Observation is my superpower!

 

“You see, but you do not observe.” – Holmes to Watson, A Scandal in Bohemia.

 

For those of you who don’t know, my Myers-Briggs personality result says I’m an INFJ. So what does that mean for me?

Well, I’m very sensitive to criticism, shy away from confrontations (verbal and physical) and hate social events with a blazing passion. I don’t like bullies, and I hate to see animals and people get hurt. I’m very, very quiet until you get to know me. Then I’m just quiet.

I’m also a snowflake, baby, one of a kind: INFJs make up less than 1% of the population, and male INFJs are even rarer. I only know one other female INFJ for sure. We don’t get together much!

But INFJ’s also have superpowers…

Because I’m very sensitive to emotions, I pick up on mood changes very, very quickly, and I also observe people closely for those changes. It’s practically sub-conscious and instant when something about them changes and I notice.

Let me give you a little personal history: I walk quicker than average (Interestingly, my INFJ friend does the same), and for a decade of that walking, I worked in a very busy supermarket. I had to learn to guess people’s directions and movements from the subtlest movement of feet and hands and hips and heads, or I’d bang into them constantly.

So I learnt where people were moving to, and when those movements changed. I learnt it so well I can do it without thinking.

I was standing at the back of an auditorium at work one morning (That’s a thing with introverts and INFJs: we observe from a distance) and watching a small crowd of teachers gathered around a laptop. Humans are fascinating when you study the way they interact.

At one point, Mr B started talking to Miss A. I don’t know the subject of the conversation. I was too far away, and as I said, I watch hands and feet and heads. Mr B takes a step closer to Miss A after a few sentences. At this point, Mr C walks all the way around the crowd and physically places himself between them. Jealous much?

The conversation continued without a pause. No one noticed but me.

We have student teachers here from time to time. Mostly they hang out in the staff room and work. During my lunch, a regular teacher came up behind one of them and started talking to her. He wasn’t standing over her or pushing into her personal space and his voice wasn’t raised. He was completely passive.

But I noticed her fidgeting went up a hundred percent. While was talking to her, she was scratching her arms, fiddling with her pen and her hair and tapping her feet. This was from someone who usually barely moved.

I talked to the regular teacher a while later and asked him why he thought he made her nervous. He looked genuinely confused. “Did I? When was this?”

That’s one of the reasons I don’t bring this up with the people involved. They never see it themselves. I always feel like the conversation didn’t go well when I’ve tried it, so I never have those conversations anymore.

I don’t think people like it when you see something they’ve missed.

I also do that wonderful thing INFJs do so well: I listen. I listen for the gaps in the conversation, the parts where you hesitate and don’t even think about it.

A work colleague of mine, myself and a premises guy were taking a TV off the wall in the PE department. The premises guy was wondering how long it had been up there and mentioned, “It had been there before Miss J left the PE department”. Premises guy asked work colleague if he remembered her.

The colleague replied: “Yeah, I remember…her.”

I only needed that three-dot pause to figure out: “Ah. Beefy girl was she?” And premises guy nodded.

I can’t explain how I came to that conclusion; Like I said, I do this stuff sub-consciously and instantly. Best I can do: She worked in the PE department; PE department women tend to be Amazons (no judgement: Just observation), and my colleague wouldn’t pause over describing someone unless she was exceptionally Amazon.

I got that from a three dot pause.

Imagine what we can do if an INFJ talks to you for an hour.

What’s your personality super-power? Let me know!

Review: Brother in the Land

3/5

 

 

Danny Lodge is one of the unlucky ones when World War Three breaks out – he’s one of the survivors…

First up: I don’t usually mention covers of books, which change from edition to edition, but this one was particularly hideous. I feel like someone let their kid play with Photoshop for ten minutes. Small wonder YA was so unappreciated for so long…

 I would have been reading this when I was twelve when it came out.

The book was written in 1984, so it falls right into the middle of my demographic – I would have been reading this when I was twelve when it came out, right in the middle of my watching Threads and The Day After and I have no doubt it would have left a permanent impact on me if I had come across it.

And since it was published in 1984, it’s an interesting experience to see how much YA has matured since. Characterisation is non-existent and the events are sanitised and far more cosmetic than they would be today. Radiation sickness, third degree burns and nuclear winter are all off page or non-existent.

The last YA I read was Dry by Neal / Jarrod Shusterman, published in 2019, and what a difference that was…

I don’t mean this as a criticism of 80s YA. This is simply how it worked for a long time. There was no perception that teenagers could handle anything more than the slim thirty thousand words this book contains, no perception they could handle more than cardboard characters.

One plus for that shortness is that the book zooms along, event after event, with little pause for reflection or for the characters to catch up.

Swindells decides to really go for it.

Then something happens roughly three quarters of the way through: Swindells decides to really go for it. He pours on the bleakness and desperation and ramps it up. This is the book we should have been reading from the first pages, and it’s grim and sobering stuff.

Even sanitised and cleaned, it’s a brutal exploration of a war that might still happen.

Have you ever found a great book hiding behind a hideous cover? Let me know!

Why are you so QUIET?

Been there, bought the T shirt.

Do you ever get the feeling you’ve made someone nervous?

Last week, a teacher at the school where I work wanted something fixing on her computer. I followed her from my office to her classroom, and while we were walking she was talking about the things she’d tried to fix it herself. I listened and analysed her body language and didn’t respond, my default behaviour unless I’m asked a question.

At one point, she turned her head towards me, raised her shoulders and gave a half-laugh. Being an INFJ and an introvert I’ve been analysing that little gesture ever since. At first, I thought it was a “I don’t know how to fix it, I’m just a girl” gesture.

(I apologise if that’s sexist, but I’ve known some women who talk to men like that. Very competent and able women who feel they can only get a problem resolved by a male by pretending to be incompetent. Perhaps – not unfairly – they think the man will consider them a failure if they can’t do everything. I think it says a lot about our culture that women feel they have to do this.)

I think my quietness made her nervous.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it a little more, since that’s what us INFJs tend to do (Seriously: I replay conversations I had twenty years ago!). I think my quietness made her nervous. Was she taking my silence as a tacit disapproval of her actions in trying to solve the problem? Did she think my silence was a condemnation of her ability?

Most people would have filled the time while we walked with small talk, but I have little time for it and remained silent. I don’t really care how your drive was to work this morning, or what the weather is doing right now. If I’m paying attention, it’s to the things you aren’t telling me, the things you don’t want to talk about, your body language and the tone of your voice.

After the head turn and shoulder lift thing, I dropped back half a step behind her so she wouldn’t feel she had to talk to me again. That seemed to work.

I’ve noticed it before that my silence makes people uncomfortable. One of my former teachers said he sometimes thought I was going to try a judo move on him because I was so quiet and still.

It’s very odd to me that people seem happier filling the silence with nonsense and small talk. Silence doesn’t bother me at all, to be honest. I’d rather have a decent conversation than an empty one.

Do you think your quietness makes people nervous? Let me know!

Movies: Stand by Me (1986)

“The kid wasn’t sick. The kid wasn’t sleeping. The kid was dead.”

I can narrow down when I first saw Stand By Me to a period of two or three years in the late 1980s. I’m guessing ‘87 or early ’88. I remember which room of the house I was in and where I was sitting.

I remember it so well for a lot of reasons: My brother rented it (on VCR tape!) and brought it home with some other movies and some friends. They watched the other movies first; to this day, I have no idea what they were.

Then they stuck on Stand By Me and promptly fell asleep. But I never felt less like sleeping in my life. I sat there completely captivated by it. Hey! Kids my age! And not acting like they were five years old!

By the times the credits rolled, I loved this movie.

But there was more there. The power of the acting and the strength of the characters pulled me into their world and their search for the kid killed by a train. I had a moment of uncertainty and doubt when they fell in the swamp and went down to their underwear: I’d seen quite a few films where that happened and the characters never get dressed again, but the film thankfully picked itself up and carried on. By the time the credits rolled, I loved this movie.

It was a long time before I discovered this was a Stephen King novella in a four story collection called Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, and I was just as enchanted with the story as the film. Dig it out and read a copy when you get a minute.

Then in 1990, something happened to my brother. He was driving too fast on a slippery road, rolled the car he was in, and died.

I didn’t see SBM for another few years after that, and suddenly it had more relevance than ever. After all, the last time I’d seen it, my brother was sleeping four feet away from me. It changed from a film to become a personal where-were-you-when moment for me.

In April my older brother Dennis had been killed in a Jeep accident. Four months had passed but my parents still hadn’t been able to put the pieces back together again.

Check.

Chris:  Gordie?
Gordie:  Why did you have to die?

Gordie:  Why did he have to die, Chris? Why did Denny have to die? Why?

Check and check  again.

It’s a movie that resonates for me on so many levels. It touches the part of me that still grieves for a dead brother after nearly thirty years.

You won’t have the same experience as me watching it, I realise that. It’s a very personal journey for me, as much as it is for Gordie LaChance.

Stand By Me is more than a movie for me: It’s a memory and an experience, one of the mileposts of my life.

A word from the quiet guy in the corner

I don’t like Christmas.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There are bits of it I enjoy…mostly the eating parts and the buying presents parts. I like buying people presents, thinking of something unusual to match their personality. I dislike wrapping them because I genuinely suck at it (ask my wife), but that’s another story. The tree looks nice, and I like all the lights.

But this is what Christmas is mostly about for me: People get friendly. People get sociable. People want to hug. Which is fine…but I don’t. Raised voices and laughter make my anxiety spike all year round, and there’s ten times more of it at Christmas. There’s ten times more of everything that makes me anxious at Christmas. Lots of people shopping and the endless crowds make it spike even more. I usually have a little patience for queues, but the pushing and pulling of Christmas erodes it even more.

The enforced jollity of it all makes me nervous. I really…really…do not like social gatherings at any time of year, and Christmas is everything magnified. There’s a staff party at school on the last day of term. I work with these people all year round, but I’m not going. I’m not going, and I’m still anxious about it, and it’s four days away. My wife thinks I’m being miserable and grumpy about it. I hated going to my own family parties, when such things existed. Parties aren’t somewhere I go to relax after a day at work.

Grumpy is my default behaviour when I’m in a social situation that’s making me anxious. I get grumpy a lot this time of year, as you can imagine.

The triggers for Christmas make a lot of it anxiety by association for me: Christmas songs and brass bands playing, it all adds up by association. Ugh. Make it all stop and go away!

Please, don’t invite me to anything. Just leave me alone. It’s nothing personal. If you need me, I’ll be in a puddle in the corner, exhausted and stressed.

I don’t hate you, or really hate Christmas. It’s just who I am.

A conversation

I work in a school, and I was sitting in the staff room the other Friday, reading Eleanor and Park, lost in my own world. There were two other people in the room with me when one of them started talking.

I watched their conversation for a while, listening to the rhythms and the sounds rather than the words. I tried to sketch it out as a graph, just for fun.

One person suddenly started talking into the silent staff room – loud enough to make me jump, hence the 9 on the vertical scale at the start. The second person answered at a lower tone of voice.

It was like listening to an abstract piece of jazz.

Then person one started talking about a TV show I don’t watch (“Did you watch The Apprentice last night?”), and they were off. That’s about 11 on the scale on the bottom. Their words intertwined, sometimes lower, sometimes higher. It was like listening to an abstract piece of jazz, full of counterpoints and sudden sounds. They both laughed at 21, by the way, a nice harmony.

It tailed off before suddenly restarting again at 25 (“Nick!”), then again at 30, when I went back to my book.

I don’t know how well these two know each other outside their respective school areas. But I found the interplay between them fascinating, and the way they seemed to become friends inside of a few minutes amazing.

Some people make that look so easy.

Travels: London, October 2018

In October 2018, Mrs T and I had the opportunity to visit London for two days. The focus of it was a concert by movie music maestro John Williams at The Royal Albert Hall, but that didn’t quite go as expected…

 

Thursday: The Cutty Sark and Greenwich

Yeah, that’s a lampshade.

Before we went anywhere, we found this left outside the hotel. I’d love to know the story behind it!

 

The Cutty Sark was a trading ship that brought back tea from China and wool from Australia in the 1870s. For a while, it was the fastest ship in the world.

There are a lot of museums around Greenwich, but it was too nice of a day to be indoors, so we just enjoyed the buildings and Greenwich park. It’s also the spot where the day begins and ends.

Right here on this line, to be exact!

 

Friday: Hampton Court Palace and The Royal Albert Hall

Hampton Court

Hampton court was the palace of Henry VIII – he actually got married in one of the rooms we walked through, which was amazing. And the place is enormous. Taken all together, the grounds are larger than the village where we live. We spent three hours there and only saw the palace. We shall return!

The Royal Albert Hall

The highest seats in the Hall.

John Williams composed the music for every Spielberg film with one or two exceptions. He also wrote the music for Superman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and the 60s TV show Lost in Space (he doesn’t talk about that one as much). And I was going to see him live and watch him perform. I’ve been a little overwhelmed thinking about that since I bought the tickets in February.

Unfortunately: Mr Williams was taken ill, and another composer took his place. It was still a kick ass concert though!

The Royal Albert Hall is an amazing space to be in, no matter where you sit. What a great trip!

The face of my father

Mr Craig

That is, in case you didn’t know, the actor Daniel Craig. I’d seen him interviewed and seen every Bond film he’s been in before I suddenly realised something: How much he looks like my dad.

My dad has been dead since 1998, so perhaps it’s not surprising I’d see echoes of his face somewhere. But sometimes there’s a merry dancing light in Mr Craig’s eyes when he’s being interviewed that reminds me of him as well.

It seems to me he’s having the time of his life, and that’s one of the best memories I have of my dad: He nearly always had that same light in his eyes. An innate belief that life was fun and not to be taken too seriously.

And there’s a physical resemblance that always startles me and makes me look twice to make sure it’s not really my dad being interviewed.

My dad had a very primitive rhinoplasty when he was a child (He was born in 1933), and the cartilage in his nose was removed. As a result, he could push his nose completely flat, which is utterly captivating when you’re a kid (or grand-kid).

There’s a distinctive shape of the mouth and the nose there with Mr Craig and my dad, and those odd little thick lines at the edges of his cheeks. The squareness of the face. The size of the ears.

But it’s in the eyes I see it the most. The angle of the eyebrows and the brow ridge, and that happy light. Even my dad’s hair was parted the same, until it was shaved to look for the tumour that eventually killed him.

This is the only picture I have of my dad; all my others are lost, so I don’t have any later than a fading print from 1979. So you’ll have to take my word for it how much they look alike to me – this one doesn’t really do the comparison justice.

Or maybe that’s my brain filling in blanks that don’t exist. Either way, I always have to look twice.

 

Mr Talbot

Dennis Talbot (1933 – 1998)

(As a side note, I’m the same age writing this as my dad was when this was taken: 46.)

I am what I am

I remember one New Year’s Eve party in particular. My dad was in the Territorial Army (An army reserve he went to on weekends) for most of his life that I was a part of. This was a NYE party they were holding in their big hall in their barracks, and the whole family were there, plus about a hundred other people. Lots of food and a disco – you know the deal, right? It must have been perhaps 1982 or 1983; that’s the best date I can put on it, anyway, and the year doesn’t really matter.

The reason it doesn’t matter is because here’s the thing I remember the most about that year-going-into-the-next, the thing I’m here to talk about: I spent the seconds across midnight in the empty and mostly dark gym that looked over the hall. On an exercise bike. Alone.
I was more comfortable up there than down on that floor singing Auld Lang’s Syne with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I was more comfortable in a dark room than taking part in the fun down there below me.

Does that seem strange to you?

Parties, you see, even ones where I know people, aren’t my thing. Even small ones at some-friends-my-parents-knew house, with ten people there. I’m just here for the food thanks, please don’t talk to me.
Neither are wedding receptions; park me next to the buffet and leave me alone, please. Neither are meetings where you have to talk or contribute (You know…most of them). Neither are being parts of a team and networking, something my work friend likes doing constantly. He likes talking to people you see. Mostly, I probably come across as rude and indifferent; mostly I only talk when I have to.

Social situations of any sort are exhausting to me, and I want to get out of them as quickly as possible. Stay and make small talk? No thanks. Office parties? Never been to one; never want to go to one. If someone invited me to one, I would decline.

What always puzzled me was how many people think this was (and is) a deliberate choice on my part. How many teachers would write in my school reports “Tony needs to get more involved and speak up more” as though it was as easy as changing socks.

There seem to be a lot of people who want to cure me of the way I am by “getting me involved”; not to draw too many parallels, but I see the way introverts are treated in much the same way as homophobia: “Have you tried not being quiet?” Well…have you tried not being noisy?

I always ate my lunch alone when I was in college, and never in the canteen (eating in public is something I avoided for years), hunting out the quietest corner I could find if it was too cold to eat outside – and you’d be surprised at how high that outside-eating bar could be raised. I’d eat with freezing fingers on a park bench and only move inside if it rained. If I had a free lesson, I’d go for a walk rather than socialise.

If you’re curious about how I was able to make any friends with all this static, believe me it wasn’t easy. So I tend to keep the ones I made, and if they vanished, I didn’t make many new ones.
And if you want to know what it was like being a teenager in a world like mine, go read Black Shark, my short story. A friend read it and commented, ” I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with the level of anxiety that the main character experiences.” Well, yeah…you kinda have, albeit virtually. ;-). (This isn’t a plug for the story, by the way)

So I thought there was something wrong with me for not enjoying being at a loud disco or nightclub. I used to think it was only me who had this odd affliction for not wanting – not needing – to be around people, but I discovered only recently that there are many people out there who are like me. They very rarely get together, you see – as you can imagine, the annual meeting of the Socially Anxious and Introverted doesn’t get many people turn up, and when they do, it’s a quiet affair.

Growing up, of course, forces you out of your shell whether you like it or not. For the most part, that is. But I will always be on the edge of the crowd and looking in. I will always be the last person to speak up, and certainly not voluntarily.This drives my wife a little mad at times. She’d love to go out dancing at a nightclub. I’d love to sit in the car and wait for her to come out. Or I’ll sit at a table all night and be uncomfortable, thanks. You go have a good time and try not to drag me to the dance floor. Please.

I’d rather not have anything to eat than have to order it myself, and she’ll do it for me if we’re in Starbucks. I’d rather not go into the chip-shop and order if she’s willing to do it for me.
Don’t get me wrong (and don’t call me lazy) – I can do these things if I have to. But I don’t enjoy doing them. I don’t relish going into a shop and making small talk with the girl behind the till or the chip-shop owner. I don’t enjoy crowds. I don’t like people’s leaving parties at work and meetings are to be dreaded and sat through like a dental appointment.

And you know what it’s taken me a long time to realise? It’s the way I am, and the way I’m made. And I’m good with that.

Finally, after all the years of people saying there was something wrong with me standing on the edge and looking in: I’m good with that.

I am what I am.