If anyone had asked me before I became a writer, I would have immediately marked myself as an introvert. I liked my quiet time, being alone, and going inside my own head.
I still do, for the record. I am definitely have an introverted streak and I like to refer to myself as “running out of people minutes” or having “peopled too much” when I’m ready to go off somewhere for a little peace and quiet.
Then I started writing in restaurants, learned that the best stories come from listening and talking to other people, and now I feel bad if I don’t socialize at least a bit every day.
Humans are a social species. We are not built for complete isolation. Enjoying being alone is one thing… but no human is meant to be lonely.
In her work, Dr. Brene Brown defines shame as “feeling unworthy of love and of being connected with.” We crave connection, regardless of how we get it- substances, sports, clubs, religions, “belonging,” or “fitting in” (two VERY different things there).
Being able to enjoy your own company is a really important thing. Being able to sit and take time by yourself, knowing yourself without the influence of those around you- yourself AS yourself- is a seriously underrated ability. After all, if you don’t know who YOU are, the world will be happy to tell you what it thinks you are.
Storytelling, though, necessitates connection. It requires, fosters, and nurtures it. If I am to be a writer- to tell people stories about their world and to help others tell theirs- I needed to go where people are and listen. I needed to connect, listen, and learn- and despite my best attempts, I learned to enjoy it.
As I write this, I’m sitting near Tom’s food truck again. I’ve had some of his Monte Cristo egg rolls, a beer on the warm cloudy afternoon, and a cappuccino from my friend Billy to stave off the seemingly rampant drowsiness. Billy and his wife Casey are chatting back and forth with customers, and I’m popping my head up occasionally like a prairie dog when it seems like something has happened.
“Everyone’s feeling tired today,” Billy says as he keeps one eye on his coffee cart and smokes a cigarette, sipping a Michelada. The irony of the coffee guy feeling drowsy is not lost on us. Tom’s slinging food in his truck, headphones in, slinging food in his own world. Being a cook and chef for so long, you inevitably learn to shut out the outside world and get your own work done while simultaneously keeping an ear out.
That’s everyone I know here though. Others are eating lunch or reading books with a beer. Casey is putting away the chess game a couple got up from and never came back, and Bob Dylan is playing on the stereo. Generally good afternoon drinking music.
That’s outside. Inside, I’m aware that I told myself I’d cut down my drinking so the beer in front of me is #2 of the three I’m allowing myself on days off. I’m writing this blog post, aware that I will need to adjust my posting schedule as my work schedule changes, but off to the left is a notebook for a project that I’m finally feeling inspired to pick up again. Emily and my therapist have both been urging me toward it, but I’m not ready to do anything with it yet beyond dumping ideas on a page.
“You’ve been thinking about it for a while now,” Casey says as she poured the second beer. “You’ve had these ideas for a while. Getting them down on paper is a good step, and knowing you have folks supporting you is huge.” She’s right, but I don’t want to move on anything before I’ve really thought it out and set goals for myself. I’ve gone in to something like this half-cocked before, and I’m not eager to repeat the lesson.
I either do my best writing out at bars and restaurants, or I get nothing written at all. My desire to engage with the world or just absorb it makes all the difference of whether I am writing in the moment or coming home to somewhere quiet and biting my tongue before I start each blog post with “So I was out the other day and was talking to…”
A while back, my old creative writing teacher noted that he wrote best outside, but could only edit at home. That makes a lot of sense to me. Editing requires me to focus first of all. It also requires listening to my own words and making sure I’m telling things correctly. Yeah I’ll read it off to others afterwards, but the editing process is probably the loneliest, most intensely isolating part of writing to me if just because ANYTIME you are reaching out to others for help, you are soliciting criticism. Definitely not a bad thing, but few people really enjoy reaching out to others specifically to hear “You messed this up, this is wrong, this is unclear.”
That’s writing. Baking- and especially selling my work- has revealed a different sort of connection I enjoy. Until very lately, my boss has been sending me to farmers markets to sell our wares. Meeting people, hearing their stories, their likes and dislikes, and yes- selling them pie- has proven to be more fun than I expected. I really don’t think of myself as a salesman, so the idea that I was actually good at selling my pies and could enjoy the experience caught me off-guard.
Besides being actually knowledgeable about the products (because being the guy that makes them helps) being excited about them gets customers interested and excited too. I’ve told my boss that I’m less a salesman and more an evangelist, spreading the Good News of Tasty Pies. It can be frustrating and tiring. The emotional labor of putting on a big smile regardless off how one feels DOES take a toll, but the experience is fun all the same. Being known at the markets as “Matt the Pie Guy” is a hell of a bonus too.
When you grow up with glasses, braces, and a stammer, becoming an introvert is practically expected. You become afraid of opening yourself up to others for fear of scorn and rejection. You learn to enjoy your own company out of necessity. There’s nothing wrong with it, and being able to stand your own company without endless distraction is an impressive quality to have.
No one is meant to isolate forever. Despite our best efforts to keep ourselves walled off and impervious, we need to connect with others or deny one of the critical aspects of our humanity. We don’t always need to stay circled around our campfires, but we always need to know where the nearest friendly one is.