Tag Archives: socially awkward

I Know Things

I had a student ask me to fill out a psychiatrist’s evaluation for her. (Psychologist? I know they’re not the same but it’s not the point of the story, so we’re moving on.) Feedback on her performance in class, that kind of thing.

So I sent it in, and the next time she came in to class, she had this shocked look on her face. I had apparently marked that she has feelings of guilt and blames herself for things that are out of her control. This was shocking to her. “I never told you about that,” she said. “How did you know?”

Well, for one thing, isn’t that part of the human condition?

And for another, kiddo, you’ve been my student for three years now … of course I know some things about you. (For better and for worse!)

We have this disconnect with the people in our lives, and students — and all young people, really, but students especially — have this pressure to be this better version of themselves. It’s weird, I guess, when they learn that the mask can’t stay on all the time, no matter how hard they try.

It reminds me of when I was in school, the first time I saw one of my teachers out “in the wild” at the grocery store. It’s so jarring to see a person out of the context you build around them. I mean, of course they’re a real person who has to shop at stores … but you never think of them in that way. You don’t see the real person, you don’t consider them in that way.

But they’re real.

And I couldn’t possibly know this thing about her, but I did.

Makes you wonder what people know about *you* that you don’t go around telling them.

Germans Probably Have a Word for This

We need words for some of the various social discomforts that arise around public restrooms.

Like, how about that feeling when you walk into a public bathroom, and it’s just … horrific. Like it smells like a decomposing roadside deer crossed with a wretched witches’ brew and a healthy dose of eau de dumpster. And you handle your business in the fog of it, but then as you’re walking out, somebody else walks in, and they can only assume you’re responsible for the atrocity besetting their nostrils. This feeling — that panic where in your head you say hey this isn’t my fault, I did not do this thing, please don’t judge me but in reality you say nothing because to say something about it would be weirder and worse than being judged?

This feeling needs a name.

Or that feeling when you go into a public stall and have to sit down, and there’s no immediate sign that anybody else has been there recently, but when you sit down, the seat is warm. I mean, bathrooms are kinda like hotel rooms, right? You know other people use them — that’s kinda the whole point — but while you’re in there? That space is yours, and the thought of somebody else’s butt on your seat? It feels like a crime against decency.

This feeling needs a name.

Here’s another one: you go into the restroom, not to do business, but for something else. Like you had to check your face to make sure your co-workers haven’t failed to notify you that you have shaving cream on your ear. But on the way in, you pass by somebody just hanging in the hall outside, in a way that kinda says yeah, I’m gonna be here for a few minutes, on their phone, or chatting with a friend or whatever. So you go in there and you do whatever you need to. But this isn’t a hand-washing visit; you just had to pop in. But now you think, shoot, that person out there is gonna think I did my business and didn’t wash my hands. So you think about washing your hands, but then another part of your brain says, no, that’s stupid, nobody’s paying attention to whether you had enough time to wash your hands. But then you say to yourself maybe you should just wash them anyway, but then no, this was not a hand-washing operation, I’m not gonna be pressured to wash my hands just because somebody might notice that I didn’t. So you stand there staring yourself down in the mirror like a maniac because you won’t be self-pressured into washing your hands but you also won’t be socially shamed for not washing them.

This feeling needs a name.

Or, what about — and I’m a guy, so I grant that girls may play by different rules here — what about that feeling when you’re in a public restroom — doing anything, be it your business, washing up, checking your watch, whatever — and another guy in the restroom says literally anything to you? This is an egregious violation of the social contract, but this jerk has done it, so now, what do you do? Ignore the joker who has so little sense of the social order that he wants to open his mouth and say a single solitary word in this sacred profane place? But to do so seems to violate the other social contract which dictates that you speak and respond when spoken to. So do you break the unwritten laws of the restroom and respond, opening yourself up to the possibility of having an actual conversation with a stranger in the last place you want to have a conversation? No, you chuckle awkwardly and double-time it away from the weirdo.

This feeling needs a name.

I dunno. What are some others? Or better yet, some names for these feelings? I am desperate.

Bathroom, Toilet, Wc, Restroom, Outdoor, Forest, Autumn
A socially isolated toilet, the way nature intended. Sure there’s no plumbing, but thank heck there are no awkward interactions.

This post brought to you out of sheer bloody-minded determination to write something not even vaguely related to current events.

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Awkwardity

I’ve always been pretty awkward.

That might come as a shock, given my background in theater and my career choice as a teacher and the way I prattle on at length about any- and everything around here, but there it is.

Socially awkward. I’ve even gone so far to consider myself socially retarded. I’m often the quiet guy in the room, not because I don’t want to take part in conversations (well, sometimes), but because I just don’t know what to say. But then, what feels like a comfortable silence to me will turn into an uncomfortable silence in the room, and then I sit there thinking I should really say something, but then the words come out like cow vomit.

I think a lot of people struggle with this, but I also think I maybe have it more than most. (Then again, maybe that’s the old Dunning-Kruger effect talking — that thing that makes you overestimate your experience when you don’t have much. Americans, it turns out, suffer from Dunning-Kruger than most other nationalities.) Like, I know that some people feel awkward sometimes. There are hashtags about it. But for me, it feels like it’s all the time.

And I think that’s part of what compels me to write. Because I screw up these social interactions every day, so I get another crack at them when I create these alternate realities in my own head. And again, I think we all do that — we all play the I shoulda said THIS game — but for a writer, it’s different. When I tell a story, I get to get it right, and (hopefully!) readers get to see me get it right.

They say you should write what you know, and while I think that advice can be overly limiting (if we kept to it, we’d never have science fiction), it’s also pretty impossible to avoid. All writers, I think, write themselves into their stories. And in looking at the stories I’ve written, the characters I’ve spent the most time with… well, it’s safe to say that they’re pretty socially awkward like me.

First novel: A struggling writer battles through his self-doubt with the help of a muse. His only real friend is the one who is financially obligated to spend time with him. Hmm!

Second novel: A girl who is socially segregated because of the role that’s been selected for her by the community. She doesn’t have friends because she will, for all intents and purposed, be “killed” when she comes of age, and everybody knows it. Hmm, hmm!

Third novel: A kid born to superhero parents has no superpowers, but falls in with the superheroes anyway — so that he can learn to exploit them. He trusts none of his “classmates,” and in return they ridicule and fear him. Hmm, hmm, hmm!

So authors write themselves into their stories; this is a trope we’re all familiar with, and I certainly seem to be doing it. But is it a thing we can avoid? Well, with novel #2, the protagonist I described was not actually the protagonist for 80% of the first draft; she was a supporting character who I realized was a lot more compelling than the protagonist I was trying to write. That person was popular, and fit in effortlessly with his social group and with somebody beyond it — and he rang hollow to me for most of the writing. So it can be done, but not without its pitfalls.

Pitfalls. If there’s an apt metaphor for the writing process, it’s a field littered with pitfalls. Because as you build this story for your characters (the ones who are totally yourself), you have to place pitfalls in their path, try to trip them up at every step. But you have to watch out for your own pitfalls, the gaps and the traps that threaten to snag you in the midst of your process. It’s a delicate dance.

And dancing is something we awkward types don’t really do so much.

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.


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