Body Language in Action: A Glimpse from My Childhood

I wrote the below article for my newsletter, but thought you would enjoy it as well. When you’re done reading, why don’t you tell me a story of when body language clued you into something unexpected?

Have you ever walked into a room and your body tenses up? Seen a smile and known it to be false? Or spoiled a surprise because you suddenly knew what was being hidden from you?

Let me tell you a story from my childhood.

I grew up in foreign countries where my appearance and gender made things a little difficult for the adventurous side of me. To compensate, I became a student of body language, able to anticipate and avoid risk; influence others to see me as more than a child; and to have the appearance of precognition at times.

Things didn’t change when we returned to the States. If anything, those skills were in higher demand because all the body language Americans learned practically from birth I either had forgotten or never knew. My cues were geared around a different environment, sometimes directly contradicting the American equivalents.

Now, imagine me at the age of 10 or 11 walking home from school to find my mother on my doorstep with a frown on her face.

Wait. Don’t panic. That’s the overt description, but it lacks all the subtle clues like how her cheek twitched, her eyes danced, and the tension holding her rigid spoke of a surprise.

She got one all right.

I ran the last few steps and said, “You got me a cat!”

I don’t have any pictures from the time of the story, but here’s one of Randy, my current seal point.

My mother was quite disappointed. She’d been doing this all in secret. She’d found a Siamese litter, brought my older sister with her, been tricked into taking two (so one wouldn’t be lonely), and waited for me in anticipation of springing this wonderful surprise.

Only I knew it the minute I saw her.

Sure, I’d been begging for a cat since our last cat had been kidnapped in Watertown, but months, possibly years, had passed with no sign of giving in. She could have bought my favorite ice cream, a friend from Iran might have come for a visit, or who knows what other surprises she could have come up with.

Mom tried to bluster, but soon gave up and let me go meet my very first cat of my own, a tiny seal point boy.

How I put the pieces together, I don’t know exactly. Instincts and clues I wasn’t even consciously aware of along with those I could see and identify told me what my mother was trying to hide. You’ll see the same elements at work with that one friend who cannot be given a surprise party because they always figure it out.

What does this have to do with anything?

Well, I’m headed off to WorldCon 2018 where I’m on a panel talking about ways you can become conscious of the hidden language cues around you. You might not need them to spoil your mother’s fun, but we’ll be exploring the concept in terms of writing. You can have a situation like the one above where the overt messages tell one story while the body language tells something quite different. It should be a fun panel, and I hope those attending leave with some techniques they can use. If you can’t come, I’ll post at least one of the body language exercises I used in my class on the topic as a creativity exercise in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on my blog.

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