what i learned

Wait, Maybe I Like Being Around People?

Blackout series Illustration: Jules Julien

I have always identified as an introvert, a loner. In high school, I joined nearly every type of group or activity — one of those kids whose yearbook entry should have read “desperately trying to make up for a perceived inner deficiency.” But after all those practices and meetings and homework and phone calls with friends and beaus, after my siblings and parents went to sleep, I’d stay awake for hours in the den at my parents’ house, zoning out in front of this tiny TV/VCR that got one channel. When it came time to quarantine, I thought I’d return to a semblance of this state and flourish.

During my adolescence, those late-night hours were when I felt most myself, relieved of a duty to socialize, achieve or even act vaguely civil toward another person. Just me and a box of Cheerios I’d eat dry by the handful because we didn’t really have snacks in the house, melting my mind staring at whatever sponge infomercial was on. Like that dude in The Twilight Zone who never got enough time to read, a life of solitude, snacks, and television has always been my brass ring, which shouldn’t come as too much of a shocker. After all, no one becomes a stand-up comic because they enjoy easy, breezy one-on-one communication.

If you meet me, I am warm and friendly. That’s not fake. There’s just something else going on behind the scenes — a desire to hide, isolate, and operate as a fully self-sufficient organism so I can’t be hurt, shamed, or disappointed. Quarantine has always been the goal. Obviously, or maybe this isn’t obvious given our federal government’s take on the COVID-19 pandemic, I’d never want to do so at the expense of others. I wasn’t hoping for a worldwide shutdown, but after almost 20 years of traveling solo for work, spending a ton of time on solitary hobbies like hiking and keeping friends and family just a bit at bay, having it culminate in California-mandated social distancing is ironic. Maintaining distance, socially, is my whole thing.

Or so I thought.

I’ve been given the chance to process all of this alone, even within my own household — my girlfriend was sick for five weeks, during which I was a tender-hearted, nervous wreck — but I’ve not taken it. With time enough at last to spend watching the much more than one channel currently available, an adult’s option to buy whatever snacks I want, and no real reason to keep in touch with others, as my job doesn’t currently exist and my friends and family can’t be visited, I have repeatedly made the decision to continue to be a part of instead of apart from.

I’ve kept in touch with others and desired even closer connection. I tried to do an hour of stand-up in my home for cameras only — a set to be distributed and available to watch in quarantine. Without an audience, my performance didn’t work. Two weeks later, I shot the same set on iPhones but with 1,000 people watching via Zoom. All but me were muted to make sure the audio worked, and I could only see a few itty bitty audience squares. Mostly the screen was me, to make it feel like a more traditional stand-up special. Knowing those audience members were there made all the difference.

As it turns out, I don’t want to be the last man on earth, surrounded by books (Cheerios) with time finally enough to read (watch Watchmen), and not only because I do actually wear the thickest of glasses. Seen one way, my life has been those hours I needed alone. Seen another, I have consistently tried to put myself in the middle of the pack, attempting to connect even if it isn’t easy for me. I may be an introvert — though quarantine has felt exhausting, so maybe I get more energy from others than I think — but I’m not a loner.

I’m a yearner, a reacher, if that doesn’t sound sexual. Whatever fear I may have about needing and wanting others, I have spent a lifetime pushing through it.

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Wait, Maybe I Like Being Around People?