“He’s complicated,” a friend said of a mutual friend that tended to be quiet.
“He’s not complicated,” I told her. “He’s quiet. He may be shy, withdrawn, or uncomfortable with large groups of people, but he’s not complicated.”
After arguing over this a little bit, I asked this friend if she knew the quiet person well enough to make that assessment. She confessed that she didn’t. After some badgering, she confessed that she may have been assigning him some of the characteristics. She then turned the tables on me, and asked me if I knew him well enough to make the assessment I did. I confessed that I didn’t, but I said there was a moment when I saw all that I needed to know about him.
To be fair to my friend, and quiet people in general, I have known some quiet people that tend to be more on the quiet side, because they are quiet people. These people tend to be the exception to the rule. Some people have even suggested that I’m on the quiet side. I was as surprised by this assessment as they were by my surprise. Some people are quiet based on troubled pasts, some are shy, and others have found that just about everything they say ends up insulting someone, and it has cost them friendships in the past. As with most people, they want people to like them, and the best way they’ve found gains them favor in group, is to be quiet. I have found the latter to be less common among those people that are quiet for the reason listed below.
Most quiet people have something to hide. Most quiet people have never found the ideal way to fit in, and they can never find the right thing to say. They’ve been ostracized to one degree or another, since they were very young, and they have no found no method of getting out of that trap.
You see this, as I did with this mutual friend, in those moments when they do land that perfect comment. You see them beam with pride, when they do add that perfect comment to the conversation that everyone enjoys, or considers a great point in the discussion.
The subject of the debate I had had with a friend, had just such a moment. He added that one comment that caused everyone to pause, they looked at him, and they laughed. They laughed long and hard. His reaction to this revealed to me that he wasn’t complicated. His desires were as simple as everyone else’s. He couldn’t stop beaming. He repeated the joke in a different manner. He couldn’t stop smiling. He felt like he belonged to a group for one minute, of one day, in his otherwise quiet life. It was obvious, in the moment that followed his joke, that he didn’t want the subject to change, and he didn’t want casual conversation to continue. He wanted to belabor the point, and that told me all that I needed to know about his complicated demeanor.
The Weird and the Strange is the title of a series of pieces I have put together to try to understand those types that walk among us that some of us believe are complicated, until we find out the hard way that they are something else. I’d love to report to you today that I was on top of all this. I’d love to say that I knew what it was that made them different. I would love to say I knew what made them tick. I’d love to tell you that I, Mr. Writer, used my powers of observation on these people, and I saw that part of them that they kept concealed from the general, less observant public. I didn’t. I was as surprised by their true nature as everyone else in the room. The difference, perhaps the lone difference, is that when those cues popped up, I spotted them when few others did. I saw them for what they were. I would not say that these revelations were as a result of a keen insight into humanity, nor would I say that I’m any more observant than the average observant person. I would just say I spotted these characteristics, these anomalies among the anomalies, because I was paying attention.
I’d also love to tell you that I’ve figured all quiet people out so well that we can all take a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with them, based upon my findings. That would be as foolish as the “It’s complicated” characterization. As the stories I’ve written detail, the reasons that some people fall prey to silence can be as varied as the quiet people themselves, but it’s often not very complicated.
Some of these characters, and their characteristics, found their way into my fiction. The others, these orphans, have been toiling away in my brain, screaming for a home for some time. They are an uncomfortable lot, so I have changed their names to protect their innocence, but other than that everything I write about them is, on the whole, true. I write ‘on the whole’, because I have spruced up some profiles, but anytime you run across what you believe to be “fictionalized” remember the Phillip Roth dictum that “Most writers cannot create material that tops non-fiction”. That’s a paraphrase, but it gets to the heart of what these installments are about, and why I chose that material for further scrutiny.
The Weird and the Strange are people that don’t know how to comport themselves in groups, and they find it difficult to express themselves in ways we’ve all agreed on. They are the types you can find sitting in the corner of a crowded room –in get-togethers or parties– trying to figure out the ideal thing to say, and most of the times they figure that the ideal thing to say is nothing at all. It’s a strange strategy that they’ve developed to try to give their presence some meaning. They’re willing to try anything to be noticed at this point, but they do make their presence so inconsequential that some of the times we forget they were even there.