Sunday, January 27, 2013

Phantoms are Amongst Us

There are creatures that walk the Earth remaining largely unseen; shadows, heat-haze, corner-of-the-eye stuff. I know this because I am one of them.

I went to a training event as a part of my new job, last week. I arrived at the venue a little late due to planning to be fifteen minutes early and not counting on it taking twenty-five to find a place to park. I entered the room we were to be in for the day shortly after proceedings had begun and, sure enough, during the second presentation of the day, that fearful phrase I am going to ask you to get into pairs was uttered. Being, as I am, me, I'd already clocked that there were an odd number of people present and sure enough within the next thirty seconds I was standing in the middle of the room trying not to look slightly lost as everyone had, naturally, paired off in the opposite direction from me. Throughout the day we were asked to get into various groups, each of a size by which the total group was not equally divisible, and each time I found myself being the extra one, tagging on to the group which seemed most happy giving in to their pity.

It is only recently that I have come to realise that I am not actually alone in whatever nameless social affliction this is. It's simply the case that, unlike Jedi, vampires and immortals, we don't have an innate ability to sense each other; we're just as invisible to one another as we are to Normals. Even as a fairly successful teacher for six years, I never attained that hallowed, respected and ultimately undefinable attribute Presence.

I know people at the other end of the spectrum who, within minutes of walking into a pub, are chatting with others at the bar as if they've known them all their lives. I can walk through the middle of a party populated with people I have known all my life and manifest my presence as nothing more than a chill about the collar.

I am told, on occasion, that the solution is simple: you just talk to people. As if it's the same as putting an apostrophe in the correct place, finding the sum of the squares on the other two sides, or reading a number expressed in standard index form*. I have a 'networking event' scheduled in a few weeks' time: I'm terrified. I can fully imagine being the only person present who doesn't manage to so much as discuss the weather with anyone.

It's not just offline, either. I use twitter, and I like to help out when people post questions: it's often a good way of finding out something new if I don't already know the answer, and nice to find a use for knowledge that I do already possess. But if I post a question it's rare if I get any kind of response at all.

Before I get the inevitable flood of one or two comments from both people who will read this, I'll state that yes, I do know it's something I'm doing wrong. I have some vague ideas about what, but nothing all that concrete, and I have no idea how to put any of them right. People will offer shining insights into how to fix the problem, always along the lines of "you've just got to talk to people!", but this is, to me, a lot like telling me that the solution to really wanting to wear two hats at the same time is "you've just got to grow another head!" I don't know how to do that, and there's very little in the way of helpful advice floating about.

Anyway, if you find yourself reading this and thinking "that's me! That's me!" Then I hope you're reassured to some extent by the fact that you're not alone.

And say hi, if you know how.

* See what I'm getting at here? These three things are simple, but only if you already know how to do them.