I Am Just Not a People Person.
I can still remember the days when I had a social life. Getting home, the message indicator on my telephone would be blinking, chalk full of excited and expecting voices. Iíd always have somewhere to go and people to visit in those days. There would be the rendezvous points: Yonge and Dundas in TO, Robson and Howe in Vancouver, or Hung Dae station in Seoul. And thereíd be the old haunts: The Cambie, Hodge-Podge, The Green Room . Gatherings like this would take up a healthy part of my weekly calendar, and I couldnít imagine staying in on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and miss a chance to mingle with people and friends. It wasnít just the mingling; it was that devil-may-care, go-where-the-night-takes-you experience that I loved. I remember one night, on magic mushrooms, where some friends and I crashed a CD release party at the Hilton. I ended up in the lounge area of a penthouse suite, listening to a professional musician playing jazz on a grand piano. Or one night in Seoul where a friend and I found ourselves in the kitchen of a barbeque chicken boutique serving chunks of meat to a Saudi Arabian in a gold Armani suit, bragging about all the people heíd killed.
For the longest time, I couldnít imagine doing anything different, but my body had other plans. As I aged, my hangovers not only got worse, they began to last longer. No longer could I get in at 4:00 AM and be up and ready a couple of hours later. Note to everyone: If you have the choice of teaching a roomful of hyperactive kids for eight hours with an hangover or having an anesthetic-free root canal, choose the latter.
Where the body goes, common sense is sure to follow, and my nights on the town dwindled slowly but steadily from three nights a week right down to once a month, if that. Funny thing is, though I might reminisce about those times, Iím glad Iím done with them. Back then I could justify partying and socializing, saying it was a matter of blowing off steam after a hard dayís work or that it was my chance to meet new people, learn new things and live a little. But looking back on my life, of all the conversions and discussions that have provided me with insight or knowledge I could apply to my day to day experience, none of them originated from those nights on the town. In fact, I can hardly remember any of those conversions. The activity of spending a night with a group of people was incredibly fun, liberating and often exhilarating, but for the most part it was simply an empty diversion, a television show that I would repeat over and over. I recollect such nights as I do my favourite episodes of Seinfield, in glimpses and catch phrases.
That impression remains with me today when I happen to attend large social events. I might just be in cynical mood of late, but recently Iíve found that in a room filled with the chatter of people, there is probably about one true conversation going on, the rest is just posturing and , as I mentioned before, catch phrases. Everyone who speaks acts as though the whole room is listening. Thatís why my preferred way of socializing today is more or less a one-on-one affair. Iíll meet someone for coffee or lunch and devote my attention only to them, or do my best to. It may seem poultry in comparison to what I was used to, but Iíve come to realize that Iím just not a people person.
In fact, I donít think Iíve ever been one. First, I have a strong aversion to the traditional arenas of socializing. Iíve never liked loud bars or night clubs, with their manufactured line-ups and music that ruins any chance of having a conversation without screaming. In fact, most bars today blare their music. Whatís the point of having eardrum-shattering volume levels in a place where there no dance floor? And Iíve always hated concerts. Iíve never seen the point of sharing my enjoyment of music with fifty thousand other sweating screaming people. And though I do love music, letís face it, itís just another diversion, and there is not one musician or band worth waiting in line to urinate into plastic tub for. Would Bjork or the Boss pee into a jug for you? Think about it.
Secondly, Iíve learned that in large social gatherings, everything that is self-centred in a person really reveals itself. Iíve already mentioned the word posturing before, because that is whatís happening that these events, people struggling to project an images of themselves they desperately want the others to see. At its best, itís a verbal talent show. At its worse itís the floor of the New York Stock exchange where every shouts for their cultural reference to be heard first. I know this because Iíve been caught up in it myself. I canít count the times that voice in my head goes off, saying ďwhy are you telling them this? This is not really funny at all!Ē
This frenetic occurrence flows nicely into the last reason of my recent hermitage. At these events, every one becomes so pre-occupied with getting out their perspectives and their opinions (all of which are meant to support the self-image they are trying to project) that no one asks each other real, earnest questions. Quandaries serve usually as an opportunity for someone to add a new member to their audience. How do know the people here? Really? Well let me spend a few minutes telling you about who I know. Such has been my experience, and over time Iíve offered less and less to these conversations, to the point now where now I only listen. As merely a spectator, I must appear a little dull, but if you are not interested enough to return the favour of a question, Iím not going to pointlessly contribute. Last year, I visited a old friend in palliative care. When he spoke of settling his estate with his brother, I said ďhey, I didnít know you had a brotherĒ, to which he responded, ďthatís because you never askedĒ.
Perhaps this is what a night on the town is, when it is stripped of the glitter of drugs and alcohol. And perhaps this recent attitude of mine is the reason why lately, my answering machine sits in lonely silence. Besides my wife, I have less than a handful of people I speak to on a regular basis. Youíd think that Iíd be lonely as hell, pining for companionship, and if thereís any fault in what Iíve just expressed, I should be. But with my books, my writing, my teaching, and tenants, Iíve never been so content. Simon and Garfunkel were only half-right. As long as youíre part of an archipelago, thereís nothing wrong with being an island.