I am not delusional. I know that I have “angry resting face.” When I’m thinking, or submerged deep inside of my head, the (lack of) expression on my face looks irate. So. Given that premise, knowing that I look inherently grumpy, what is it about my face that makes people feel the need to interrupt me? Don’t they fear the consequence?
On spring break, we went to visit my parents in Florida and, as you’d expect, we went to the beach. I like swimming, and I like the feel of the sand between my toes. I love that salty, sandy smell and the ever present hot breeze. One of my great pleasures – one which I refuse to call a guilty pleasure, because I feel no guilt about it whatsoever – is to sit on the beach with the background music of sea birds and surf, and read a book. Preferably one with no substance whatsoever.
We were at the beach, and I had a great, fluffy, and fun book to read, Jen Lancaster’s My Fair Lazy. While we were setting up the chairs and organizing the coolers, I could hear a small voice coming from my beach bag. “Read me! Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeead me nooooowwwwww!”
“Soon, My Precious,” I whispered. “Soon.”
Finally, the kids deposited at water’s edge and the old folks all sitting in beach chairs, I pulled out my book and opened it to my place. I read approximately three and a half sentences before the small talk began. It came from everyone. People I came with, children, random strangers. Ev. Ry. One.
I mean, seriously. If you see me sitting quietly reading a book, what would possess you to try to engage me in a conversation about the height (or lack thereof) of the waves, whether or not rain would make more interesting shells surface, or the blueness of the sky? If I wanted to chit chat, I would not have opened a book and begun to read it.
Frankly, even if I weren’t reading a book, I wouldn’t be terribly interested in a conversation about nothing in particular. I’ve never enjoyed or been the least bit good at small talk. It isn’t that I don’t know how to talk to people. I talk to people all day long. Unless they are lying to me, most people seem to like me. I’m just a big believer in the Zen saying, “Do not speak unless it improves the silence.” Silence is not something that demands to be filled. Silence is whispery and elusive. It is something to be treasured and savored, because it is a precious and rare gift. Given the fact that I live with two children and a husband who revels in the retelling of stories that happened twenty years ago, it is a gift I rarely receive, but one I treasure more than chocolate.
I complain here about the day at the beach, because it was two days ago, but the truth is this happens more or less always. I make a point of never leaving home without something to read, just in case, because if I get five minutes of peace and quiet I’m going to take advantage. When I read my book in waiting rooms, the person next to me feels the need to tell me what they think of the doctor we are waiting to see. When I read on an airplane, my seatmate wants to know all about where I was and where I am going. Oddly enough, when I forget my book, or the battery on my Kindle dies, people are stone-faced and unfriendly. This is why I think it is something about the act of reading that inspires people to talk to me.
Even the people I feel comfortable being crabby in front of don’t get the hint. Before I go to bed, the last step in my elaborate routine is to read a book. I cannot remember the last time I was able to lie down, open my book, read until I was finished, and then go to sleep. I think the cracking of the spine of a book, or maybe the sound of a page turning jogs the memory of my children. Mooooooommmmm!! I need three dollars by tomorrow for the picnic! Mooooooommmmm!! Can you sign this? My husband sees this final sign of my shutting down for the night and is reminded of all the things he wanted to say during the day but didn’t. He asks me questions about the upcoming day or tells me things about the day that just finished. Sometimes it is something as simple as asking me to move over or where I put that credit card bill.
I think I speak for introverts everywhere when I say this: when we read a book (or write, or watch television, or pretty much do anything that doesn’t require us to interact with other people) we are deeply inside of our heads. Honestly. When I’m in that zone, I often cannot hear or see what is immediately in front of me, so intense is my focus on what I am doing, or in exploring the labyrinth inside of my mind. It’s like Sherlock Holmes’ Mind Palace. When I am there and interrupted, I hear the sound of a record needle being dragged across the grooves, and I get a visual image of being grabbed by the scruff of my neck, my hair flowing forwards from the shift in momentum as I am yanked out of my own head. I am, in those moments, a three year old having a rainbow-sprinkled cupcake yanked out of her hand. Playdate’s over, inner mind. Get out of the warm dreamy area, and come back into a reality that manages to be both harsh and boring at the same time.
So. Let this be a public service announcement. If you see me reading, don’t begin non-emergency conversation with me. If I were in the mood to talk, I wouldn’t have opened a book.
Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Asked in the First Place” was a number one Amazon Hot New Release in the Fall of 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here.