Nothing makes clear how much of an introvert I really am like a mass quarantine/Stay-at-Home order. First it was the paradoxical relief, the joy of waking up each morning knowing that I didn’t have to go anywhere today.
At first, I thought it was all due to being a neurodivergent type with no sense of time. Ah, to be emancipated from the constant nagging of The Clock! But, conversely, schedules help a time-blind person actually accomplish anything. The trick is, maybe, being able to set my own schedule instead of being bound to other people’s.
Which brings us back to people.
I woke up this morning already exhausted because I couldn’t remember if we had a Zoom session scheduled with my kid’s counselor at ten. We had one at ten yesterday, which we then canceled because it turned out I had to do an online storytime at 10:30. Did we reschedule for today, or not? And that just reminded me that I’d completely missed an afternoon online work meeting because I’d been thinking so hard about the morning storytime that the fact that I wasn’t done with online meetings for the day had slipped my mind. It was a beautiful day! I had to go out and prune the roses! And once I get into the garden I do have no concept of the passing of time until someone reminds me or the sun goes down. But now I felt embarrassed for missing that meeting, which added to my reluctance to wake up this morning. Stop trying to talk to me, people.
When I finally made it downstairs to check if I had to drag the middle schooler out of bed yet, I saw that today was, in fact, meeting-free, and felt immediately relieved. And that’s when I realized, Zoom meetings were stressing me out.
Were they taking up an absurd amount of my time? Not technically. The counselors are through a Family-Based Wrap-around service, which, under non-pandemic circumstances, would have resulted in at least two at-home visits of at least two hours each. We were spending slightly less than two hours each on exactly two online sessions. Our library director has determined we will make up for the library being closed by holding an online planning meeting for an hour and a half three times a week. That, if you add in the online storytime, is about 5 hours a week toward a job that normally took up 20 hours of each week.
And I’d had an online hangout with my college friends on Sunday— not even very long, from after the kids went to bed until we had to go to bed. So. Ten hours a week on virtual meetings. One of those hours spent with my best friends. What was the problem here?
Well, when we were having at-home visits from the Family-Based counselors, the whole family would join them around the table. There were hands-on activities to do. My ambivert husband ended up talking a lot, and I’d spend the time doodling. Online, the hands-on activities aren’t as easy for the counselors to dole out— they seem to still be uncomfortable with how the system works at all; and the rest of my family can’t seem to take the sessions seriously. They wander in and out of the room or don’t show up at all, and I end up having to speak for everybody else. Plus, the issues that had brought on the counseling in the first place had lessened simply because my kid doesn’t have to go out to school anymore. But it took us a really long time to finally line up this placement—I feel like we ought to keep it up. So I keep tuning in, trying to look like I’m paying attention, trying to think of enough things to say, two times a week for two hours straight.
Then there’s the library meetings. Here’s the thing: there’s a misunderstanding that librarianship is a career that involves interacting with books more than with people. Archivists and catalogers are different, but your typical front-lines reference librarian and especially a children’s librarian—and I’m both—needs to be good at dealing with people. BUT, in my typical workday, people-dealing comes in fits and spurts. At the desk, I spend thirty seconds here saying hello or checking in with a patron, two minutes there helping another patron find a particular book, ten minutes there helping someone research. Each interaction is broken up by my solitary desk work: reading book reviews, making purchase lists, planning upcoming programs, putting together activities. Even longer interactions are broken up: a storytime takes 15 to 20 minutes of direct interaction and then everyone starts working on their own crafts projects, or preschool outreach visits take half an hour each and I have a ten-minute drive rocking out to the radio in my car before I get to the next one. On nonstop busy days, when I get hit with interaction after interaction without any quiet time, my welcoming smile gets more and more fake, and a little voice in my head keeps shouting, “GO AWAY, PEOPLE! STOP NEEDING MY HELP!”
I love helping people at the library, but too much will still get to me. Having an hour and a half meeting with all my coworkers three times a week is not nearly as fun as helping a kid find a book they’ll love, but it takes a whole lot more social energy. It may technically be a quarter of my regular workweek, but it’s somehow much more draining.
I get it, some people thrive on face-to-face interaction. They can’t stand not being able to look people in the eye and talk out loud in real time. Isolation is a prison instead of blessed solitude. So they figured out a way to interact their way as best as they can through the internet, and they’ve dragged all us perfectly-happy-with-email introverts along with them.
But I don’t think I realized exactly how unnatural I find constant face-to-face interaction until I had to spend hours at a time tied to a webcam. I don’t mind being with people. I sometimes love it. But only if I can be busy doing my own thing, there. Only if I don’t have to be constantly trying to keep focus and eye contact. Only if I don’t have to feel compelled to make conversation. It’s really draining.
I suppose it’s a fair trade-off. We all have to make sacrifices, and if the extroverts have to learn to entertain themselves at home, the introverts can sit through all these Zoom meetings. But I’ve definitely learned something about how my introversion works in this process, and maybe someday this information will be useful.