Here’s the funny thing about language: though we speak the same one, it’s so rare that we actually understand one another. We spend our days in constant contact with people who we very rarely get to choose: coworkers, supervisors. And nice though they may be, and well as you may work together, how often do you feel really in sync with them?
We muddle through our days making the best of our circumstances and putting on the niceties that society calls for. But for some of us – and here I’ll single myself out as one of those socially retarded individuals who never quite know what to say and who live in perpetual fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, and ends up as a result standing around looking at people long after a conversation has reached its natural terminus or awkwardly exiting early – those trifles are exhausting. Others, it seems, glide through the world as effortlessly as figure skaters, joking and laughing and shaking hands and hugging, but every time I’m in a social situation I stress out and lock up, hitting the ice less like a figure skater and more like a newborn goat.
I don’t do well with people, generally (well, outwardly I guess I do okay, but in my head is another story). I pretend it’s because I hate everything, and by extension, most people. But the truth is that it’s because I’m cripplingly shy and overwhelmingly insecure.
How did a guy like that end up teaching the next generation to be actors, to get up on stage in front of crowds of people? Easy. It’s an act. On stage, or in front of a classroom, or here on a webpage, I get to play a character who’s like me but who isn’t exactly me. I get to manufacture a guy who isn’t a social mess, who isn’t a walking train wreck when it comes to human interaction. Turns out I’m pretty good at faking it. But at the end of the day? I’m speaking a second language. That air of confidence and easy interaction is not my native tongue — it’s a hacked-together pastiche thinly layered over a perpetually vulnerable underbelly.
But I started this post today by thinking about the way we talk with people, and the way I manufacture speech with most of the people in my life, trying to say the “normal” things or the “right” things. And the reason I’m thinking about that is that recently I’ve had a few encounters where I haven’t had to manufacture anything.
There are a very few people on this planet that I don’t have to speak that second language with — with whom I can speak my native tongue and get along just fine, be understood just fine. I’m married to one of them; unfortunately, the others pretty much all live in different states, so interaction is limited. But when that interaction does come, it’s refreshing. Invigorating. I come away energized, recharged, like I’ve slept for a weekend after a long bout of insomnia.
But I guess that’s why you learn that second language.
Then again, I wonder. I can’t be the only one speaking it. There have to be other fakers out there. I wonder how many times I’ve been fooled the way (I think) I’ve fooled others?
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.