I’ve mentioned before that I’m an introvert. That doesn’t mean I’m inside out, as my daughter asked. (I asked her, “Why, do I look inside out?” She shook her head.)
For many years, Liz and I had a tension in our lives. That tension looked like this:
We would go out to a big dinner party or something of that nature. On the way home from a lovely night with a bunch of friends, Liz found that I was, inevitably, quiet. Which one would reasonably interpret to be the sign of a bad mood.
So she would ask if I was okay or if I’d had a bad time (during what seemed like an enjoyable evening with people we love) and I would tell her that I was totally fine. But without any logical explanation why I was being quiet, she was left to draw natural conclusions, like that I was upset about something and simply choosing not to tell her.
And voila. Tension.
It’s not that I don’t adore my friends. I do. I adore them. It’s just that at the end of a night (or sometimes in the middle) I could find myself completely running out of battery, and I didn’t know why.
Everything changed one evening, on an island off the coast of Maine.
Monhegan Island, a place a grew up going to, is remote and quiet and small with beautiful wooded hikes and stunning cliffs. So on our second night there, Liz and I found ourselves talking about our dream vacations vs. vacations we would dread. I mentioned that a week alone, writing, in a little cottage on Monhegan right on the ocean would be a dream come true.
Liz actually shuddered at the prospect. “Okay, I have a new Most Dreaded Vacation,” she said. “That. What you just said. I would go completely crazy.”
That was the moment where it dawned on us. She was an extrovert. I was an introvert.
It took us so long to figure this out, I believe, because I don’t really act like an introvert.
I’m comfortable up in front of a lot of people; it’s part of my job at NYU Stern as Dean of Students. I’m constantly meeting new students. I’m very comfortable walking into a group of strangers and talking.
But I do those things because I can do them. I find value in doing those things, at school and at church and in life. It’s wildly different, however, from the things I choose to do.
At the checkout counter at a grocery store, Liz will turn to the woman behind her and strike up a conversation. In those moments I turn into a six year old, praying the earth will swallow me up for fear I might be brought into that conversation.
When Little Princes came out, I once spoke to four classes, one after another, at a high school on Long Island. When I was done, I made it out to my car in the faculty parking lot, got in the drivers seat, and proceeded to fall fast asleep for an hour. If the students had seen me they would have thought I was an android that was powering down.
I bring all this up because of this:
There aren’t a lot of things that make me feel alone in this world, but this is probably one of them. Because nobody talks about somebody they love or admire and goes “Man, that guy is awesome – so anti-social! I love how he never wants to hang out ever with anyone ever in any setting!” So instead I just always bottled that up and didn’t share it with people.
But Liz doesn’t think that about me. Our Monhegan Island conversation changed our relationship. For her, she was able to share what it felt like for her to go an intense workday without interacting with colleagues or friends, and how it could sink her entire mood. And I was able to better articulate why going to a Parents Coffee at our kids’ school wasn’t my favorite thing to do:
“You remember that scene in Return of the Jedi when Jabba the Hutt drops Luke into that pit and suddenly that crazy huge monster comes out at him? And Luke is scrambling for the exit and shaking the locked doors?”
“Yeah…that’s what a coffee with other parents feels like?” she asked.
“Well, Luke had those animal bones he could fight with. So it’s not a perfect analogy. But yeah.”
You think I’m exaggerating. But the introverts out there know exactly what I’m talking about. We introverts fantasize about carrying around a pocket full of those ninja smoke screen things. (I don’t even know where they come from or where ninjas buy them, or really how effective they could be because it seems easier to sneak out of a party than to throw a smoke ball at the ground and have everyone scream “Fire!!”) We dream about those ninja smoke things because they just seem so effective at magically transporting us out of a social setting.
So if you have somebody in your life who is just sort of a pain in the butt because they never want to do anything…well, I suppose maybe they are just a pain in the butt that doesn’t want to do anything.
But there’s also a chance that they haven’t come to terms with the fact that they process the world differently. They haven’t put a name on it yet.
Or maybe they just need some of those ninja smoke bombs.
And those smoke bombs bring us to….
The Top Five Things in TV Land that are Totally Absurd:
1. Nobody Ever Actually Got Shot in the A-Team TV Show.
Hannibal and BA Baracus would leap out of their van, double-fisting M-16s and spraying the horizon with hot metal. They would vaporize walls and cars and brick walls would crumble. And not a single human being would ever get hit. Not sure how they explained that in the first table read.
2. Bus Passes in Front of Person Across the Street, Person Disappears.
Give. Me. A. Break. What, everyone is David Copperfield now? Even if a trap door opened under their feet in the concrete sidewalk, you’d still probably see the top of their head as they fell. Seriously, man. Enough with this.
3. Slap the Car Twice, Car Starts Driving.
How is did this become the universal signal for “Let’s go” – tapping the side of the car door twice? And what was wrong with the previous universal signal for “Let’s go” which was somebody saying: “Let’s go”? Were people having a problem understanding that? We have to communicate through sonar now? What are we, whales?
4. Saying Goodbye by Saying Somebody’s Name.
I felt like this went out of style in the eighteen century, when people referred to each other by names like “Mr. Pembertonbrook.” So explain to me what’s happening on TV shows now where the lawyer snaps closed her briefcase and stands up and nods at the person across the table and says, “Jonathan” and walks out. That’s what’s survived from 1780? It’s like somebody saying “I’ll text her” and then it inexplicably cuts to them setting typeset in a printing press.
5. The Magic Punch.
People who have never been in a fight before all of a sudden are knocking out bad guys with one punch. Knocking them unconscious. Has that ever happened in the history of the world? Two scenes later people are flying through windshields of a Honda Civic and dusting themselves off. But the punch is too much? Wouldn’t most people just rub their jaw and then punch the guy back? Or does everyone have an total-body-shut-down switch in their chin? I don’t get it.
See that? I’m relaxed now. I was sitting alone, writing this. All alone. Take up writing, Introverts! Fool people into thinking you can’t talk right now. Then share dumb TV shenanigans in a blog. It works for me.