By Linda Nagata
(cross-posted from Hahví.net)

I stumbled on this Atlantic essay via twitter**: Caring for Your Introvert: The habits and needs of a little-understood group, written by Jonathan Rauch. By the end I was wiping away tears of laughter because so much of it is so true.

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate?

Yes, I’m an introvert. Not a big surprise there, I suspect. Most writers are. I think a lot of people who might otherwise make great writers fail at it because they can’t abide sitting alone for hours on end, day after day. We introverts get pretty twitchy if we don’t get to spend hours alone.

When I decided on a career switch back in 2000, I took up programming for two specific reasons: So I could make lots of money, and not have to talk to anyone. Of course I was wrong on both counts, but hey, it was a plan.

I’m not antisocial. I like going out for drinks, talking to people, hearing what they’re up to. One-on-one and one-on-two situations are great. But where I absolutely flounder is in large groups: cocktail mixers, conventions, that sort of thing.

Conventions! (Cue burst of scary music.) Genre conventions involve multitudes of people all of whom apparently know each other and admire each other, while I know none of them. Combine this with my congenital challenges with facial recognition and my woefully inadequate reading of well-known works in the field, and I become a deer in the headlights, not knowing which way to turn.

The ability of other people to navigate a group astounds me. I’ve been in groups of women in which two will begin talking intimately about a matter of mutual interest within two minutes of being in the same room. Naturally, I’ll assume these women already know each other, only to discover later that they’ve just met and were only making conversation. How do you do that? How do you know what to say that connects you immediately to a perfect stranger? It’s like studying an alien life form.

But I’ll keep up the study, because after all, amongst others is where I live. Just please be understanding if I need to flee back to my cave after a few hours out in the world.

**tweet originated by @julietgrames and retweeted by @innaj

Linda Nagata is the Locus and Nebula award winning author of The Bohr Maker, Vast, and Memory, all available at Book View Cafe. Her latest book The Dread Hammer, is a fast-paced mythic fantasy of love, war, murder, marriage, and fate.




Introverts — 11 Comments

  1. Pingback: Maria Lima » Blog Archive » I’m not an extrovert…but I can fake it

  2. The other thing is that practice does help. If you go to cons regularly, not only do you develop a circle of acquaintance over time, but you do learn the art of diving in and chattering. It is not any different (or more virtuous than) tennis — hitting a conversational ball is just a sport.

  3. What Brenda said. If you approach socializing as a sport, complete with training (mental rehearsing beforehand, thinking about people who might be there, topics that might be covered, etc) then socializing becomes much less stressful.

    For introverted types, killing that little voice in the back of your head that says “They all hate me!” is crucial. Realizing that you’ll occasionally get caught in a backflow of conversational dearth at a party or gathering, and not worrying about it is a hard thing to do, rather like learning to jump a horse over an outdoor event course. But that’s really the key skill to make yourself comfortable with, being in the quiet mode at a party and not looking or acting uncomfortable with it, but going over and politely beginning a new conversation.

    It’s tough. But the best thing to do is to be kind to yourself and not beat yourself up about it. Many people think I’m an extrovert, but in reality…I’m quite introverted. Extrovert behavior is an acquired, conscious skill for me.

  4. Pingback: The life of introverts | Peak Amygdala

  5. Hoo boy that sounds so familiar.

    But it doesn’t address the “so then you go and force yourself, discover you’re having fun, uncork . . .” and realize later you made a total and utter fool of yourself.

    Or maybe I’m the only bozo on that bus.

  6. Ha, Sherwood, I’m with you on that bus. Fortunately, I don’t care nearly so much about that as I used to–one of the benefits of middle age!

    Brenda, Joyce, unfortunately there aren’t exactly con-going options where I live. But at least the Internet makes it so much easier to get to know people.

    Mad, “Fake it till it’s real” is a concept I try to employ!

  7. But it doesn’t address the “so then you go and force yourself, discover you’re having fun, uncork . . .” and realize later you made a total and utter fool of yourself.

    –I have a monthly pass to that bus. And then I realize who was with me at the time, also at the banana daiquiri table (cf Gary Larsen cartoon about Tarzan and his ape friends), check YouTube really really fast, and then calm down.

    Till the next time.

  8. And there’s always the point at which you must realize you had enough company and retreat to the room to recharge.

  9. The other trick is to start out with forgiving venues. I learned to speak in public at a local con, surely the most forgiving venue in the world. Starting out with a high-stakes audience is a recipe for disaster. Who was it — was it Lincoln? who began speechifying with farm animals as his first audience? There are plenty of training-wheel social opportunities, especially for women — knitting circles, church choirs, and so on. If you are with a group of knitters or quilters, your subject matter is right there to hand, and by the time you work through all the ramifications of yarn, fiber, and needles, hours have passed.