it’s rather dry this time of year, isn’t it

Gagging on small talk was a common pastime we could not help but engage in, having never learned as small children how to talk to other people. Choking on dry word-chunks about the weather and idle chitchat regarding weekend plans was the norm. In the awkward silences mushrooming between ill-formed non sequiturs one would contemplate one’s fingernails with intensity. Perhaps the geometrically pleasing pattern in the kitchen tile would draw one’s eye and immediately become the single most important focal point in the room. Anything to prevent dwelling on the brainless statement that just dribbled out of one’s mouth 10 seconds earlier, now still hovering with impunity in the air, each second since feeling like an hour complete with all the attendant mental self-talk that typically fills such a length of time, only compressed into a single second, so like, really rapid-fire, and as a result significantly more debilitating. Maybe I will just stand here feigning rapt attention as I read every single package label in this entire snack machine, one of us considered, hoping against hope that during that excruciating length of time the room would empty itself of other humans. Another clung to a particularly adept small talker in the room, desperately hanging on each of the talker’s meaningless words, the line of thinking being that this human life preserver could certainly keep one afloat if one seemed really interested in the inane prattle issuing forth from its word-hole. Who would dare turn away from such a loyal audience at the risk of being outdone by some other babbler in the room. Who, indeed, I whispered to no one in particular as I slunk silently out the door, avoiding all eye contact throughout my quick and surreptitious departure, my soundless footfalls rapidly and confidently transporting me closer to solitudinous freedom.

bruno schulz and the need for connections

“Recently, I have been calling almost daily at the office. It sometimes happens that someone is sick and they allow me to work in his place. Or somebody has something urgent to do in town and lets me deputize for him. Unfortunately, this is not regular work. It is pleasant to have, even for a few hours, a chair of one’s own with a leather cushion, one’s own rulers, pencils, and pens. It is pleasant to run into or even be rebuked by one’s fellow workers. Someone addresses you, makes a joke, pulls your leg, and you blossom forth for a moment. You rub against somebody, attach your homelessness and nothingness to something alive and warm. The other person walks away and does not feel your burden, does not notice that he is carrying you on his shoulders, that like a parasite you cling momentarily to his life…”

Bruno Schulz, “The Old Age Pensioner” in Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass

quiet person day

Today (i.e. whatever day you’re reading this) is the day when we celebrate the quiet person. The quiet person among us is often overlooked and even scorned. This occurs for many reasons, all of which are rooted in the very nature of being quiet. Quietness can be interpreted as a supernatural state. This has caused problems for certain quiet people. Back in the day, the quiet person was often suspected of witchcraft and either burned or crushed to death under large boulders. Throughout history, quiet people have been perceived as oracles, goddesses, world-creators, world-destroyers, saints, sinners, aliens, demons, angels, lunatics, et cetera. An urge to fear the quiet person presents itself. The quiet person rarely speaks unless spoken to. What is going on in their heads. How menacing. Some people think this means the quiet person is a snob. In fact, often a quiet person will open up like a rare flower (e.g., an orchid) when spoken to. Or the quiet person will simply wilt into a pile of rotting organic matter. You’ll never know which unless you try.

Some people think the quiet person has no opinions, but get that person alone and look out! You will not believe the endless stream of words flowing forth from the quiet person. You may wish you had never engaged the quiet person in conversation. At times during this ‘conversation’, it may seem like the quiet person has been possessed by some manic force. When will this person ever shut up, you may find yourself wondering, I can’t get a word in edgewise. However, the quiet person is usually smart and insightful (if you have the right decoder ring), leading you instead to wish you’d not previously overlooked this person. In fact, you may wish you could bottle the quiet person’s wisdom and keep it with you at all times, so that you could take it out when needed and breathe deeply of its essence. Too bad for you that is not possible (yet). Besides, that’s just being greedy! It’s not your place to package the quiet person into a commodity to be bought and sold on the open marketplace, you capitalist bastard. The quiet person will resist the tyranny of your economic systems!

Unfortunately, the quiet person can be perceived as ‘creepy’ or ‘weird’ due to an inherent tendency to hang back and observe instead of participate in whatever inane activity the non-quiet people are currently engaged in. This is blatant discrimination. Quiet people are not all serial killers. It’s unfortunate that the description ‘seemed nice, kind of quiet, kept to her/himself‘ can apply to both sociopaths and non-murderous quiet people. Being quiet carries a heavy stigma, whether the loudmouths among us realize it or not. So step off, fools.

To help celebrate this important day, here are a few helpful suggestions on how to honor the quiet people in your life:

1. Leave them alone. (Can’t go wrong with this one, folks.)

2. Smile and nod at them in tacit approval of their right to remain silent.

3. Refrain from ‘volunteering’ them for public speaking.

4. Do not suggest that they ‘mingle’. They’re leaning against that wall for a reason.

5. Excuse them from any ‘icebreakers’  or other forms of forced socializing (see #4 above).

6. Learn to read minds so that they are not forced to articulate their thoughts.

7. Stop asking them to speak up all the time. Instead consider buying yourself hearing aids.

8. Engage in a ‘not-talking’ contest with them. (And don’t be a sore loser, chatterbox.)

9. Invite them to a mime performance.

10. Do not assume their quietness equates to a dislike for you.

anonymity in the city

Last night I was reminded of how anonymous I have become again.  When I think about my time in this city, I almost see myself split into two separate people.  I used to go out a lot, and as a result, I was recognized.  I also volunteered somewhere that elevated my public profile even more.  Then I withdrew, at first gradually, but then altogether.  I embraced my inner hermit; I returned to the reclusive life that has always been my safe place.  Even before this latter shift occurred, though, I wrestled with which persona was true.  At the time, someone who knows me well also observed that all this social activity seemed unlike me.  I am by nature a quiet and reticent person.  However, I do enjoy going out and being around people.  It’s just that I’ve never been able to strike the proper balance.  I overindulge in socializing and then abruptly overcompensate by retreating into my shell.  I’ve been on this perpetual teeter-totter of extreme behavior for much of my adult life.  It’s nothing new, but every once in a while I receive some abrupt reminder of the gaping schism between these two personas.  In response, I try analyzing myself all over again.  But I never find any answers.

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