Introvert? Empath? Good Literary Citizen? (1 of 3)

I suck at social obligations.

Three Myers Briggs tests have found me to be an off-the-chart introvert, and my abilities as an empath once made me fear I was secretly from Deanna Troi’s home planet. It’s not a great combination. If I have to go somewhere, I soak up everything around me and it leaves me drained.

This doesn’t mean I can’t function around people. I’m practiced at faking normality. (Aren’t we all?) What it does mean is if I have to deal with people for very much or for very long, I can’t write.

The first time I heard the phrase Good Literary Citizen, my heart sank.

You see, I agree with the principals behind the idea, but I’m horribly suited to putting them in practice. Over the years, I’ve found three avenues that work for me, at least in limited quantities. I’ve found corollaries of these that have the capability to be my kryptonite. This post covers one set. (Read the second one. Read the third one.)

A Problem:

I’m from the US. Put me and a handful of other Americans in a room full of Brits and I’ll be the first one to start talking with a slightly British accent and I won’t even notice it. Yes, I have my own voice, but it’s as mutable as everything else about me. If I’m not careful, I write like the last person I read.

A Solution:

Read short things by different people, and read lots of them.

I’ve become a great fan of flash fiction. My genre is speculative, so I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction. Most days they send me a story of 1000 words or less. Some are brilliant. Occasionally one is sort of dumb. Every few days I read several of them at once. This keeps me current on themes and word choices floating around in my chosen genre, without any one author getting too deeply into my head.

Sometimes, DSF lets readers vote for stories they like. I do this to support authors who impress me. I also seek them out elsewhere and follow them or list their works as “want to read.” It’s my way of giving them a quick thumbs up before I move on to my own writing. (I also save their stories to reread and inspire me to write better.)

What to Avoid:

I avoid long novels by others, and I will not let myself get involved in a series. Not now. Not me. I can read all those great series out there when I retire from writing. I’m looking forward to it.

I also avoid authors with too distinctive of a voice. There’s nothing wrong with them; in fact some of them are great. They just aren’t for me right now. Again, someday …

As a result (1) I’m generally writing, (2) I generally sound like me, whatever that is, (3) I’m not completely out of touch with what is happening in my genre and (4) I’m doing at least something to support other authors.

I think it’s a win-win-not lose situation. Given my constraints, I’ll take it.

Having Lunch in Dubai for World Peace

I have no doubt that the more time people spend together, and the more they understand each other, the less likely they are to hate or kill each other. I feel so strongly about this that I wrote a book about how truly understanding another person would make it far more difficult to kill them.

Every so often I discover a group acting on similar ideas to make the world a better place, and it fills me with joy. Yesterday I had the privilege of having lunch with members of such a group.

I’m in Dubai, the largest city of the United Arab Emirates. This modern, cosmopolitan city of over two million is a whopping 82% expats. They come from every continent, culture and religion and, in spite of their current location, they bring plenty of biases and misunderstandings with them regarding Muslims in general and the Emirates in particular.

Enter a group called “Open Door, Open Minds.” Their idea is pretty much what you would guess. Come have a meal with us. Let us show you some of how we live while you ask questions. Any questions.

This organization not only performs outreach to Dubai’s many residents born elsewhere, but they also invite tourists coming through Dubai to participate. I was lucky enough to be in a tour group that did so.

The food is plentiful, and the hosts are warm and sincere. They invite you to try on the traditional clothing worn by your gender, and they take you on a tour of an old home.

They also answer whatever awkward questions the group wants to throw at them. Ours was pretty polite, but I got the impression that not all others were.

A map in the hallway shows the many places these tourists have come from. Have there been enough of them to achieve world peace? Of course not. But  ….. it’s a start.

What is that Woman with a Taser Thinking?

I had one of those worst ever travel days yesterday, with three separate you’ve got to be kidding incidents. Okay, by the end of event two I wasn’t at my best, but at least my belief in trying to put myself in the other person’s shoes got me through the first, and potentially most serious of the three.

You see, I’m not a person who likes to be told what to do. I’ve had a problem with TSA and airport security since the start of this millennium, largely because of what I considered petty enforcement of rules taking priority over common sense. (You’re going to take away my tube of mascara? Why? Oh it’s a 3.6 ounce container and 3.4 is the limit. Right.)

Yesterday I got the full body scan thing and it showed something suspicious around my chest. Turns out my shirt had sequins there. None-the-less, the lady had to feel around my boobs. Okay. Protocol also required her to check my hands for explosive-making residue. Much to my surprise, and hers, I came up positive.

“Have you been around fireworks? Fertilizer?” she asked. I hadn’t. I was taken aside, and two other women were found: one to do a considerably more thorough pat down of me and the other to make sure the first one adhered to policy.

This is the point where I normally would have started to loose it. But for some reason, I noticed the person doing the patting was as nervous as I was. This was all happening at a little airport in South Carolina, and I bet they don’t get a lot of women setting off alarms. This woman was being so careful, trying so hard to do it right. I started to see the incident through her eyes. What exactly was she supposed to do? Say “Oh you seem like a nice person, so just go ahead and get on the plane?”

You know, they don’t have the greatest job in the world. I don’t want people with bombs to get on planes either. It’s good they have some protocols in place, and good they’re trying to do things right.

I started to talk to both women a little, even joke a tad. They weren’t exactly chatty back (protocols, right) but the situation became less tense. I figured out the one woman was not only checking me for devices (of which their were none), but her gloves themselves were part of the process, as they would be checked at the end for suspicions residue, too.

The gloves were checked, and they triggered a second, more serious alarm. I was baffled, but it was clear to me the TSA people realized they had “A Situation.” All of my carry-on luggage was emptied and closely examined. All my electronic devices were wiped with cloths designed to detect … something. Once all my possessions were cleared, I was taken away to a small room with three women. My entourage was growing.

One began asking me the sort of questions I’d ask if I was trying to figure out if someone was lying. “Who are you going to visit? How long has it been since you’ve seen him?”

Then we began the serious pat down. The patter had obviously been told to explain everything before she did it. “I’m now going to run the inside of my hands down your buttocks.”

“You don’t have to tell me. Just do it.” Actually, hearing about it first was creepier than having it done.

“No, I do have to,” she said. That’s right. Protocols, partially designed to protect suspects like me. I should be glad they’re being followed.

“How about I just take off my shirt and pants,” I offered. “Seems like it would be a lot simpler.”

Three sets of eyes widened. “Oh no. Please don’t do that. That’s not the procedure.”

Right.

Luckily, this third exam was deemed to be negative, so I’ll never know what the next step in the procedure was.

They were very polite as I gathered myself back together. The whole incident took about half an hour. Had I cut it closer, I could have missed my flight because of this. No one apologized to me, but I guess they had nothing to apologize for. They were doing their job. Their job has a noble goal.

Also, no one could tell me why I’d set off a residue alarm twice. I haven’t a clue.

I do know that if my fascination with empathy hadn’t led me to try to see the incident through their eyes, it could have gone quite differently. That particular headline reads “Woman Ends Up in Federal Prison Because of Incident Caused by Sequins on Shirt.”

Of course, if they’d been belligerent or mean, all that empathy stuff on my part could have fallen by the wayside. Lucky for me, all three of them seemed to be trying to see it through my eyes too. Funny how well that works out.