There’s something about us introverts

Recently, I read that introverts have this quality: the ability to just stand there and have many people just tell you their life story.

It doesn’t always happen every day. But occasionally, when I ask someone out to lunch or coffee, I suddenly find myself hearing the deep dark secrets, the drama, and the trauma. It’s not that I don’t want to hear it, I do really. It’s that I wasn’t necessarily seeking it, but it appears suddenly on my lap.

On occasion, those people often remark that they haven’t been able to tell that story to many people, except me.

But I did nothing different except nod solemnly, almost eliciting those stories to fall out. Now, in no uncertain terms, do I ever share those stories, but I am sometimes shocked that they’re there, for me to hear.

I hear about the breakups, the sadness of parents, the terror of a former partner, and the ill family members. Maybe I question why I deserve to hear it. Because there are certainly moments when I am looking at a watch in my hand wondering when I can politely leave or when I can dish out my own story. But in those moments, I find that I can’t and I don’t want to share. It’s easier this way, I think, to hear and listen, because so few people actually do.

Core Memories

What are your “core memories” (a la Inside Out)? a redditor asked yesterday.

I saw the post fly by on Facebook and intrigued, I clicked through the responses. What are the core memories that make us who we are. The moment that we decided to be something, to grow in that direction?

What was interesting is that all the core memories, quite naturally, fell in the happy category. The kind that builds bonds to family, friends, or home. These core memories must be the kind that one can repeat in detail with the words spoken, the sensory detail, and more.

I remember playing with my sister. We would build imaginary castles where our stuffed animal friends would join us high in the sky. They battled sure, but there we would be where we could play freely. We were the rescuers that took them from treacherous environments and brought them to a happy place with rainbows and excitement. I wonder if we could have stayed longer. Do our friends miss us? Do they remember?

Reality vs. Dream

This is the dream: sleepful nights, happy friends and family, pushing through the challenges resulting in your version of success, good health, good shelter, well-fed, satisfied, sufficient

This is the reality: wakeful nights, instability among friends and family, unsurmountable challenges resulting in failure, poor health, risky shelter, imbalanced diet, dissatisfied, disenfranchised, inadequate

But without the dream, the reality is only the reality—a morose cold wind. With dream-colored glasses, reality becomes something so much more.

But there’s this inner performer

I once told a counselor about how I couldn’t understand why I desired so much to be onstage. That when I watch a TED talk, watch a band perform, or watch a comedian, I am instantly compelled to be up there.

Because it doesn’t match my reserved, quiet personality.

“It’s because you want to express yourself,” she answered.

Is that really my way of expression? As writing (or even blogging) has always been my preferred form of expression. It’s not that I want to be the light of the party all the time. I want to have a defined moment, a defined act to be stage. I want to be the star.

Public speaking, like for many, has always been terrifying for me. Witness how nobody in class could hear me speak when I gave a presentation—my voice was tiny and terrified. But I would give it my best with a clear idea of what I wanted to present. I never wanted to be like the “quiet people” who I always perceived as lacking ideas. Or is it that I believe that the loudest, as common in American culture, is the one who grabs the attention and express themselves?

By the time I got to graduate school, my fear of public speaking had subdued. I had accepted the fact that fear was unnecessary (although fear of being judged was another thing of in itself). Somehow I had made the decision that everybody was terrified of public speaking and those who actually attempted speaking, I realized that I could be no worse than them. It might be a superiority complex, but I really believed that the worst thing that anybody could do was say nothing at all.

So when an opportunity popped up for me to host the ice cream eating contest at the ice cream festival, I jumped for it. Sure, it offered an opportunity to promote my book. But even though the spirit of the ice cream eating contest was bad taste and also conflicted with the mission of my book (my recommendation is to have GREAT ice cream in moderate amounts; to travel far and wide to experience those scoops where taste not volume prevails), I wanted to do it. I had admired George Shea from Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Fourth of July for some time and that’s exactly what thought that I would do.

So I prepped. Writing lines. I studied announcers. I brainstormed quotes. And then when the time came when the food park owner handed me the microphone (after I did the “test test” check), I began. I couldn’t match George Shea on my first time as emcee. And yes, I bolted to my backup instead of giving color commentary. But once the competitive eating began, I found myself screaming and yelling. What is cheering and egging competitors if you can’t be heard. And the crazy thing is, people could barely see me over the tops of heads, I felt like it was awesome. Nobody staring at me. Just everybody hearing a shrill voice announcing the winners of the 2016 ice cream eating contest.

A rich inner life

For most of my life, I always believed that everyone was like me. With the common saying “walk a mile in someone’s shoes”, so I would imagine myself in their shoes—whether it was too big or too small, i would imagine. I would see myself thinking, examining, imagining. Yes, I would suspend judgement, but sometimes I couldn’t understand how others don’t think the way I do.

They say that my personality is one that has a rich inner life. Yet what does that mean? That inside my head explosions of color, dreams, and life live? If that’s the case, does that mean that others don’t have rich inner lives? That their inner lives are devoid of color and brightness? That their inner lives are so empty? But it doesn’t matter, because they are already happy.

What I love doing is thinking playing with hypothetical situations or imagine the stories of other people. Some call it a thought exercise. But sit me down in an airport and this is what happens. I watch the couple walk toward the terminal and think that perhaps they are going on a vacation, but perhaps they weren’t quite happy about it, that one had to use up all their PTO and the other demanded that they needed to spend time together and viola, that’s how they are like on this trip. Or perhaps it’s the trio on the other side of the line. They are visiting family, but this time, the visit isn’t just a visit. It’s because the woman’s aunt who she knew as a child but started to drift as an adult has started a steep decline toward death. This is the game that I play in my head, poking my mind into all the possible unknowns.

Or the problems that rest on my shoulders. I examine them almost immediately. Because I must in order to reach some reasonable solution in the short term otherwise the anxiety would explode into panic and headaches. I think about why an event coordinator hasn’t gotten back to me. I think about how to exert responsibility as a tenant so that my landlord doesn’t come around knocking. I think about how to make use of all the fresh produce resting in my refrigerator. I think about the games I must play, the email that I must answer, the unfinished conversations on Facebook, my prejudices and biases that are getting in the way, and finally whether I can ever organize my room in a respectable fashion. I think about all of this as I sit at my desk running through a list that numbers in the hundreds. Sometimes just by thinking through all of this, a sense of relief moves through my body. It’s ok, I think, it’s ok.

I think differently. I always have. Occasionally, it bothers me. Especially when people start to admire it. But in the end, all I want is to be me and understood.

Do something that scares you every day

Advice sprouts everywhere now. Not only from the voices of friends and family. But everywhere we touch. Facebook. Twitter. Texts from friends. Pinterest posts. Blog posts. Advertisements. Billboards.

It may seem overwhelming, because…it is.

But what I have discovered that has helped me the most in life is “do something that scares you every day.”

I am guilty like everyone (perhaps even more so) to shy from anything scary. Caution runs in my veins like blood. As a result, I let myself be coddled for the simplest tasks like asking for directions or finding help in a store. Not that they would be rejection per se, but they increased the uncertainty and vulnerability that I would need to endure. So I carefully stepped with only sure footing as I moved forward.

And yet.

I always felt that it trapped me.

So in the last 10 years, I take those leaps of faith. The only worst thing that can happen is death. Not death, but the definition. But death, which means the end of doing anything more possible. I can recover from rejection, but I can’t recover the state where I can’t produce, can’t pursue, can’t ask, can’t try.

Today, I made a request. The third type of request in the last 4 weeks. The first time, I anxiously stalked the venue round and round until someone forced me to ask why I was there. I was rejected. The second time, I asked and a few days later, I was accepted. The third time, today, I asked with such a wimpy, cowardly opening, but I let my piece speak for itself and I was accepted. It was scary, but now it’s not as scary. Then one day, I would say, hey not scary at all!

Remember parents as they once were

“Did you see the car?” my dad said. “Did you see it?”

Not yet sixteen, I stared over the steering wheel and grumbled that yes I did see the car. That is, the car that was more than 100 feet away from me. Once again, I started sulking as I practiced driving. As a highly sensitive teenager who lacked coordination, any criticism darkened my soul immediately. I hated driving.

One might say that parents criticize because they care. The bit of chub on my belly. The slowness of my driving (my mom). The speed of my driving (my dad). My hope to be a writer. My desire to be a public speaker, a performer on stage. My inability to maintain an organized room and desk. You know, all because my parents didn’t want me to be disappointed.

Of course, like many teenagers, I aged out and figured out my own life. In the more than ten years of my life, I have figured out how I want to live (dessert first), how I drive (make other people drive for me), and how I want to organize my room (I am happy with messy). I matured and understand why my parents said the things they did even though there are moments where I remember the sting of the words.

And the funny thing is that recently as I watched my dad drive a rental car with sixty-seven-year-old eyes with cataracts, I told him my memory of practicing driving while he sat in the passenger seat. I recalled how all those hours in the driver’s seat with a parent in the car were the worst hours in my teenage life. I succeeded in getting a driver’s license (partly because at that time, I believed that a driver’s license was a necessary part of being an American teenager and I had no intention of missing out), yet driving itself was miserable. But as I watched my dad struggle with the backing up and parallel parking, he admitted his guilt from those hours. He didn’t remember exactly what he said, but he did remember the guilt. To my surprise, he apologized. I was stunned and didn’t say anything. At that moment, I wanted to criticize how slow he was driving, nearly 15 mph below the speed limit. The fact that he couldn’t figure out how to shift from R to D, always skipping to P. Or the fact that he lost the ability to parallel park using the sideview mirrors and twisting the wheel at the right time. It might be because he had a rearview camera in his current car and that it came with parallel parking guides, but it was obvious that his age took its toll. When desperation edged in his voice, he pushed open the drivers door to declare defeat, but Chris intervened and calmly coached him through the parking.

“Turn all the way to the left here,” Chris said watching the sideview mirror. “Now, back up. Back up. Back up. Now straighten. Okay. You did it.”

I could only remember my parents as they are and as they have always been.