birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

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Faking It


"It is not uncommon for a stranger to sit down next to an INFJ and within minutes, disclose their most personal secrets, fears and dreams."

The above quote is from an article about the INFJ personality on the Meyer-Briggs Personality Test, which I have been told I am.

Apparently, it's one of the rarest, but this seems odd to me because I seem to know plenty.

But I do know I fake it around exhausting people, which makes them open up even more, which exhausts me even more, and I leave conversations or situations and I get into my car and cry or I go home and crawl into bed under heavy blankets wanting to hide forever.

This sounds so dramatic - I can even hear my dad or brother saying, "Come on, play the high drama card much?"

But there's no sense in arguing this point with someone who doesn't find small talk bludgeoning.

This is what happened last week. I was at a storytelling festival, and I smiled at a man as I walked through the door to step out of his way, and he said, "Do I know you?"

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"I don't think so."

"What do you do?"

"I teach creative writing." (Idiot! Why did I say that?")

"Really? Well, I'm recovering from a traumatic brain injury that happened in 2008 but I'm coming back. It was tough. I used to sell all over the Southeast, traveling here and there, and I have stories."

"I bet."

And then we were off! He talked nonstop about this and that and then he followed me to my seat and sat next to me. I wanted to hear the storytellers, and he wanted to watch me listen to the storytellers. He smiled and laughed when I did, and I wanted to scream, "Go away!"

I was sitting next to a friend on the other side of me, and I said, "Sorry, I've made a friend. This guy had a traumatic brain injury and has decided to sit here."

My friend, Ted, looked uncomfortable and didn't acknowledge my new friend at all.

The break came and I saw an escape. The new guy wanted to come to dinner, but I dodged that one.

So Ted and I went to dinner, and Ted talked and talked and talked about his life, but to be fair, I asked him questions.

And I like Ted a lot. He's had a hard life growing up in the South, but Ted doesn't ask me questions. So it can be a little tiring, and sometimes, I feel like a fake and fraud, nodding in the right places when secretly longing for a margarita instead of sweet tea to dull the pain of being the listener.

So Ted talked and talked, but he was aware of this and after dinner said, "I'm sorry I monopolized the conversation."

I said, "It's okay, Ted."

And it was because there are so many great things about Ted, and then we went back to the storytelling tent, but I got my dog from the car to put her on the seat next to me just in case my TBI friend found me again.

Well, he did find me and sat next to my dog. He gave her water, which was kind. He was also reeking of aftershave now, which was disconcerting. I'm fifty-five. I will be fifty-six soon. I don't need this shit.

He asked if he could get me coffee. I said no. He gave me his coffee to hold to keep my hands warm. I gave it back to him. He showed me his knife and asked if I could open it. It was a pocketknife. I couldn't and he laughed. I wanted to pick up my dog and move, but the chairs are so packed in the storytelling tent that's impossible without wrecking everyone's good time.

But I hated the weakness in me that could not tell this stranger to please buzz off.

I have a friend, Amy, whom I adore, who has no problem telling irritating people to buzz off.

Ted, meanwhile, was useless. He ignored everything happening to me and later wrote me a letter of apology for not stepping in or doing something.

But what could he do?

So I focused on Donald Davis, a brilliant and funny storyteller. And mostly it worked.

And I mostly put the weirdo beside me out of my mind because I had my dog, Olive, but this sadness kept edging in too.

The whole thing made me realize how much I miss living with my husband, who is really really good at dealing with all kinds of people, and he doesn't find them exhausting. He was the one who would go out and deal with odd neighbors.

My husband, Kiffen, lives 2000 miles away in California because we are tenured in two different states, and we're trying not to mess up our retirement, but this has turned into a life neither of us ever foresaw.

And back in Los Angeles, we have an odd next-door neighbor, who yells, "FEED THE CAT" whenever our cat meows. My husband finds him amusing, and I find him horrible because I heard him yelling at a homeless man on Christmas day digging through recycling bins.

"I'll report you! I'll report. You put that back!"

But Kiffen will do things like help this weirdo with a fallen tree in a storm or simply say good morning. I just ignore him because Kiffen is there to play defense for me.

***

Anyway, nobody was there to play defense for me at the storytelling festival, and when it was over, the TBI guy gave me his card and said, "I might write to you. You could help me with my book!"

I took his card, said good-bye, and I said good-bye to Ted, and then with tremendous relief, I got into my car and drove to Starbucks for a tea to take me the 100 miles back to Birmingham. I walked around the Starbucks parking lot with Olive to hit my fitbit steps, so grateful to be alone.

And then I got onto the dark freeway to drive home. I listened to a book on Audible so I wouldn't have to think about my own culpability of inviting strangers to pour their guts out. My TBI guy was an extreme case but it happens regularly, and sometimes the stories are good, but often times, they're just exhausting.

And it makes me think that I am going to stop telling people what I do...What could I say instead?

I'm an exterminator.

I work in pest control.

I am an accountant.

I work in nonprofit.

I'm a clerk.

I work in construction. (No one would believe that.)

I'm in landscape architecture. (No one would believe that either.)

I'm between jobs. (Maybe I could say that and deflect and deflect and deflect.)

A few days ago, I asked someone, "What brings you joy?"

And she said, "What brings you joy this month may not be what brought you joy last month."

Talk about deflection.

That wasn't what I asked.

I asked - What brings YOU joy?

But she didn't want to answer that.

Anyway, I drove back to Birmingham after the storytelling festival under the dark Alabama skies, hollowed out and relieved to be going home, but wishing I knew where home was, since my husband would not be waiting for me.

 

Deja Vu And Faking it Too

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