I’d heard on the radio. I usually scored 100% on the ear-training part of my exams, where the examiner would play a piece of music on the piano twice, and then ask me to play it back to him exactly the same way. Easy peasy.
The nuns weren’t all that impressed, however. They had Rules, and in their world, Rules could never be broken. The practise rooms all had little windows in their doors covered with wooden grillwork. I’d occasionally glance up from my pitch-perfect renditions of Beatles’ tunes to see a concerned eye glaring in at me through the window. And, of course, eventually I received a lecture about sticking to the syllabus and an order to stop wasting everyone’s time, including my own, wandering down unauthorized musical trails.
Which leads me back to why I’m not very good at asking people to pay attention to me.
It’s because that natural exuberance that I’d started out with was wholly and methodically drummed out of me in my childhood.
I remember getting a new watch when I was about seven. It was beautiful, silver, and a gift from my uncle. I was invited to a birthday party, and I was so pleased with my new watch, I went around asking everyone if they knew what time it was, and when they said they didn’t, I showed them what was on my wrist and proudly announced the time. I was roundly reproached by the birthday girl’s mother who told me to stop showing off, nobody was interested in me or my new watch, to sit down and be quiet.
I’m sure I was being an annoying little creature and the birthday girl’s mother was quite justified in telling me off. Perhaps other kids would have shrugged it off. Not me. I took it all very personally, and because I was a good little Catholic child, I revealed my sin of showing off and boasting during my next visit to the confessional. For which I was given penance and told never to do it again.
And, of course, I didn’t. The prevailing attitude at my school, which was also Roman Catholic, was that we ought not to do anything that would make us stand out in a crowd. We ought not to daydream, because that was a sin connected to idleness. We ought not to wish for things that we could not possibly obtain. That was somehow connected to one of the Ten Commandments – something about coveting my neighbour’s wife or goods. We ought not to engage in too much creative thinking, as that would lead to us questioning what we were being taught.
And the prevailing attitude among the children at that school was that if you were in any way different, if you happened to stand out, or achieve anything, or if you were smart and had better grades than anyone else, you became the target of bullying.
Which I was, for years. And to counter it, I sought solace in a piece of writing that was on the wall of the Cathedral attached to the school, behind one of the statues. “I am meek and humble of heart.” That phrase became my cloak of invisibility.
So that’s why I have a difficult time asking people to pay attention to me. As a child, the message was reinforced at home, and at school: “Stop showing off, Nona. Don’t brag. It’s not nice. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t misbehave. You won’t be invited anywhere. Nobody will like you.”
Now, in my 60th year, I think I might just be able to go back and discard all those things that I learned as a child. I’m going to give it a damned good try, anyway. I think I’m safely past the point of caring about whether or not I’m going to be invited to someone’s birthday party. And who cares if I brag? I think I’ve got something worth bragging about and I’m going to make damned sure people know about it.
By the way, I’ve written a couple of very fine stories about travelling back in time. Oh, and some other books too.
Watch out, world! Winona is about to start asking you to pay attention to her 🙂