Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Social Caterpillar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was a toddler, I was incredibly outgoing.

My mom tells a story of me waking up on a cross-country train in the middle of the night when I was around one and a half or two years old. I only knew two boys’ names at that time, Vova and Andrei, or so my mom says. As soon as I settled into my cabin, I noticed a man sleeping on one of the sleeping shelves, just some traveling stranger.

“Beds!” I exclaimed, utterly fascinated.  Then I proceeded to shake the man and ask him, “Are you Vova? Are you Andrei?”

Mom tells another story of me, at about the same age, being passed around, from passenger to passenger, like a dolly, this time on an airplane (!), where I kept obligingly demonstrating my newly acquired English skills to everyone’s delight. (Again, I don’t remember this. It’s a story told by a loving mother, so take it with a grain of salt.)

“What is English for tul’pan?” I’d say. And then I’d tell them, “it is ‘tulip.’ What is English for ‘ne-za-bud-ka’? It is ‘forget-me-not.'”

Then, I don’t know what happened: was it growing up away from my mom? Was it the pervasive culture of conformity and fear in the Soviet Union that affected me so? Maybe it was just my constant sickliness that kept me quiet and scared. But by the time I reached age nine, I became “the shy child.”

As I grew, the two polar opposites intertwined in the strangest of ways. I was shy. I was scared. Yet, sometimes when I visited with my mom’s friends, or they visited with me, I performed songs for them, complete with props and costumes. Sometimes a mere sight of a boy older than me terrified me, but once I organized a dozen of kids in my yard into a game of play pretend. Another time, I somehow forced a group of my peers into staging a play right out in the yard, also.

I was the biggest chicken. I was fearless. I was the quietest shadow. I was outgoing. I was all of these things.

In grade school, and then, in high school, some years, it felt like I was the subject of every girl’s envy, and even a few boys’ dreams. More often, though, I found myself on the other side. An oddity. Friendless. Tormented. Or worse — invisible.

Who am I today? Who knows? An introverted extrovert?  An extroverted introvert?  Sometimes, it depends on the day.

I will always be part shy child, I think.  On the other hand, becoming a part of the writing community, made me feel like I belong like never before. So many amazing friends I’ve met since I started writing! They enriched my world with their warmth, wisdom and generosity.

And now, as I prepare for the launch of my first book, and as I get ready to start the MFA program in Vermont in less than a month, I’ve been feeling like I am stepping out into an even wider world. The walls that once contained me are getting pushed even farther apart. I get giddy sometimes, just thinking about all the wonderful people whose lives will flit past mine so soon. The new super-talented writer friends I will make. The wise mentor professors. The readers, whom I might never meet, but who, in a way, will know my deepest, most personal secrets, after reading my book.

Over the years, I have grown comfortable inside my own “social caterpillar” skin. I wonder though… is this socially green little creature that I’ve always been, about to take flight? Or have my butterfly wings been flapping for a while already?

Your turn, now! Are you an extrovert? And has it always been so?

Don’t be shy — tell me 🙂



November 30, 2012 Posted by | Personal Mirror, The U.S.S.R. | , , , | 4 Comments