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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dead pan alley


The introvert’s curse.

My bio over there mentions something about karaoke. It’s not a joke. It’s something I may only do once every couple of years, but when I get up behind that mike, buckle your seat belts. If I’m not just up in front of a crowd of strangers and there are people in the audience who actually know me, the best I can tell is that they experience some form of social whiplash. The singing may not be that impressive (or then again, maybe it is), but it’s so totally not what they expected that it makes their heads spin.

At a recent out of town conference the entertainment one night was a DJ and karaoke. Keep in mind the client group was a crowd of mostly mid-50s local government officials enjoying a night out of town and access to free alcohol. And keep in mind they usually see me as a young attorney and instructor pontificating on such fascinating topics as records management, court costs or ethics reform laws. It’s what I get paid to do. A few of the people there had heard rumors that I could sing, but I don’t think any of them expected to hear me belt out a bluesy rendition of Marc Cohn’s Walkin’ in Memphis and later follow that up with a soulful version of the Eagles Desperado. I’m just too white.

One official later came up and said something along the lines of "I shoulda known. You can’t ever trust the deadpan types." Um.... thanks. I think. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been described that way. I remember a high school English teacher who was directing the school play talk about how I was correctly cast in my part as a fastidious psychologist because I was so "deadpan."
I don’t know if deadpan necessarily goes along with introversion or if in my case it somehow amplifies it. But, like it or not, apparently it is my reality. Throughout my life, I couldn’t count the number of times people have thought I was angry or upset or depressed or disgruntled or sick or tired because there was apparently this blank mask on my face. (If you can be disgruntled, is there an opposite state of being "gruntled"? Just asking.) At the time I may have been thoroughly content or amused or peaceful. Still, they for some reason sense pain or anger or animosity coming from me. I have this theory that my face is some kind of blank canvas and other people project their own inner feelings or insecurities onto it. Who knows? Maybe with this clean slate of mine I’ve been missing out on all sorts of opportunities in the field of high stakes gambling.

I enjoy the privacy all this affords me, but it has its down side as well. There are times I’m really hurting or down or depressed and I wish I had sleeves on which to wear my emotions. I’d love for others to be able to sense the storm inside and offer comfort when I’m in too much turmoil to be able to ask for help. And there are times I need to kick up my heels or blow off steam or let out a primal scream and it just doesn’t happen.

However, there’s something about speaking in groups or singing on a stage that serves as an outlet. As an introvert, I’m bottled up or withdrawn so much of the time, I think these public opportunities serve as a pressure regulator. I have a role to play as instructor or speaker or lounge singer and I can put myself into that role and blame whatever happens on the moment. I’ve got an excuse to lay it all on the table. When I teach classes, I’m sharp, witty and down right charming. Not so much if you approach me for small talk at a reception. And if you were in the pew in front of me in church, you would not necessarily be impressed with my voice. I think it’s a bit like a high performance sports car that doesn’t run so smoothly at highway speeds. But crank the RPMs up to the red line and I can growl out a Joe Cocker tune, rock out to American Woman, scream out some heavy metal classic or belt out some emotionally charged ballad that brings the house down.

An Aside: Feeling emotionally restless a month or so ago I tried going out to a karaoke bar here in town by myself one night after the kids were in bed and Lisa was busy with some project. I unfortunately picked this cheesy country joint in Printer’s Alley. I think most of the people there had 20 years on me. When I walked in this big black guy was doing an impressive rendition of Ray Charle’s Georgia. Then I think he kicked into Charlie Pride. I was flipping through the song list trying to decide between Billy Joel or Billy Idol when this woman got up and asked "Do y’all wanna hear a slow Tanya Tucker song or a fast Tanya Tucker song?" as if those were the only two forms of music to have originated during the 5,000 years of recorded human history. Realizing how far from water this fish had gotten I packed it up at that point and went back home still restless and unsatisfied, but now with side helpings of foolishness and futility.

I wonder if someday this inner passionate self will ever manage to live closer to the surface and interact with the people in my life on a regular basis. Maybe it’s not meant to be. A dozen or so years ago now, I went through a depressive episode for about a year. It was caused by a bad confluence of circumstances and went undiagnosed and untreated. Eventually, circumstances began to improve one by one and I crawled back out of the hole I’d sunk into. During that period, I wrote poetry continuously. I think most of it was probably pretty bad. I should dig some up sometime and see. But there was something about that period that felt like a birth. Whether I was a bit nuts at the time or going through a personal transformation, I really felt like there was this person inside (the poet), who’d been chained up for years and controlled by a domineering highly-functional intellectual. Mr. Poet was finally loose and going on a rampage and kicking brainiac’s butt.

I think I’m a good bit more integrated now. Less compartmentalized and combative with the various sides of my personality. Either Mr. Poet’s wild ride came to an end or he got locked back in his closet or he got old or domesticated or peaceful. I believe I can access that emotionality now but without all the angst. Still pretty dang introverted though. So it’s nice to have opportunities to cut loose in a controlled environment. I guess that’s part of what karaoke does for me. And public speaking. And this blog.

I’ve found a weird phenomena this thing has created in my life. I saw some out of town friends recently and realized most of the things I started to share as news they had already heard by reading my blog. Then at church, another reader came up and asked about something going on in my life that I’d mentioned on here in a post. We ran into some friends at a park a few weeks ago who commented on reading my blog and another friend once commented that he found it fascinating to read my thoughts and my wife's thoughts and see the differences and dynamics of our relationship. So my life and thoughts and concerns are seeping out into the real world from this place. It kind of catches you off guard for a minute when it happens and you're thinking "Crap. What have I written recently?" I guess there's nothing wrong with that. As far as I know, no one is being held hostage with a gun to their head and forced to read this stuff. Nobody has to comment or ask a question unless they want to. It's like sitting in a karaoke bar. If you've walked in there, you've got to expect to hear some baaaaaaaad singing. That's part of the deal.

I have this horrible reluctance to "impose" on people, so I rarely approach a friend and say "Something’s really troubling me. Can I talk to you?" At dinner parties or other social gatherings, I probably let my wife – the natural extrovert, take the lead. If I do try to throw myself into conversation, I probably can’t keep up the pace for long. I’ve become practiced at the art of slipping into the background and deflecting attention. It’s hard now to drop my shields. So maybe the way poetry helped me get in touch with a part of me years ago, blogging may help me get in touch with others in a deeper more meaningful way. Ain’t technology grand.

I'm considering where to go with this thing. Do I stick with posts about my personal life and family or branch out into social, political or spiritual commentary? The world I work in is a political place and too much honesty could be a liability. Likewise, I wouldn't want my parents or in-laws reading a lot of these ramblings. I don't want someone to be able to type my name in Google or Yahoo and find all this stuff. There is freedom in anonymity. But paradoxically, there is also freedom and safety in being open and vulnerable and not trying to protect yourself.


Blogger wordsonwater said...

I guess I'll play opposites today, because no matter how I try to hide how I feel, my face is like a billboard in Times Square. However, I have a decent singing voice, but could no more go up on stage and sing than I could jump from an airplane. Oh, did I mention I have a little thing about heights? My family blog is mostly about long ago rather than day to day which keeps me safe from emotional exposure. I only slip a bit about now in there from time to time. My real writing is mine alone, mostly to protect the guilty, and I include myself in that category.

10:13 AM, December 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suddenly, I feel quite privileged to know you well enough to be surprised that you have been labeled as "deadpan". I can even imagine you in a karoke bar. (I don't know how acurate that imagination is, though...)

And now I have to ask: how to you get a counter? I must have one, although I will probably be 98% of the numbers counted.

5:50 PM, December 01, 2006  
Blogger valis said...

Adding a counter is pretty easy (it had to be for me to do it). Go to the blogger help page and search for "counter." Somewhere in there I found a link to pages with free add-on counters. You pick out the type of counter you want, then you copy and paste some code from that page to the formatting code for your page. It's not much more complicated than it is to add a link to your page. Words on Water suggested it. I'm sure a third or more of my hits are me, but when I come by the page and another 8 or 9 hits have been counted, it does make me wonder who's dropped by.

9:55 AM, December 02, 2006  

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