Wednesday, December 31, 2014

More Walls, Please

The best time of year to work at the office (as opposed to someplace else) is now, the holiday season. Just about everyone is away on vacation; unlike most other days, the place is nearly empty and wonderfully peaceful.

My office, you see, has an extremely open layout (i.e., where the walls between desks are low or non-existent), and it can feel quite overwhelming. Look up from your computer, and you find yourself staring into your neighbor's eyes. Extend your legs too far and you're playing footsie with him or her. Coworkers gather behind your chair to chat; in fact, conversations are never-ending all around you. Read an email, or look at your bank account balance at your own risk; when you do, everyone will know about it.

I've always been surprised that others don't seem to mind open offices. According to an article I saw yesterday on the Washington Post, though, people mind more than I knew. The lack of privacy, and the distractions, appear to affect most people. Not only does it diminish productivity, but it makes people feel "frustrated" and "helpless". I believe it. If only I could convince my boss to believe it.

Apparently, the main selling point for the open office idea is that it "enhances interaction" between coworkers. That, I'm guessing, is an idea originating from an extrovert. For me, less interaction would be ideal. And more walls.

It's an amusing article, and I like how the author ended it by promoting the work-at-home solution. "At home," she writes, "my greatest distraction is the refrigerator." Well put.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Attendance Is Tentative

During the last several years at work, I've gradually developed a nifty habit. When I receive meeting requests via email, those Microsoft Outlook invitations that list me as a required attendee and ask me to accept, I always -- always -- respond with a "Tentative", even when the person organizing the meeting could fire me himself or have any number of others fire me.

Most people have shrugged it off, though, dismissing my responses as quirks of mine, or at least they did so at first. I'd still go to most of the meetings for those first couple of years, despite my tentativeness. But slowly I began missing meetings, or calling into them. Or finding reasons to work from home. And nowadays I rarely attend meetings at all, except for the ones that I've organized myself or that I know I'll get something out of.

I treasure this habit, and I've even been asked how I'm able to get away with it.

I know this is terrible by most standards and that I've probably ticked off many coworkers. On the other hand, I've become much more productive and incalculably happier at work. It's a relief to skip meetings, especially since they end up being filled with small talk and repetitive discussions that won't contribute to my productivity at all. Wasting my time just so that I can be seen as a participant is irksome. I'd rather not be seen at all. Just let me get my job done!

I worry that I may be missing too many meetings lately, though. My habit might be getting dangerously out of hand.

Today, for instance, I received an email saying:

"Hey Zeri,

Hope you are enjoying the alone time ;)

Could you please join the [very important company] call next week? They were all wondering today what we are up to..."

Sigh. I guess I'm in trouble. But if people want answers from me, I don't understand why they don't simply ask. Conference calls and meetings seem entirely unnecessary.

In any case, I'm thinking of attending the meeting next week. Tentatively, at least.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Developed Feeling Of Apartness

The feeling of apartness from others comes to most with puberty, but it is not always developed to such a degree as to make the difference between the individual and his fellows noticeable to the individual. It is such as he, as little conscious of himself as the bee in a hive, who are the lucky in life, for they have the best chance of happiness: their activities are shared by all, and their pleasures are only pleasures because they are enjoyed in common; you will see them on Whit-Monday dancing on Hampstead Heath, shouting at a football match, or from club windows in Pall Mall cheering a royal procession. It is because of them that man has been called a social animal.

Excerpt from Of Human Bondage
by Somerset Maugham


Saturday, September 20, 2014

When Looks Say Enough

He found that silence helped him much more than words. He could look inexpressible things.

Excerpt from Of Human Bondage
by Somerset Maugham


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On Getting Fined For Wordiness

In my last annual review at work, my team leader said that if there was an area where I was lacking, it was that I could be taking more ownership in my projects. I didn't agree, but what could I say? I sometimes feel that I'm the only one taking ownership, and other times I feel like I'm begging for the opportunity.

Lately, though, I've been taking so much ownership that my days have been filled with the kind of electricity that accompanies those on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I still avoid meetings when I can, quite intentionally, but nowadays it seems like I talk with everyone. I talked with my team leader today, and it was one talk out of far-too-many. I was asking him to help out on an upcoming project, and in that moment I realized that I was taking ownership, possibly more so than he was comfortable with. I was enlisting my team leader to work for me, and while I was chatting with him, I remembered his comments from my last annual review; and then my jaw started to lock up.

I was suddenly overwhelmed. I felt like I'd exceeded my annual limit for spoken words, and like I was starting to get charged extra; in fact, I was getting fined for going overboard with my wordiness. I was finding it hard to breathe.

In moments like these, I continue as best as I can. I tell myself to focus, to relax. I do what I need to do, say what I need to say, and accept that I can get back to the frills later. Once I'm away and my head isn't vibrating so intensely, I find a way to recharge: I do a tiny task, one that involves no communication, and another, and another. Soon enough, the emergency subsides.

Although I love taking ownership, does it need to involve so many people? Can't I just get things done?


Wednesday, July 2, 2014


While sitting with relatives at the back of the house one night in a suburb of Chicago, I found my attention drifting from the conversation. I was mesmerized by the brief flashes of light around the yard.

"Lightning bugs," I said, smiling. "It's been so long since I've seen them!"

"You don't have them in Seattle?" my aunt asked.

I shook my head, and continued watching the fireflies dance.

After a while, one of my nieces came up to me and opened her hands. She held out a lightning bug for me, and I thanked her. I reached out and let the bug crawl onto my finger. Soon, my hand was glowing.

Later, I thought about that kind gesture, and about how -- while I'd been focused on keeping up my part of the conversation with my relatives, and probably struggling to deal with all of the attention -- they'd simply been conspiring to see that I was happy.

Sometimes, I guess having the light shone on you isn't so bad.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

On Being Family

I'm in Chicago, at a hotel, and I'm having trouble winding down for the night. When I get back to Seattle, I foresee quite a bit of downtime for recovery.

I'm here visiting family. It's been good to see them, but it's also been overwhelming. Seeing family is normally tiring after a few days, but my family in Chicago is a special case. Imagine twenty or more of the most extreme extroverts unintentionally ganging up on you, all of them coming and going, or sitting and chatting, speaking words faster than your brain can process them, all at the same time and not necessarily in English, most of them taking turns talking with you, each of them deserving the title of "Comedian" -- if you could only focus hard enough or listen at supersonic speeds (they always laugh at the jokes thirty seconds before you even realize a joke is being told) -- and that's not counting their kids who are running back and forth and screaming funny nonsense, arms flailing, the oddballs half naked; and you're giving hugs hello as some relatives arrive and hugs goodbye as some leave, many whom you've never met before, and if you're not paying attention, you might get knocked over by a little one planting her arms around one of your legs. Then, as you take your leave for the night, your grandmother -- standing up to hug you even though she struggles to stand at all -- tells you that she loves you, that she's glad that you came, and glad that she could see you again before she dies.

I'm not good enough family for any one of them, but I am glad to have them, nonetheless.

Tomorrow night, my aunt is having everyone over. I'm not optimistic about my ability to participate in two-way conversations. I harbored a small amount of optimism before I came to Chicago; I was sure there were meaningful questions to ask, things to learn about my family, etc., but now I can barely secure a steady train of thought. Writing these paragraphs was like trying to get a frightened, panicked crowd organized into a single-file line. My brain is fried.

I'll probably stutter and blabber tomorrow (unless there are drinks, of course -- in which case I'll probably stutter in the most eloquent of ways). Regardless, I'll be myself, and it'll be no surprise to anyone; they are family, after all. Earlier, my mom was telling a story to my aunt about how, on occasion, she accidentally calls one of my nephews by my name because he reminds her of me. My aunt asked, "Why? Because he's so quiet?"

Yes: they know me a little, at least.

I don't need to be the best uncle, or the best cousin, or the best nephew, or the best grandson, or the best brother, or the best son. But I wouldn't mind letting my family know that I care. I hope they can tell, even if I'm showing them in my own limited way.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

On Shells And Happiness

Auberon put down the glass, slowly, thinking. "Do you think," he said, "that people are happier when they're alone, or with other people?"

She carried his glass and plate to the sink. "I don't know," she said. "I guess... Well, what do you think?"

"I don't know," he said. "I just wondered if... " What he wondered was whether it was a fact everyone knew, every grown-up anyway: that everyone is of course happiest alone, or the reverse, whichever it was. "I guess I'm happier with other people," he said.

"Oh yes?" She smiled; since she faced the sink, he couldn't see her. "That's nice," she said. "An extrovert."

"I guess."

"Well," Alice said softly, "I just hope you don't creep back in your shell again."

He was already on his way out, stuffing extra cookies in his pockets, and didn't stop, but a strange window had suddenly been flung open within him. Shell? Had he been in a shell? And -- odder still -- had he been seen to be in one, was it common knowledge? He looked through this window and saw himself for a moment, for the first time, as others saw him. Meanwhile his feet had taken him out the broad swinging doors of the kitchen, which grump-grumped behind him in their way, and through the raisin-odorous pantry, and out through the stillness of the long dining room, going toward his imaginary ball-game.

Excerpt from Little, Big: or, The Fairies' Parliament
by John Crowley

Related: The Shell


Friday, May 9, 2014

All I Need

"All I need is room enough to lay a hat and a few friends."

by Dorothy Parker


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Being Puzzling

"Most people spend little time inside their heads. They don't understand how you live. They're like medieval peasants looking in puzzlement at the troubadour."

Excerpt from Accelerando
by Charles Stross


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

An Introvert Fortune

"A person is not wise simply because one talks a lot."

Photo courtesy of a kind reader.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The "Extreme" In Extreme Introversion

Most of us are wary of the extremes. Extreme extroverts are as questionable as extreme introverts. In either case, we might ask, "What kind of drugs are you on?" For extreme athletes, we might attribute a death wish. Look up the word "extreme" on Google, and one of the related searches you'll see is "extreme couponing". Enough said.

It's easier to understand the common ground than it is to venture towards the edge.

Last year, I was asked how I know that I'm an "extreme introvert". I thought it was an interesting question. What makes my introversion extreme? And how do I know that's what I am? These are two very philosophical questions, but I'll try not to get too deep while answering them.

Part of the reason that I use the phrase is because more and more literature is finally being published about introversion, and the topic is described in an overly generic way. It's written about in such a manner as to include most of the world. Evidently, up to fifty percent of the population falls somewhere on the introversion spectrum, meaning half of us have at least some introverted tendencies. When you consider this, you can see why I -- among others -- would try to make a distinction. I classify myself as an "extreme" introvert because my introversion seems to be amplified. It's the difference between having mild tendencies versus being very clearly introverted. Simply put, the word introvert is overused; so I've added a modifier -- if introversion means "turning inwards", then extreme introversion means "turning inwards with gusto".

But how do I know that I'm on the deep end of the introversion spectrum? There's no exact formula for measuring these things -- it's guesswork, at best. There are tests online (e.g., the Meyers-Briggs test) that tell us how introverted we are, as a rough percentage, but the best test is experience. I know how I am in comparison to others because I spend time with people. I put myself in situations that allow me to make comparisons. I socialize now and then. You might say that I experiment.

How do I know? I know because I've tried being like everyone else, and I've also allowed myself to stop trying and to just be me. The difference is huge; in fact, the difference is extreme.