Sunday, November 11, 2012
"You really think you are an introvert?" My student looks skeptical. Compared to her, I spend so much more time interacting with others. She doesn't realize how much time I spend alone, at home, reading, writing, computing. How much time I spend meditating, all in order to restore myself for more social interactions.
As part of the Wisconsin Book Festival, I spent Thursday night out for dinner and drinks with a few other queer writers. We were needing to eat, yes, but also celebrating our successful event (Losing Gender at Room of One's Own) and getting to know one another a bit better. Quite a few of us are out, not just in terms of gender/sexuality, but also "out and about" - people on the town, well-known, etc. I was surprised to hear that one of the people at the table, easily the most public, is intensely introverted and has social anxiety about interactions in public.
We discussed intimate social interaction (like my small 6-8 person writing classes) versus clubs/parties/bars. We discussed social anxiety, shame and how to get enough alone time without becoming isolated. It was a bit of a revelation for me that would prove very important in the next few days.
Friday morning I woke at 7am, was at WORT by 8am to be on 8 o'clock buzz, a Madison what's-happening show. After that, I and the co-editor of Trans-Kin, Cameron, ran over to the Overture Center, where we presented to sessions of "Trans 101" to high school kids as a part of High School Friday. I teach college and junior high kids, not high school aged kids. I'd only ever spoken publicly about having a trans wife (in fact have written very little here about it) for the first time the night before, and now I was going to teach a hundred or so high school kids about it and face their questions.
Talk about anxiety.
All my students know about my own sexuality and my wife's gender - I write about it, and share my writing about it, all the time. But I share those things as a writer. Intimate. Quiet. Protected. Process-oriented. And now I was being introduced as an author: Public. Speaking Out (literally). Open to Criticism. The night before had gone well - lots of great questions and good bonding with the other queer authors. But scary as hell, and my nerves were still shot.
The sessions with the kids went great, wonderful, in fact. They asked good questions and were respectful. They were clearly grateful - would have liked twice the time together. But by the time I was done with the second session, clearly any of my concepts about attending more of the book fest that day were shot. I needed to go. Home. I needed quiet, lots of it, and space. To not speak. To not listen.
This isn't unusual for me. My wife is used to asking if I need silence after classes or weekend workshops. She's generally chattier than I am, though, ironically, she is more introverted. Because she spends less time with others, time with me is more social. I love talking with her. Just not all the time.
I remained shot into Friday night, missing an event I wanted to attend. Oh well, I thought, I'll perk up tomorrow and go to a bunch of things.
But I didn't.
I needed more silence, still. Reading time. Walking time. Writing time. I needed to spend, it seemed, a day being a writer to make up for my 24 hours being an author for the first time. I've been a poet before, but poets who are writing and poets who are published and reading their poetry are both poets. Yes, I find the processes different. But not as different as this.
It is the personal content on top of prose, which I am less familiar with presenting? Is it memoir and re-coming-out as queer in a new way? Or is it me finally figuring out that I am in fact, much more introverted than I realized?
This morning, as I introduce someone at the Wisconsin Book Festival, I pick up a copy of Susan Cain's Quiet. I have heard about this book from a lot of folks. Something in me says "You need to read this book." And my student walks by just as I am buying it, wondering if I really qualify.
"Yes," I replied, "I do. I am. You wouldn't know it - I'm so good at hiding it that I didn't even realize it fully myself until this week. But I am."
As I - hopefully - become more of an author (published) in addition to being a writer, let's hope I keep in touch with these same needs. Like any paradox, I can balance both, but only if I recognize them fully.