Pretty much all my life I have been fighting against my instinctive introversion, and now that I have turned 65, I’ve decided to stop fighting. I hope people will see this as the legitimate prerogative of a senior citizen.
When someone – anyone, except those I know very well indeed – asks me to have coffee or a beer, I am filled with a feeling not far from dread. But I have always thought that I shouldn’t give in to the anxiety; instead I have tried to push back. It’s just grabbing a cup of coffee and having a little chat, for heaven’s sake! I tell myself. You’re not being taken in by the Stasi for interrogation. So I make myself say yes, and I make myself go … and while I can manage to be friendly and engaged during the meeting — indeed, more than friendly, way too talkative, out of sheer nervousness — when we’re done I want to go home and sleep for a day or two.
There’s nothing wrong with the people who invite me — indeed, they’re often interesting or even charming, which is the primary reason why I feel I should push back against my instincts. But it’s still taxing to push back. If I were invited to dinner by Bob Dylan or Thomas Pynchon, I’d think, Do I really have to? (But I doubt I can make you believe how serious I am about that.)
There’s a passage in Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s delightful book Ruined By Reading that I think about at least once a week:
Were books the world, or at least a world? How could I “live” when there was so much to be read that ten lives could not be enough? And what is it, anyway, this “living”? Have I ever done it? … Reading is not a disabling affiction. I have done what people do, my life makes a reasonable showing. Can I go back to my books now?
I will continue to attend required meetings, and make plans with my colleagues, and connect with my students during my office hours; and I will with great delight have coffee or beer or dinner with my dearest friends, of whom I am blessed (despite my weird disability) to have a few.
But the main thing is this: I have done what people do, my life makes a reasonable showing. I have a house full of books and music and movies, and I shall go back to them now. If you write to invite me out for coffee or a beer, I will probably send you a link to this post. So please remember: It’s not you, it’s me.