Sunday, August 23, 2015

On Being an Introvert

I am so glad that being an introvert has become fashionable. At least, I assume it has -- one can never tell whether what you are interested in has become popular, or if it's just showing up a lot on your Facebook feed because of your interest. 

At any rate, it turns out that being an introvert is okay now. 

Image result for introvert people

"But, Sisiggy," you say, "Here you are blathering on about being an introvert -- but you are blathering in a very public place -- the internet."

Yes, but my original blather is as I sit at my computer alone (but for Topper-get-down on the bed spewing noxious fumes and Dirtman  a few yards off muttering sport statistics that have no basis in my reality).

This isn't about the obvious attributes of introversion, but the most common is that introverts find large gatherings draining -- which sounds to me like I'm being accused of snobbishness ("I find these people so tedious, Dah-ling!"). It is actually the opposite of that. I think, when faced with a large gathering, we introverts become extrovert-wanna-bes.

What? You think we want to huddle in the back, pretending to be talking on our cell phones? (Prior to cell phones, the most we could do is dive into the bathroom.)

I manage a teeny, tiny remote portion of a very large non-profit and, therefore, have to attend meetings where I know, if I'm lucky, only one or two people out of hundreds. I am there with my boss's directive to "network."

Networking -- the person who invented this activity should have a flat tire on I-395 outside of Arlington at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday; they should encounter a locked bathroom a half hour after having consumed bad guacamole; they should get in a checkout line at the grocery store behind someone with a fistful of coupons, only some of which have not expired, requiring further examination on behalf of the clerk and the supervisor, called to pass judgement on the wording on several of the coupons.

My boss is a networking superstar. She works a room like Auntie Mame and makes small talk sound like the Gettysburg Address. I am in awe of her as I follow her around, smiling politely as she introduces me, while the entire time I'm just thinking up an excuse to go home or, perhaps, go help out the caterers (thereby at least accomplishing something).

This actually came in handy recently. I escaped during a break in a meeting where we were told to "introduce ourselves" to at least one other person from outside our department (since I'm a department of one, this meant everybody). I would argue, as an introvert, that this was not actually, then, a break, but a continuance of the tortuous interactive meeting. So I headed to my car with my phone plastered to my ear. Blessed silence! To fill out the time, I decide to clean out my glove compartment and noticed that I needed to print out a new insurance card.

See? Introversion has it's purpose.

Usually, though, when faced with such a meeting, I scan the room for someone like me -- usually sitting at the back row or table, pretending to be texting someone. This is where I will sit. We introverts have an understanding with each other. We will exchange names and, if asked, we will both have someone to refer to as "a connection" we made. Then we sit in silence and pray for the event to be over.

Later, though, I always swear that next time I will enter the room with a, "Hello everybody!" And everyone will give an exclamation of delight as I enter the room, my arms outstretched to encompass all these people I consider friends -- because what extrovert doesn't consider as a friend every person with whom they've made eye contact?

I will not have to introduce myself to anyone because everyone will be coming up to me, unable to resist the gravitational pull of my charm and folksy eloquence.

And there I'll be, in the center of all those people...those people whose names I, of course, remember*...who expect me to...what? What do they expect of me? Read their expressions, right? That 's how you tell what they want from you. But they're all smiling. That's it. Smiling. And talking about...what? I can't understand what they are saying, they're all talking at once...saying things and smiling...

It requires focus and listening. But it's always someone who talks too quietly and you lean in and still can't hear and ask, "What?" and still can't hear, then give up and just smile and nod until you notice a look of horror on their face and you realize that they've just related to you about their recently-deceased grandmother who raised them.

Or they ask me a question. Oh no!

I make a noise, nothing like speech. Like any good Italian, my mouth doesn't work without the aid of my hands. And I'm off, babbling and gesticulating like an idiot, running out of air at the end of sentences and laughing at my own stupid jokes. I go on and on because I don't know how to end it, so I say (and I'm not exaggerating; this is honestly how I've ended some of my more inane diatribes), "I'm done now."

Then I chuckle, pretend to suddenly notice the refreshment table and say, "Oh! Water!" and hurry away.

And speaking of the refreshment table, what demon of Satan's thought up the idea of having to eat, drink, stand up and talk, all at the same time? (I suspect it's the same person who came up with sing-alongs, high school gym class and those silly games they make you play at Tupperware parties -- all, ironically, activities at which extroverts excel.)

So, you see, in a way, it's a blessing I'm an introvert. No one, not even the most annoying extrovert, should have to witness that embarrassment.

So, Extroverts of the World, I have a deal for you: If you will just leave me alone when you see me sitting placidly off to the side at some event, next time I'm completing some mundane transaction like gassing up my car or buying a pizza, I won't punch you in the head when you command me to, "Smile!"

*I have, under pressure of speaking to someone I didn't know, forgotten the name of my husband. Recently. We've been married 27 years. And the question, "Is it 'Jean' or 'Jeanne'?" confused me because I didn't know who they were talking about.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Return of the Native

Let's face it -- I wasn't ready to return to New Jersey.

I've known this for a long time and, out of respect for the citizens of that state, I've kept my distance. They don't need me timidly attempting to pull out onto freeway or holding up the line at the coffee kiosk asking the lady how she was today.

But there comes a time where the longing to see loved ones trumps courtesy and, in this case, the gathering was a wedding.

John Boy did all the driving, thus preventing traffic snarls as I white-knuckle my way in front of an 18-wheeler. And my early morning exuberance at the coffee counter resulted in a confused stare on the face of the barista. I realized I had this simpering smile on my face that is the requisite "you must like me" prelude to any public discourse in the south. But to her, I probably looked like I'd already downed way too many venti lattes along with half a bottle of Dexedrine.

In spite of my insistence that I would never be assimilated by southern customs, I've slowed down considerably over the past 34 years. I've lost my edge.

After walking the halls of my hotel looking for the ice machine, I finally gave up and called down to the front desk. The clerk gave me directions, yet I still could not find the machine, in spite of checking all three floors. So I called again and got a different clerk who told me they'd taken out the one ice machine in my area of the hotel to have it repaired. Oops! She forgot to tell the other clerk, she said anxiously, anticipating the anger that was sure to be coming her way.

I apologized and thanked her. Even as I said it, I hated myself -- that cloying, "thaaank youuuuuu!" that ends every southern conversation ensuring that, had there been any misunderstanding during the previous discussion, it was unintentional and that all is well between the participants. It's a good way to keep the atmosphere laid back and friendly.

But it doesn't get you ice at 10 o'clock at night in Morristown, NJ.

Then there was the matter of my wardrobe. I'm afraid I've gotten a little behind in the wardrobe area. And I share the late Gilda Radner's idea of clothing: "I base my fashion taste on what doesn't itch." This has so far served me well because of my rural Virginia surroundings and complete lack of a social life.

Now, though, I was facing a weekend in New Jersey. There was talk of dinner at a real restaurant where people come to your table and serve you. Plus we would be seeing my Aunt Marie, who at 94 makes my wardrobe resemble that of Gladys Ormphby.

...and a wedding.

A wedding.

I could pull together something for most of the weekend, but a wedding requires grown up clothing. A wedding was going to require...

A Dress.

One of those dresses that require panty hose and nice shoes and nice shoes means...

Heels. Remember Heels?

I have not worn any of those for over a decade. I used to brag about that fact and now it was biting me in the butt. Normal, responsible grownup women have at least one dress. They have dress shoes and do not groan at a 1-inch heel.

Now here's the thing about buying a dress at my age and figure: you balance a very, very, very...I cannot exaggerate how very...fine line between going too far and not going far enough. Let me illustrate.

Too far:

Not far enough:

Because either extreme is rather disrespectful to the bride. Too loud and it's like you're trying to draw attention to yourself (I emphasize the word "trying," because nobody can really do that; but we pathological people-pleasers are very focused on making sure no one thinks we think that we think we can). Too low-key and it's as if you just didn't care or, worse, have gone into mourning for the event.

At this point, I can tell you, I know what you are thinking. How? Because it was at this point in my thought process, which manifests itself in my stalking about and muttering to myself, that Dirtman summed it all up with the phrase, "You may be over-thinking this."

And so I bought a dress that wasn't black and didn't itch.

And I brought along a back up pair of flat sandals to slip on at the reception. 

And my Aunt Marie and I were too happy to see each other to even consider anybody's apparel.

And I was too busy stuffing my face with really, really, really...I cannot exaggerate how really...good Indian food and enjoying my cousins' and brother's company to even think about my ensemble.

And the second morning when I visited the coffee kiosk, the same barista greeted me with a big smile and said, "How are you this morning?"

Never did fill the ice bucket, though.

And I'm still not ready to return to New Jersey. And I won't be ready when I go back.