When I was younger, I didn’t know how to talk to people.
Painfully shy, I would say. Always found wandering alone in the hallways of my school. I amused myself by creating stories about other people, giving them nicknames. I found ways to avoid socialising altogether: lagging back behind a group, making myself appear as boring as possible or electing certain people that are deemed “okay” to talk to. I wanted to disappear and appear at the same time. Some people might call this an “introversion”, that it is normal and it’s just how certain people function. But I knew I didn’t want that kind of life. It felt meaningless, like I could disappear and nobody would notice. So when Standard 6 ended and high school beckoned, I jumped at the chance of a new life. There were still kids from my primary school – hell, my best friends now knew me since I was 7 – but there were these other kids and the hope for a blank slate.
Now, when I tell people this, they don’t believe me. Mainly because I don’t seem to know how to shut up most of the time. There was even a point during my university days where I was rotating groups of friends to hang out with so that I don’t neglect any of them. If I told my 11 year old self that I’d have so many friends that it became a nuisance, she’d probably wouldn’t believe me. Or knowing my former self, she would probably think I’m making it up to make her feel better. But somewhere along the lines, life became kinder, or I became bolder. Talking became easy and natural. Sometimes I even crave being the centre of attention, quipping jokes as fast as I could. I had come so far that it felt like we were two different people and my past didn’t make sense.
But a former shy person will always remember and sometimes, there is a fear of – for the lack of a better term – a relapse. Like, somehow I forgot how to do it again, this talking thing. Probably why I strongly hate awkward silences; they feel like quicksand. And even more troublesome, the need to have some sort of approval from others.
During that turn of my life, I read a book called “When Marnie Was There” by Joan G Robinson. To say that it hit close to home would be an understatement. I was Anna the protagonist, her thoughts echoed mine. She was also painfully shy and was in denial of her longing to belong. My favourite part from the book reflected the state of my mind then:
But Anna was not interested. Not any more. She knew perfectly well … that things like parties and best friends and going to tea with people were fine for everyone else, because everyone else was “inside” – inside some sort of invisible circle. But Anna herself was outside. And so these things had nothing to do with her.
I don’t know whether all shy people thought of the same concept – about being “inside” and “outside” but it was a comforting surprise for me to know that not only somebody had thought of it too but it was shown to be not real. It was a moment of epiphany. It wasn’t that certain people had unique graces that landed them among the beloved. It’s a choice that we make all the time. To love and be loved.
The reason why I dug this story up is because I recently found out that Studio Ghibli has made an adaptation of this book! Like any other human being with a heart, I love Studio Ghibli and I knew immediately this book is in good hands. I watched the trailer and was so knee-deep in nostalgia that I started crying. Priscilla Ahn’s song “Fine on The Outside” made it even worse.
I can’t wait to watch this movie and let this movie tear my heart apart.
Studio Ghibli gives a Japanese spin to this adaptation in more ways than one. Anna in the book is an English girl staying in a secluded beach town, which is why there’s a blonde character in the trailer. However, there is one scene in the trailer depicting Anna in a kimono, so I’m excited to see how this movie evolves under Studio Ghibli. I hope that there will be a cinematic release of this movie here or, at least, a DVD copy with subtitles!
If you know a young person who thinks he or she is in the “outside”, do buy them a copy of this book. They will thank you later.