Tuesday, August 30, 2011

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING...SHY.

By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

The moment has come…something I have been dreading all month. Can’t you hear the menacing ‘dum-dum-dum’ playing in the background? That’s right; it’s time for me to tell you about myself. You might think it an easy task for a writer but it isn’t. You see, although it may come as a surprise to many, I’m shy…and it is something I've struggled with all my life.

Most people would be surprised to know that ‘shyness’ is a personality trait very often shared by artists, actors, and authors. It is a characteristic that, particularly in childhood, caused them to be quiet, and often overwhelmed – especially in public. And it could be painful, especially when targeted for teasing and taunts by mean-spirited kids (who shall remain nameless). Because of this, shyness often steers children toward the world of imagination where nothing is impossible; where books took you on unforgettable journeys, and watching movies brought new meaning to daydreams or playing ‘make-believe”.

From an early age, I was a voracious reader and often imagined myself as a character in a book. I also loved dressing up and pretending to be someone else, usually in a little play with my siblings, staged in the living room of our home for relatives. Some were our rendition of fairy tales, and others were penciled by yours truly. What I didn’t realize at the time was play-acting became not just a creative outlet for me, but a way of self-expression—although I hid behind a character to do so. It’s no surprise that a symbol for theatre is a pair of masks representing comedy and tragedy.

We are what we live…

Without going into detail, my childhood was at times both idyllic and turbulent—which pretty much describes my parents. My mother was a proud Texan, whose family came to Texas in covered wagons. She was soft-spoken, sweet, funny, and beautiful…very much like a fairy princess in my eyes. My father was a Yankee and, for lack of a better word, "complicated". He had very Victorian aspects to his personality, and no patience (or tolerance) of children—rather unfortunate since he had six of them. For him, being a father meant being a provider and strict disciplinarian. He had a stormy, often volatile temperament, depending on which way the wind was blowing. His mood was unpredictable and often frightening. Let's just say I avoided him...so did my siblings. I don't think it came as a surprise to any of us that our parents eventually divorced.


Despite the fact I was supposed to be born in Texas, (I got there as soon as I could years later) I was born in a small town named Troy, located in Upstate New York on the Hudson River. Troy was also the home of Uncle Sam, and where I spent my early childhood. Even now in memory, Troy seemed like a town that time forgot—filled with interesting characters. At the very least, it was in no hurry to embrace progress, and seemed to prefer an old-fashioned way of life. There were no supermarkets; instead, we had Borden milk delivered to our doorstep in real glass bottles, as well as other dairy products. Freihofer Bakery also delivered bread and other baked goods by a horse-drawn wagon. I’m serious! I still think they made the best Oatmeal Raisin cookies I’ve ever had. My favorite, however, was their Black-eyed Susan cookies—this big sugar cookie with a dollop of raspberry jelly in the center. But I digress…

Carrier Brothers was a farming family who had this big truck, the back of which resembled a colorful gypsy wagon. They would come to our street, and people would go inside to shop for produce. I remember being very little and walking up the steps with my mother. Wooden crates of fresh farm produce and fruits were tilted at an angle so customers could view the merchandise and serve themselves. The farmer would then weigh it on a hanging scale.

As you can tell, I was an observant child—especially about people and details—and I can attribute that quality to being shy. Even as an adult, especially at large social events where I don’t know anyone, I hang back to quietly listen and observe. Get a feel for the room, so to speak—and the true nature of people. I now realize that what may have started as a defense mechanism has helped make me a more visual writer.

Imagination takes root…

I am a firm believer that one must nurture imagination in children. How many of us built forts using blankets over tables and chairs on a rainy day? Or jumped all over the furniture pretending the floor was lava? (Okay, the lava game may just be me and my quirky family.) We lived in a white, turn-of-the-century wooden house that was narrow but tall, and had lots of Victorian features like this beautiful straight staircase with a mahogany banister and thick newel post. What better place to crawl down on my stomach with my siblings, pretending we were alligators of all things. The living room was also long and narrow, and had doors which pulled out to turn it into two rooms. We used one as a formal living room (for company) and the other was for the family’s use. Originally, this layout came from an age when men would talk amongst themselves over brandy after dinner, and the ladies had to go to a separate room. But what I remember most about this room is the carpet burns on my knees from walking around holding my ankles and quacking like a duck. (I never said I wasn’t weird.) I definitely had a vivid imagination, which often led to mischief. Take for example the time I pretended to be a spy looking for microfilm in the greenhouse of the corner florist. My mother had given me this silver pen she’d gotten as a welcome gift from our local bank. Let’s just say the florist did not appreciate a 7-year old practically ransacking his fragile merchandise. Police were summoned. I escaped by diving into a hydrangea bush until the coast was clear.

Two life-changing events occured when I was a teenager. First, I was seriously injured in a car accident. Among other injuries, I lost feeling in both my legs, and was told that without surgery I would never walk again. With surgery I had a 50/50 chance of walking, but likely with a permanent limp. Blessedly, I had a brilliant neurosurgeon that repaired my spine, a few guardian angels watching over me, and a wonderful mother who taught me to walk all over again.

The second life-changing event was that my parents divorced. I moved with my mother and younger siblings to Texas…finally. My shyness went into overdrive in a new place. My mother enrolled me in a Dallas modeling school, feeling it would help my self-confidence. I was too short for runway modeling; besides which, although I did not limp, maintaining balance was an issue. I did learn how to apply makeup and did some print fashion photography. It did help my self-esteem, or maybe it was the effect from dying my hair chestnut brown for a more dramatic photographic effect.

It should come as no surprise that I eventually ended up a theatre major at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. There I learned an actor should embrace their life experiences, (good and bad) and use them to connect emotionally with characters as well as bring reality and power to their performance. Much as I loved acting, I realized I wasn't cut out for the lifestyle. My observation of people in the business frightened me. I was quiet, didn't drink, didn't smoke, and seriously considered being a cloistered nun as an alternative. I also had a habit of changing dialogue and even certain aspects of characters I was playing. This was when one of my instructors suggested I take a new master class called Actor-Writer-Director.

The result was I wrote a 3-act dramatic play that was so well received at school, it was later staged at Actors Studio-West. The experience was so empowering and I loved the creative freedom I had as a writer. After all, there is no limit to the imagination. I also realized that the same life experiences that I had been taught to use in acting, now became an archive of resources that I could incorporate into my work, helping not only with plotting but development of characters that will, hopefully, resonate emotionally with the reader.

Long Story Short...

Sometimes life does throw curve balls at your dreams. You find yourself at a fork in the road and unsure what path to follow. One road may be faster, a more direct route to your goal, but the other represents the unknown. And if I see an interesting town or beautiful country road, I follow it. I know in my heart I may not pass that way again. I don’t want to miss something wonderful. And it was on one of these side trips, I met the love of my life…my future husband. I never gave up on my dream of writing, but also didn't want to miss a moment of the magic happening in my life at the moment. I don't regret a minute of it.

Today, with the support of my husband and three sons, I am an award-winning published author of historical romance with mystery, suspense, and/or paranormal elements. As a writer of historical fiction, my books are set in Regency England, Scotland, and the American West. At present I am completing the first in a Historical Parnaormal series set in Regency era England and Scotland, and a Historical Western Time Travel set in TEXAS!

My debut novel, The Sense of Honor, winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense, is now available in print and e-book format.

And since you have taken the time to read the saga of my life, I am going to give a copy of the print book to one lucky reader who posts a comment. I will put everyone's name in the proverbial hat and post the name of the winner on the 31st of August with instructions on where to send me your mailing information.

Thanks for stopping by, and best of luck! ~ AKB


30 comments:

  1. Ashley, you were a cute child, a beautiful girl, and now you're a beautiful woman I'm so pleased to call my friend. Your writing is beautiful and I wish you the best of success in your career and good health (for a change) in you life.

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  2. Ashley--love the photo of you as a child. I believe our life experiences shape us, molding us into something we might not have been otherwise. We'll never know, but sometimes we start out in one directions, and something pushes--or shoves--us in another.
    People have always thought I was shy, because I have a tendency--even now--to duck my head when someone looks at me. I've learned--by working at it--to hold my head and chin up and look people in the eye.
    There's a difference between shyness and being introverted. A truly introverted person would never go on the stage--never. So, I do understand shyness. Maybe I was, so to get attention, I'd mumbled something sarcastic and funny--I found that I could make people laugh. And I found that I did not have to talk much--just wait for the opening to say something to get attention.

    I wish I could see the place you grew up. It sounds heavenly. But...now I'm glad you're a Texan.
    What a wonderful post...thank you so much.
    Your essay today puts the perfect ending on our August Meet our Authors.
    Celia

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  3. Ashley, you were a beautiful child and still a beautiful person. Inside and out

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  4. Thank you, Caroline; the feeling is mutual. ((hugs))~ Ashley

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  5. Thanks, Celia. Life really is a journey and I think there is a purpose to be found in everything. We can either learn and grown from an experience, or let it handicap us for the rest of our lives.

    I haven't been back to Troy since I was 9 years old. I'm curious but would rather remember it the way it was. ~ Ashley

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  6. Geri -- Awww...thank you so much, sweetie. Love ya! ((hugs)) ~ Ashley

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  7. Ashley, I completely understand being shy! It takes so much energy when I am around new people that I am so drained afterwards. Around my girlfriends I'm good though (but it took years of practice).

    And I love the ... was supposed to be born in Texas Me too, but dear old dad got stationed in Alaska and alas I was late to the party, but was here by my 1st b-day

    And ditto on the baby pic :) what a cutie!

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  8. Hi Ashley, moving profile of your life. I relate to the shyness. I had a streak a mile wide, especially as a child. I worked hard to overcome a lot of it, but it's always a part of you. And, it does make you a much better observer, and listener.

    There are points in your life that mirror mine. However, you are a much more accomplished author. Congrats.

    Your model pic is gorgeous!

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  9. Ashley,
    I loved reading about you and your life. Very interesting. I'm sure that car accident was a very life changing event and scary as all get out. I've been in a couple of bad wrecks myself, but the Good Lord was with me, and the worst injury I got was a broken collar bone. It sounds like your mother was just a wonderful person, and knew what you needed to bring you back to the circle of life again, and to make the most of all your talents. I'm so glad that we've met, and loved this chance to get to know you better. That is a gorgeous picture of you, lady!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

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  10. An interesting post, Ashley. What a beautiful face a person. Good luck with Honor.


    From another historical writer.

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  11. I am so impressed, Ashley. You've had a life full of experiences most of us don't have. I know that shyness feeling as that part of which you describe, describes me as well. I know people who know me now, don't believe it, but I could be quiet until I figured out the people around me.

    Bless your mother for getting you back on your feet and look how well you've done. Very impressive and so was your post. So nice to know you better.

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  12. Denise, Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comments. You are so funny and friendly, it is hard for me to see you as shy. But I also know it is a whole different story when you are with a group of people you know and trust. ((hugs)) Ashley

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  13. Hi Savannah! Thank you for your lovely comments. It is so nice to meet a kindred spirit. Best of luck to you in your writing!
    ~ Ashley

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  14. Cheryl -- You are so sweet! I really want to meet you in person one of these day. I loved reading your post, and could relate to the simplicity of our childhoods riding bicycles and how 'safe' our little world was then.

    Thank you so much for your comments. Sending a big ((hug)) back at ya! ~ Ashley

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  15. Hi Vonnie! Love meeting other historical writers! Thank you so much, and best of luck with all your endeavors as well.
    ~ Ashley

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  16. Ashley, I completely understand the shyness thing. I'm still uncomfortable in social situations to this day. I do like the idea of using life experiences to enhance writing - even the bad ones. Great post!

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  17. Hi Paisley - Thank you. I was very blessed with the mother I had, and there isn't a day that goes by I do not miss her. The influence she had on my life, as well as my love of history, literature, art, writing, music, and so much more is immeasurable. ~ Ashley

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  18. Ashley,
    I'm so glad to read your post and get to know you better. What a full and rich life you've had. Your mother sounds like a wonderful person.
    Don't put me in the hat for your book since I already have a copy!

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  19. Ashley~What a wonderful blog! You captured the feeling many of us have who grew up shy and observing the world around us! I've read many creative artists,entertainers or writers have shy personalities (Johnny Carson, for example!).

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  20. Cute child, gorgeous teen beautiful writer! I enjoyed your trip down memory lane Ashley. Thanks for sharing and I think it's safe to come out of that closet now. Take your curtsy and applause. You've earned it!

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  21. Hi Karen! Thanks for visiting the blog and commenting. Yep, Johnny Carson was very shy. Some others were, Tom Hanks because his family moved around alot, Sally Field, Michelle Pfeiffer, and author Agatha Christie. So, we are in good company. :) ~ Ashley

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  22. Calisa: Thank you so much for your sweet comments; I appreciate your kindness and understanding very much. ~ Ashley

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  23. Hi Cynthia - I am so glad you enjoyed my blog post. Thank you for your comments, too. :) - Ashley

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  24. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. I enjoyed the post.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  25. Congratulations to Savannah!!! You won a signed copy of The Senae of Honor. Please send me your mailing information at ashley@ashleykathbilsky.com. And thank you EVERYONE for your kind comments, and visiting "Sweethearts of the West"!

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  26. Oh Ashley, this is one of my most favorite blogs you've written....and don't ask me why, but I started to tear up as I was reading it...don't ask...lol...It really touched me and helped to bring me a lot closer to you...yes, we are close, but this just made me feel even closer!! Love you my big sister!!!

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  27. Wow, I would have to agree with Michelle. I thought you were one of the most sincere women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and calling friend but now I feel I have been allowed to see a different side of you that I adore even more. You have always been my fearless leader but now I see the more vulnerable side of you! You are truly amazing! Thank you! xoxo Bernadette

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  28. Thank you, Shelle and Bernadette. You both are so sweet, and your comments touched my heart. (((hugs))~ Ashley

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  29. Hi Ashley, just wanted to let you know I sent an email and my addy is rebelromance AT earthlink.net.

    ~smiles~

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