Yes, it’s another post about the wonder that is Twitter. Thinking about it lately, I’ve decided to list a few of the things you can use it for:

  1. Networking. Well, dur.
  2. Chat and conversation. When you follow a few people who regularly to chat to each other you a) get to join in and have a good old natter yourself and b) get treated to real entertainment. Some of the conversations that crop up are actually hilarious.
  3. Search. Want an opinion on something? Want news updates? Chances are you will find it on Twitter. Either search for a phrase / name / product to find out people’s opinions on it or just ask the question. Within a few minutes you’ll have a range of answers.
  4. REsearch. You can connect with so many different people, you can talk to someone in any country. For a writer this opens up huge possibilities  – check if a local idiom is right, what would x profession do in y case, etc etc etc.
  5. Professional support and knowledge base. There is always someone blogging about whatever sphere you’re working in and the Twitterverse share those links liberally. Excellent way to find blogs you didn’t know existed. Chances are that’s how you got here, so that’s my point proven.

But my personal favourite is for folks like me who are crippled by shyness – in real life that is. I don’t know about other shy people, but my biggest problem is communicating verbally in social situations. Either I freeze and can’t think of anything to say (and the moment is gone) or I trip over words as they stumble out, coming across as inept and inarticulate.

Twitter removes those barriers. In the first instance, the moment doesn’t generally go. Someone posts a status; you want to respond; you think of a response. Unlike a verbal exchange, which has to be pretty much instant, you can take your time. The original post is there if readers forget what you’re responding to so there isn’t the need for an immediate answer. You can select your words, and almost do away with that horrible feeling of “I wish I’d said that…”. You can even leave a conversation and come back in a while later. You give the excuse that you had to do something when really you were thinking of your witty and intelligent response. 😉

The other way Twitter helps people to overcome or at least manage shyness is a certain degree of anonymity. On the one hand you could be a raving axe-wielding lunatic for all your followers know, but on the other you can be more yourself than you can in real life. Without the problems of verbal diarrhoea, for instance, making you self-conscious, you relax and just say what you think. You form relationships based on shared interests, and know that people are talking to you because they genuinely want to hear what you have to say – there is very little comparable for a confidence boost.

I have twice met up with people I’ve met on Twitter (it would be more but poverty prevents trips to London or Edinburgh!) and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that and have such lovely times without the rapport and conversation I found on Twitter first. I blogged a couple of times last year about how happy I felt going into my thirties, and how much more relaxed I felt about who I am – I hold Twitter directly responsible for a great deal of that.

Recommending Oneself to Strangers

I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers…I have not the talent which some people possess,’ said Darcy, ‘of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.’

While watching the BBC programme Faulks on Fiction on Saturday night, I was very incensed by the theory Sebastian Faulks put forward that Mr Darcy suffered from some sort of clinical depression. Not because there is anything wrong with anyone suffering from a mental illness, including a romantic hero, but because it seemed to me to be a complete misjudgement of one of my favourite fictional characters.

I have always believed Mr Darcy to be shy above all else, and I’ve not changed my mind on seeing any of the adaptations or, as unusual as it sounds, reading the book. He has his fair share of misplaced pride and arrogance, but all of this is controlled and dominated by shyness.

The quote above, from Mr Darcy’s conversation with Elizabeth at Rosings, is absolutely typical of a shy person, and his behaviour at the Meryton assembly probably how I would behave at a similar event, without the filter before people’s eyes of being a rich, handsome bachelor. Granted, it’s a bit of an understatement – given the choice, most shy people would probably change it to “I am completely unable to recommend myself to strangers and I have not the talent of conversing with almost everyone unless I’m very comfortable with them.” Let’s look at the evidence…

  • Meryton assembly – our first meeting with Darcy. He only dances with the ladies he has come with, he only speaks to his own party. And the speech which seals his fate with Lizzie?

You know how I detest [dancing], unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At an assembly such as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room, whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.

I have to say, if I were brought along to a boisterous party full of total strangers, it would be a punishment to me to dance with them as well. And, as Lizzie points out later, talking while dancing is common or even obligatory, making the whole thing so much worse. That telling phrase, “Unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner” is so important but missed out of most of the adaptations. It could be superfluous, except that it’s an important distinction when you are shy and could mark Darcy out early on as shy rather than proud.

  • The quote at the start of this post. He is “ill-qualified to recommend himself to strangers”. We should be as puzzled as Lizzie – why? He is young, handsome, rich, and brought up in the circles which should have put him most at ease. It is not just in Meryton company that he is uneasy; he does not make a distinction between being able to converse easily with strangers in a different social sphere or his own.
  • It is obviously a family trait – as soon as Elizabeth meets Georgiana she recognises that she is exceedingly shy although she has been spoken of as proud.
  • The evidence of his friends, with whom he is obviously comfortable and able to relax. They see him as a good friend. Even Wickham allows that he is different among friends, but turns it around to mean “equals in station” rather than intimate acquaintances.
  • The most important thing in my opinion – when we see Darcy on his home turf, he is a different person. He is calm, collected, pleasant and very welcoming to Mr & Mrs Gardiner, even though (as Lizzie thinks) they are “some of those very people against whom his pride had revolted”.

I think there are two strands to the problem. Firstly, it is a truth universally acknowledged that people who are shy are often mistaken for proud, haughty or above themselves. I don’t know how many times I have been painfully conscious of giving this impression myself but been completely unable to change my behaviour. The alternative impression is that we are just plain stupid and dull and cannot think of anything interesting to say. Mr Darcy’s situation in life, combined with an element of natural pride, sets him up for the first mistake. And to someone as outgoing as Lizzie, his behaviour must be completely incomprehensible.

Secondly, Darcy is as much a victim of his times and circumstances as a beneficiary of them. Even now, in an age where it is generally recommended that men get in touch with their sensitive sides, you don’t get many men admitting to shyness. Women are slightly more open about it, but men will tend to disguise it wherever possible; there is still an image of the ideal man as being strong and confident as much as there is of the ideal woman being so. In Georgian England, men (particularly of Darcy’s standing) were confident or weak, no grey areas. Darcy can’t afford to be weak, he has an estate to run, a sister to protect and establish and family reputation to uphold. Haughty, and therefore confident, it is. A big difference is in how Lizzie reacts to the two Darcys. Mr Darcy is proud and disagreeable; Georgiana, by virtue of her youth and sex, is allowed to be shy. He also has to be wary of showing weakness – remember, a close friend betrayed him. Combined with a natural shyness, it’s the death blow to any social confidence or ability to relax and trust that Darcy may have had.

So that’s my case for him being shy. With respect to Mr Faulks, I can’t help disagreeing about the clinical depression. I’m not an expert on mental health, but I’ve had some experience of depression with people close to me, and what I’ve noticed in their behaviour doesn’t correspond at all to Darcy’s. They had mood swings, and the times of detachment from those around them was completely indiscriminatory, being the same to either strangers or friends with the exception that those they trusted most got the worst of it, not the best as in Darcy’s case. He also shows no signs of neglecting his estate or retreating from social occasions; he might be quiet, even surly, but he’s there and other than the Meryton assembly, he even dances. Granted, there might be the odd time he seems dejected or morose, but a) he’s suffering from unrequited love, give him a break, and b) what kind of romantic hero doesn’t brood every now and then? in fact, what kind of human doesn’t brood every now and then?

Given all the above, I’m sticking with my original picture of Mr Darcy as shy and sensitive. It’s actually, in my opinion, quite astute of a Georgian spinster to have drawn a shy man so deftly.

Top job, Miss Austen.

Out of the Ivory Tower

Over the past couple of months, with the general busy-ness of Christmas, work at home and vile weather outside, I haven’t been out much. I used to go to playgroup, but since Daniel started nursery it’s been one of those things I’ve been meaning to do. I haven’t met up with friends much, for the same sort of reason.

I’ve had human contact, with family. I’ve had fairly constant contact with people around the world, on Twitter. But on the whole, I’ve been kind of shut away from the world in my little tower with my family. This is very much a double-edged sword.

For one thing, with Andrew being off work for Christmas we’ve had some much-needed time together. We’ve been able to help each other rest when nights have been bad; we’ve been able to back each other up. We’ve had peace and protection from the rude interruptions of the outside world. It’s been precious, wonderful time.

On the other hand, this time has warped our perception of some things. When the only three year old you really see is your own, the tantrums are unreasonable, his behaviour is unacceptable, no other mother is so put-upon. But then that’s not so bad, because your three year old is also a genius, an artist, a prodigy. Your baby is streets ahead of everyone else’s, which is quite astonishing since no other baby in the world sleeps as little as she does.  Your home is probably the messiest place on the face of the earth, the ironing is an insurmountable mountain that is probably hiding the Marie Celeste in there somewhere.

This week I came out of the Ivory Tower. I finally took Emily to playgroup, and she took off. Her face was breathtakingly beautiful in its reactions – the world was her oyster. But she was one of many, just another baby crawling around, taking life at their own pace. Today I had lunch with a friend, then went round to her house and spent a couple of hours chatting. Talking about the children’s behaviour (her daughter’s the same sort of age as Daniel), talking about our church (we’re in the same house group), talking about nurseries and holidays and husbands. And what did I get reminded about? Daniel is not the most unreasonable child in the world, nor the cleverest – he’s just a three year old. A house with two children in it has stuff lying around – that’s the way it is. Laundry dries on radiators – it doesn’t get sorted by the Magical Laundry Fairy. My life is average – no better, no worse than anyone else’s.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in what’s going on in the Ivory Tower. Of course your own home, children, family are absorbing, it would be worrying if they weren’t. But I need perspective. And for that I need actual, face-to-face human contact. It’s hard when you’re shy; you don’t want to impose, you get stressed about social situations, you worry about what you’re going to say, if you manage to say anything. The Ivory Tower is so much safer. Unfortunately, it’s not all that healthy. It’s not good for writing – what kind of material can I generate when the person I spend most of the day with can’t even talk yet? It’s not good for my grip on reality. Give it much longer and I’ll be sitting in the cot sucking on a rusk. So I am going to try coming out of the Ivory Tower, in tiny baby steps, and squinting at the sunshine of the real world.

I give it two weeks. 😉