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Julia Winn


Julia Winn readingThe Inside Story

I’m very introverted. People who know me are always surprised by that. I do seem like I am an extrovert. I talk, make jokes, introduce myself to people. Bubbly, loud, fun at parties. Extrovert, right? But I’m not. It’s kind of a lie. I am actually wildly introverted…I just have decent social skills. 

These skills were not innate, though. They came with time, but it took years for my mom and dad to get their bearings with me. My brother, the prototype, lived so outwardly. So according to the handbook. Input --> Output. Lots of output. ‘We know how to do this child-rearing thing’ they must have thought, clinking their imaginary glasses. Then I came along with my big watchful eyes that took everything in and kept it locked away. A deep well of thought. A little puzzle of a person. 

I remember as a teenager how my father brought home a bunch of personality tests and indicators for the whole family to take, combing the grid for clues. He was going through some job counseling and became deeply fascinated in the idea of quantifying one’s personality. The most illuminating one was this test that placed you on a scale from 0-10 rating your introversion to extroversion, 0 being must extroverted and 10 being most introverted. My brother scored a 1 and I scored a 9. This was relieving for my parents, to have this diagnosis for me. It explained a lot and I think it sort of let them off the hook. “See, she’s not wallowing in a sea of depression due to our inadequate parenting…she’s an introvert!’’

Most people free associate this descriptor until they arrive at an image of a skulky, gothic individual who cuts themselves with sporks from their school cafeteria while listening to The Cure. But it’s not that. It is just about energy. I recharge from inside myself, while a true extrovert needs an external power source. I need down time before I can turn on my social batlight. On the other hand, if my brother cannot be with people, he gets depressed and starts calling everyone in the family to ‘touch base.’ He needs an emergency social dose – a jolt of human contact like paddles to the heart. I prefer to be curled up in my little hole with a book. A sort of cozy solitude party. No sporks whatsoever. I just always liked my inside self. I feel better after a long talk with her. She makes me feel lucid and bright. She is very nice to be around. You’d like her. 

When I was in high school, my mom did actually think something was wrong with me because after school I would just go up to my room and lay down on my bed. “What are you doing up there? It’s not normal,” she’d complain. I would just be staring at the wall. Studying the Marimekko flowered wallpaper, thinking through the day. As I mentally, obsessively, re-drew the abstract floral patterns on my wall, I would walk through my classes, conversations and interactions trying to unpack my mental bag. I would zone out and hum. On the outside I looked catatonic, but inside things were cooking. I had spent so much time putting out energy all day, I needed time to reboot. To strategize about the coming days social requirements. It was hard work. It was like my hardest subject, really. Surviving High School 101. 

Since socializing wasn’t a natural gift but rather learned skill, I became an astute observer. I watched other kids who were popular; who survived, no…thrived, at this social obstacle course. I tried to emulate them, but in an original sense. I didn’t want to wear exactly what they did, but I would shop at the same store or find a similar accessory. I didn’t copy their conversations, but I paid attention to pacing, nicknames and joke telling. I listened for cadence and slang. I borrowed from them. I was never too shy, I was never too loud. I tried to blend and contrast in the same breath. It took a lot of synthesis, a lot of trial and error, but by senior year I was voted on Snow Court. It wasn’t Homecoming Court, but I’d say it was a B+ kind of achievement. Not bad for a girl who spent her afternoons humming, rolled up in a ball on her bed.

I am still like that. It’s just that my battery lasts a bit longer now. I can give more and go longer, but ultimately I still need to have my downtime, sometime. It’s hard, because sometimes I think people misunderstand me – that I don’t like them or that I am cold or snooty. It’s actually just because I feel kind of hollow. I need time to let the dripping faucet of creative energy fill me up again and give me new things to say. If I try too hard to force myself to talk during one of my dry spells, I find myself saying the stupidest things just to fill up the space. Things I don’t even mean. I hear my lips flapping and my inner self is screaming “Stop! Stop! What are you doing! SHUT UP! You’re going to blow this for us!”

I had the severe misfortune of going to a job interview during one of these patches. Let’s just say the principal didn’t appreciate my comments about the uselessness of technology and how I hoped they wouldn’t want me to keep a website, because really it’s such a waste of time and the only people that read it are overbearing parents, and how I really didn’t like to stay late everyday for staff meetings. I might as well have gone in and brought up my affinity for skinning live animals. From the looks on their faces, I could tell they were shocked, but I was powerless to stop. I just kept talking and talking, careening out of control. I didn’t even believe half what was coming out of my mouth, (and the other half I would never have willingly admitted during a job interview) but there was nothing I could do except watch in horror from inside my skull. You know, I still can’t drive by that school without cringing. I feel like I should go and apologize to the principal, but I think somehow that would just make things worse. “Hi. Sorry about making you sit through one of my episodes of mental illness. I still think I would be a good fit here…”

Sometimes it’s more than talking. Sometimes my introversion involves physical space as well. Proximity can be emotionally draining if I’m not prepared for it. I just don’t want anyone in my bubble. In fact, at times I don’t even want people near it. It makes me edgy.

Mornings are the worst. The other morning I was minding my own business, sitting in my window seat on the bus and this girl in a polka dot shirt and wobbly cork sandals gets on just as the door is closing and the bus is getting ready to depart. Now I don’t know why people always sit with me, but I swear the bus could be practically empty and there will always be some yahoo who zooms right in on me and plops down next to me. I guess I look safe and neutral smelling. (Would it be wrong for me to cultivate an unusual odor just to avoid seatmates? I think it might be.) Anyway, she teeters down the aisle, and even though 90% of the passengers have room in their row, she picks me. Lucky me. At first I am a little irritated, but I try to put it in perspective. She’s well groomed, smallish. She is still wearing her bedazzled sunglasses even though we’re inside, but so what. Our thighs don’t even touch. Very non-invasive. All in all not a bad seat partner, if you have to have one. Besides, she’s dressed for the city, she’ll get off long before I do and I will be able to stretch out and regroup in my bubble. It will be fine. I try to read.

As we hit the city, I look for signs she might be getting ready to leap up and be on her merry way. But she sits, like a hot lump, right next to me, never moving a muscle. And she is STILL wearing those stupid sunglasses, staring straight ahead like a robot. Whatever. I feel a little agitated. Stop after stop goes by and she still isn’t getting off. 8th Street. 4th Street. Washington Avenue. It has to be soon. That small twist of irritation I tried to ignore has asserted itself again and I feel my lips purse. The bus is practically empty, and yet here we sit like chopsticks. Sweaty chopsticks. Why doesn’t she just move to another row? Then again, what if she did move? Wouldn’t that be kind of like an anonymous rejection? No, I decide, I don’t even care about that. Now I am just getting fed up. Even her hair is bugging me. Her stupid brown curly hair. Finally, on the second to last stop, my stop, she gets up...AND FINALLY MOVES TO ANOTHER ROW! Unbelievable. I stalk off the bus feeling very put upon and crabby. 

I do get over it and am able to salvage a good, high energy day after all, but later riding home on the empty westbound, guess who totters aboard? Polka dot. I am reading my book, trying not to make eye contact. Eye contact = familiarity = seat partner. She must see me, because as she starts to go into the row in front of me, she hesitates. I do not look up. My book has never been so engrossing. She swerves back into the aisle, pauses for a moment at my row, then staggers clumsily into the row behind me. I am positive she would have sat with me again if my bag had not been so impolitely taking up the seat next to me. I stretch my legs out and smile, quietly humming, in my bubble.