I Suck At People
Posted by Alan Edwards
Most people are afraid of speaking in public. In fact, this phobia is one of the top two fears that afflict the American public (source: None. I made that up. But I think it’s true anyway). The idea of standing in front of strangers, or co-workers, or even friends can set the palms sweating, skin flush, and voice jumpy, squeaky, and waytoofastinanattempttogetthroughthesentenceasfastaspossible (that says “way too fast in an attempt to get through the sentence as fast as possible”, for those who have no interest in working for what they read). The smartest, most knowledgeable person on earth can sound like a bumbling buffoon in those situations.
Oddly enough, I feel perfectly fine in those situations. I can stand up and riff on a whole lot of stuff, even if I need to make it up as I go. I talk with my hands a bunch and I pace, but I think it helps keep people awake. I’ve done it a bunch of times, and did it for a living for a while (well, part of my living). I have a knack for it. Now, before you get the idea that I’m just tooting my horn and acting like I’m all that, the only reason I brought that up is because I am easily one of the worst interactors with human beings that ever lived.
Say you’re walking down a hallway at work. You see a co-worker approaching, one of those people you aren’t exactly friends with but are reasonably comfortable around. You probably can walk past them, greet them, and move on, all without thinking about it.
I see that person approaching from a distance, and my brain is all of sudden like, “Just act cool. You’re good.” Now, if I were cool, why did my brain need to tell me I was? I’m clearly not cool. Then it goes, “Just say Good Morning. Or Hello, sir. Or Hey, Man.” I approach my co-worker, ready to pass by, and what flies out of my mouth is more often than not an amalgamation of several greetings all at once: “Hey morning, ma-sir.” They give me a nod and a slightly squinty look I know well and I’m smiling HUGELY and acting COMPLETELY CASUAL and then I force a calm relaxed high-pitched titter that makes it sound like I collect body parts and stash them in plastic bins under the basement stairs.
I don’t socialize with the people from work much.
My actual friends, I’m generally better with. I feel calm and relaxed. I also keep my mouth shut more often than not, which cuts down on potential stupid shit that comes out of my mouth. I can have a few drinks, then I open up, and that part of me that is OK with public speaking takes over and I’m suddenly articulate and engaging and interesting.
Everyone else though, forget it. There are times when I can’t leave the house to go to the grocery store because I’m worried about a potential conversation with the clerk (and self-serve registers are to me the single greatest innovation of the last ten years). Getting a haircut? Hah – forget that. I sit there looking at my dome in the mirror and struggle to form meaningful sentences with someone I don’t know whatsoever and have to answer questions about my life or sit there in awkward silence. I prefer the awkward silence every time. I’ve solved that problem by convincing Lady Aravan to cut my hair, which she just quite wonderfully. Another hurdle of life overcome.
Maybe that’s why I like writing so much. I have the time to let my brain stop screaming instructions to me and telling me to just CHILL OUT FOR GOD SAKES YOU LOOK LIKE A LUNATIC and actually type out a sentence that I like. My blog posts flow pretty quickly, and I can drop 1000 words in twenty minutes without too much trouble normally. I’m relaxed, I’m good. Social networking places, though, like Twitter and Facebook and commenting on blogs, can add just a dash of that element of OH NO THEY’LL THINK I’M CRAZY. I try to make a funny comment or just something a little entertaining or something, and as soon as it flies off into the Internety World of Digitalia I suddenly think to myself: they won’t get the joke. They think you’re odd. Will he think you’re coming on to him? Is she thinking the same thing? Am I being too nice? Too mean? Too familiar? Too distant? How do you know? Are you sure? And then I get all sweaty and worried and freaked and I’ll suddenly scream out loud I CAN EXPLAIN THE BUCKET OF EARS and everyone in the office is just looking at me over the walls of their cubicles like frightened prairie dogs and I smile and pass out.
OK< maybe I’m not as bad as I’m laying out here, but there is an element of truth behind it all. So if I ever pass you by, and you ask how I’m doing, and I answer, “Good and you fine!” that’s not exactly what I mean. I swear.