31 Days of Kindred: Day 14 “Like Who The F*ck Are You?” (Part I) Shy Shit

By Damian Duffy on

The graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred that I wrote/lettered and John Jennings drew will be released by Abrams ComicArts on January 10, 2017 (available for pre-order now). In recognition of that momentous occasion, I’m writing 31 blog posts about the path from novel to graphic novel. This is 31 Days Of Kindred. 

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Day  14

“Like, Who The F*ck Are You?” (Part I)
Shy shit

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Back on Day 2 of 31 DoK I wrote:

Listen: I understand that the politics of this process are hugely problematic. Here is a story narrated by a black woman, written by a preeminent African American female MacArthur Genius Grant winning science fiction author; an unflinching view of how America’s history and present is ravaged by insidious white supremacist patriarchal racism in service of colonialist, imperialist agendas. As a cis-hetero white dude, does that mean my work as an adaptor symbolically performs on the body of the text the same violence and erasure as has been historically perpetrated upon people of color throughout the nation’s history?


Okay, moving on…

Kidding. Sort of. I will actually work to address a lot of those weightier social, cultural, and political issues as best I can from my perspective, but I’m saving that for a later post.

Clearly, I did that on purpose. (Believe it or not, I try to proofread these things at least once before I post them.) I put that out there to force myself to address… myself. Because, to be honest, I find that hard to do–talk about myself. It’s just never been something I’m comfortable with, along with crowded social settings, interacting with strangers, calling people on the phone… 

Butler described herself as “comfortably asocial—a hermit.” In Positive Obsession, she talks about being painfully shy as a kid:

“Shyness is shit. It isn’t cute or feminine or appealing. It’s torment, and it’s shit. I spent a lot of my childhood and adolescence staring at the ground. It’s a wonder I didn’t become a geologist. I whispered. People were always saying, ‘Speak up! We can’t hear you.'”

While I cannot literally empathize with many aspects of Butler’s life, since I’m not a woman, not African-American, didn’t grow up in a largely segregated California city, wasn’t raised Baptist, etc., I literally cannot know what it is to have those experiences. I can guess, and imagine, and research, but I can’t know through personal experience.

But, “Shyness is shit”? 

If I didn’t already love Butler, that right there would seal the deal.

Because yes, I can for real literally empathize. Like Ms. Butler, I tended (and still tend) towards the asocial. I was a shy kid for a long time, and it took a long time to figure out how to get over it.

I still feel it from time to time. Sitting in the chair, silently getting a haircut while some dude in the chair over chats with the hair stylist, loud and gregarious like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Standing in a group of people and finding yourself with nothing to say, or worse, having something to say, but finding it impossible to put it into the conversation. These are the little moments where I flash back to myself as a child, feeling like my silence opened an insurmountable chasm between me and other people, a chasm I’m too awkward or too afraid to traverse. 

These days, I get that these things are inconsequential. I’m a grown ass man and I’ll be as quiet or loud as I want to. (Except in the library, there that gets me in trouble, but anyway.) I understand that these feelings have more to do with psychology and brain chemistry than with some external reality. But as a kid, feeling like you didn’t want to or didn’t know how to reach out to and connect with other people, and having that feeling accumulate over years of your life–that’s difficult. It’s shit. You feel locked inside yourself. Like there’s a real you hidden from the rest of the world.

There’s a reason nerds like me fall for superheroes, with their secret identities. 

But being shy, having social anxiety, feeling like the outcast, whatever: It also gives you a particular way of understanding the world. When you’re skating the perimeter of social circles you end up observing people. You feel like they know something you don’t, because socializing seems so easy to them, so you watch them like you’re going to learn something. And I feel like, at least for me, the thing I’ve learned in my moments of quiet reserve is that people are weird, and complicated, and no one is just one thing.

So I do my best to know that I can’t pretend to know everything. I can’t know who another person is without a lot more information than I’m likely to get just by looking. Or just from one conversation.

In other words, I think my shy shit, my experiences with people saying, “Speak up! We can’t hear you!” has made me work at being more understanding of others. I’m quiet because I’m dealing with my shit. Who am I to judge you for dealing with yours. 

This is Part I of several posts addressing the white cis-hetero male elephant in the room–my own identity as it relates to the adaptation of Kindred. I’m calling this subset of 31 Days of Kindred posts “Like, Who The F*ck Are You?” Because it’s a fair question that I feel like some people will ask. So let me start to answer.

(It’s also quoting the start of a Dizzee Rascal song, “Learn.” Because of…well, I like that song.)