Chatty Cathy, Quieted.

I realized something yesterday.
I am extremely sad. A lot of the time.

Again.

And it’s not because this adjustment to the freelance life is hard.
It’s not that I have no money.
It’s not even because of this ridiculous health-insurance debacle I find myself in.

It’s because I am a shut-in.
There are no people in my life.
I make physical contact with so few living, breathing, English-speaking organisms now that it’s actually affecting my quality of life.
For as much as I hated my commute, as much as I disliked the micromanaging middle management and mind-numbing corporate culture that filled my days, I actually find myself missing those mundane brushes with warm-blooded humans.
I miss even the grumpiest of Metra conductors, banging their little hole punches against the metal railings to wake the dozing businessmen who hadn’t paid their fares, gruffly asking, “Where to where?”
The baristas at my suburban-oasis Starbucks, who treated me like family on my worst days and royalty on my best.
I half miss standing awkwardly around the lunchroom, half-heartedly singing “Happy Birthday” — except for the one man who took it to Pavarotti heights — and waiting for the honorees to blow out the candles on their store-bought cupcakes.
Gently ribbing the ad reps who constantly forgot to use their inside voices when they were doing phone pitches.
Wandering into my boss’ office just to grab a piece of chocolate and staying for 10 minutes talking about nothing in particular: hearing for the fourth time about the Van Morrison concert he saw years ago, detailing my latest relationship drama, discussing the newest flower varieties like we were somehow qualified to talk horticulture.

But I used to wear my earbuds for hours at a time, zoned out and rocking from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, just to keep those interactions to a minimum. Because it all got to be too much sometimes.

Now?
I watch TV. Because there are people on TV. Interacting with one another. It’s my replacement for real, 9-5 socialization.
And when I watch TV, I’m watching Angel or Law & Order: SVU. So the interactions are…y’know…raping and bloodsucking and maiming beyond recognition. Tell me that’s not affecting my sanity at least a little.
That’s not to say that when I finally do get around people, I want to kill them.
No, I want to hug them.
And talk their ears off. (Yes, both of them. One is not enough.)

It’s not that I’ve shut myself in on purpose. It’s an occupational hazard of self-employment, so I hear. (Or so I heard, in one ear and out the other: Everyone said it would be a lot of work not to feel isolated, and I scoffed. …Yeah. Who’s laughing now?)

My most thrilling moment of the week thus far: Realizing, during a long conversation about dietary idiosyncrasies, that I’m not the only one weirded out by bone-in meat.
I found myself at Fiddlehead Café last night, craving human heat and a big glass of wine — neither could have damaged my writer’s block any further, really — and I got into a conversation with my favorite bartender, Daniel, who I’ve known for about two years now.
That place is my Cheers.
Cilantro tastes like dish soap to him, and he can’t handle meat on the bone. (Which, you should know, I first spelled “boat,” then revised to “boan,” then realized these two glasses of Carmenere had gone to my head far more than I first imagined.)
I talked with the chef, Josh, for a few minutes, too. He spoils me: Last night’s single-girl treasures included a little cheese plate and a dessert platter with a tiny ramekin of deconstructed banana cream pie.
And then I talked to the guy next to me. His name was Vincenzo. He’s brewing his own beer in buckets in his basement — and needed the bottles to store his finished product. He doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account. I stared. My mouth hung open. Strange creature.

If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk.
Fair warning from me: If you give me a direct look in the eye, I will ask you to be my best friend forever. Or at least for the next five minutes.

And I will be less sad. At least for the next five minutes.
So thank you in advance.

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13 Responses to “Chatty Cathy, Quieted.”

  1. wafelenbak Says:

    I worked from home for two years. For me personally, going back into an office around other humans was definitely the right choice, but I am an EXTRA extravert so I think for a lot of other people it’s just a matter of adjustment.
    Making plans to meet up with people on a regular basis definitely helps, as does working in the coffeeshops as much as possible. Good luck to you–I’m sure you’ll find the balance. 🙂

  2. Maureen Blandford Says:

    Oh, PaigeWorthy. I wish I didn’t feel so creepily like your future – how weird is that? Reading your blog is like reading someone’s diary – also weird.

    There are so few times in life that we’re actually totally rocking exactly what we have – you know, I’m a mom with two fabulous FABULOUS, non-whiny, non-material, funny and positive teenage daughters and a lovely (second) husband and my own successful business. I’m def a lucky girl. And YET, I fantasize about the single life. I get so so little time alone – probably a couple hours a week (?). I can’t even fathom any more what it’s like to be in absolute control of every moment. Work when you want, go to bed when you want (with whom you want, eh?). It’s a fucking craving.

    In less than 3 years, the sweet girls will be lovingly pushed from the nest and I’ll probably long for the days when they were here. Stupid, messy life always screwing with us.

    Every time you get out for human contact to meet *your* needs, the pixie dust you sprinkle on others is a gift you won’t really understand for a long, long time.

    I look forward to hugging you when next I am in town.

  3. Josh Says:

    Maybe you oughta find some other self-employed people whose work involves a computer. Set up a day to telecommute together in the same spot. Even if there isn’t much conversation it might be nice for you to have some people you get to see on a regular basis.

  4. Brian Says:

    I really look forward to my time alone, until I’m alone and I hate being alone… It sucks…

    And yeah, I hate meat on bone…gross!!

  5. Katrina Says:

    I feel you. When I took this job (to pay the bills that writing wasn’t), and started the arduous process of converting to a nocturnal lifestyle, I had no idea how much my social life would suffer. I still see my friends on occasion, but not as much as I would like, and the lack of a dating life has cost my computer a virus or two. I miss PEOPLE.

    Let’s be friends!

  6. Viaggiatore Says:

    Oh, that damn GRASS, so alluringly green over there on the other side!! (For what it’s worth, this isn’t one of those times when being ‘right’ about the warnings has any satisfaction.)

    Wallowing in the loneliness for a while may actually put you in touch with more honest truths about yourself, an exercise which I found revealing when I went through a version of it myself. For far too many years I had just used layers upon layers of banal interactions with people to mask my own reality. I coasted through life on a bunch of surface interactions, and thusly conveniently avoided facing some of my own demons.

    For me, the transformative realization was that life isn’t what happens to me, it’s what I make happen. That I really AM in charge of my own happiness, that I’M my best (but rarely only) cheerleader, coach, champion, advocate. That when I need help, I only have to ask for it. When I need a friend, I need to BE a friend. When I need to drop 5 (*okay, fine, THIRTY) lbs, no one yanks my behind off the couch or closes the bag of Cheetos but me. When I need companionship, there are literally hundreds of people who would be happy to set up lunch or coffee or whatever with me, but they can’t read my mind, so I actually have to discipline myself to pick up the phone and say, “hey, I’m vulnerable right now …” or, “hey, I need help …”

    I had to take out the earbuds and learn to be still, to sit with my own silence for a while, in order to learn what parts of the ‘noise’ I was missing were really meaningful in my life. (I’d bet that you’ll find that it’s not SVU – though it’s still a great escape on occasion).

    You’re already taking the first most important step: *naming* the struggle that you’re facing. While I share my own story here to encourage you that you’re not alone in your path; this is your unique struggle, and I for one am confident that you’ve got the gumption to fix that which is ailing you today. You’re already part of the way there: befriending people at Fiddlehead (mine is Cafe’ Maude), signing up for a class or something else consistent that will get you out of the house predictably, and posting your true feelings so people can continue to reach back out to you to schedule coffee, wine, lunch, or co-officing.

    Don’t worry: I predict that you’ll be back to your feelings of annoyance with people’s meaningless watercooler chatter in no time. And you’ll be better, deeper, wiser, for the journey through the valley of quietude.

  7. Lauren Says:

    I feel the same. Two years at a job where I interacted with 2 of the biggest idiots on earth and no one else…I was plugged up with ear buds all day. New to the city, I didn’t really have friends when I first moved here. I had a small group of people I knew through my roommate, but they’ve all dissipated and gone their separate ways and my previous roommate no longer lives in this state.

    I had the boyfriend, we all know where that went. (Or didn’t).

    I find myself wanting friends. To me it just sounds pathetic. But where does a late twenty something go to make friends? I like being by myself, but sometimes it’s just damn lonely!

  8. Shelly Says:

    I actually know JUST how you feel… I have been working at home alone for a while… (and watching the same shows)… and craving that human contact… conversations… smiles… but now, this week I started working in an office with people and I’m overwhelmed… I am definitely an introvert and this week was a little chaotic (but I have enjoyed it!)

    and… I HATE eating meat on the bone… my mom and husband love it, but I.CANNOT.STAND.IT 😉

  9. Gia Says:

    There was a period of months in my life that I opted to take classes online so that I could focus on working through a tragedy that I had experienced. And after a couple of weeks of stillness, I missed the chaos that speed walking from one class to the next gave me. I missed the random smiles that I would meet walking down the street, I missed the unexpected run ins, or the face to face class discussions. The online community wasn’t the same. And while it offered me the space and time I was so desperately craving – I found myself in a similar lonely position.

    But after a couple of weeks, I started carving out time to spend with people that I deeply cared for and the loneliness very quickly began to dissipate. Spending a couple hours with people a night or a couple times a week isn’t the same as being submerged into a sea of people on a daily basis but it makes a huge difference. So I definitely recommend doing that if you can. And if not, maybe some day soon, I will run into you at a random coffee shop in the chic and offer you a smile. 🙂

    Cheers!

  10. John Paul Davis Says:

    This is why I work in coffee shops when I’m not on-site with a client…

  11. TC Says:

    Maybe you should take guitar lessons.

    And yes, cilantro does indeed taste like dish soap.

    (I read your “Facebook Essentials” article in the Oct. Quill & Trowel, pretty good. But you know, no one ever mentions what a time hog Facebook really is.)

  12. Dave Says:

    Oh Paige, I completely understand what you are talking about. If I lived in Chicago I would show up at your apartment, at least once a week, and drag you to my house for dinner where I would pour the wine and my wife would make you dinner while she chats you up with the latest gossip, and my three year old would bounce around your ankles asking you to play with her. Then I would take you back to your cozy little apartment where you could enjoy and appreciate the peace and silence that some of us only get very late at night when everyone else is asleep. However, I am not in Chicago. I’m in Michigan and you have a free-standing invitation any time you want to come visit. Also, you already know you have an open invite to call me any time you want to chat. Seriously, I mean that. I know we’re just Tweeps, but behind every good Tweep lies the possibility of a great friend!

    Be kind to yourself.

    -Dave

    (P.S. Sorry I’m replying to this a week after you wrote it, I’m just catching up with what I’ve missed during my recent flurry of activity the last couple of weeks!)

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