Clio, Emily, Jack, and I
by Becka Choat
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
~ Emily Dickinson
Clio has never noticed me – for which I am truly grateful. Few things would distress me more than being a celebrity, having my every outfit and dietary choice and relationship and offhand remark watched, reported, talked over, and picked apart by even dozens of people, let alone thousands. I stand firmly with Miss Dickinson on the issues of privacy and peace and quiet.
I’ve felt this way as long as I can remember; as a child I’d often slip away, up a tree or into a cubbyhole in my closet, to be alone – and left alone. I was perpetually sick to my stomach when I was winning spelling bees, performing in church plays, or singing in front of the whole congregation (of roughly twenty people). And years of being reminded, “You’re the preacher’s daughter, you have to think about what people will think of your ____________ (clothing, facial expression, companions, destination) every time you leave this house,” intensified my discomfort to what felt like nearly-unbearable levels.
So I’m quite happy now with my quiet, largely unnoticed life. I enjoy the freedom to be my introverted, behind-the-scenes, slightly (or more) weird self. But it came to my attention a few years ago that my tendency to deflect sincere compliments and squirm uncomfortably when receiving even honestly-earned praise were perhaps inappropriate. As is often the case, C.S. Lewis helped me see things more clearly:
“Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years, prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures – nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator. I am not forgetting how horribly this most innocent desire is parodied in our human ambitions, or how very quickly, in my own experience, the lawful pleasure of praise from those whom it was my duty to please turns into the deadly poison of self-admiration. But I thought I could detect a moment — a very, very short moment — before this happened, during which the satisfaction of having pleased those whom I rightly loved and rightly feared was pure.”
~ The Weight of Glory
I’ll likely never be on friendly terms with Clio, but I am gradually coming to terms with the fact that there’s no shame in accepting deserved recognition.
Becka Choat is a lifelong lover of words who spends many hours each week in a room of her own, writing or reading and drinking coffee. Her book reviews can be found at www.beckasbookreview.wordpress.com, and her poetry and other musings at www.beckachoat.wordpress.com. You may also follow @beckachoat and/or @booksbybecka on Twitter.