Introverts Anonymous...in which Uncle Duke lays low for the Cause

I did not go to Woodstock. If anyone asks, I tell them I wanted to go but couldn’t make it. That I was working up in Minnesota that summer and that I had to make money for my senior year in college. This was all technically true. But the real truth is that spending 4-5 days in close proximity to about 500,000 total strangers would have been by far the worst nightmare that I could ever possibly imagine. As an introvert, walking into the student union lounge was uncomfortable enough. A half million strangers would have killed me.

I would have sure enough enjoyed the music, but I’d have lasted maybe a day. And then I would have been walking, crawling, running, hitchhiking in the other direction, hell-bent-for-leather out of New York State and away from that crazed crowd of peace-and-love inspired extroverts, that mash pit of mega-event lovers. I would have been double-timing it away from that roiling mass of party animals, trying to put distance between me and that 600 acres of commune-living, merriment seekers. With all possible dispatch. As fast as I could go. My small town, introverted ass would have been fleeing in a non-drug-induced panic. Interacting with humanity on that scale is not something I’ve ever mastered. Not likely I will.

Along those lines, I confess I have been contemplating the beauty of social distancing since the Pandemic came about. For years solitude has been my preference. I remember always enjoying extended silent retreats. And I managed to have a pretty good career working mostly by myself, spending hours at a time tramping alone in the woods and driving solo in my truck. It went with the job. What luck!

And thereafter, I was living fairly comfortably, post-retirement, pre-Pandemic, flying pretty much below the social radar. But truth told, I discovered that the Lock-down offered me a whole new level of contentment.

It was first suggested, you may recall, that we should avoid large crowds of people. This fit most conveniently into my Philosophy, and I found it both reasonable and eminently doable. I did not whine nor moan as some did.

Then, people in positions of authority, experts in Immunology and Disease Control, professions I respected, began telling us that we should stay home ‘if at all possible’. I confess I found this most possible. It was the least I could do for my Country. “No mandate required here, Sir,” I said. “You got yourself a volunteer.”

I felt it was in fact my sworn duty as a responsible citizen to isolate myself from as much of Humanity as I possibly could, so I vigorously put myself to the task. Early on, I wiped my social slate clean and was, I am proud to say, one of the first to whole-heartedly comply with the Pandemic protocol. I may have been in fact its most enthusiastic adherent. It was my patriotic duty, I decided, to become a quasi-recluse. I excluded most non-essential humans from my day-to-day life and enshrouded myself in privacy. And to be truthful, the thought of living out my days that way was not at all unappealing.

It did appear, however, from my reading of the recommendations, to make exceptions for people such as myself to make emergency trips to the liquor store from time to time. And, if I wore a mask, maybe over to Ray’s Garage for an emergency Jeep consultation. And, as I interpreted the guidelines, my back patio was still an acceptable venue for Happy Hours with a friend or associate now and again. And no one ever corrected me.

Now you could try and tell me that I had not died and gone to Uncle Duke Heaven, but it would not stick. I realized forthwith that I was made for a Pandemic. It was an unexpected retreat, and I was the right guy for the job.

So this whole exercise has reminded me how much I appreciate, crave and require solitude. Not that I am terribly proud of it, but I have always treasured my own company, often to the exclusion of others. And from my experience, there are others of us similarly inclined. So allow me the liberty of speaking for them and explaining how this works for an introvert.

Gatherings of huge crowds of people, in excess of maybe three or four, are not assemblies we normally enjoy. It is nothing personal, and we are generally happy to be included when we are invited a week or so in advance to, say, a pot-luck dinner. It normally seems like a good idea, and we look forward to it. But by the date of the event, we realize that there will be other people there, and consequently we are considering plausible excuses to back out.

It is a phenomenon that I’ve personally never quite understood. I suddenly find there are dozens of solitary things I need to accomplish at home. There are doorknobs to polish. There is that documentary on the secret life of squid that I’ve been meaning to watch, and of course my nut-and-bolt collection has gotten completely out of control. I confess I am looking for the back door before I get there.

Much of this can be condensed down to an aversion to ‘polite conversation’. This is something that I have never quite mastered, though I have spent a goodly portion of my life trying to be good at it.

I generally have certain things that I am interested in discussing with certain people whom I know will be there. And I normally have these issues discussed and understood in fairly short order. Generally the first 15 minutes. Now this leaves several hours of listening to and trying to converse with other people before I am allowed to politely go home.

I should also mention that there are only certain things I consider worthwhile discussing. They are: Death, Politics, Religion, Sports (Baseball, basketball, football and soccer only, please. Positively NO hockey, golf or pickleball.) Sex and Fishing. Generally in that order. Though in the early Spring, I tend to reverse the order.

Oh, and Bowels. I forgot Bowels. I consider the gastrointestinal and elimination systems infinitely fascinating and will talk them up one side and down another. Yours or mine. At the drop of a hat. Just so you know.

But just those Seven. Nothing outside of those Seven holds my attention for long. Anything else, I will listen to politely for a while, but not very intently. After that, I will likely lose interest entirely and probably be deemed impolite.

As it turns out, I find tedious most all the standard topics of conversation. As a rule, I am indifferent at best to how long it takes your brother to get to work in Chicago or the price of plywood at Lowe’s. I am disinterested in the snowpack in Vail, electric cars or even the Blues’ winning streak. I am totally uninterested really in thinking about most of these things, and I am certainly not interested in talking about them. They require a quantifiable amount of energy that I would rather not expend, that I would prefer to save. For what purpose I cannot say.

And as unbelievable as it may sound, I am not interested in talking about your dog. Or your cat. Especially if there is more than one of them. They are cute enough, I suppose, with wonderful and endearing personalities, I’m sure; but no, thank you. And I’d just as soon not look at photos of them either. It has nothing to do with you or (God forbid) them. It is solely a flaw in my personality. I recognize this and will no doubt pay dearly for it in any and all After-lives.

You can perhaps see how this would limit me in a gracious and amiable party. If we limit my range to only Seven topics and eliminate pets altogether, one can gather that I am as a rule not an asset to most conversations. I do not, to my eternal shame, bring much to the table.

Conversely, as an outsider at these affairs, it has always appeared to me that most others have brains which are designed and built for chit-chat and dialogue. They are nimble and agile and plugged into a form of banter and repartee that I find impenetrable. They find interesting and worthy of discussion a whole, broad range of subjects which I truthfully find numbing. They are able to switch topics in a blink and apparently have life experiences and humorous stories specific to just about whatever topics are being discussed. These folks are social facilitators of the first order. Real, tangible, community assets. Skillful communicators, one and all, and I am always impressed and also very envious.

But my brain is of the plodding sort. Slow to register and slow to respond. And it never seems to me that my observations are germane or worthy of verbalizing. If I do at some point recognize the trajectory of the conversation and catch the drift enough to feel qualified to comment, to add something cogent, the wheels will start to turn. Then when I have pondered the subject some, deliberated it enough to consider contributing, then considered my words, the phrasing and such, put them into some kind of comprehensible order, memorized all the proper nouns, etc.…well, the conversation has moved on. The topic I was considering is two to three subjects down the road. And now, I have lost touch with the current conversation, so…oh, shit. This is too hard. Can I go home now?

Which brings us back to the Pandemic. The Pandemic eliminated all of this awkwardness. And has thereby become my friend.

I understand by the way that the collective story of the Pandemic has been long and complicated. I hereby offer my apologies and regrets to those essential folks for whom the Pandemic has been an interminable curse and an ongoing ordeal. And also to those of you with social needs who have been deprived of community affairs, societal get-togethers, book clubs, hair appointments and human intercourse of one form or another.

But from an introvert’s perspective, the Pandemic has been an inadvertent blessing. Being locked down has represented the chance alignment of our stars and an overall Happy Place. It has been a quiet refuge with few expectations, a special kind of paradise.

And personally, I find that I was indeed made for a Pandemic. Individually, I was designed for these times. It turns out, I was born to be Quarantined.

Stay healthy out there, Friends.