Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Adult Introvert...

Hello Friends.

This article first appeared in the March 2013 issue of Saskatoon Well Being Magazine. If you're in Toon, pick it up today! If you're not, read it here:

Has this ever happened to you? You meet the young child of a friend of yours who walks up to you on the playground and says, “Hi! I’m Leslie and I like basketball and horses! I live in a blue house and I’m in grade two and I’m good at drawing and I’m happy!” Don’t you just want to hug a child like that?

Then, you meet the new boyfriend or girlfriend of a friend of yours who walks up to you at a party and says, “Hi! I’m Pat and I’m into yoga and the Riders! I’m in a condo downtown and I work in marketing and I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, so I’m just trying to, like, find myself.” Don’t you just want to punch a person like that?

Isn’t it interesting that some of the advice we heap on children is the same we don’t heed as adults? Clean your plate, for instance. When’s the last time someone congratulated you for being “a good eater”? We demand naps of children that we never take ourselves lest we miss a tweet or a Facebook photo of a friend’s homemade dinner or fingernails. And we encourage a kind of forced extroversion in children that, while cute and precocious in a six-year-old, is creepy and off-putting in a 26-year-old.

In the above hypothetical scenarios, I adore the happy, bubbly child and despise the overzealous party guest because they are extroverts and I am not. I was a kid with a fantastic childhood and I wish, in retrospect, that I was more relaxed and carefree about it. But rather than engaging in conversation with my parents’ friends, I was busy practising Stop, Drop and Roll, and preparing my response for when I was inevitably offered drugs (“That’s not my scene, fella! Now scram before I get an adult!”). Now, too, I enjoy a fantastic adulthood, but am far too plagued by insecurities to engage in conversation with a stranger at a party. I’m busy practising holding my stomach in and preparing my strategy should a guest accidentally overdose on drugs (“Hey, let’s cool it with the drink and smoke! If I get a bowl of regular-strength Acetaminophen for the table, will everybody have some? Come on, let’s splurge!”).

But there are times I wish I could ignore my introverted tendencies and let my extroverted impulses rule the day. It is my new Dream.

Dream: Become an extrovert when it counts.

Goal: Achievable.

Remember the viral video that launched Susan Boyle? Of course you do, it was inescapable. A mousy, frumpy woman took the stage of a reality competition show, awkwardly answered a few questions and then blew the judges and audience away with a stirring, show-stopping performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables. The mass appeal of the video wasn’t just her voice, which was surely strong, but the idea that a meek housefrau yielded this kind of power, just by taking a heretofore-private talent to an extremely public arena. I think even the most private of introverts fantasizes about a Susan Boyle-moment where a sudden burst of extroversion changes the world. If she can do it, the reasoning goes, so too may I.

Plan: Determine the best situations to let my extroverted self shine. Situations like:

The First Date. Luckily, through trickery and dark forces, I’ve conned my partner into sticking around for a while, but before my main squeeze came along, I suffered through a bevy of awkward dates, all thanks to my top-notch mumbled shyness. Once, in a noisy bar, I worked up the courage to introduce myself to a real looker who misheard “James” as “Shane.” I wasn’t brave enough to correct something so gorgeous and so merely scrawled my number on a napkin with the message, “Text me! xo, Shane.” Never got that text, but might have had a better shot with the bar star had I said, “Oh, it’s James, actually! And I’m thrilled to meet you, but I have to confess, bars are loud and sweaty and I don’t care about this band and I hope you have a job with health/dental benefits and please don’t smoke pot or write poetry and can we agree that The Bachelor is a stupid show and I don’t ‘split’ desserts, I get my own. Are we down to clown?”

The Job Interview. Wouldn’t it be great to be charming and personable in a job interview as opposed to evasive and armpit-stained? I get so thrown by having to talk about myself that I either downplay my accomplishments and abilities, or lie about them completely. And I always wonder what the right answers are when they ask you to name your three worst qualities. I’ve heard variations on, “I just push myself too hard! I’m never satisfied unless I’m giving a hundred percent!” Honesty can’t be the best policy here, can it? “Well, I’m super-lazy. I hold my stomach in at parties. I steal things from work.”

The Injustice. I really want to work on this one, because I see petty injustice all the time. I’ll be in line at the grocery store and watch somebody yell at a defenseless cashier over the price of eggs. I’ll see someone cut in line for a movie, take up two seats on a crowded bus, refuse to hold the door open for the person behind them. It’s just obnoxious behaviour that deserves to be called out, but for the amount of times I see injustice and don’t speak up, it seems I’d rather drown than rock the boat. And this isn’t as bad as that worst moment…

The Heart-stopper. Have you ever experienced something where your heart stops and your guts churn and everything in your body, mind and heart is telling you to do something, say something, but you’re frustratingly, completely paralyzed?

I once saw a man run out of a store, pushing a stroller in front of him as he ran. I thought at first it was for the child’s benefit, a speedy ride to make up for a dull shopping trip. Then I thought maybe he had stolen something from the store and was trying to make a hasty getaway. Then I saw that he was running towards someone, his wife, presumably, the mother of this child, and when he caught up to her, he cuffed her in the back of the head. I froze. I saw a man strike a woman and was so shocked that I couldn’t move. Man and woman argued loudly, in front of the child, but moved farther away from me. Finally, I grabbed my phone and stared at it, dumbly. Was this a 911 call? Or was this not technically an emergency? What if I didn’t see what I think I saw? If a man had cuffed another man in the back of the head, or a woman to a woman, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. But this was domestic abuse. Wasn’t it? The worst part is that the most probable reason for why I never made any call was that I was afraid of being noticed myself, afraid that this violent man would overhear me on the phone and turn his anger on me. Finally, I grabbed a mall security guard who was walking outside and said, “That man just cuffed that woman in the back of the head!” and literally ran out of there. I’m haunted by my cowardice here. I can make up excuses about being an introvert, but this doesn’t speak to a personality trait, this speaks to a character flaw.

We try to teach children that they are special and deserve to be listened to. We want to instil in them a sense of self- confidence that transcends any circumstances, because we want them to be the generation that we were not. Maybe, as adults, we let too much slide in favour of not speaking up, not calling attention to ourselves, not making a fuss. So let’s not simply speak when we are spoken to; let’s speak up for the good of ourselves and each other. No excuses. I don’t care that you’ve got a lot on your plate right now. Clean your plate.

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