© 2016 Caitlin Rain Rainy Day Drawings
I arrived at the hotel just after 10 pm. The lobby was brimming with 20-somethings in branded t-shirts tucked into pencil skirts, probably. They wore nametags slipped into nametag holders attached to lanyards, probably. They were probably putting away, by that point, their second glass of pinot grigio. Four-thousand of my closest work friends, these people were.
At the entrance, I rooted around in my bag for sunglasses or a hat or a stick-on mustache. Sunglasses would do. I ducked down, pushed through the revolving door with my forearm and swept through the lobby and up to the front desk in one continuous motion.
I didn’t claim victory until later, when I reached room 418 having said hello to no one.
The next day, I met four friends for lunch in the banquet hall. The tables were draped in white polyester and erected at their centers were cards designating which teachers were meant to sit where. There were tables for English teachers, for math teachers, for elementary teachers, and so on. There was no such designation for us, a bunch of over-the-hill-at-32 hangers-on who show up at these things for nominal speaking fees and free food and drink.
We found a table on the periphery intended for school psychologists. Cole plucked the card from its stand, turned it inside out, scribbled “VIP,” and replaced it. It was a brilliant, economical move, we all thought. Those three letters announced our rightful status and, more importantly, guaranteed our safety from the hordes of strangers and, worse, professional acquaintances who might otherwise want to join us. We’re the kind of introverts who don’t mind addressing an audience of 500 but do very much mind making small talk with strangers while sawing into herb-encrusted chicken breasts and drinking from goblets of immoderately iced water that, on that basis, smacks you in the face every time you take a sip. Our self-designated VIP status reflected some salient features of my personality, I thought (I won’t implicate the rest of them): misanthropy, self-importance, and introversion. Looking at this list of salient features now, I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t a bit redundant.
I’ve always felt that claims about personality—whether in the form of internet quiz results, drunken late-night ramblings, or the manager of TGI Fridays telling me I’m not cut out for the food service industry—were just a notch realer than horoscopes. Recently, Jay told me that even psychology research suggests that contextual factors dwarf the influence of any stable set of traits we might call personality. Still, I do nothing if not trot around the city proclaiming my introversion, sidling up to people having a terrible time at parties and finding a way to ask if they, like me, self-identify as introverts. What could be so appealing about the introvert designation that I’m willing to embrace these essentialist ways of thinking just to claim it as my own?
I’ve attributed to introversion everything from my tolerance for repetition (songs, TV shows) to my sense of grandiosity to my bad grades (high school) to my good grades (college) to my love of sitting down to my lack of Saturday night plans to my meticulous planning to my hunch that I’d be good at the drums to my tendency to hold forth to my tendency to say nothing to my lack of any sense of direction to my powers of observation to my absentmindedness. There are plenty of think pieces and TED talks (and more than a few internet quizzes) that explain how introverts are not necessarily shy and don’t necessarily have social anxiety, so I won’t bother laying out the evidence here. I’ll just say that we introverts are oriented inward.
If we can’t find the exit in the Bed Bath & Beyond, for example, it’s not that we’d prefer moving in to the Bed Bath & Beyond to asking someone for help. It’s just that we’d consider moving in to the Bed Bath & Beyond before it would occur to us to ask for help. It’s also that we very well might envision the life we would make for ourselves in the Bed Bath & Beyond, imagining how we’d make a pillow fort to live in, complete with an air mattress, a lamp, a mini-fridge, and a George Forman grill—and an alarm clock so we could wake up in time each morning to disassemble it. (OK, I’m almost done: We might also imagine how, like Natalie Portman in that one movie, we’d keep a log of what we owe Bed Bath & Beyond and find a way to compensate them for whatever we used.)
In contrast, most of my exes—notably, Jay and Two—are oriented outward. They’re classic extroverts. They make as many friends and enemies walking from the 1 train home as I’ve made in my entire life. On the plus side, these totally inexplicable investments in people they don’t know usually lasted long enough for me to quietly steal their wallet.
These extroverts can’t stomach doing just one thing. They always want more and more. If you watch a movie with Jay, he’ll pause it in the middle of a scene to show you a related YouTube video and then pause the YouTube video to tell you a related story.
Meanwhile, Two couldn’t simply eat at a restaurant. He needed a garrulous Sardinian bartender and a wall full of liquor to quiz him about. That’s why he insisted on eating at the bar. I always assumed that he needed more and more to distract himself from the sinking feeling that everything is nothing and that, no matter how many handmade shoes one buys or how many pisco sours one drinks, we’ll all wind up dead one day anyway.
I don’t know. Do I call myself an introvert because it gives me license to act weird and quiet when I feel like it, because apparently it gives me license to be whatever I claim to be?
It could be that. Or it could be what we five learned that day in the hotel banquet hall: that absent any other suitable category, we are the people who invent one of our own. Then again, maybe that’s just the misanthropy and self-importance—the introversion—talking.