Health and Swellness

It’s bad enough the women featured in all those health and fitness magazines are completely devoid of excess fat. Bad enough they insult the average stuffed-crust American with their perfectly shaped buns and abs. And bad enough they seem to have several employment-free hours a day to devote to full-release quad crunches with a half-turn thrust. But do they have to look so damned TOGETHER? The chicks in these magazines all have this sparkle in their eyes, this look of perfect, alert contentment. Their look says, “I have attained optimal health and well-being at a level once exclusive to Buddhist monks and select Osmonds.” There’s an inner fire to these gals – probably applied with a Photoshop filter not available to lesser mortals – that indicates that they’re eating all the right organic foods, bicycling regularly, and focusing healing energies to any potential trouble spots.  It’s a look I vaguely recognize as ... “happy.”

These women, grabbing life by the barbells as they are, appear to be extroverts. There’s a lot of buzz in the media these days about the extrovert/introvert divide, much of it revolving around Susan Cain’s recent book, “Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” It’s a good book, and one that I relate to on many levels, but it stirs up an ongoing confusion for me: I have no idea if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. Yeah, I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs and various other psychological tests (I’ll take any quiz that seems to revolve around me in some way), but they always put me in some uninspired mid-region of mental banality: too introverted for Broadway, not introverted enough for computer chess.  So I’m never quite sure if I’m meant to devote my life to mathematics or Manson. All I know is that I deeply resent perky, well-adjusted people who seem blissfully free of this kind of inner confusion. Especially if they have toned glutes.

Most who know me would consider me an introvert. I say little most of the time and have conditioned myself to nod and smile in a non-committal fashion to the freestyle blathering of most pedestrians. But they usually mistake my calm and reserve for shyness when I’m really just quietly suppressing the urge to beat them to death with a tire iron. And if we consider beating someone to death with a tire iron an act of self-expression, then perhaps denying my peers these well-deserved bludgeonings means I’m a repressed extrovert. If, however, you’ve met me and I’ve taken the time to verbalize my contempt for you at length, I might appear openly extroverted. After all, when worked up about a topic that interests me, like your horrible taste in movies or your annoying hairstyle, I’ve been known to gesticulate wildly and froth at the mouth in an extroverted fashion. But you’ve witnessed an increasingly rare act of chatterboxery in that case, because I’m comfortable enough around you to bother belittling your innumerable character flaws. (Don’t mention it. I’m here to help.)

My memory is that I started out as an extrovert; first to volunteer for show & tell, most eager to deliver an oral report on a book I hadn’t read. I had the makings of a cult leader as a child. I attained no credentials through academic achievement – avoided any and all scholastic effort in fact – yet I maintained the popularity and charisma to convince other children to shoplift Snickers and start gasoline fires. I called all my teachers by their first names, lit their cigarettes, and advised them on the rough drafts of their novels. My friends sought my council on their relationship and bedwetting problems. I coasted through middle school with minimal effort, my classmates repeating my catch phrases and obsessing over the Crumb comics and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer albums I recommended. I was somewhere between Cool Hand Luke and Dale Carnegie. Cool Hand Carnegie.

So what happened? Puberty happened. You’ve seen it kick the kindergarten out of many a kid, I’m sure. One minute they’re bright, cheerful tykes, full of hope and Fruit Roll-ups, the next minute the darkness comes. Puberty stirs an emotional cyclone in little Hunter and Caitlin, and they come to understand that life isn’t all dirt bikes and Dad’s porno stash, but is, in fact, a big bag of shit. What’s worse, their entire generation has discovered, all at once, that they are all too fat, too faggy, and too flatulent to ever dream of seeing another person pantsless. So everyone makes a vow to stop talking to anyone else, lest their undiagnosed cases of terminal Melvin be discovered.

For me, this meant my Oprah-like hold on my classmates was faltering against the lure of chess clubs and cheerleading squads and any other potential roads to institutionalized fuckability. My fart noises and Couch Spurlock impressions, once the rage in all the finest cafeterias, now meant nothing. My classmates avoided me. Worse, I became just as panicked about my social standing as my zit-faced contemporaries. So I clammed up. I tried to play it cool. I stifled the wacky voices and lampshade dances and kept to myself. Naturally, this only aggravated my alienation from the accepted high school cliques. Gloom began to set in. I stayed in my room alone most of the time. Pretty soon I had been reduced to poetry and Doors LPs. I was overcome with a level of anxiety and self-doubt that no John Hughes movie could validate.

And that’s more or less the sorry state I remain in today. Along the way, I learned to hate extroverted people. I learned to resent these chipper little rays of sunshine who somehow survived all this adolescent turmoil with their self-esteem intact. Who eagerly chat up people they’ve just met, secure in their dental work and personal aroma, exuding sunny optimism. These Chatty Cathy go-getters who, given half a chance, would strap on stilts and juggle in public to raise money for children with chronic hiccups – how I’ve learned to loathe them. How dare they spew all that confidence in the faces of others while I remain locked indoors, curtains drawn, engaging in the last refuge of the lonely introvert: blogging?

Or am I merely envious because I was a snotty little extrovert in my youth? Maybe I’m like the child star who resents the stardom of others because he outgrew his cuteness and can no longer play Timmy on “That’s My Tranny Grandpa.” Maybe that little extrovert still lives inside me, struggling to get free and play the banjo at orgies. Am I a recovering extrovert? Or did I develop extroverted tendencies in childhood as a defense against my inner introvert? Have I turned an inner extrovert into an inverted pseudo-introvert to spurn the extra internal perversion for which an externalized introvert yearns?

Questions like these, and perhaps others that actually make sense, are for the therapist I can’t afford. All I know is I’d like to punch these cheerful health magazine women in the face. And I would except, judging from their biceps, they would have no trouble beating me senseless. And I would deserve it, black-hearted malcontent that I am.

 My only hope is that our current trend in spotlighting the plight of the introvert may even the score somewhat. Maybe we can start a magazine of our own, dedicated to depressive shut-ins and angry loners (I hear business is booming for print periodicals these days). We’ll call it “Death & Taxes.” It’ll be full of microwave Hot Pocket recipes, plus tips for bedsores and Vitamin D deficiency. We’ll print the “Manifesto of the Month” and have an advice column for Sudoku addicts. Best of all, we’ll counter the scourge of the fit and vivacious cover girls with photos of me, unwashed, bleary-eyed, working on my fifth bowl of Cocoa Pebbles in my black Snuggie. I’ll become the public face of the introverted sad sack.

On second thought, get that damn camera out of here and leave me alone.


caleb fraid said...

I like your handle, cool hand carnegie. Maybe you should let that beast out to rip everybody to shreds. Pump some iron yourself. Don't fight it bill bixby. Give in.

Shannon Smith said...

That Myers-Brigs had me borderline on the introvert/extrovert thing too. Thanks for nothing Myers-Brigs. My employer paid me to fill in circles for nothing.

Esri Allbritten said...

I like the magazine idea.

Also, Black Snuggie would make an excellent blues name.

Anonymous said...

Get...the hell...out of my head.

And put me down for 2 years of "Death & Taxes"...