I’ve always been an introvert. I’m from a family of introverts, my mother excepted (and overcompensating for the rest of the clan). Aside from seeking a peaceful writing environment, I think I chose my current home because there are fewer people to encounter, meaning fewer awkward exchanges and fewer public moments of uncontrolled perspiration.
I drive into town once or twice a day to get a change of environment for my writing, to run errands, to battle with harmless looking dumbbells (a gym reference, not a lame putdown of the locals). Invariably, I run into someone I know. As I held a very public position for three years in the community, I have many acquaintances (though few friends). It used to be that I would spot someone in the cereal aisle of the grocery store and quickly turn away, deciding Wheaties could wait. I’d see someone approaching in our poor excuse for a mall and I’d stop to gaze intently at a poster, advertising a pottery exhibit featuring a new series of—ooh!—“dip dishes”. At cafés, I could wildly type gibberish during a fit of writer’s block when I’d see a familiar family pull into the parking lot. (Works almost as well as a “Do Not Disturb” placard dangling from my neck.)
And yet I’ve noticed a change this summer. Personal growth! While I don’t necessarily embrace the occasions, I no longer scramble to tuck my tortoise head into a shell or bury my head in the sand like an ostrich. I appear socially engaging. Today, I ran into two acquaintances at my favorite café for writing. We exchanged stories about summer trips. I even extended the encounter with thoughtful follow-up questions (e.g., When will you know you have enough garden gnomes?). At the gas station, a mother and daughter had their backs to me—Did they practice the same avoidance techniques?—but I blurted a greeting and got to hear five minutes of highlights about circus camp. At the library, I saw a former colleague and she filled me in on her campaign to stop the latest minor patch of housing development. The lovely conversation ended a tad awkwardly when I declined to sign the petition, but I failed to shed a drop of sweat.
Turns out my mother needn’t worry so much about me becoming a hermit, the scary old man who hides behind overgrown hedging and only communicates with animals. (Caught and released two moths and a fly from my home last night.) I have not lost all social mannerisms. In public, I now notice more than my shoelaces. It is all so encouraging. I’m almost socially acceptable.
Still, on the ferry, I’ll stay in my car instead of venturing Up with People, thank you very much. Everything in moderation.