In defence of wallflowers
Shoot, Shag or Marry is a wonderfully juvenile game, but brilliant when you’re A) bored, B) in the company of the same gender, or C) stuck halfway up a mountain in freezing snow and it’s too early to light the freakin’ yak-dung stove. (Under no circumstances should it be played with your boss.)
On my recent trip to Nepal, my fellow trekkers and I embarked on a round of SSM (not to be confused with S&M, which – I’m told – is far messier). Trouble was, our pool of men to declare shag- or shoot-worthy was small, fleece-clad and, like us, badly in need of a shower. So we moved on to celebrities: Colin Firth was a “marry”, Olivier Martinez a “shag” and Johnny Depp was split evenly between “shoot” and “shag”, depending on whether he’d bathed.
Essentially, we’d each nominate a celebrity we’d, you know, do it with if we were single or handed a day pass (me: Clive Owen). But when it came to one woman’s turn, she paused. “Um,” she said quietly, almost apologetically, “I’d have to choose my husband.”
Cue embarrassment among the rest of us immoral wenches. But what really struck me was my new friend’s shyness; she looked ill at ease with our silly, shouty self-amusement.
Have you noticed no one is shy any more? That being introverted is akin to being a bit odd? The wallflowers and shrinking violets have been replaced with a generation of gerberas – flowers with such big heads, their stalks are wired to hold them up.
It seems scientists have discovered the shyness gene – they would have found it earlier but, apparently, it’s been hiding – and bred it out of us. Now it’s Apgar scores at birth, show-and-tell at five and a MasterChef audition by eight. Never mind character, what we’re looking for, kids, is Personality with a capital ‘P’.
While not shy myself, I’m as much an introvert as an extrovert. I love the silence of working at home, prefer our tiny bookish snuggery to the open-plan back of our house and would opt for a table of four over a table of 12 every time. Surely you have to nourish inwards to flourish outwards?
That’s why Nepal, aside from honing my shag-o-meter, reminded me of the authenticity of true shyness and the creative richness of introspection: the light on the Buddhist monks’ faces; the wife of our Sherpa, who sought the comfort of her cooking pot as we piled into her modest front room; the revelation in Sir Edmund Hillary’s memoir that, despite his adventuring prowess, he was so shy his future mother-in-law proposed on his behalf.
Fortunately, beneath the cacophony of the extroverts, the introverts are finally being heard. In her book, Quiet – ironically, creating a lot of noise – Susan Cain questions why shiny, happy people are celebrated as the ideal. Extroversion, she says, has “turned into an oppressive standard to which most
of us feel we must conform”.
Yet so much comes from self-proclaimed quiet people: Gandhi; JK Rowling; Steven Spielberg; my favourite director, Ang Lee, the heart within Brokeback Mountain. Watch out, too, for Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a coming-of-age movie that explores introversion.
Of course, most of us are a bit of both. Cain describes us as “ambiverts”. We like to dance, sing, chat and show off, but then return to our caves – with or without Clive Owen.
Catch Angela Mollard every Monday at 9.30am on Mornings, on the Nine Network.
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