Four months ago, I quit my day job. I had been working full-time at a sign shop, doing graphic design. I spent nearly five years there before I finally threw in the towel.
I had plenty of reasons for leaving. As you might expect, most of them centered around not wanting to be there anymore. But the strongest pull away from that job was a pull toward something. I wanted to try something new. I wanted to make something new. I wanted to stop tailoring my creativity to the desires of my customers, coworkers, and bosses. I wanted only my voice in my head as I worked.
Even at the time, it felt like a pipe dream. It felt silly to walk away from the security of a paying job and plunge into the unknown with no guarantees. Irresponsible, even.
My goal was to make money writing. Four months into this, I don’t feel any closer to that goal. Maybe I haven’t been working hard enough. Maybe I haven’t been working smart enough. Maybe I’ve been too distracted by other tasks, like household chores, and Kijiji sales, and planning our move. Maybe I’ve been inviting these very distractions so I’ll have something to point to when I fail.
I feel like I’ve failed already.
I haven’t found the right approach to becoming a successful writer. I don’t know for sure that I ever will. And even though Kate assured me that taking this time off would be a good thing for me, regardless of whether the writing thing panned out, I’m no longer sure.
When I first made the decision to quit my job, one of the things I was looking forward to was the freedom I would have. I could finally say goodbye to a routine that felt oppressive. How great it would be not to have to report anywhere for 8:00 AM, not to have to rush through lunch at my cubicle, not to be chained to a desk in a windowless office corner. How great it would be not to have to force conversation when feeling antisocial. How great it would be to watch the clock hit 4:30 PM and still have plenty of social energy left in my tank. Great great great!
It was for a while. But now I feel like I’ve swung too far the other way.
I take a walk each weekday morning as Kate heads off to work. Some days, that’s the only time I leave the house. I do chores, I write, I send emails, I make spreadsheets, and I do it all alone. Aside from the occasional visit from my sister, I’m a one-woman show.
Kate gets home around 5:00 most days. I have to make a conscious effort not to bombard her with conversation and attention the moment she walks in. She’s an introvert too, and after a full work day, she needs her down time. That’s not a hard thing for me to understand logically, but now and then I find it tricky to manage emotionally.
I used to describe myself as an introvert who was frequently mistaken for an extrovert. A few short years ago, I was rolling, full steam ahead, on the socializing train. Back then, I was out and about often enough that I rarely had two consecutive evenings to myself. So, what happened to that girl?
I’m sure dating an introvert played a part. Before Kate and I got together, we were each making an effort to go out and spend time with people. On my part, it was a deliberate choice; an attempt to chip my way into the dating scene. Kate, as I understand it, was interested in making queer friends. Our paths eventually crossed. We spent our first few months wrapped up together in an impenetrable relationship cocoon. Three years later, I’m not convinced we’ve finished the job of breaking out.
Social skills are like muscles. Without use, they atrophy and fail. I made huge social strides back in my early thirties, going out, meeting people, leaving the house with only the vaguest outline of a plan and trusting things to work out. I was proud of myself as it was happening, and I assumed that the changes I was seeing in myself were permanent. Now I know better. I’ve discovered that, the longer I spend hermitting, the harder it becomes to shrug off the cozy blanket of home and step out into the world.
I gave it a shot last Friday. Kate wanted to visit a couple of thrift stores and I wanted to go to Staples, so we headed out together. Value Village was mobbed, but that’s sort of par for the course, so I breathed my way through it and I managed to leave unscathed. We went to Goodwill next. The experience there was similar (crowds of people stuffed into every aisle; no quiet corners to escape to) but still I kept my composure. A sneezing fit (damn second-hand dust!) forced me out of the store a few minutes ahead of Kate, but thankfully I had an allergy pill in my bag and a box of Kleenex in the car.
Things fell apart when we got to Staples. I was in search of a specific brand of erasable pen. Kate and I spent a couple of minutes scanning over the selection, to no avail. Every time I looked up from my search, there was another family of five pushing their way past us. Cart after cart rolled through, gently driving me closer to the pens. Children and their parents chatted excitedly as they haphazardly shuffled by. One kid asked his Dad if adults were allowed to shop at Staples.
No one was being grumpy or badly behaved (at least not that I noticed), but the sheer wall of people that greeted my gaze every time I looked up sent me over the edge.
“We have to go,” I told Kate. She put a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“Do you still want to get pens?”
“I can’t,” I said. “I can’t be in here anymore. I’m sorry.”
She took my hand and led me out of the store. She understands. This sort of thing has happened before. It will probably happen again. And I hate it.
Looking out the window from the passenger seat, I felt defeated and embarrassed. How did I let myself get this bad? When did I lose my grasp on my ability to function as an adult?
Staples had been uncharacteristically busy for a Friday evening. Everyone was probably shopping for back-to-school. We hadn’t given it much thought before walking in. If we had, I probably would have saved the trip for another time.
That’s the introvert’s way, after all. Avoid crowds. Keep personal interactions to a minimum. Duck down an empty aisle if you can. Retreat home as quickly as humanly possible. Find some quiet.
My aisles are too empty these days. My world is too quiet. I’m going to need to recalibrate soon, before my introversion swallows me whole. I’m going to need to dust off my inner extrovert.
Hopefully I can keep the sneezing to a minimum.
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