This weekend I attended the Mike Kelly retrospective at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens. It was truly incredible, thanks for asking. As I weaved through the crowd with the boy I drag with me to things like avant garde artist retrospectives, I heard a voice.
And then I heard the voice in my head. "Shit."
I don't not like this person. In fact, I do like this person. I've attended parties at her house, we've shared joints, and we never clashed. It's just that --and this is not for any other reason than I didn't feel like exercising a part of my brain that hurts when I use it-- I didn't want to see her. I was exhausted before I even turned around to see who it was. I had to force my lips into smiling, and remember to introduce people and perform a cursory hug, while the little guys operating my brain flopped around helplessly dropping all the files of Things I Know About Her and Questions to Ask and Basic Courtesies all over the place while they tripped over piles of Am I Being Weird and This Doesn't Feel Good for Anyone Involved and You Should Stop.
After maybe a minute and a half that felt like a panicked year, I blurted timidly, and this really happened, "I'm sorry I'm making this so awkward," and escaped into another wing of the museum.
It was not my finest moment, yet it was not uncharacteristic. I feel like both my shy and introvert credentials are pretty strong, and I'm probably tap dancing right on over to crippling social anxiety although I've never stuck with a therapist long enough to be diagnosed because, ugh, talking.
But what I'm saying is I get it. Needing alone time to survive, feeling as though you've cornered the market on awkward social situations, all of it. Got it. What I do not get is why so many people who are like this get their feelings hurt when people call them out for being, well, like this.
I don't wonder why people label me distant or stand-offish because I am aware (painfully self aware, in fact) of my inability to make eye contact and reluctance in engaging in pleasantries. Fellow shy people, take heed: that is anti-social behavior!
What reasonable adult would expect any other reasonable adult to make concessions for a personality quirk that is really quite simply rectified? Part of my problem is inherited, and it's exacerbated from having suffered some "mean girl" trauma in my youth, but it's not permanent.
I can turn it on and off. I can hold down a job. I can maintain relationships. I can look the world in the eye and shake its hand firmly, while introducing myself loud-and-clearly. But it takes a enormous amount of effort, and I frankly do not find it's worth it in most instances.
If my immediate paycheck or immediate happiness don't depend on it, I'm probably not going to participate in situations that make my pits sweaty and my face burn -- unless cornered. That's what shyness is: to be so wrapped up in your own thoughts that you dread having to expend that effort on anyone but your closest friends and family. And that is a dick move.
Vulture published a transcription of Orson Welles describing Woody Allen, a filmmaker hailed for his self-deprecating humor, as being "arrogant." When his lunch partner argued that Allen is actually shy, Welles responded, "Anybody who speaks quietly and shrivels up in company is unbelievably arrogant."
I don't know that blanket statements like Welles' are ever all-the-way true, but he is not far off. If I were more open to experiences and committed to behaving generously and interested in treating others warmly I wouldn't have time to hear my words in my own head before I say them, decide they sound stupid, and feel sickly, uncomfortable, and inadequate.
It takes a concerted effort on my part to behave in a friendly manner, and lo and behold, some people find me unfriendly! That is not society's fault. It's mine. It would be nonsense for me to insist I'm not a jerk while engaging in jerky behavior. I recognize the issue, and I just don't really care.
Sure, sometimes it sucks when I go all Eminem on a person I really do have a history with in the middle of an art museum, but I do feel (shockingly given the premise of this essay) like I have enough friends. So if I'm doing the math right, it's something like: self-absorbed + self-satisfied / crippling fear of rejection = pretty much a bitch.
Which is not to say I go around tripping people and laughing, or torturing kittens, or waiting until you leave the room to talk shit, I'm just shy! And I'm too realistic to hide behind a facade of, "I'm just shy, but you should like me anyway!" So if you want to find me at a party, I'll be guarding the cheese.