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A Room of One's Own | 2013 | Empty Chairs


People empty me. I have to get away to refill.  

-Charles Bukowski


The Balancing Act

The raptor represents how comfortable I feel in social sitations.

Some might be surprised to hear that I, on occasion, consider myself an introvert. After all, I flirted my way through my adolescence and was rarely out of company. A high school girlfriend used to connect new people by how they knew me since she assumed everyone did and joked about being the president of League of Exes. Thrown into a party and in a good mood, I can be downright charismatic, if I have to be. However, I still weigh factors and try to figure out how quickly I can resume sitting in a quiet room with a keyboard or reading light. I still process the world through the eyes of an introvert who needs to note and transcribe. I'm not sure I understand the concept of an extroverted writer.

For most of my life, I was someone's roommate or housemate, side from a few years spent in a studio apartment in near penury. Once I lived alone, I quickly found the rhythm to it and felt I'd wasted time not trying it sooner (though I imagine it would be exponentially better if I were not petrified I would be homeless in a month). Beyond not having to wear pants when at home, there is a charm to the solitude. I did not have to be anyone other than who I wish to be in that moment, I did not have to perform or present an appearance, so it allowed me to better sort through who I am and want to be. No one criticized when I wrote or how much, even when I mumbled recollections of dreams into a voice recorder at three in the morning. (I am married to my writing, but it's an open marriage and she tends not to mind the torrid affairs I have so long as I tell her every salacious detail.)

I need my space, unoccupied and undisturbed. One of the blessings of my current dwelling is that Amber and I have space enough to be alone if that is what we desire, which is a marked improvement over our last, where I would sit in the closet writing for hours at a time. In part, I credit the success of my relationship with Amber to her own, more pronounced introversion. We can be alone and quiet together.

In our last apartment, I explained to Amber that we couldn't be friends with the neighbors. I need to be assured that my home is a private sanctum. When I lived alone, I regarded any unsolicited knock on the door as a very real threat, and not merely because my negligent landlord rented to drug dealers and initially seemed to promise my apartment to angry strangers before he cashed my deposit check. I would not answer unless the person at the door announced him or herself and, a few times, would conduct business through the door because that person had no right to disturb me. Once I turned that deadbolt, the universe was not permitted to intrude without my express permission.

It does not help my introversion that I am the teacher of a challenging demographic - adjudicated and often inner-city, adolescent boys - and they tend to sap my ability to deal with humanity. When I return home from work, I want to do little more than to drink some tea without having to talk to, listen to, or touch another sentient being, though Amber tends to want to crawl in my lap because she had spent the day alone, creating art and recharging her social batteries. Fortunately, cuddling her tends to be like nestling up with a cat and is low impact on my own systems so long as she deigns to get up when I need more tea.

Amber and I threw a housewarming party several weeks after moving. I felt proud that, for the first time ever, I could throw a proper party in my home. In total, fifteen people crammed in and I did a good job of playing entertainer, even if this involved nothing more than pointing people toward the laptop connected to my flat screen and letting them free on the internet or teasing the half-drunk couple making out on my floor in hopes they would be more discreet. We had a massive pan of baked ziti that Amber and I pick at for days after and seven different beverages for the delectation of our friends, along with what our guests brought. Even if I couldn't remember to introduce arriving guests to established ones, I feel it was my first successful party.

It was great to amass all these people we care about, some coming from as far away as Brooklyn. However, there came a moment hours I needed to sit in quiet, in the dark of my room, and type a few paragraphs to settle my mind. I didn't want them to leave and I was glad that they would be there when I finished, but I needed a break. By this point, I assumed the party was fairly self-sustaining and my guests were amusing themselves, so I wouldn't be missed.

I am often the one at social functions ducking out for a few minutes in decompress, though I try to be unobtrusive about it. Once, with no more protection than the clothes I wore, I tromped out in the snow in order to clear my head because there was so much noise, so many people requesting and talking and flirting and eating around me, and I needed things to just be quiet for a little while. I lacked the emotional regulation I now have, the ability to soothe that anxiety within me with promises that all would be quiet soon. I paced for a dozen minutes before someone asked what I was doing and then, embarrassed, I darted back into the party.

I believe that I regard Daniel so well because he possesses a more honest version of my introversion. He goes to cafes and works on designs. From what I've seen, he is downright beloved there. He is social within his parameters, but he is also alone in public, which is almost a revolutionary act in this world of interconnectedness, where introversion is akin to pathology. There have been several times when, in the midst of hanging out, he will quietly announce to me that he believes his social meter has run out and that he will be going now. This happens at the housewarming, too, as he leaves after two hours. The whole affair is a bit too populous for his liking. I tell him that he'll have to come over soon, when it will just be the three of us.

Introversion tends to be taken personally by other people. "What do you mean, you don't want to hang out right now? You think you are too good for me?" Not many people understand that their level of "fun" can be draining (much as my level can be boring) to the people around them and it is not an indictment of their personality or friendship when introverts need to politely decline invitations. I tell Amber that I have to consider some friendships as political because of this, deducing how much time I have to spend or how bubbly I need to be in their presence in order for them not to assume that I have suddenly decided I hate them and thus subjecting me to accusatory phone calls. The issue is that I do like these people. What I don't like is the people I care about deciding otherwise and then acting on that misinformation until we are no longer friends.

I understand why people would be surprised that I feel introverted. I used to be in drama club and acting wouldn't bother me (though auditions tended to as there was an element of judgment). Those were someone else's words and I had weeks to months to get them right. On stage, I wasn't me and social conventions weren't in place. I don't recall a solitary reading that I've done that did not make me wish I could hide. I try to manage as best I can, but it is almost painful for me to have this attention on myself. I can't name exactly what I fear about this, since it exists in the same proportions no matter how many people show up, e.g. "Dozens of people are here? Abject panic!" or "Amber is the only one here? Abject panic, with a side of guilt to the venue!" I soldier on and try to present as best I can, but I know for a fact that I have rattled through an hour and a half worth of material in forty-five minutes. I do not if I happened to be comprehensible while doing this.

Of course, just as Kinsey proposed that there are few exclusively heterosexual or homosexual people, few people are wholly introverted or extroverted. I can managed to be social without awkwardness, so long as I have a reason not to wholly occupy my own skull (e.g., when I went through a months-long breakup with Melanie, I became far more introverted because I struggled to stop thinking). I am getting better about being social in situation that seem rife with the potential to drain me, such as other people's family gatherings or formal occasions. I do like parties, so long as I can find a place for myself in them and am permitted to duck out with I am exhausted and oversensitive. I like meeting new people, though primarily those new people I've decided I already like and so long as someone emotionally needy does not try to attach to me. After a day of writing or simply too much time alone, my batteries are recharged and I want very much to expend them doing something I like with someone I love. The best days are those I can withstand the vertigo of being pulled between introversion and extroversion.

In a sense, my writing demonstrates the high point of my balancing act. I write often baldly about the contents of my life, soul, and mind, but I quake when anyone should obliquely mention that they read it. It is not that I don't want to be read - I would hardly be a writer if I did - but that I am bashful to a fault when I am presented with the end product of my work (aside from royalty checks). Once I write something, I can hardly stand to look at it, unless I am editing it for republication. It is as though it leaves me and melts away, slowly accumulating in layers until it forms a cohesive whole. As a side effect, I genuinely have no idea how good or bad a writer I am because I nearly disavow the story once it is in paperback, a habit I am trying to break.

Soon in Xenology: Summer. Melanie. Amber's show.

last watched: V for Vendetta
reading: We Shadows
listening: Colbie Caillat

A Room of One's Own | 2013 | Empty Chairs

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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