Monday, August 29, 2011


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.


Rick Modien said...

So I read this post earlier today and needed some time to think about my comment.

I understand avoiding people as you describe in paragraph #2. I've done plenty of that over the years. Sometimes, one just doesn't want to get too tied up in the business of other people. Sometimes, it's just easier to remain aloof. But I've also been accused of being anti-social. I guess I can be.

But not just for the reasons stated above. In the past, I've had a difficult time thinking people might be interested in socializing with me, so I made it easy for them by turning my back, appearing busy, or whatever the case might be. I hate to say it, but I think, at least for me, that was rooted in not liking myself enough, or believing I was worthy of people's attention.

Could the personal growth you refer to in paragraph #3 have to do with liking yourself, even accepting yourself, more? Just curious. Because I understand being introverted, I understand keeping yourself separate from others. And it seems to me that has more to do with you than with other people. At least it was in my case.

At any rate, it sounds like you're warming up to others, and that has to feel good. I think it also bodes well to leaving yourself open to meeting someone to share your life with. I'm just saying...

Again, I love the humor that comes through in your writing, how beautifully you express yourself, and how sweet you are (not every man would save two moths and a fly).

Thanks for allowing us to get closer to you through your writing.

(By the way, I wanted to say the two books you're working on sound great--the one about you in LA and in Vancouver. Different from the YA novel you wrote before. I hope you keep working on them. I can't wait to read both.)

canoetoo said...

I've always liked the Charles Burkowski quip when he was asked in an interview if he hated people. He replied: "I don't hate them ... I just feel better when they're not around." What hermit doesn't understand that quote. Still, sometimes even hermits can be surprised (myself included), when they make an effort.

Rural Gay said...

Thanks for the comments. Rick, my avoidance of acquaintances may subconsciously have something to do with how I feel about myself, but I think it's more about not finding value in chitchat. Nice weather. Travel much this summer? Who does your hair?

Give me a topic of substance and I'm interested. I never get a sense of how to navigate a casual conversation with people I don't know well. When do I change subjects? Is it too soon to say, "Have a nice day?" What is their pet cat's name again?

CanoeToo, I love the Burkowski quote. Made me laugh, but it also rings true.

If, however, I can be a little more social and not feel pain or sweat, it is a good thing. I thought I was supposed to be set in my ways by now!

A Strange Boy said...

I really relate to this post so well.

Rural Gay said...

Hi, A Strange Boy,
Thanks for stopping by the blog and leaving a comment.

For some, being social is so easy. My mother used to think I just wasn't trying. Instead, it was terrifying to chat with people I didn't know well. There was no safety. Where would the conversation go next? Ugh!