Offbeat 12 February 2016

My first few years of high school were atrocious. I didn’t fit and didn’t belong, and it was made very clear to me. That shaped me by playing to my propensities and fixing me in that mould, a poor fit with all the other moulded things with more conventional personality types.
Last night I returned to the school for a parent function. I walked in with a high degree of nerves and a sense that I needed if not to attack any slight, at least to be intensely wary. Strangely enough it turned out pleasant. I survived the getting-to-know-you rigmarole, and the personal group introduction, and amused everyone by taking a tumble in a race.
One of the highlights of the evening was doing what I could not do when I wore the uniform: slinking away from the crowd, sitting in a hidden bunch of bushes while I read for 10 minutes to regather my energy, before rejoining the gathering.
If you were a reader at school you will recognise the illicit pleasure in the face of more conventional playground activities.
The school seems to have done a turnaround from the dour place of well-adjusted young people it was when I attended. Nobody called me a freak. I almost felt lost, but the change is heartening and bodes well for the future.
Most of the difficulty I had at the school was my introverted nature. I was inevitably deep in thought and daydreaming. My responses were delayed by the need to sort through the correct answers to find the right one. Naturally my goldfish impression was interpreted as something close to being mentally challenged, and even if and when the correct response showed up, it was usually after a good period of time, if my attention did not wander.
Plan B was to say something louche and freaky in a teenage kind of way, but that didn’t work either. In hindsight, I feel slightly sorry for the kids who had to interact with me.
It’s easier to talk now that I am an adult. I put a couple of the beers in me that would have had me expelled at school, drop a witty comment and see where it goes from there, or if I need to beat a strategic retreat, which still happens, though far more rarely now.
Unlike the child I was, I am old enough and wise enough to know that parties and dinners are a thing that I have to avoid. My best strategy is go somewhere neutral where I can leave without causing offense. I seem to have become a master at not apologising for making my exit, in other words not saying goodbye.
I have spent a fair amount of life trying to match my introversion with a world that is apparently extrovert. This year, as a New Year resolution, I decided to come to terms with my introversion and be happy with it.
One of the points that I found my way to was the idea that about half of everyone is somewhere on the introvert side of the personality spectrum. Extroversion, being more vocal however, tries to shoehorn introverts into their way of living. I can understand their paranoia. If someone sits quietly looking at you, it might well be a plot. On the other hand, I am comfy being an introvert, and don’t waste time planning the demise of extroverts.
They are just not interesting enough with all their small talk, even if they are as noisy as the birds at dawn.
As I thought about it on the sports field I looked around me and noticed various parents and kids, standing on their own, smiling vaguely, separated by the comforting distance of meters, not talking. They were balanced out by the tight-knit gaggle in a marquee tent, the people who needed close proximity to survive.
Sometimes it is important to recognise differences, rather than fit in. Half the world consists of people on the introvert side of the spectrum, and a good portion of them will be trying to find ways to fit in, without recognising that the silence of thought and imagination are among their strongest attributes.
I will look forward to the next school gathering, not the bits in the crowded hall, but the moments of dispersal that make me feel that I belong at a distance.

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