I never really thought of myself as an introvert or an extrovert until recently. I’ve always been fine speaking in front of groups, going out to parties, and being generally festive, as well as hibernating at home with my books and movies. I have always liked a balance of both.
It wasn’t until I started staying home and having hours and hours of alone time that I really noticed it, the pronounced reluctance to leave the house, to engage with humanity. Given the choice, I’d rather be in my PJs and snuggly blankets. I’m not a big people person. I like quiet. When I’m sad, I don’t want to be around others. When I do spend time around people, I’m exhausted afterwards and need some serious downtime to recover.
Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with friends, laughing and playing Cards Against Humanity, but I never crave human interaction (unless you’re going to play with my hair, because I love that – but just people I know – I don’t want strangers touching my hair – this has become an oddly creepy tangent). Sometimes I think I’d be blissfully happy living hermit-like in the wilderness as long as I had access to the internet.
When I do venture out, I am having fun, I like making new friends. I have an all around great time while I’m out there. But I’ll still need recovery time, like a hotel room to myself, or a few days at home binge-watching my DVR backlog.
If I’m going somewhere I don’t know many people, I get anxious. I’ve been know to tipple at the teat of liquid courage (moderately, of course). Small talk is my ultimate downfall. If I don’t know someone, I never know what to say to get a conversation started, and I’m inevitably left fumbling awkwardly with an empty water bottle before faking a need for escape. For example, last year at the Midwest Writer’s Workshop, Daniel Jose Older stopped by our hotel room party. I was in such awe of him, I could barely string together two words. What on earth could I say that would interest this straight-up cool author who had seen so much? So I awkwardly escaped to the bathroom, praying I hadn’t seemed rude.
To avoid future social blunders, I try to keep a few questions in my back pocket, like “what types of books do you like to read?” or “where do you like go for vacation?” Sure these are lame questions, but it’s a start. With any luck, it will lead to more questions, and maybe a new friend.
I know a lot of other writers are in the same situation, and knowing that helps, too. Conferences and book festivals are not the natural habitat for us. We’re solitary creatures. So, dear reader, if you find yourself trying to make small talk, pull out your emergency questions. At the very least, we can always talk about books.