In the introduction to her 1970 book, Wallflower at the Orgy, Nora Epron compares her imagined experience of attending an orgy to that of being a journalist. She says when her husband expressed a desire to go to an orgy, she told him, “It would be just like the dances I went to in the seventh grade—only instead of people walking past me and rejecting me, they would be stepping over my naked body and rejecting me.”
However perverse an example that might be, Ms. Ephron, of course, leads it back to her journalistic roots. Because, she says, when you’re a journalist, you are the ultimate wallflower, “standing on the side taking notes on it all.”
When I look at it this way, I realize I’ve really never had any other destiny but to be a journalist. After all, I’ve been the quintessential of a wallflower since the days of playing kickball in first grade gym, wishing to be struck out so I could return to the safety of the concrete block wall, leaning against its cool security, day dreaming. Soon, the concrete wall turned into the side of the ice at synchronized skating practice, or the soft crevice of the beanbag chair of my high school journalism advisor’s classroom during lunch hour. I was always watching, somehow finding a way to never be part of the action, but keeping my mind in the thick of it. I was always filing thoughts away to join the ranks of seven-year old fantasies or pulling out wide nets of crumpled paper to hold the weight of seventeen-year-old observations.
Now, as I experience journalism as a college student, I fully agree with Ms. Ephron. I am a wallflower. Only now, instead of practicing these habits out of natural tendencies, I am training to be a professional wallflower.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the varying opportunities to practice my skills as an outcast of sorts. I’ve stood against a different gym wall and watched fifty-year-old women power lifters seamlessly raise over 100 pounds from the worn tiles of the weight room floor. I’ve encountered people who find music through plucking a bicycle wheel or art through plastic googly eyes and neon children’s yarn. All the time that my pen is scratching away on a notebook or my eyes are engaged in conversation, there is a little part of me who plays the part of constant observer. There she sits, my little wall flower. She’s perched against the wall or against the stage, watching. She can’t help but document what she thinks or feels about what’s happening around her. She’s my constant journalist, the reliable narrator amidst the mess of details and noise.
Now, as I search for people to tell stories of important journey for my multimedia project, I need her more than ever. I need to be respectful and engaging but equally silent and swiftly clever, gathering detail as it travels past me. I need to be a wallflower.