Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Mind Games People Play

One of the things people have talked about over the decades is that silence is akin to agreement. “If you didn’t stand up and oppose the Nazis you may as well have joined them.” I’m sure we’ve all heard some variation on that.

And I’m sure we’ve all met the odd person who loves to mindfuck others. I mean, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I appreciate making a loaded statement and watching how people will cope with it. It goes back to knowing so many people who will try so hard to skirt the subject that they use a lot of words to say nothing. I guess trying to be polite will produce that. With some people I really like but don’t know well I’ll try to be more careful with my phrasing, so there isn’t a misunderstanding.

But often, it seems both the lack of words or the abundance of them contribute at the very least to misunderstandings.

Emails, blog posts, comments on listservs and forums… It’s all a bit of a bitch, really. Nobody can see the twinkle in the eye, the smile tugging at the mouth. I know I’ve said the odd thing people have taken me to task for being a smartass over, when what I actually said was born out of sincere affection.

Maybe I’m just hopelessly fucked up and would be better off not talking to people at all.

I’m not trying to be melodramatic here. Just honest. I know for myself that sometimes silence from a person speaks louder than anything. At a time when you’re feeling vulnerable it might mean they don’t care, at a time others are against you it might mean they are too.

Of course, it might mean nothing at all.

If you’ve got a strong relationship you go to the person and sort it out. If you don’t, well, if you’re me you let it twist your stomach into knots and agonize over it, wonder if they don’t want to see you or talk to you.

I’m bad for that anyway. I know some people who read my blog regularly find it hard to believe that I have any private fears, or that I struggle with being shy. A big part of the reason I’ve been online, on lists posting, not just lurking, is to try to combat that. I’m one of those people that will be a complete extrovert once I find my comfort zone with a group/person – I guess that’s my twin kicking in.

Until then, I guess I can seem cold, distant, detached. Snobby. Which is not my intention.

You know the things that stay with me, to this day? We used to do the competition circuit when I was a kid. Over the summer, all those weekends, fiddle and stepdance competitions. We’d see a lot of the same kids at different venues, and there were these triplets. Three brothers, but different personalities. All I remember is we were playing some large group game, and I crawled out of my shell long enough to invite one of the triplets to join.

I just happened to pick the one who never socialized.

I don’t even remember what I said, but I remember what I was wearing. I remember the look on his face and regretting I’d ever spoken to him. Others might be inclined to have called him a jerk. Instead, I felt like a loser.

Every year at school it was the cycle of friendships that plummeted to cliques and exclusion. I remember every summer I’d think that I should just spend recess reading. Books never hurt you, people did. I actually did become a library assistant and spent three years shelving books instead of hanging around outside all the time.

Of course I know that I did my share of hurting. There was a girl a year younger than me who got it worse than most people. The year I started high school I got pink eye. I went to my old school to say hi. This girl, still there, was going to lend me a brush. I took a paper towel so that I could hold it without putting any germs on it. She thought I was doing it because I didn’t want to touch anything she’d touched, and she started to cry.

Can you imagine what it’s like to feel like a leper? She knew how that felt. To think that she would believe that’s what I’d thought of her. What sins was I guilty of, by action or by inaction, that contributed to that belief? Makes me sick to think of it.

I think this is one of the reasons I really liked Michael Connelly when I heard him speak at Harrogate. The fact that he struggled with being shy was so obvious. It made it easier for me to put my reservations aside and introduce myself to him and shake his hand. I’m a bit defensive where he’s concerned (who me?) because I’ve heard others say he comes off as snobby.

Not snobby. Shy.

And to think that someone who’s had the success that he’s had wouldn’t feel enormous confidence! It’s easy for me to sit here, thinking he should never struggle with self doubt or fear that his work won’t be liked…

Part of the reason I’ve tried being vocal online is that it gives me a basis to talk to people. When I meet blog friends I already know things about them that I can talk to them about. None of that awkward ‘find your feet’ bullshit where you make polite small-talk until you can either escape or find a mutual interest you can discuss.

There are some people I agonize over every email, every communication with. The good news is, I only worry because I actually care what they think of me. I wish to God sometimes I didn’t care, that nobody had the power to hurt me. You know what the schoolkids say… sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.

Somehow, it’s those words that ring hollow And it’s all those nasty names that you can’t get out of your mind.

And sometimes, what lingers is the numbing silence of things unsaid, which becomes a playground for your insecurities.

There’s only one thing I know. Show me someone who’s never felt insecurity and you’ve shown me someone who doesn’t know what it is to be human.

This is super-cool: Young Adults reading.


anne frasier said...

i'm guilty of not speaking up when i should. i've actually been working on that for the past couple of years, because i think most people need to voice more thoughts and opinions. but sometimes it's a question of finding the right way to say something without offending, and then it becomes too hard and it's dropped. but too many people just stand back and watch the show.
when i was little i always tried to be invisible. that's a hard habit to break.

the two sandras:

i'm crazy about both sandras -- blogging sandra and in-person sandra, but you are so right about the eye twinkle. in person that ornery twinkle is always evident.
i think i've said this before, but sandra must be experienced in person.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, we're all guilty of that I think Anne.

I would say the exact same about you - I love your blog and online persona, I love hanging out with you. Wish you'd come to B'con just to hang out, you know? Totally sucks we all live all over the place.

One thing about the in person me vs the online me. It's much easier to turn a computer off to escape!

I kept a straight face once. I was sleeping at the time, but I heard no matter what Kevin said to me I didn't react at all. ;)

Jack Ruttan said...

Sounds kind of dark, but it's good to get that out.

I was thinking today, that most people I'd like to know are too much like me. Too busy with a paragraph or interesting drawing to actually get out and meet.

That's frustrating, because I enjoy the contact. But instead of cooking supper tonight and chatting with a group of hypothetical friends, I'm typing internet comments while watching a DVD. Is this the future?

spyscribbler said...

Wow, I love this post! I've always been shy. In preschool, when my parents were asking the teacher if I should go to kindergarten or wait a year, the teacher said I should wait because I was too shy.

I was too shy to speak up and say that I really, really, really wanted to go to kindergarten.

Some people are surprised I'm shy. Truth is, I'm often too shy to act shy. LOL, if you can make sense of that.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Jack, I think it could be. For better or worse I don't see the internet going anywhere.

Love the photo!

Spyscribbler, you were shy? And too shy to speak up about school - isn't that ironic. I think I know exactly what you mean about being too shy to act shy. Sometimes I have to turn a mental block on and not think about anything... Until afterwards when I obsess over every word I said and thing I did and wonder how I made such a fool of myself.

Then I crawl under a rock for a long time.

Kevin Wignall said...

Great post. I was shy, too... no, I'm kidding, of course. But as someone from the opposite end of the spectrum, someone who always felt comfortable in his own skin and at ease with crowds and strangers, there's something that's often struck me - the people who are cruel to the shy are often only a step away from shyness and insecurity themselves.

And of course, children sing about sticks and stones because it's untrue - why else would we need such a mantra?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Kevin, I think of you as being the closest to Bond that walks the earth. But you do feel, and that's the key. I was reading in Priest the other day, the quote, "I only know the heart exists on what it daren't lose." You've got at least on thing that falls into that category. ;)

angie said...

I used to be completely quiet & shy. At a party, I was the one in the corner watching all the different little clusters of dynamics at work. I still am horribly, horribly shy in large crowds of people I don't know well. I've learned to speak up, although it is often exhausting and I can only do it for short bursts.

Re. the silence...sometimes people are busy, sometimes they're still watching to see which side they want to fall on, sometimes it's very much the ol' "if you can't say something nice" maxim. I absolutely pay attention to who does or does not speak when an issue comes up - silence is as definite a response as yes, no, or maybe. Just a little more on the cagey, ass-covering side of things. Unless, the person was truly distracted by their own shit & on the clueless end of things (been there often enough myself!).

Daniel Hatadi said...

On the subject of silence:


And on small talk.

Man, am I feeling minimal today.

Bill Cameron said...

I have two things working on the shyness front. I'm shy until I get to know you, which means I can be very quiet at first, but then once I get comfortable, watch out. As you well know.

But sometimes, especially in groups, I'm very garrulous BECAUSE I'm shy. Being big and talkative can be a distancing mechanism. If I manage to occasionally be funny too, I can get away with it.

Anonymous said...

The people I've met on forums probably wonder when I'm going to shut the hell up. In just over six months on one forum I've logged almost 1500 comments. I know exactly when I'll be quiet, the moment I meet them in person. Then my heart will race and my tongue will cement itself to the top of my mouth.

I'm looking forward to Bouchercon, but in some ways it will be a nightmare, all those people, talking, maybe expecting me to talk? Yikes.

One of my friends calls me the great observer-he says I sit back and watch others interact rather than joining in. Then later I can tell you exactly what they talked about and how they seemed to feel about it (that would be the communications degree coming out). I find that much more comfortable than actually trying to insert little old me into the conversation.

Like Bill though, once I get to know you, watch out, you'll be wanting to duct tape my mouth shut. No, that's not permission. norby

Trace said...

I've always been shy but you'd never know it. I tend to be very bubbly and outgoing, but it's me throwing myself into the fire. It's how I deal with being shy.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Daniel, I love that!

Bill, yeah, I know!

Trace, I can be that way too!

Norby, can't wait to meet you in person, LOL! I don't mean that quite the way it sounds...

Angie, you've said all the stuff about silence I planned to say and forgot, or didn't even think of. Absolutely right.