Sunday, July 17, 2011

Here's the Problem: A Warning

I've been thinking about this post for a while, and I had decided to abandon it, because it's the sort of thing that could potentially humiliate me. The nice thing about this blog is that I write it, so I'm able to control how I appear through what I write, and because I don't typically ever meet my blog readers, you are all none the wiser. I put a few pretty words together to give the impression of cleverness and think, ah, I've fooled them again.

But I don't reckon that's fair. Although I'm careful for the most part about what I share, I do pride myself on my honesty, so I've decided to admit to something I am not the least bit proud of. And in case you're tempted to offer it as a suggestion, please keep in mind I am already in therapy (although my therapist totally says I'm functional now, so there).

With that in mind, here's the post. Please feel free to laugh.

I was thinking about things the other day (I do that sometimes), and I decided that I sort of wish I had never mentioned that I'm going to be teaching a class at the FSA conference in August. Not because I'm not excited about it, or because I think I'm going to do poorly. I regret it because now people know, and several of them have said they want to come hear me speak.

I don't have a problem with public speaking. If I had a topic and a few minutes to prepare, I think I could comfortably address the United Nations. The problem is that after I speak, or maybe before, people are going to want to talk to me. Public speaking? Check. Social interaction? Um ... no.

Ladies and gents, I am Lord Mayor of Awkwardtown. I don't know how I was elected or why, and I'm not sure what's wrong with me. I've decided to blame it on high school. All those years ago, when everyone else was out socializing and learning how to interact with people, I was locked in my bedroom reading French existentialist philosophy and listening to The Cure. So now most of society knows when it's polite to make eye contact or smile at someone or exchange pleasantries, and I'm stuck thinking things like, "I smiled at her earlier and said hello. Should I smile again? Should I say hello again? If I do will she think I don't remember our exchange from earlier?" And by then, whoever I should have interacted with will have walked past and seen me looking thoughtfully bemused, which unfortunately comes across to most people as disgruntled or dyspeptic.

I work at a rather large library with around thirty other people, and every single workday my mind races - how many times do I smile and say hello? Was that a courtesy "how are you" or does he expect an answer? Do people think I'm pedantic for saying I'm doing "well" instead of "good" like everyone else? How long do I hold eye contact? (I read somewhere that too much is unsettling and you should focus on other parts of the face near the eyes for the count of seven each - seven seconds on the forehead, the cheeks, et cetera. But what if my lips move while I count? How do I explain that one?) How was that social smile, because it felt to me like I was accidentally imitating this angry chimp I saw on TV who bared his teeth as a sign of aggression. Do other people know that most other primates show their teeth as a sign of aggression and not cheer? Do other people think about that when they give social smiles?

Most importantly, can people tell by the look in my eyes that even though I'm smiling at them I'm actually thinking of a television program about chimpanzees that I watched in 1998?

And then there's physical contact. Oh, man. Don't even get me started. I've mentioned before that I give awkward hugs. I can't tell you how many hours I've wasted wishing I lived someplace like Japan where people don't even shake hands as a general rule, they bow (or at least that's what popular culture has led me to believe). Instead, I live in America, where sometimes people like to hug. I think part of my difficulty in hugging comes from the fact that I used to have a weight problem. The weight is gone but the awkwardness is residual. Even though I'm not a heifer anymore, I'm not exactly willowy, and it seems like very often the person who wants to hug me is rather lithe, and I feel like Jack Black with David Letterman's hands. We'll hug and I think, is this how narrow a woman's shoulders are supposed to be, and if so how come I ended up with my pipefitter grandfather's supraclavicular muscles? She must think I'm a tank. She must think I have to shop at a men's big and tall store for shirts. Not to mention, I'm always afraid people's hands are going to land on a particularly flabby patch of back, despite having relatively few of those now.

And where do I put my hands in a hug? What if I accidentally touch someone where they don't want to be touched? How long should a social hug last? How can you tell whose arms should go on top? What if the other person is going for a side hug and you go full-frontal? How tight should a hug be, and how close? What if my deodorant isn't as powerful as the brand's ad campaign led me to believe? What if my shampoo doesn't smell as good as I think it does? What if the other person's jewelry gets stuck in my hair? (You laugh, but that's happened more than once.) What if my clothes smell more like work than Woolite?

There are days where I think if someone reaches out to hug me I might just shriek and run in the opposite direction.

And then, as if physical contact weren't bad enough, people want to talk. I like to talk as a general rule. I think I'm pretty good at it. But I'm best at it when it's one-sided. Conversation is much trickier. I'm not nearly as clever with words in conversation. I tend to get nervous, for openers, and nerves make me stutter. No, not the typical, almost charming stutter that Colin Firth affected in "The King's Speech." Mine is more of a parade of ums and uhs and other random nonsense syllables with which I intended to begin words when I started out. And even when I can get words out, the letters those words are made of don't form the proper alliances. They get knotted. I end up spouting things like "Creen Queek" instead of Queen Creek. My nervous conversation is a stream of the world's least funny Spoonerisms.

It would be tolerable if I were unaware of it. But I am overly aware of it to the point that I am often unaware of anything else. Sometimes I'll recall an exchange and think, it's really a wonder I ever ended up pregnant.

Have I scared you off yet? You may be tempted to follow my lead on the whole running-off-screaming thing.

I'm not saying I don't want to meet any of you. I would love to meet any of you who go to the FSA conference, I absolutely would. I'm making the 12 hour drive and I'm almost never in Utah, so we may as well say hello. But consider yourselves warned. I may end up looking at your hair and counting instead of making eye contact, I'll ask if you had a "drong live" to the conference, my social smiles could incite chimp riots, and I have abnormally well-developed deltoids.

But you know what? My presentation is going to rock.


MrsPerrbear said...

I love this post. I think a lot about these type of things too...I've just never sat down and wrote them out. Maybe I will for fun.

I won't make it to the big conference, but I will be at the one in November here, and if you're there, be prepared. I am going to spider monkey hug you, and may even lick your face, just for all the times in the last year you've made me laugh, cry, or think. And then you can see me the whole rest of the weekend and think "Why does she keep giggling like she's going to attack me?" LOL. Totally teasing...or am I? We'll see soon! Thanks for anothe happy thought. ;)

Cami said...

This is the first time that I have been to your blog and I was laughing out loud. I felt like you were in the room with me. When I read these types of posts it continues to excite me about adoption.

I loved looking through your "Birth Mom Friends." If I can be blessed through adoption such as this, what more can I ask for in life?

Thanks for your perspective,
Cami (

Shian said...

You remind me of my mom :) This sounds like our typical Sunday walk conversation. I have never talked to you in person, but if it's any comfort, I know from my experience with my mom it's never as bad as she thinks it is. Good luck on your presentation! I don't know if I'll be at the conference yet or not. It fell on a busy weekend for me.

~kamie~ said...

Ha ha ha. I could have written this post. I often remain invisible to avoid such interactions. No awkward hugs from me, no social small chat. Just awkward sarcasm and jokes that no one gets. Yep. That's me. The girl version of Chandler.

I have actually been quite worried myself that I told you I would be at the conference. And everyone else I told. True story. My husband doesn't get me. :)