Every weekday at around eight o’clock in the morning, I hang my clothes out to dry.
If you’re a non-Singaporean folk, this is how we do it:
It’s a mixture of dread and comfort.
Comfort, because sorting out my laundry helps me plan my day.
Dread, because the old man from the opposite apartment block is watching my every move.
That’s right, he gives new meaning to the phrase “people-watching”.
Our awkward stares started a decade ago and I’ve lost count the number of times we’ve caught eyeballing at each other.
(Bear with, because we’re on to something here.)
Two weeks ago, the lovely Jenn Granneman published my essay on her website, Introvert Dear.
An essay titled, To My Extroverted Ex-Friend Who Manipulated My Introversion.
It was a story about a toxic friendship and a message on how silence is an act of violence.
Right after it was published, I hopped on over to Facebook to read the comments.
And it was devastating.
People from all over the world came forward, shared their stories, and unmasked their vulnerability.
It was a bold move, because as we all know, the internet can be a vindictive and unpredictable sinkhole.
One comment stood out and it gave me a lot to think about what I wrote.
A reader felt that I’m driving a wedge between introverts and extroverts and that I’m using my personality trait as an excuse.
It wasn’t a mean comment. Rather, it was cordial and polite (See, folks, it’s possible to have a healthy discussion!).
Still, when I read it, I was floored.
Because it was never my intention to throw extroverts under the bus. The mere thought of introverts being better people than extroverts or using my personality to justify my behaviour never once crossed my mind.
I didn’t think it was appropriate to get defensive, so I took a cue from Scott Derrickson and replied:
“I’m listening and learning.”
I thanked everyone for sharing their thoughts and stories and logged off Facebook. I also might had added a cutesy symbol.
It was the only way I could think of to ease the tension.
Days passed and l couldn’t get the reader out of my mind:
Am I throwing shades at extroverts? Of course not. It just so happened that this ex-friend was an extrovert. Plain and simple.
Did I get too carried away and missed the point?
Am I using my introversion as a crutch? God, I hope not. It’s a lot more complicated than that. I hope it reflected in my essay.
What if it didn’t?
I reread my essay and you know what?
I could see where the reader’s coming from.
I wondered if, deep down, subconsciously, I was using my personality trait to defend myself.
I was worried people would twist my words.
It hit me hard.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Worse, I couldn’t stop second-guessing myself.
I tried to put it on the back-burner but couldn’t.
Thank the stars it was temporary.
Because a week later, I stumbled on a book by Alexandra Franzen, and it made me look at the matter in a new perspective.
Here’s a quote (or quotes?) that completely changed my mentality:
In that moment, the reader and my eyeballing matches with the old man have tied together.
Maybe the old man was staring into blank space.
Maybe my essay reminded the reader of a fight with an introverted friend and it brought back unpleasant memories.
Maybe the old man’s staring at me, because he thinks I’m staring at him.
Maybe the reader just disagreed with what I’ve said – and that’s okay.
Our personal experience, background, temperament; these things play a heavy role in our perception – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
It’s like that scene on The Golden Girls where Rose, Blanche, and Dorothy confide in Sophia.
(A little bit of a background: Sophia’s advice to the girls involves a wacky story about a beautiful young woman and a sea of pepperoni.)
What Rose, Blanche, and Dorothy got out from Sophia’s story is starkly different.
Rose, who was sexually harassed by her boss at her workplace, learns from the story that she should “take a bad situation to make it better” by telling him off.
Blanche, who caught her boyfriend with another woman, gets the impression that she should dump him because there’s a lot of pepperoni (translation: men) in the sea.
Dorothy didn’t know what to have for dinner – thanks to the story, she now wants a pepperoni pizza.
Where do we go from here?
All experiences are unique.
Our perception, our way of thinking, our ideas – they’re all poles apart.
Which brings us back to the moment of truth – the reaction of our work?
We don’t have a say in it.
Good or bad, we have to let the audience decide (Of course, we have to be smart enough to know the difference between hurtful feedback or useful criticism, but that’s another story altogether).
The bottom line: we can’t be in the driver’s seat all of the time.
We can’t control how our work is interpreted by others – we have to learn to roll with the punch.
This is the reality of being a creative.
The is the reality of life.
This is a risk we must be willing to take.
Now stop overthinking and go create something rad!