Breaking Old Patterns

tree branch

“When the storm broke, the world was changed. Flat rocks dotted the pasture with their damp shine, scattered on a hillside that looked like a mud finger painting. The receding waters left great silted curves swaggering down the length of the hill, pulled from side to side by a current that followed its incomprehensible rules.”
~ Barbara Kingsolver, “Flight Behavior”

The paragraph from “Flight Behavior” makes me think of the flow of a person’s life. Usually predictable, guided by the constraints of normality, but then sometimes there’s too much and the damn breaks and you’re left with a mess that has little resemblance to your life before the storm.

Fortunately, my own life has been pretty level lately — no divorce,  health crisis, or relocation to deal with. The only turmoil or storm is inside me, where it feels like a raging rapids. I don’t know why so I’m just waiting it out.

Minnesota weatherwise, it’s been cloudy but dry — the promise of something but no delivery. We did get a half inch of snow Sunday night, not enough to change the Minnesota diagnosis from drought to normal.

I went out to the barn to see Luke on Saturday but forgot to bring my camera. I seem to forget my camera a lot lately. I’m stuck in a sameness feeling where I perceive that all the photos have already been taken. Except I never tire of the dogs.

dog by Mississippi River

dog by Mississippi River

They’ve been getting more walks lately as I try to figure out what to do about a male and female duck who appear to have decided our pond may be the best place to take up residence. I feel bad going out and shushing them away so I can let the dogs into the backyard. Mr and Mrs Duck try to out maneuver me around the pond but eventually take flight, only to return, oblivious to their folly. I’m afraid they’re going to nest here and then what will I do? Worse yet, Mr Duck doesn’t seem very dependable, sometimes leaving Mrs Duck home alone all day while he does God knows what. She’s like a young girl, waiting by the phone.

duck on backyard pond

This past week, I attended two bicycling events. One was Ladies Night at a bike shop in the suburbs where women looked at bike clothing markdowns and downed wine and chocolates. The other was a roundtable discussion between bike shop employees and WTFs (women, trans, femme) on how the former can make the bike world more accessible to people who are often marginalized in that arena.

Both events were very small scale challenges as far as walking up to people to introduce myself and strike up a conversation. There was nothing to gain or lose at either event. Still, I didn’t talk to anyone at the first event I attended, and I only spoke to three people at the second event — and only because they purposely introduced themselves to me and asked me questions. I realized later that I hadn’t even responded by asking the same questions in return.

dog on fishing dock

I know I’ve written about this issue of being uncomfortable and awkward in groups before, but this time, I think I might have an idea on how to make this better.

I was raised to be silent. The message was “Don’t bother people or pry.” This was taken to an extreme where I thought that even asking such questions as “How are you?” or “What brought you here?” was off limits. I came to believe that if people want to talk, they will talk, if they don’t, they won’t. But that doesn’t ring true. I want to talk! But I don’t feel like I can unless invited, which means someone has to approach me first. If no one does invite me into the conversation, I leave feeling bad about myself.

dog on fishing dock

But what about “them?” It’s not fair to put all the burden of interacting and responsibility for my feelings on someone else.

I know this old pattern of thinking is hurting me. People think I’m standoffish, that I’m not interested in what they have to say, or that I am an empty vessel with nothing to contribute to the group.

I know this and yet it’s so hard to break old thoughts and habits, even if it could mean a chance to connect with new people and feel better about myself in general.

dog by Mississippi River

I’ll never be anything but an introvert and I’ll always prefer one-on-one conversations and time alone, but I can improve my comfort level and ability to socialize in a group.

I read something while preparing to attend the AWP (Association of Writers and Writers Programs) conference this coming April. Several people recommended having one clear goal in mind before attending the conference and then sticking to that goal. My only intention was to have the experience of attending a big writer’s conference and getting my feet wet. AWP is supposed to be one of the best places to learn about which literary magazines and small presses are out there and what kinds of writing they publish.

But just attending isn’t much of a plan or goal. I keep thinking that if I go to enough events, somehow by watching how other people interact, I’ll magically become socially relaxed and savvy. I will step up to the plate when it feels right, when the timing is right, when the opportunity arises — in other words — never.

dog by Mississippi River

I’ve promised myself that the next gathering I attend, I will go with the intention of introducing myself to one person and asking them what brought them to the event. I’m hoping I actually get to try this before something as uncomfortable as the AWP arrives.

I have overcome a number of fears of doing things like taking the train and attending events where I don’t know anyone. But I want to up the bravado. I want to be the person to start a conversation. I want to worry less about what other people think or get muddled by self doubt if someone doesn’t respond to me the way I had hoped they would.

As I watched several people on Sunday state their thoughts and feelings clearly and with confidence, I thought, why can’t I do that? Why do I believe that what I have to say has no value?

Why indeed…

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  1. Why indeed. I used to have a goal of talking to at least one person at each event I attended. And I kept a log, dutifully writing down the names of those I talked to when I returned home. While I know no longer keep the log, I do sometimes have to issue myself the challenge as I can still feel overwhelmingly shy when surrounded by people I don’t know.

    1. That’s a very good idea. Not only as a way of kind of solidifying “Yes, I’m doing this.” But also to start working on remembering names as that’s another big problem for me.

  2. It sounds like a great plan to me. Think how relieved you were to have someone come up to you and initiate– you’ll be doing the same for someone else. I’m an introvert too, although most people never realize this because this method of asking questions has become my best coping mechanism. Most people are very happy to be asked about themselves and eager to engage in conversation in that format. 🙂

    1. Yup. Given how many people I’ve discovered (surprisingly) who meet and greet is difficult for, I realized it’s not fair to make others do all the work. I can give back by being “first” for a change because, as you said, people are eager to be the person who is sought out rather than the other way around.

  3. I believe that is true, most people appreciate an interest shown and so many more than you realize are dealing with the same fears and doubts that you have. I give you many high fives for all the effort you’ve put in to these changes you want to make and the progress already achieved and I thank you once again for the awesomely gorgeous puppy pics!

    1. Thanks Susan. It is SO true. I mean the part about people appreciating interest shown, although the part about the puppy pics is true too. They were being such good little photo subjects. 🙂

  4. It is hard, when you’re an introvert, to work around that. I applaud you for trying, and it sounds like you are making real progress. Sometimes I think it helps to think that other people probably feel just the same way you do, and are too scared to do what they wish they could.
    And what you say has much value. 🙂

  5. Kelly, I imagine at the writer’s conference the introverts will outnumber the extroverts. Some writer’s are more well known and have had more practice being public and I’m easily intimidated by them, but it does help to remember that we are probably more the same in this regard than different.

  6. Oh I am struggling with this too especially now that I am more isolated in retirement….I will go out of my way to avoid large groups now and that is not good….I too need to set up some goals and stick to them…thanks for the reminder.

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