Introverts’ plight

by Diana Fu

His mouth foams and his eyes squint together into a fine line of concentration. What to say? What to say to her – the woman with a mouth as curvaceous as her hips, who puts her cigarettes out like she’s smoldering his words and grinds her stilettos onto the dance floor as if she’s stepping on his heart.

It was a simple question, casual, offhanded, meaningless small talk, but maybe not. Maybe it was more Ö like a hint. Does she want me to go up to her apartment? Carry her purse? Act like I’m her chauffeur? Gol darn it. He almost slapped himself. He wanted to take a metal pincher, stick it down his throat and fish out the words floating in his lungs. But there were only forks and knives available.

This man is Charlie Kaufman, the neurotic screenwriter in Spike Jonze’s film “Adaptation.” As I sat in the Coffman Union Theater on a Friday night with 50 or so equally lonely, under-age folks deprived of the ritualistic weekend alcohol, I had to clamp my mouth to keep from shouting, “Charlie, you the man!” Critics might rave about the stunning metaphor of adaptation or the witty, self-deprecating lines or babble on about the inner turmoil of a true writer. Whatever. I say Charlie is a trophy introvert.

According to statistics from the Myers-Briggs Foundation, 75 percent of the U.S. population is extroverted, leaving introverts in a disadvantaged minority. I speak from the perspective of a female who shot 10 points off the chart on the introversion scale in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Although I don’t sweat profusely or foam at the mouth when another human is in a 5-foot radius, I identify with Kaufman’s plight as an introvert in a very extravert-oriented society.

In my 19 years, I have never once breathed normally when tossed into glamorous wine-and-cheese-type socials in which strangers deck out only to congratulate each other before dipping into alcohol. During speech ceremonies and scholarship dinners, I have the awful urge to jump onto my chair and mouth the most insidious profanities.

I can’t read the newspaper when there’s noise. I bawl over every job application that says, “Must have good interpersonal communication skills.” Translation – extravert. (Thank goodness I’m good enough of an actress that I manage to pass as an extravert for a fleeting time during interviews). I remain mute when the guy at the cash register attempts to make small talk. I tailor my comments in my head so meticulously that by the time I raise my hand, the class discussion has shifted to another topic. I stare at Braille elevator buttons so I don’t have to talk to people.

People who don’t know me either think that I am a recent immigrant from a non-English-speaking country or that I am a stoic. People who have seen me lean over the Washington Avenue Bridge at night suspect I have major depression. People who invite themselves to sit next to me at University Dining Services think I am a homesick first-year student. People who talk a lot don’t notice me.

When I walk into the counseling center, I see posters saying, “Take charge, be a leader.” When I answer phones at work, I have to suppress a grunt and squeak, “Hello! How may I help you?”

Psychology studies continue to show that extraverts are happier than introverts. Colleges all over the country solicit the mock trial captains, student council members and leaders of leadership groups.

In short, introverts seem doomed in our society. But thou shall not fear, all you timid folks on campus, for I bring you wisdom from fellow introverted novel and movie characters. Murderer Raskolnikov in “Crime and Punishment” cries from prison, “I’d kill to test my thoughts.” Amelie from the movie “Amelie” says, “Don’t tell him that you love him, stalk him whom you love.” Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” cries, “I love him, but I hate him, I will always jump the train tracks for him.” And lastly, Charlie Kaufman from “Adaptation” bellows, “Do not worry if you’re fat, ugly and bald. At least God blessed you with means to entertain yourself in bed.”

Diana Fu is a columnist. She welcomes comments at [email protected]