This is not a joke. Although it is kind of funny. Last weekend I (an introvert) went to a writing conference with a fellow writer who is on the opposite end of the “vert” scale. And the experience left me thinking about more than writing.

The event: Chesapeake Writers Conference

The introvert: Me, K.L. Kranes

The extrovert: Writer, memoirist, Lisa

Act I: The Beginning

As the accordion steps rose up and disappeared into an abyss, my heart raced. I wasn’t looking forward to this. In fact, I’d wondered if, like a child not wanting to go to school, I could fake a stomach ache and run back home?

But I couldn’t leave my fellow writing pal stranded at the conference. I was one half of a pair. Two people. One conference. Bailing was not an option.

My other half, Lisa, floated up the escalator, pointing her eyes into the unknown, challenging it to try and best her. Eagerness and excitement streaming from her pores. Mine just streamed sweat.

My co-pilot navigated us to a table where our names were printed in black on white paper.

extrovert-introvert.jpgWe peeled the off the sticky labels. She slapped hers above her heart. I tucked mine in a spot easily covered by my sweater. This one act was a stark, clear representation of our duality.

At that moment, I became the shadow and she became the sun. Our labels were not our names. They were “introvert” and “extrovert.”

The man behind the check-in table handed Lisa a folder and gave his customary welcome. After he finished, the words bubbled from her lips, “Nice to meet you. I’m Lisa. What’s the Twitter hashtag for this event?” She snapped a pen out of thin air and waited for his reply.

The man tossed his eyes around the way a basketball player might look for an open teammate to make a pass.

“#chesaww,” said a girl with colorful eyeshadow, jumping to his rescue.

“You really should put that somewhere on the table,” Lisa suggested.

“Great idea!” the girl called, as she searched around for something to turn into a tent card.

With a nod of her blonde head and a flash of her eyes, Lisa walked away.

Walk. It’s a simple word. A basic verb in many languages. Andar. Marcher. Yet it doesn’t completely convey reality. We all walk. But we don’t all walk the same way.

Lisa walks with purpose. With each step, she leaves an imprint on the ground saying, “I was here.”

I walk, too. But I feel every twist of my hips, every squeeze of my toes inside my shoes. Eyes press into my skin. Terrified with each movement I might trip or be called a penguin. (It’s happened before. Apparently, I waddle.)

I might mimic confidence. And some might be fooled. But next to a person with actual confidence, I’m the fool.

Lisa sauntered into the lecture hall as if she’d been there thousands of times before. Her confidence and fearlessness a bright light streaking out of her.

Lisa (left), K.L. (right)

Our seats in the lecture hall were barely warm before Lisa thrust out her arm, her phone hooked to the end, and framed us for a picture. I leaned in and smiled, reluctantly. Always afraid to capture my likeness, as if it might expose some reality I don’t want to know.

Seconds after she posted the picture on Twitter, she turned her attention to the young woman in front of us. She’d already found out the type of book the woman wrote and the name of the girl’s roommate before I even unhooked myself from my inner monologue.

Since we’ve arrived, Lisa had:

  • Surveyed the conference
  • Recommended improvements (which the staff eagerly gobbled up and implemented)
  • Taken a picture
  • Posted it on Twitter
  • Made a friend

It had been <10 minutes.

I had managed not to say anything extremely stupid. (Success for me.)

Act II: The Middle

After consuming a gallon of tea, I excused myself to the bathroom. When I came back, Lisa stood next to a man. Her hands bent and twisted in an animated description, augmenting her words.

After the man walked away, she said with surprise, “he just came up to me to chat.” She was completely unaware of her gravitational pull.

As an introvert, I have a conflicting relationship with extroverts. On the one hand, extroverts are a relief. They do the work. I can interject when I think of something and they don’t get offended. Or I can sit back and let them talk for hours. But, at some point, many extroverts often start to feel self-absorbed and I start to disintegrate from shadow to nothing.

introvert-extrovert relationship.jpgThis is a generalization, obviously. A label. And Lisa, as she intently listened and responded to the people around her, reminded me how much labels were just pieces of paper stuck on shirts. Black and white and easy to rip up.

Because she’s not a simple label. The tilt of her head, the sunniness in her eyes, the eagerness of her responses all say, “I won’t judge you, let’s just talk a while.” She is approachable. She’s warm. And she has no problem walking straight into the social melee,¬†impervious to the bullets and arrows of conversation. (I prefer to hug the walls and shrug.)

The pitch sessions highlighted the drastic difference between me and Lisa. During the conference, writers had several opportunities to pitch their books to agents and publishers. Lisa killed it all her meetings, despite having returned from a European getaway less than 12 hours before the conference started and barely sleeping.

While I, on a full night’s sleep, stumbled through the story of my latest book and blurted out “I’m really bad at this” in the middle of my pitch. (You never get a second chance to make a first impression. My least favorite saying, ever.)

Throughout the conference, Lisa demonstrated she is the McGyver of social discourse. Give her topic and a golf tee and she’ll somehow turn any experience into a party. I’ll trip over my own feet and jam the golf tee in my eye. (Fastest way to end a party vibe.)

Act III: The End

“Check your introvert at the door,” the speaker said, in reference to the conference. “Meet other writers. Make connections.”

This was the presentation on marketing or, as I like to refer to it, just give me the golf tee now to put me out of my misery. Personally, I’d love to just write a book and step back into the shadows. I don’t want to think about how to sell my book or my brand like a pair of sneakers. If I could pay someone else to be me and sell my book, I would. (Note for the industrious entrepreneurs out there: business idea!)

introvert extrovert balanceDuring this speech, here was how I imagined the differing responses to the presentation.

Lisa: “Yes, yes. Need to meet MORE people!”

Me: “It’s not that easy. You extroverts just don’t get it. Can I go home now? I’ve talked to three new people and I’m exhausted.”

The truth is, I’m not sure extroverts can understand the introvert anxiety. The clawing fear when a stranger approaches and makes (gasp) eye contact! The heat burning your ears. The complete disconnect between your brain and your mouth when someone asks a question and expects you to answer.

No, extroverts don’t get this. They seek out others. Eye contact? They wield it like lasers. Anxiety? They gnash it to pieces with their perfect spontaneous banter full of wit and charm. But “getting it” and being aware of it are two different things.

Lisa, knowing well my anxiety, never makes me feel bad about it. She’s patient and carefully eases me into social situations, taking the front seat while not forgetting about her friend who planted herself firmly in the back.

I’ll never be able to check my introvert at the door. But I can walk through it with my extrovert wing woman. A woman who helps shove me out of my comfort zone and cares enough to lend me a little of her confidence. I may feel uncomfortable and anxious. But with Lisa around, the social situation becomes less terrifying.

Act IV: Prologue

After coming home, alternately weighed down and buoyed by the hours of human contact, I contemplated the experience of a writing conference where I learned more about people than perhaps writing. I thought about myself and Lisa.

I wondered how people who were so different could be such good friends. And I realized. We really aren’t that different. When I watch Lisa in a crowd, all I see is fearlessness in the face of the unknown. In my mind, my shadow pulls me backward, while she brightens and glides forward.

labeling peopleMy friend has confidence. The social part may be easy for her, the spotlight, the center. It’s where she thrives. But light does not fall equally in all places. Shadows shift. Nothing is so simple.

Introvert. Extrovert. These labels are too binary to explain the complexity of humans.

Lisa has qualities I wish I possessed and I probably never will. I don’t presume to know her innermost thoughts. But I would imagine other people have qualities she wishes she possessed.

Labeling others, sticking them into black and white categories is easy. But it doesn’t help us really understand. Because no one fits perfectly into a category.

Lisa is an extrovert. I am an introvert. I’d hope we’re both more than those simple labels. I think we are. We’re friends. I learn from her. I hope she learns from me. Regardless, I’m grateful to know her. In that case, do labels really matter at all?