I was chatting with a friend (via Facebook) about my propensity for standing in the corner by myself at our social gatherings. She wanted to know why I didn’t interact with the people around me more often.
“Not really my thing,” I wrote back. “Really, Lor is the rock star in the family,” I told her.
” I really don’t perceive that about you”, she said.
“No one becomes a writer because they love being ‘on stage'” was the only response I could think of.
“Touche,” she replied.
The Pathetic Life of the Rock and Roll Singer
The funny thing is, once upon a time, I was the “rock star” in the family. No, really. I was the lead vocalist (!) in a local cover band. For years we played the local bars and casinos. I soaked up comments about my “amazing” voice. Middle-aged women stuck twenty-dollar bills down my shirt and tried to kiss me. For most of a decade, I was a medium-sized fish in a very small pond. So…why the shift in my personality? What happened? Can my personality these days be blamed entirely on my broken brain?
Well, not really. See, here’s the secret – I’ve always suffered from social anxiety. Even when performing for dozens (and, in one notable case, thousands) of people. My wife and my former bandmates will happily regale you with tales of waiting for me to finish throwing up before every single gig for years. Once I was done puking, the show, as they say, could go on.
Even though I eventually got past my audience-fueled nauseau, I never really got any better. I had the coolest job in the world – fronting a rock and roll band. And I hated it. No, seriously. I didn’t hate the job itself, see. But, every night, I would find something to despise about our performance. My vocals were bad. The guitarist had flubbed a solo. The drummer was too loud. Our sound engineer had our PA set up all wrong.
I literally can’t remember a single performance where I came off stage and said: “Man, that was awesome!” I was still terrified of the audience and made sure I judged myself and my bandmates harshly before anyone else ever got a chance to.
It’s Quiet Here In The Corner
Today, I am really not much different. I am terrified that I am a horrible author. (What they call ‘Imposter’s Syndrome‘ in the writing business.) In social situations, I do my best to stay in the corner, to listen at least twice as much as I speak. I am positive that I have nothing valuable to add to the conversation. After all, I know that no one is really interested in anything I have to say anyway.
I drive my friends and loved ones crazy. If you get a couple drinks in me, I suddenly become vivacious, witty, and humorous – I can be the life of the party. “Where,” my relations ask me, “are you hiding that person 99% of the time?”
In the corner. Over here. By the door. It’s quiet here in the corner.
I do my absolute best work one on one. For some reason, I am able to get past my neuroses when I am only dealing with a single person at a time. I find myself full of compassion, empathy, and insight. I really feel like I am making a connection with the person I am speaking to.
Then you add a third person to the mix and it all goes to hell. I immediately retreat and try to listen to everyone else speak to one another. ‘Cause, you know, anxiety.
The Gamer’s Dilemma
So, why is this an issue worth addressing now, you might ask? After all, writing is a perfect outlet for someone like me, right? (And most of my fellow writers/introverts as well.) At the end of the day, I am really just telling myself stories, and writing them down. If I happen to share them with the world at large later, well, I don’t have to be there when they read them, right? (And you should have seen my melt-down when a good friend had me do a reading from Inheritance in front of maybe a dozen people. Hoo, boy.)
Here’s the problem: I happen to love other things beyond writing. And the main one is gaming.
Computer/console gaming is ok for me. Most of the time I simply remain in “Single Player Land.” No problem there, right?
But, as it happens, I am passionately interested in other kinds of gaming. Things like board games. Miniature-based games. Even Collectible Card Games. And those types of games require a very specific element…
My brother (also an introvert) and I have begun discussing ways to jury-rig multiplayer games against one another. He lives a couple hundred miles away, so the logistics are challenging. Maybe leaving a game board set up somewhere 100% of the time then exchanging moves over the phone once a week. Or, possibly, doing miniatures-based games where we will take photos of the game boards and email them to one another, along with our “moves” for the turn.
All this to avoid doing something like heading down to our corner game stores and interacting with the groups of gamers already there. Or even (the horror) inviting other gamers into our homes to play, interacting with other human beings. Who might not like us or something.
The Pain Of Social Friction
Merriam-Webster defines “friction” quite simply as “the rubbing of one body against another.”
However, it then goes on to use the following example: “the friction of sandpaper on wood.”
So, really, friction isn’t about 2 bodies rubbing against one another. It is actually two bodies changing one another by their contact with one another. (Take a look at both the wood and the sandpaper after you’ve rubbed them together to get an idea what I am talking about.)
I think that social anxiety stems from a fear, not of coming into contact with other people, but a fear of being changed by our interactions with them.
What if these hypothetical gamers don’t like me? Will I be compelled to change who I am in order to be liked?
If I don’t change, does that mean that my interactions with other people are actually worthless? That I just glide across the surface of their lives, leaving no trace of myself and picking nothing up from them in return?
Heavy concepts to deal with just to manage to find some folks to play Warhammer or Munchkin with, right?
But they are important things to think about nonetheless. I personally can not interact with someone and be unchanged. And, am I willing to change, all in the name of a few hours of gaming?
So far, probably not. But I think the question is relevant for any interactions at all – whether at Tuesday night Canasta or around the Thanksgiving table. What are we willing to give up in order to socially interact? And what are we willing to accept in return?
We, as humans, are supposedly social above all else.
So why are there those of us, like me, who fear that social interchange more than we fear to be alone?
It bears some thinking about.
I’ll have to consider it right after I figure out how to play Settlers of Catan solo.
Catch you all tomorrow,