I’m Better On Paper

In writing, I sound confident, I carry on light-hearted banter, I can engage in conversation with someone new without being self-conscious (no worrying that my dress adds ten pounds, wondering if I have food in my teeth, monitoring my speech to omit filler words and mentally berating myself for wasting brain activity on such trivial matters.)  I prefer email over phone calls because in an email, I can rearrange, delete and edit until I’ve created a message that won’t keep me up at night wondering “why did I say that?”  On paper, I can be quite chatty– even witty at times.

Too bad this alter-ego isn’t the real me.  The real-life me never approaches a group of people in conversation, unless I have a friend with me (thankfully, I can take a restroom break solo, so I’m not completely dependent.)  I worry about saying something embarrassing when talking to someone new, because it usually happens (probably because I worry so much about it, it can’t help but become a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

Small talk is awkward for me, due in large part to the fact that, in most cases, I’d rather not be talking.  The real-life me easily gets excited and celebrates when something good happens to a friend, but struggles for words when comfort is needed (the fear of saying something dumb, again.)  Oh, and I almost always forget a name because my brain works so hard to filter out idiocy, that it can’t retain pertinent information.

Lest you think I’m hypersensitive and my social ineptness is merely an augmented figment of my imagination, I will cite examples some of my experiences.

  • My mother-in-law was upset and crying over something someone else did/said.  All I could offer was a box of tissues and a stiff hug from two scrawny arms.  No brilliant words of comfort could be found.  All I could say was, “it’ll be okay.”  What authority did I have to know this?  (Um, none.)

Here’s what the writing me might have said/done:  After I handed her the tissue, I wrapped my arms around her, and said, “I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way.”  If she insisted that he did, then I would’ve said, “You know, he’s not even worth the tears.  I think a couple hours at the casino with his money just might make you feel better.”  And then I would’ve sent my husband to the casino with his mom (and I would have curled up by the fireplace to read a book, since someone had to stay home with the kids.)

  • At a funeral, I saw a relative whom I hadn’t seen for many years.  We were standing in front of the open casket, and, after a brief hug, I said, “It’s good to see you again.  How are you doing?”  (The startled look seemed to ask, ‘how do you think I’m doing?’)  Maybe this would’ve been a more appropriate greeting at a cocktail party, right?  At least my parting words weren’t “see you at the next wedding or funeral.”

Here’s what the writing me might have said/done:  After a brief hug, I’d say, “It’s good to see you after all these years.  I wish it would’ve been under happier circumstances, though.”

  • A woman said “hi” to me in the grocery store and talked to me like she knew me.  She looked somewhat familiar, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember who she was.  After a minute of superficial conversation, she asked, “you don’t remember me, do you?”  I felt my cheeks flush, but I couldn’t lie, I said, “I’m sorry, no.”  It turns out I went to church with her several years ago.  In my defense, she wasn’t wearing a nametag in the grocery store that day.

Here’s what the writing me might have said/done:  “Lisa?” (I would have remembered her name immediately) “You look great!”

She’d say, “Your son has gotten so big.”

Me:  “Yeah, he’s all excited to start Kindergarten next year.”

<in real-life, there would be an awkward silence because neither of us would know what else to say and I’d regret heading down the cake mix aisle>

Her:  “I haven’t seen you at church lately.”

Me:  “We missed our old church and decided to go back.”

<in real-life, I would stammer and lament my decision to go grocery shopping>

Her:  “Oh, well, I’m glad you like it.”

Me:  “Thanks.  It was great seeing you.”

Her:  “Bye.”

<The real-life me and writing me would heave a sigh of relief because I didn’t blurt out that we went back to our old church because of her high-pressure tactics.>

Too bad I don’t have the opportunity to write carefully worded responses during my face-to-face social interactions.  I guess that’s why I have a blog 🙂

Do you crave social gatherings or do you prefer written communication?  Feel free to share any awkward moments from your own life (or make fun of mine, if you’re fortunate enough not to have any!)

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44 thoughts on “I’m Better On Paper

  1. Dr. Tom Bibey December 5, 2010 / 6:34 AM

    Hello. Enjoyed your post. I’m an old doc who writes physician bluegrass fiction. One reason I like to write is that over time it taught me how to think before I speak. It helped me more than once.

    You are young, but I think you are a writer on the same journey.

    Dr. B, author, “The Mandolin Case”

    • jannatwrites December 5, 2010 / 12:45 PM

      First of all, congratulations on the novel. You’ve certainly had some positive reviews from what I’ve seen.

      Thinking before speaking is excellent advice. Perhaps, in time, I can get to the point that my brain fully functions and I won’t have so many “did I really just say that?” moments 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Aligaeta December 5, 2010 / 6:44 AM

    I enjoy being witty and clever. I have to agree with you: it’s so much easier to do so when you have time to sort out your thoughts. I certainly wouldn’t be the stand up comic. I guess that’s how I feel with social encounters, up on the stage, say something interesting, don’t embarrass yourself. Although, I do quiet well when empathy comes into play, I’m the great comforter!

    It’s when I sense another’s indifference before I open my mouth that I wish I could just vanish. Or “Hi, how are you?” Do they really want to know? Do I really want to tell them? “Fine” is so flat and empty. Some co-worker’s from the past had interesting responses. Gail would say “Another day to excel!” and Gwen, I have to admit I sometimes steal this one or wish afterwards that I did. She’d say “Hanging in there!” and the other would be left with the image of Garfield. How cool is that?

    • jannatwrites December 5, 2010 / 12:57 PM

      Oh my goodness, I would be a horrible stand up comic. The thought actually made me dizzy! Social encounters are like being on stage, which explains why I’m not a huge fan.

      The casual encounters can be interesting – I am caught off-guard when I do get a response other than ‘things are going okay’ and I never give details even if I’m having a horrible day (unless the person is a close friend and I think they might actually care.) When asked how I’m doing, I usually say, “I can’t compalin.” If it hasn’t been the best day, I can’t lie, so I’ll smile and say something like, “It started out rough, but can only get better.”

      “Another day to excell” is certainly creative, but it’s much too chipper to be one I could use 🙂 (I’m not crabby, but I’m not a high-energy ‘go-get-em’ type either)

  3. chlost December 5, 2010 / 10:20 AM

    I run into people who remember me but whom I don’t remember at all. Many times, I feel as though the face is familiar, but if they are out of context, I can’t place them….client, kid’s school teacher, work colleague, waitress at favorite restaurant?? After realizing that they are in fact going to stop me to chat after my attempt to just nod and move on, I now say something to the effect of “You know, your face is so familiar, but I just can’t place how we know each other.” Most people are quite gracious and explain to me, or if I say “I am terrible with names-I just can’t remember your name”, they laugh and remind me. It gets a little old the thrid time they have to tell me, but over all it has worked.
    Many times I have stayed awake replaying conversations in my mind, rewriting it so that I did not humiliate myself in some way. Of course, I also lie awake and rework the amount of tip that I should have left for that waitress as well. Maybe that is why I don’t recognixe her in the grocery store.
    I am sure that your mother in law knows what you meant to say. I would.

    • jannatwrites December 5, 2010 / 1:06 PM

      I always feel bad when I can’t remember a person’s name (sometimes, I don’t recognize them at all, which worries me.) It’s even worse if they call me by name. The people who have caught on to my puzzled expression have been nice about it, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking I’m an idiot 🙂

      Late at night is when my daily reflections happen too. I will have been fine all day, then I’ll question whether something I said could’ve been taken the wrong way. Then, I’ll worry about it until I see the person again and see if they act any differently towards me. I have to remind myself that the person probably doesn’t care as much as I think they do. (I know I don’t obsess over what others say to me. If they’re a friend, I assume they didn’t mean to be hurtful; if they’re not a friend, I figure there won’t be future conversations anyway.)

      I’m sure my mother-in-law is fine, I’m just hard on myself because I’m not good speaking 🙂

      • nrhatch December 5, 2010 / 1:13 PM

        Janna, I used to do just that:

        “My inner critic used to visit me as soon as I got in bed at night. Instead of giving me a pat on the back for the 99 things that I did well that day, my inner critic would launch into a pedantic stream of rhetoric about the one thing that I did not do well ~ using harsh words which would have reduced me to tears if uttered by anyone else on the planet.”

        http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/silence-the-inner-critic/

        • jannatwrites December 5, 2010 / 1:34 PM

          I read your post and liked the quote you had at the end about manipulating your thoughts or they will manipulate you.

          Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. nrhatch December 5, 2010 / 10:26 AM

    I don’t think that any of your real life encounters seem that bad . . . I’ve certainly conversed with worse. 🙂

    For example, others might have responded . . .

    To your MIL: “Toughen up, old gal. Don’t give your mojo away.”

    At the funeral: “Well, we all gotta go sometimes, eh? We never know how long we have so we must make the most of the here and now.”

    At the grocery store: “Sorry, no. You must not have made much of an impression.”

    When writing and in face to face encounters, I try to speak from the heart and not worry unduly about how others interpret my words.

    Wonderful post, Janna!

    • jannatwrites December 5, 2010 / 1:16 PM

      Now, you don’t think I’d put the worst-of-the-worst for everyone to see, do you? These are mild compared to other conversations I’ve had (those memories will continue to be repressed.)

      I laughed out loud at your responses. But the grocery store one? I could NEVER say that!

      The problem with social interactions is that many times I feel like a shy, awkward child again. I’m getting better, but I’m not completely ‘cured.’ In time, I suppose 🙂

  5. DS December 5, 2010 / 10:57 AM

    Oh gosh – me too!

    If I were allowed to install a zipper on my mouth I’d do it. No matter what I say it never comes out the way it sounds in my head and all too often I receive those looks from people that make me want to crawl in a closet and rock back and forth until I finally fall to sleep from exhaustion. Unfortunately I’m also quick on the send/publish button.

    • jannatwrites December 5, 2010 / 1:21 PM

      We could have such fun conversations! My mom said she always got in trouble for having a ‘smart mouth’ as a child, even though she tells me she didn’t mean things that way. It makes me wonder if it could be hereditary?

      You should design and get a patent on that mouth zipper. You may be onto something there 🙂

      Maybe we can do ourselves a favor and pack the instant replays away and quit torturing ourselves with moments gone wrong. Yes?

    • nrhatch December 5, 2010 / 2:31 PM

      You’ve got the right idea, Janna. Turn off the instant replay, and realize that you did the best you could at the time.

      We can be so hard on ourselves, which makes life harder than it need be.

      • jannatwrites December 5, 2010 / 7:49 PM

        Here’s hoping to move forward instead of looking back 🙂

  6. Linda Cassidy Lewis December 5, 2010 / 11:55 AM

    As I read your post, I kept say YES! I’m definitely an introverted writer. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything without editing … including blog comments. 🙂 Sometimes, with close family, I revise what I just said to correct my grammar. I’m pathetic.

    • jannatwrites December 5, 2010 / 1:27 PM

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment, Linda.

      I do a lot of editing, too. (Although on the blog comments/responses, I have a bad habit of not proof reading my final product.)

      Do you know what the scariest thing for me is to write? Holiday cards (or any card they pass around the office for all of us to sign.) The reason: I have to write in pen (no erasing) and I can’t change my mind on what to write. To be safe, I keep it generic (boring.)

  7. Brown Eyed Mystic December 5, 2010 / 5:30 PM

    Haha–love it. Though I must admit, I get by “okay” in public settings. Hey, I wish it were not so. Where’s the fun in this? 😉

    But come to think of it, it takes time for me to “get” the other person in a social setting. I would typically wait a few minutes or sentences and notice what they’re upto while they talk with another in the group. I’d try to recall and most of the times I’d realise who’s who or best, I’d take a common friend in the corner and ask them, quick: Who’s that you just spoke to?

    That saved me quite a few times 😉

    -BrownEyed

  8. jannatwrites December 5, 2010 / 7:53 PM

    I didn’t even share the worst of my mishaps (I preferred not to relive the totally tragic ones.)

    Getting a friend to ID the person in question is very clever (therefore, I’m nearly certain I wouldn’t have thought of it.)

    Thanks for the tip 😉

  9. Tim Weaver December 5, 2010 / 9:33 PM

    Janna, Janna, Janna,

    We need to talk. Or maybe just write. I can summarize your problem, and thus how to fix it, in four words:

    You care too much.

    I’ve forgotten people’s names, and will just tell them so. I’ve also asked the odd friend to i.d. the person. I’ve also used a trick an old-school Ad man taught me: When you can’t remember, ask them their name. When they tell you their first name, say “I’m sorry, I meant your last name.” I’ve used this a lot. Works great.

    When people are sad, I usually just say nothing, or maybe a “sorry about your situation” because, as a guy, we’re wired to offer solutions. I’ve had friends ask me my opinion on something (usually female) and when I offer it, get torqued because it’s not quite what they wanted to hear. If this happens a couple of time, I may use a variant of “Sorry, but you asked. If you don’t like my answers, perhaps you should cease asking questions.” Usually I couch it in nicer terms. But not always.

    When my dad died, people came up and offered their condolences. I couldn’t tell you what they said…it really didn’t matter. I’ve gone up to people at funerals and just said “I’m so sorry…” and that’s it. Often times, it’s enough. For someone you’ve not seen in a while, you can always say the “sorry it took these circumstances to get together again” variation, but I rarely do since, well, if I really cared for that person, I would have very likely kept in touch with them anyway.

    For me, it all boils down to not wasting my or anyone else’s time. Yammering with someone endlessly when you have no clue who they are is just a lie. I try not to lie to people…if it’s someone you love, you’ll ruin the relationship. If they’re a stranger, why the heck do you have to lie to them? Someone I met a couple years ago at someone’s office party doesn’t make them my friend.

    Generally, I am courteous and polite. But I ahbor small-talk and chit-chat. That’s why I never call my mom….we have nothing to talk about. 🙂 And, yes, I love my mother.

    • jannatwrites December 6, 2010 / 8:02 PM

      I like the asking for the last name after the person gives their first name – clever. I’ve had people argue with my opinion after asking for it and, in that situation, I’ve had no problem telling them not to ask if they don’t want to know.

      For the record, I haven’t ‘yammered endlessly’ with people I couldn’t remember – though the conversations sometimes seemed to drag on, none of them last over a couple minutes 😉

      I won’t even ask about the relationship with your mother. I just hope my kids can find something to talk to me about when they grow up because I’d sure miss talking to them 🙂

  10. Barb December 6, 2010 / 7:53 AM

    Janna, we must be twins separated at birth!
    I’m good with writing anything (e-mail, letters, whatever), but I HATE the phone and small talk and… whenever there’s a gathering with more than one other person, I just sit in my corner and listen (when my mind doesn’t wander, that is…). I’m very bad at starting conversations, so whenever I meet somebody new I end up answering questions and never daring to ASK the other person something (which would spare me the talking, BTW… I’ll better remember it next time!) – which means that the other person gets to know me, but I don’t and I feel dumb and frustrated and just don’t want to go out and meet people anymore. Sigh.

    • Tim Weaver December 6, 2010 / 9:24 AM

      Don’t writers tend to be (or should be) better listeners and observers than the life of the party? While an outgoing and gregarious writer might be able to create events that can be used for material, I should think it would/could be much better to glean the material from the things and events that happen around you.

      Most people LOVE to talk about themselves (just ask me!!), especially if it’s something about which they are passionate. With a little practice, it’s very easy to turn around a conversation started by someone else so that you’re asking the questions.

      One thing that might help would be to formulate a set of “standard” questions which might be useful to one’s writing, then implement/pick/choose as desired.

    • jannatwrites December 6, 2010 / 8:08 PM

      Ha! An Italian twin…I like that 🙂

      I forget to ask questions too. I don’t like to be nosy, but I don’t like to talk about myself either. But then again, I don’t particularly like listening to the person full of hot air who is content droning on about his/her accomplishments, either (because I could never measure up, you know!). Yes, a cup of hot tea and a good book is SO much better 🙂

  11. Amanda Hoving December 6, 2010 / 5:51 PM

    I’m just like you, Janna — so much better at communicating on paper and screen. And, I have no patience for small talk, as is demonstrated by the time I saw a long-lost cousin at a family reunion: “Hi! I heard you had gum disease,” was my greeting. Ugh. See, your examples don’t seem so bad anymore, do they?

    I have improved (a little) with time, though. There’s hope…

    • jannatwrites December 6, 2010 / 8:14 PM

      You didn’t actually say that, did you? That’s hilarious! At least there is hope…I’ll just hang onto that thought!

    • J. P. Cabit December 10, 2010 / 7:21 AM

      HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!! 😀

  12. Artswebshow December 7, 2010 / 9:07 AM

    This doesn’t seem odd to me at all.
    I have such problems when talking to people i dont really know

    • jannatwrites December 7, 2010 / 5:41 PM

      I wouldn’t have guessed…you seem outgoing in your web shows. It makes me wonder what a party full of introverted writer types would be like–would any of us take the leap and talk to each other?

      • Tim Weaver December 7, 2010 / 5:58 PM

        Organize the get-together, and let’s find out. 🙂

        • jannatwrites December 8, 2010 / 7:25 PM

          Sure…I’ll get right on that!

      • J. P. Cabit December 10, 2010 / 7:20 AM

        Ha ha ha ha!!! That’s an amusing prospect!!!

        You know what would happen, just because of the way life works? We’d probably all end up chatty and have a blast! Although we might have bouts of saying things like…

        “…Or that’s what Harriet says…Well, I mean, she lives two hundred years from now…and she doesn’t exist except for in my mind…but she’s a nice person, really!”

        “Oh, I’d like to meet her some time!”

        “Yeah she wanted to come, but you know how it is.”

        “Yeah, I do!”

        • jannatwrites December 10, 2010 / 7:30 PM

          Love the character dialogue. Now that would be funny if all the writers went to the gathering as one of their characters. Well, it would be fine until someone came as a serial killer from their mystery novel. Never mind…

      • J. P. Cabit December 11, 2010 / 5:50 AM

        Well, that convo went South fast. 😀

        • jannatwrites December 11, 2010 / 9:54 PM

          Such is the case with many of my conversations in ‘real life’. 😦

  13. J. P. Cabit December 10, 2010 / 7:11 AM

    It’s funny, you’re right. In real life, I’m sort of known for being quiet, but in the writing world, I’m loud, outgoing, witty (I hope), and thrive on lively conversation. 😀

    But in my defense, it depends on the social situation. Put me with certain people, and I’m witty. Put me with other people, I’m loud and borderline obnoxious.

    IDK is the message, I guess. 😀

    • jannatwrites December 10, 2010 / 7:28 PM

      You’re a social chameleon…cool 🙂 I just blend in no matter what my surroundings are 😦

      • J. P. Cabit December 11, 2010 / 5:50 AM

        I like the word “Chameleon” better than the word “Multiple Personality Disorder…” But we must stop and consider: because writers make up multiple characters, each with their own personalities, but all coming from the same person’s mind…do we eventually develop some sort of multiple personality thing?

        • jannatwrites December 11, 2010 / 9:54 PM

          I’m glad you liked ‘chameleon’ – I thought it was appropriate 🙂 As for the multiple personality thing, I don’t know. I’d have to check with one of my other sides and get back to you.

  14. bluerosegirl08 December 13, 2010 / 11:53 AM

    I too prefer email over phone calls, especially if I have to converse with someone I don’t know. In my case this is because even though I’m 25 my voice sounds like a ten year old on the phone. I have lost count of how many times I’ve gotten hung up on.

    • jannatwrites December 13, 2010 / 7:08 PM

      I feel your pain – I have a young-sounding voice, too. Back when I was crazy enough to answer my phone, the telemarketers would ask to speak to my parents. At least in email, you can pretend like you have a sultry, throaty voice 🙂

  15. W January 23, 2011 / 12:04 PM

    Hey Janna,

    This post is very familiar. There are far too many times I wished my cleverer, wittier writer me would speak for me rather than awkward me especially when I want to impress, but it oddly never ends up that way.

    I think I’ve made peace with it by thinking that both ARE me, and I can be very clever and witty when the mood strikes.

    Now to figure out how to be in that mood all the time!

    • jannatwrites January 23, 2011 / 2:59 PM

      Oh, if you figure out how to be in the witty/clever mood all the time, you HAVE to share the secret! If you’re the entrepreneurial type, you could sell the secret. I’m one social inept person who would pay the price for the power 🙂

      Thanks for letting me know that I’m not alone. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one with this issue!

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