The whole “introverts vs. extroverts” thing got a lot of play on Facebook a few months back. Lists and memes appeared in my feed for weeks, sifting everyone into two camps and making hay over their differences. You remember.
Introverts shuffle; extroverts do the hustle. Introverts are morlocks, extroverts are unicorns. Introverts murder with poison; extroverts use a chainsaw. Etc, etc.
It was minor fun. Some points rang true, some oversimplified things.
But for my particular brand of introversion, those lists missed the mark. For me, the key point is simply this:
Most of the time, I’m not here.
Let me give you an example.
I ordered a steak last year.
It was at a friend’s informal birthday dinner. I rarely eat steak, but the restaurant had a reputation for them, so I decided to splurge.
After I had gobbled a few bites, the server swung by and asked how everything was. I pointed at the plate. “This is amazing.”
She smiled and nodded. “It’s got that good char on it, right?”
The words sounded like magic to me. I repeated them back to her with unfocused eyes and mouth hanging open. “Good char.”
She stared at me; I stared at her. In the seven seconds it took her to realize I was excessively weird and leave, I decided I absolutely had to write a story about human sacrifice. Human sacrifice involving fire.
By the time I finished the steak, I had the first act in my head. Before we ordered desert, I knew the ending. And while we waited for the check, I filled out the rest.
Maybe the others tried to engage me in conversation. I don’t know. If so, I likely replied with generic responses chosen terminator-style from a mental list that shields me from real human interaction.
Auto Social Response Options:
- That’s wonderful news!
- That’s terrible news.
- This weather is really something.
- Your hairstyle complements your facial structure.
So there you have it. I went out for my friend’s dinner, stared into space, and wrote a story. I remember nothing else about the night. This doesn’t mean the story I came up with was good (oh no, it definitely does not mean that), but it illustrates my special brand of introversion.
I simply wasn’t there.
If you walked up and spoke to me right now, I wouldn’t be here either.
People get frustrated with me. It’s a valid reaction. But they may not understand the mechanics of the daydreaming introvert; especially not one of my pathology caliber. “Weren’t you paying attention?” they ask. “Paying attention?” I say. “I was in the FUTURE just now. They were trying to put a chip in my brain. I barely got out of there alive! Don’t you understand how much concentration that takes?”
I couldn’t guess how many times I’ve stood in silence at a party, trying and failing to think of something to say in a group conversation. I’m a writer; I should be able to manage an interesting quip.
So I focus hard, squeeze my brain, and finally come up with the perfect line—only to discover the party ended hours ago.
And then I realize the whole party was imaginary.
Sometimes I think the external world is like a massive Rorschach test designed to reveal introverts. Lay me down with a friend in a field underneath the clouds, and you might get something like this:
Friend: That cloud looks like a horse. What do you think?
Me: Cloud? What cloud?
Friend: In the sky above us. We’re looking at clouds right now.
Me: Sky? Huh?
Friend: Dude, where are you?
Me: You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.
(*author note: I’ve never laid down in a field and stared at clouds. I’m open to trying it out.)
I’m fairly sure the concept of astral projection was concocted by introverts as an excuse to space out during dinner parties.
So to anyone who has ever tried to hold a conversation with me, only to watch my eyes unfocus and refocus on something that isn’t there—I’m sorry. Family, friends, coworkers… you know what I’m talking about.
If it’s any consolation, the fictional scenario playing out over your shoulder is amazing. If you could see it, it would consume your attention, too.
I like real human beings. I truly do. Once a month or so, a conversation with a physical person can be refreshing. It reminds me I’m alive and not just an amalgam of thoughts and stories and images.
But real humans have serious competition. I don’t encourage that competition; it just appears to me. I’m able to put some of it on the page, thank goodness, but just a tiny fraction.
So if you see me at a party, staring at absolutely nothing, feel free to give me a nudge and say hi. I’ll do my best to give a coherent response.
Just understand that I had to travel worlds to do so.