I have a secret (that is not so secretive) for all of you reading this blog.
I am, and have always been, a total ham. The only difference between young Renata and adult Renata is that now I am a ham with SOCIAL ANXIETY! I love attention, but only on my own terms and only from so many people at one time.
As a child, I was thrilled to be the center of attention, wooing the adults around me with my wit and snarky sense of humor. I’ve always been a bit of a comedian. One of my favorite hammy memories from middle school was when a bunch of us kids and our parents went to a local restaurant after a talent show. The kids sat at one table while the adults sat at another, and my alcohol jokes with the waiter essentially started as soon as we sat down. I hammed it up with all of the other middle schoolers sitting at the table and laughing with me until my jokes finally peaked when the waiter asked us what we wanted for dessert.
“Can we have the rum cake…without the cake?”
“Who’s kid is this?” the waiter yelled to the entire room.
And I smiled proudly as my parents did their best to shrink down and hide.
Even now, while I don’t have the same appreciation for the spotlight, I will still talk your ear off about anything that interests me. I enjoy birthdays and receiving awards, writing personal blogs and speaking in podcasts *cough cough*, and anything else that gives me a manageable amount of attention.
I blame a lot of my love of attention and general hamminess on my elementary/middle school and my experiences there.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of this stems from the fact that my elementary/middle school was small. It’s easy to stand out when your class is so small that literally everyone gets a superlative in the yearbook. I’m not kidding about that, either. We did do a Charlie’s Angels shot for those who didn’t get a superlative, but that was literally four people. For the record, I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in elementary/middle school as well as high school, providing me with short-term fame and long-term imposter syndrome! Yippee!
We all participated in every sport, every play and talent show, and many of us even sang The National Anthem at our basketball games. The desperate need for people to fill spots in these different activities meant that we could do it all and be mediocre while doing it.
Because of the size of our school, all of the students knew each other as well as all of the teachers and administrators. We really ran our elementary/middle school. From the amount of freedom in the dress code, to the amount of free time we had during the day, we essentially set the rules and did whatever we wanted.
Seriously, we had a uniform that involved an itchy sweater that we had to wear every day. But we didn’t like that, so we convinced them that we only really needed to wear our sweaters on Tuesdays when we had chapel. But that still seemed like too much…so we convinced them that we should only wear them during chapel. That’s what was important right? Then I lost my sweater completely and didn’t wear it for my entire eighth grade year without repercussion. Then we convinced them that we should be able to wear sweatpants under our skirts and sneakers. All of the girls in my elementary/middle school were adorned with colored camis under our polos, colored sweatpants under our skirts, all topped off with some colored sneaks. Yeah, we got away with everything.
My get-away-with-everything-ness definitely peaked in 4th grade. Every day I bugged the teacher until we were allowed to have several hours of free time, I convinced the teacher to allow me to turn in several illustrated poems instead of doing a difficult project, and one day during bible class, I was cutting snowflakes and accidentally sliced off a piece of my left index finger. My friend and I stood at the sink in the back of the room for an hour trying to stop the bleeding and no one said a word. The lack of strict rules in my private school led to us being left alone in classrooms frequently, and even some debacles when it came to state-mandated tests.
What private schools lack in federal guidelines and basic structure, it more than makes up for in freedom of creativity. I flexed my creative muscle regularly and for some reason, they totally allowed me to do it. One year, I decided that we would have our own newspaper and that I would be the editor. I still have our only edition in my closet. In 4th grade, my teacher overheard me say something funny about the parable of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, so he built our class play around it. For the record, what I said was “the moral of the story is don’t sell food to Jesus — he’ll feed the whole town!” Also for the record, he overheard it because I said it loudly so he would hear. What? I said I was a ham!
In 5th grade, I wrote our Christmas play, complete with at least one original song. One of the roles to be cast was “beautiful woman”…so I just decided I’d take it. It was my play, anyway. It made perfect sense to me!
As I’m sure you might imagine, going from this type of “big-fish-small-pond” scenario and going into a larger public high school where I knew no one was very difficult for me. Not only was I moving into a school where I had much less influence and freedom, but I was going through it alone. This move came at what seemed to be exactly the wrong time. Between puberty, insecurities about making new friends, and issues with my weight, all I wanted to do was disappear.
I started to hide in the background. I wanted as little attention as possible. I dodged answering questions and reading aloud in class. I avoided participating in any after-school activities. When presenting video projects to the class that I was featured in, I’d have to leave the room or put in my headphones because I felt so insecure about my voice and acting. The person who once performed in-person projects for her classes was now cringing at the idea of even performing in a video. I was doing some classic Renata overcorrecting.
It has taken me years to get back even to my somewhat-hammy self. After hiding for so long, it took a lot for me to not cringe away from the spotlight, let alone actively seek it out. While writing and giving my high school valedictorian speech was terrifying, I went out of my way to write and give a speech at my college baccalaureate. I was over being afraid of being vulnerable and ready to share my creativity again.
Now, years later, with a blog and a podcast, I am the definition of “living life out loud.” Connecting back with that piece of myself has been rewarding. Sure, elementary/middle school Renata might’ve been cringeworthy at times, but she sure had a lot of confidence. And who doesn’t want that?