Friday, May 17, 2013

Halfway out of my shell

Today I managed to forget my building badge, so I'm more or less chained to my desk. I had tossed my badge on top of my work bag on the passenger seat of my car last night, but on the drive to the train station this morning I decided to make a quick sidetrip for gas (since I was running on fumes) and then when I finally got to the parking garage I rushed to gather my stuff and get out to the platform. The badge of course slid off the top of my workbag, but not into it, so when I grabbed my bag and nothing else, the badge got left behind.

Fortunately I had a few lunches stashed in the office kitchen and I wasn't planning on running any other errands today, so limited freedom of movement is a drag, but not a huge one. I called one of my colleagues to come down to the security office and escort my visitor-badged self up to our suite, and she obliged me. When we got into the elevator together in the lobby, she asked me if I had any big plans for the upcoming holiday weekend, and I said no, because my wife has to work that Saturday and also because we're too wiped out keeping up with the newborn's needs and the other two kids' insanity to plan or do much of anything. And then we got to another floor and some people got off and others got on and my colleague and I were physically separated and our conversation was cut off, before I had a chance to ask her if she had big plans.

I felt bad, which was magnified by my acute awareness that this is probably one of my biggest social challenges, remembering to turn questions back around to the asker. Which is shameful for a functioning adult, but it is a constant struggle. I sometimes enjoy telling people that I was very shy as a child, because the vast majority of people find that impossible to believe, which at least lets me know how far I've come. Nevertheless, I was painfully timid once upon a time, at least with strangers (or really anyone who wasn't a member of my immediate mom-dad-Little-Bro family or a close friend), and to this day all I've done is close the gap somewhat between the ease I feel with people I'm extremely comfortable with and the unease I feel with people I'm not.

My parents were usually willing to let my shyness slide, except for certain cases, e.g. when we would go visit my grandparents, who were lovely people but nevertheless fell under the heading of not being part of my daily life, and therefore just as likely to trigger all these irrational fears that they wouldn't want to hear anything I had to say, wouldn't understand my point of view, &c. &c. But of course my folks would find it distressing that they made the however-many hours trip in the car to get the extended family together, and my grandparents would want to interact with me, and I would defensively refuse. So my parents made it their mission to convince me that my grandparents really did want to hear my voice and that I could talk about anything, because it had nothing to do with what we were talking about and everything to do with simply talking. And slowly but surely that sunk in.

So for a long time, when I started getting a little more confident in myself and a little less intimidated by brand new situations and first impressions and all that, I would allow myself this elated sense of pride for managing something as simple as answering a direct question with a direct answer instead of a nervous shrug, and bonus points if I elaborated on the answer unprompted. Somehow I got stuck in that feedback loop so much that it was years and years before I realized that conversation is not just you-ask-I-answer any more than it's you-ask-I-try-to-disappear. All well and good that I can field a small talk inquiry without freaking the hell out, but so much more socially acceptable to volley you-ask-I-answer-I-ask-you-answer back and forth.

Ah, well. Just another thing to vent about on the blog and then try to work on in the real life, I suppose.

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