I am a Pathological introvert. Talking to people scares me. I can do it, but I do not seek it out. I’ve got quite good at asking humans questions about their health, hobbies, kids, holidays, then pulling a face that indicates interest, or even, on good days, a rough facsimile of enjoyment. Took me hours of practice before a mirror, mind. I can endure the resultant burbling, to a point, but then I must lie down for several hours, curtains drawn, a pill for my nerves close to hand. Junkie-like I crave my own company, twitch and twist when someone else tries to muscle in on my already crowded party of one. I dread seeing a familiar face and steeling myself to be pleasant and murmur banalities, rather than read, write or lose myself in musing.
Writing, for me, is a solitary activity. That’s really the only reason I enjoy it. The idea of attending a writers’ group baffles and appals. I’d quite like to try my hand at poetry, except then I’d have to attend a lot of events with a lot of poets, and honestly, who could stand that? How do poets manage to endure each other, those sweet sensitive souls? Other humans are infuriating. Except the ones in my head, who are busily shaping themselves into a novel. But they tend to discuss philosophy, or fall so hopelessly in love it borders on mental illness, or devote their days acquiring validation from strangers, out of resentment at their absent fathers. They never talk about Premier League, or Love Island, or their disgusting medical conditions, and if they tried it they’d get faded out or killed off pretty rapidly. Sadly, in this regard as in most regards, real life is inferior to fiction. In real life the football bores tend to talk loudest, while the dotty love-sick daddy-fixated philosophers mutter inaudibly into pot plants.
The news that certain train carriages are to become “chatty’, actively encouraging people to interact with strangers, sounds slightly less attractive than spending my commute being water-boarded. I am genuinely appalled at the prospect of not being lonely. And I do my best writing on trains. Broadstairs, my hometown, is a good two hours from everywhere, so if I eschew novel and newspaper, pack nothing but paper and pen, I’m forced to create. You can build up quite a decent steam of reverie in two hours. Or if you anger the Gods you can listen to a stranger tell you about their latest cruise or ingrowing toenail, in doctorate level detail.
In my pathological introversion I differ from my husband, who loves to talk. To anyone. I maintain self-service checkouts are the finest invention since voicemail; he insists on going to the (wo)manned variety in supermarkets, so he can have a lovely long chat with the operator. This, after talking to everyone else in the supermarket too. Everyone he slightly knows, that is, and apparently he knows everyone. This was a great surprise to me on its first occasion. “Oh God, no, it’s K!” I’d hiss, ducking behind the bananas and pulling at his trouser leg to indicate he should do likewise.
“Oh yes! How brilliant! Hi K! K!” he’ll bellow, much to K’s surprise, before launching a 40 minute discourse on K’s health, hobbies, kids, holidays. I’m used to it now. Book a day off work when we need bread.
And I simply refuse to go out with him in Broadstairs anymore. He knows EVERYONE. It takes us four days minimum to reach the beach. Before each sea dip he must first tell everyone with whom he has a nodding acquaintance his views on the varying merit of Byrd versus Tallis, the indubitable proof of the existence of God, the latter days in the career of the third bassist in The Fugs, No, it’s charming, really. No, I’ve no idea how we got together, either. Admittedly he is useful for the social functions I can’t avoid, when I push him on ahead to talk, and talk, and talk some more, safe in the knowledge I can smile, strike a pose and keep my own counsel.
He’s a playwright. Splendid at dialogue. I’m a novelist, and my dialogue is unconvincing at best. No one has ever spoken to anyone the way my characters speak to each other, and I love them for it.
“Do you prefer animals to humans, then?” I was asked at a party recently. I say party, I mean torture chamber. I’ll tell you what I told him: I don’t much like animals either. Their hair gets everywhere and they smell. But I do prefer them to humans, because they don’t tell me their opinions about things that don’t concern me, nor expect me to amuse them. Why can’t humans be similarly self-reliant? Everything they need is already bubbling away inside them. Encyclopaedic knowledge of K’s holiday plans will add nothing to the mix.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if the lonely people could talk to each other, rather than me? How can I make that happen? Loneliness is injurious to health, apparently; as bad for one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. I don’t wish them dead, truly, but will a conversation with me about impending rain really improve their chances of survival? Why not seek out someone who would love to discuss the weather, last night’s telly, Sharon’s knee surgery? Clearly there are millions of them out there. Nine million, claims the British red cross, who are campaigning against loneliness. Talk to each other, for pity’s sake. Surely very few of them can be as vicious and curmudgeonly as me. And perhaps I could get one of those medical ID bracelets, bearing the inscription: Pathological introvert: excess chatter will bring me out in a cold sweat, itchy rash, existential crisis, then send me scurrying yet further inside the stories in my head.