Tag Archives: introversion

Good working definition for a neurotic: someone whose Interpretive Faculty is perpetually on overdrive. Observe, gentle reader:

  • Normal person in the car:
    Hey, I know this song. [enjoys, sings along badly]

  • Neurotic in the car:
    Should I turn on my Aphex Twin CD? But I’ve been wondering lately whether I am losing sight of how to appreciate beauty, so maybe listening to Aphex right now will accelerate my already-advanced descent into oversophisticated soullessness! I better listen to Bach. But that will stress me out because I’ll be trying too hard to appreciate it. But it might enrich my interior life and possibly begin to thaw the frozen depths of my dormant humanity! Wait, I’m being crazy, forget this, I’ll just listen to country. But do I actually enjoy country, or will I just be listening to it ironically?

    [Skips around for twenty minutes]

    [Shuts off radio in fit of pique]

    [Bursts into tears]

  • The neurotic mind is capable of freighting any situation, no matter how trivial, with unbearable moral weight. “Moral” because, in the neurotic mind, the moral category is so inflamed and enlarged that it encroaches on every other bit of mental territory. Music choice? Maybe it has some moral elements, but mainly it’s a matter of preference: What do I want to listen to?

    In other words, a neurotic is somebody who has a really hard time knowing what he wants.

    If you’re an introverted neurotic, the most morally fraught questions are often the social ones. Should I go out or stay in? Going out might mean more effort and energy than I’m willing to put forth; or it might force me into a situation where I feel inauthentic; or it might involve tolerating people who make me uncomfortable.

    But staying in might mean loneliness. It might mean an intolerable sense of my own antisocial tendencies. It might mean that those tendencies will, fed by one more weekend spent alone, become so entrenched that my very heart will turn into a bitter, frozen wasteland — total self-enclosure — hell.

    “Whoa, slow down, buddy,” says my hypothetical, hypernormal interlocutor. “It’s not the end of the damn world, you know!”

    Yeah, I know, and I can tell myself that all day long, just like an anorexic person can tell himself that he looks just fine how he is, but it won’t necessarily help.

    I keep a mental list of questions to help myself figure out whether I should go out. I’ve just never made them explicit before. Here they are, best as I can nail them down.

    1. How long has it been?
      When’s the last time I did something social? If I’ve already been alone all day, or even for two days, I might still feel fine, but that doesn’t mean I’ll keep feeling fine. I know my limits, and it’s good to act before I reach those limits.

    2. How long will it be?
      Maybe I don’t feel like going out right now, but when will my next chance be? I’m not such a social butterfly that I have my pick of invitations any night of the week (or weekend), so I have to act prudently. If winter’s coming, you store seeds; if an especially lonely time is on the way, it’s good to store up social interaction.

    3. Do I even like these people?
      Sometimes I’ve put so much pressure on myself to go out, see somebody, DO something, that I’ve ended up spending time with people I don’t even want in my life. That’s not good for me, because I’ll feel rotten and resentful and judgmental and inauthentic. And it’s not fair to them, because I’ll be sending mixed friendship-signals. Sometimes it really is better to stay in, EVEN IF that’s what you already wanted to do.1

    4. Did I make a commitment?
      If you told somebody you’d go, I’ll almost certainly go, even if I don’t feel 100%. This might or might not be a moral issue — some people would argue that saying “Sure, I’ll go” is generally understood as “Sure, I might go” — but I want to be known as somebody who, if he says he’ll do a thing, he does it.

    5. How important is this to them?
      Opting out of a night at the bar is one thing. Opting out of a close friend’s wedding is another. That doesn’t mean you have to go to every wedding you’re invited to; it just means you’re not the center of the universe. Overcoming your own tiredness for somebody else’s sake — even if you have a legitimate need for alone time — can be a great act of love, and no act of love is ever wasted.

    If, even after all that calculus, I still can’t figure it out, sometimes I just ask myself: can I survive the wrong decision? Let’s say there is One Right Decision2 about this Friday night, and say I pick the One Wrong Decision. What will happen — and can I survive it?

    If I stay in when I should’ve gone out, will my heart become a hardened shell overnight? Is it the very last chance that my friends will ever ever ever give me? Will I lose all capacity for human contact and maybe even for human speech, and be reduced to gibbering and grunting?

    Probably, but at least my cats will understand me.

    1 Some of us neurotics have this thing where, if we want to do a thing, it must therefore be the wrong thing to do. This is a lie, but you’d be surprised how powerful a lie it can be.
    2 (But there isn’t.)

The best (according to me) tweets I have twitted over the course of the previous week or so, as a momentary stay against the essential evanescence of twitter.

How ’bout this: The Warrior Catholic wants to interview me. I’m excited. If you don’t know already, I have a deep, mellifluous, exceedingly masculine voice that has been compared to:

  • Butter,
  • Dark velvet, and
  • Vin Diesel.

Some of that is true.

Anyway the interview will be on Sunday, September 16th, at 3pm EST. You can even — whoa — call in with questions. Details for how to listen and how to call in are on the site.

As for everything else: yup, sorry, I haven’t blogged in over a week. It’s not on purpose. I tried to write a post about how an encounter with a jerk who said he was a Zen Buddhist made me think that maybe he better watch it or people will think all Zen Buddhists are jerks, and then how that made me think about how I better watch it or people will think all Catholics are jerks, but that just turned into me thinking about how I’m not actually that much of a jerk.

So I decided to save writing that post for later, when I have become humble. It might be a while.

Meantime, I am not being silent on purpose; it’s just that my poor introverted life has been flooded lately with seeing people and doing things with them. Imagine my surprise to discover that I have been enjoying it. More as soon as I have something worth saying. Peace.

The move was successful and I am officially installed in a humongous house, with two other people. They are young ‘uns, not long out of college, but I believe we’ll get along, as long as I have a bedroom (and even an attic, woohoo!) to disappear to if need be. And oh my goodness I thought I was a geek: these are people who actually discuss KEPLER at the DINNER TABLE and make JOKES about AUGUSTINE.1

After living by myself for a year, having people around is — meh? I’m not sure yet. It’s like the first time I tasted cilantro: it took a minute before I could figure out what it tasted like, much less whether I liked it.

Part of the strangeness is that, when I was by myself, I gradually developed a schedule with two main ends in mind: to use my time well, and to keep from getting too lonely. Most of my days went something like this: Mass, work, exercise, eat, write, sleep. Not a bad schedule, and I got all the socialization I wanted on weekends and the odd weeknight out, but my time mostly came in well-defined blocks, not well-suited to interruption. Is that a defense mechanism, or is it just regular old self-discipline like grownups are supposed to do?

And then there’s the whole SSA thing, although it’s not as big a deal as you would think. For one thing these dudes are not my type. For another, I tend to be attracted to men I want to be, and these guys are nice enough, but who wants to be a recent college graduate? I’m like my mother — when people say “I wish I was 17 again,” her reaction is to (at least internally) recoil in horror. Again, the nice part about being lost and confused for most of the first part of your life is that the latter part feels like vacation.

It might be tricky explaining what the deuce I am doing by myself on the computer all the time. (It’s not what you think! I’m doing the opposite of looking at porn!) I don’t want to seem even more antisocial than I actually am. When one of them asked, I told him something vague about a writing project, but I’m hoping he won’t be insistent about seeing it.

It’s not even that I’d mind them knowing — I don’t think I’m rationalizing when I say that I don’t want them to be uncomfortable, which I believe they would be. Don’t know if either of them have ever (consciously) known a real live homo, and I’m not about to be all I’m-here-I’m-queer just to teach them tolerance. And if I had been going to do a full disclosure, the fairest thing would have been to do it before bringing in my uhaul full of junk.

Well. It is getting late, and this old man is going to bed. Peace out.

1 I’m giving myself away. I bet you fellow denizens of the Catholic ghetto know exactly which college they graduated from.

Welp, I managed to host another party. This one was to say goodbye to my apartment, since I’ll be moving out this Feb. I had TWENTY people over.1 I was planning to do the good host thing when each person came: take the coat, get them a drink, get them talking to somebody, then wait for the next one.

Instead, since everybody was fashionably late by almost exactly the same amount of time, they all descended on my apt. within about fifteen minutes of each other. So I started going “Have you met Dave? Can I get you a beer? Let me take your coat! DO YOU WANT SOME CHILI??”, which is not so much welcoming as overwhelming, and pretty soon I was so confused that I just started introducing people to their beers, shoving their coats into the chili pot, and pushing them bodily into the hall closet.

No, but seriously, after I settled down a little, I noticed that everyone was talking to everyone else WITHOUT MY HELP. Phew. So I narrowly avoided the trap of overhosting, and just had a good time. I was also pleased when the neighbors not only stopped by but stayed a few hours, and proved not to be too cool for my geeky friends, nor too heathenish for my Christian friends.2 And everybody had the good sense to leave by about 2:00, which is a lot better than last time.

Throw in a Baptism for my new niece, a nice chat with my father, and an (admittedly sort of lucky)3 win for the Pats and that makes a pretty good weekend.

So, hey, not to brag too much, but if you’re the sort of person who would prefer (1) swimming with sharks, (2) hara kiri, or (3) both, simultaneously, to actually (4) being in a room with a bunch of other people who want to make SMALL TALK — it does get better with practice, like almost anything else.

1 Not that I counted them up by name just now because I secretly believe there is a direct correlation between the number of guests who will come to my party and my coolness. Nope, nothing like that.
2 if A = {My geeky friends} and B = {My Christian friends}, then
A ∪ B = {Pretty much all my friends},
A ∩ B = {Most of my best friends}, and
{The neighbors} ⊂ (A ∪ B)’.

3 Not that they didn’t fight hard, it’s just that, dude, I could’ve made that field goal. (Nope.) I just hope nobody lynches poor Billy Cundiff.

I love being alone, and I hate it. Am I a natural introvert, or a thwarted extrovert?

I spent all Sunday by myself. Some people would envy the pants off me for that — I’m thinking again of my married siblings. I know they love their kids and love spending time with them, but I know from my years as a teacher that being surrounded, all day long, by little people who need things, makes you crazy.

I enjoyed my day. I coded, watched a bit of Netflix, wrote, did laundry, accidentally deleted my blog, resurrected it again, spent some time tweaking it. Is it weird that I enjoyed a day like that? Is it normal? Is there anything called normal? Is it selfish or pathological or just okay?

Sometimes I feel guilty for spending too much time alone, like I’m feeding a tendency in myself that I should be trying to starve. But I played poker on Friday, and went out with friends for drinks and a movie on Sunday, so I rewarded myself with a day of total hermitage.

If I ever spend a whole weekend alone, it’s too much, and I get depressed. But even then, I can’t tell whether I feel crappy because I want people around me, or because I feel like I ought to want them.

I come by it honestly, by the way. My mother’s never been comfortable in social situations, and as for my father, he’s been known to leave by the back window — freaking literally — when company is coming. And I can dig that.

Ever seen Punch Drunk Love? It’s one of my favorite movies. Adam Sandler plays his usual emotionally-stunted, self-absorbed man-child, but with a tragic accent: he’s alone, miserable, has no idea how to act around people but no idea how to be by himself either.

Maybe my favorite line is this: “I don’t know if there’s anything wrong, because I don’t know how other people are.”

Yeah, I dig that too. My older sister once knew a girl with severe Asperger’s, who went around wearing strange, medieval-looking clothes and bringing people cookies in a basket. My sister says: There’s someone who got the chance to build herself from the ground up, without wondering whether her life fit anybody else’s patterns.

Which is a good thing, right? But it’s a fine line. Americans make a mantra out of self-determination; Caring What Other People Think is one of the few universally-recognized sins of the 21st century. But it can go too far, no? If I let my idiosyncracies run wild, I think I’d barely even be human. I’d go live in a cave somewhere.

As long as the cave had wifi and coffee and cigarettes.

Post-party blues. I had more than twenty people over last night, and all I’ve got to show for it is a kitchen floor covered in beery footprints — someone brought a keg?! — and a pantry full of tortilla fragments and mostly-empties.

It was fun, which frankly sort of surprised me. For someone who used to be scared of going to parties at all — or really even just talking to people in general — hosting one is kind of an achievement. I spent a good part of the day cleaning up, buying supplies, and just generally fretting.

But! Everyone had a good time, nobody got drunk enough to be sick, and nobody seemed to be skulking around in the shadows and feeling left out. I got to play the good host, going from group to group, making sure everyone had a drink, providing blankets and couches for the unfit-to-drive. I was proud of myself.

I wasn’t quite prepared for the letdown afterwards, though, and I admit that I spent a good part of today being lazy and watching too many episodes of Angel, just trying to adjust to the place being empty again.

So, things learned from my first hosting experience: (1) If every time someone asks what they can bring you say “beer”, that will probably be too much beer. (2) Guests are not always adept enough in body language to pick up on the universal symbol for “I’m enjoying your company tremendously but I would enjoy falling asleep before dawn EVEN MORE.” (3) Just because it’s a party full of nice Catholic people doesn’t mean nobody’s beard will get set on fire.1

I think I might be too tired to have a point.

1 Not mine.