Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hiding Out

It’s interesting to me how people put up barriers between themselves and others. Some people will simply be reserved, quiet and reveal little about their personal lives. Others might avoid eye contact or cover their mouth when they smile. Some might even hunch down a little in their cubicles, hiding in their holes like prairie dogs, peeping over the edge only to investigate strange tidbits of conversations or the smell of food. Typically I’m not usually like this. I like talking to others and finding out what their lives are like. I like making that connection. People may reveal more about themselves if you share a bit of yourself with them first. Sure this openness has gotten me into trouble a few times, but hey, it’s who I am.

I like being an open and unguarded person. I say what’s on my mind, happily chat with others in the hallway and talk up customers at the restaurant where I work. But lately I’ve found myself retreating a bit and feeling the need to put some distance between myself and others. I’m not sure why. It could just be that I’ve had a lot on my mind and very little time outside of work to really mull all of it over. Strangely, I’ve been finding comfort hiding behind my glasses. I know…not really that much of a mask, but my thick black specs have been my method of separation lately.

I started wearing the glasses a couple weeks ago when my eyes were getting too dry for contacts. I think it might have been an allergy thing but when my eyes started to get a bit better I found myself reaching for the glasses as a matter of preference. There’s something about having my eyes barely concealed that makes it feel like I’ve stepped back a bit and put some distance between myself and the world. It’s nice, albeit slightly odd. At least I’m not walking around wearing sunglasses indoors. That’s when I would really start to worry.

By having taken this step back I’ve started to really notice how others establish their own barriers. It’s fascinating. I wonder how much of it is conscious and how much is just reflex that they’re not aware of. There is the one woman who is as prickly as they come. Everything about her tone of voice, lack of eye contact and physical distance that she keeps from everyone else screams for others to leave her alone yet it’s all done very subtle. There are also a few guys walking around who never remove their hats though with that I’m not sure if it’s a way to hide their eyes or their receding hairlines. And of course there’s a variety of hunched shoulders, furrowed brows, vigilant floor watching, lowered and unconfident voices and even some cocky strutting. I wonder if any or all of it is a means to separate and detach or if these traits are just characteristics of these people.

When I studied abroad I chose to travel alone. I had found that when being a solo traveler locals were more apt to approach me for a conversation or even a brief walk around town. A lot of the kids in my program couldn’t fathom traveling alone. They worried about getting lost, not having anyone to eat dinner with, or take their picture in front of some statue. I traveled alone almost all of the time when I was abroad and I never had any of these problems. In fact, I would venture to guess that I had better cultural experiences than they did. There was always someone to help me when I got lost, take my picture when necessary (and in the case of one group of Asian tourists, they insisted on being in the picture with me), and always someone to chat with. In Ireland people would see me sitting alone in a pub and immediately approach to find out who I was and why on earth I was all by myself. To them, being alone was just too strange. Didn’t I know it was unhealthy to eat alone?

Going alone actually meant being more surrounded by others. I was approached rather than being the one who initiated the conversation. I wonder if that’s a bit of what I’m doing now; stepping away and just allowing what I need to find me instead of me trying to find it. Sure, the glasses are really only a prop, but at least they’re reminding me to be quiet and still, to listen, watch and digest whatever comes my way

No comments: