Posted in about me, meandering, socializing

Names are elusive

As a kid, I was introverted and completely content to be either alone or with one or two good friends. I had no interest in meeting other people. 

Also, I rarely looked for more than what was already in my orbit. I’d choose a book to read from the classroom library, skipping the school or municipal libraries. I often listened to music my friends liked or none at all. I didn’t have celebrity crushes.

Whether a cause or an effect, I’m terrible at names.

Not just the names of people I just met or the 17 people I was introduced to at the holiday party or the eight new people on campus who each said a sheepish hello at the faculty meeting and I’m supposed to remember them all from that?

There was a book I read. Who wrote it? I don’t know. It was decades before I thought to look for another book by the same author if I liked the one I just read.

Why? I don’t know. It’s a completely logical sequence of events, and I am often rational to a fault. In this realm of life skills, logic and reason didn’t factor in.

It’s embarrassing in conversations about classic literature. Who wrote that? Or the same question the opposite way: what books did that author write?

(And there’s no hope for me if a novel has too many characters in it.)

I remember the words to songs from 30 years ago that I know I never owned … and I have no idea who sang them.

Even worse when a song was covered and the performer is multiple choice.

Not limited to people, though. I don’t remember the names of songs, either. Doesn’t matter which genre.

“Hey, do you know [this song]?”


“It’s by [band].”


“It goes like [sings a bit].” 


Music history classes were treacherous. Songs, composers, performers, to be identified both on paper and by listening.

This wouldn’t have been a problem if I knew the names of any classical music before going to college, or if I could identify any of it by composer ahead of time, or if I listened to anything beyond what we were required to listen to.

What’s already in my orbit?

Actors? I know a few, but I don’t watch a lot of movies or any TV, so there’s not a lot of context. As I get older and the people I knew are no longer hot (or, in some cases, alive), I know even less.

When I started teaching, I had about a hundred students in fifth grade who I saw once a week for 40 minutes, and between 40 and 60 students in sixth grade who I saw three times a week for 40 minutes.

Learning their names was rough.

With the fifth graders, I asked them to quiz me on their name if they saw me anywhere outside of class (and not to take it personally if I didn’t know yet—they delighted in this game). Their winter concert was straightforward: each lesson group (four or five kids) went up on stage and played one song. They were terrified, so I made an agreement with them. They would practice their instruments and be ready to play their song, I would practice their names and be ready to announce them all. To level the playing field for nerves, I would announce them all without a list in front of me.

I got most of them.

Chemo brain made this task infinitely more difficult, and up to and including my last days in a school, there were times when writing a pass or something equally innocuous, I would see the blank for their name and have no idea what their name was. Sometimes I could steal it from their instrument’s name tag or their music folder. Sometimes I could scan down the roster and pick them out. And sometimes I would have to ask.

I hate asking. Not because of anything to do with me—I ask adults all the time and have no issue with it—but because a lot of kids are sad when their teacher doesn’t know their name, especially when we’ve been in class together for a year and a half. I explained to them the issue, but that only helps brains understand, not hearts.

As a traveling teacher, the issue was further compounded. More than once, I’ve worked at four schools simultaneously. That’s four principals, four sets of people in the office, four sets of coworkers, four sets of custodians, four sets of procedures. (I had no trouble remembering four codes for the copy machines.) And in my most recent job, my assignment changed every year for my first four years. Not every school was changed out, but at least one school was new every year.

I had a running joke (with myself?) on the only campus I was on for all seven years that no one whose name I knew was allowed to leave.

As the teacher presiding over concerts, parents know me and I don’t know them. As the clinician at conferences or honor bands, there are a lot of people who know who I am who I have never met. I’m pretty good with faces, if I’m paying attention, so I usually can just say, “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name” if I’m interacting with someone I recognize.

That said, I’ve more than once said, “It’s nice to meet you” to someone I had—apparently—met before.

No shame in that any more. I know it’s a weakness, and I do my best, so I apologize and move on.

Having a noteworthy name—both first and last names are unusual—people more often remember my name. Alas, it is rarely reciprocated in one try.

I’ve taken to asking a person once or twice over the course of a conversation to please remind me their name. “I’ll ask seven more times and then I’ll be embarrassed into remembering it.” Hahaha not really a joke but humor always helps anyway.

I’m better about remembering authors and performers than I used to be. Since chemo I’ve made an effort to remember everything, since so much was lost. 

I have always been impressed by people who remember people well—whether people they’ve met or people who create—and continue to do my best.

Posted in audience participation, connections, socializing, thoughtfulness

Pleasant people plus one

I was in a writing group. We were generally friendly, offered feedback to each other on our work with both give and take on “negative” feedback. (So grateful for that. Can’t get better without constructive criticism, and we, culturally, are extremely averse to it.)

One person in the group was extremely unpleasant. Would talk much longer than anyone wanted to listen, offered advice on things people didn’t want or need advice for. (In my “welcome to the group, tell us about yourself” bit, I mentioned I was a band teacher and was doing bucket drumming with my classes. Upon hearing this—after being acquainted for less than five minutes—he offered me some suggestions for how I could do band instead because it’s really important for the kids to play their instruments. He was not a teacher, not an instrumentalist, had no children, and my classes loved playing the buckets.)

I talked to the facilitator about his abrasiveness, and she agreed that he was difficult and some people had left the group because of him but *shrug*

A similar thing is happening in a different group I’m part of now.

In talking to a friend about the current situation, she told me a parallel story.

Why do we let these people destroy what would be pleasant, productive communities? How many opportunities to connect have we missed out on because one person ruined it for everyone?

And how do we fix it?

“Use your words” comes to mind, but how do you tell someone that they’re socially atrocious? If someone can finesse and deliver the message and the recipient doesn’t reject it, how do they socialize after receiving it without being self-conscious all the time?

There’s a difference between self-conscious and self-aware, and I’m not sure that replacing the vacuum of neither with self-consciousness is great. And I’m also not sure it would solve the problem anyway.

Kick them out? Make it unpleasant for them so they quit? None of these feels good to me, but I’m not sure there’s a solution that does feel good to me…

Have you had a situation like this that was successfully resolved? (For whatever “successfully” means to you?)

Posted in about me, connections, socializing

A new use for the texting device

Is it an introvert thing or a thing of people with social anxiety to hate making phone calls? I recognize it’s irrational, and I generally don’t mind talking on the phone once I’m engaged in a conversation, but making a call? Terrible.

A week prior, a friend had texted.

“Have you talked to [mutual friend] lately?”

“Not in the last week or so. Why?”

“I texted her a few days ago and haven’t heard back from her yet.”

“I’m on Facebook right now. I’ll shoot her a message.”

I did. Several days later, when that message was still marked unread, I sent a text.

It’s not unusual for her not to reply for a couple of days, but more days passed than I was comfortable with. I also knew that her husband and one of her kids had had COVID and hoped she was still healthy.

I checked back in.

“Hey—have you heard back from [mutual friend] yet?”


“I’m a little worried and I’m not sure what to do.”

I texted another friend.

“Hey. I contacted [mutual friend] last week via Facebook Messenger and then via text and both are still unread and I’m worried and not sure what to do.”

Then, the kicker.

“Have you called her?”

I laughed out loud. It had never occurred to me to call her. 

“My phone-phobic brain is rationalizing by saying that the text and the call are on the same device so why send a second when I already sent the first? But my rational brain says yes, go call!”

I called. She answered.

“The person who hates making phone calls is calling me!”

We ended up talking for 45 minutes.

I confirmed she’s OK, and I added a new tool to my kit: making a phone call.

Posted in about me, differences, ebb & flow, mindset, socializing, vulnerability

Is awkward defined by the subject or the observer?

As an introverted child, I did a lot of people-watching. I noticed people who were boorish and didn’t notice others’ fake smiles and “oh look at the time!” exits. I saw people who droned on about disinteresting things and didn’t notice others’ eyes glazing over.

I was so scared about being one of those people, of not seeing and reading body language during a conversation, that I didn’t really talk much to people at all.

The adults in my family, and their friends who spent time at our house, cast judgment for sport. I heard what was wrong with any action or statement offered by anyone in their orbit, including the people who had been there last weekend.

That was my “normal,” and as such, I assumed for a long time that everyone was like that—friendly to your face, butcher you when you’re not in earshot.

This didn’t help my fear of interacting with people.

As I started to learn to interact with people—a distressing multi-decade task—I felt … awkward.

In my late 30s, I realized I was just an introvert (“just”) and that it was OK that making conversation with unfamiliar people didn’t come easy. This is me, I have many strengths, and that’s not one.

Throughout my 30s, I became more transparent about my experience, and through doing so learned that most of the time, I didn’t come across as awkward. I had a pair of colleagues who would give each other looks—thinking I didn’t see them—in response to things I’d say. Other than that, I haven’t had direct experience with people known to have my parents’ approach to interpersonal relationships.

Then I started to see people proclaiming their awkwardness everywhere.

They’re all people I have never perceived as awkward, even a little bit. I see them as genuine, true to themselves, and often engrossed by an interest: dancing, teaching, movies, reading, music, baseball, history. 

It’s not awkward—it’s animated and excited and uninhibited and wonderful, and we need more of it.

Posted in connections, differences, mental health, mindset, parenting, socializing, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Distance, leverage, growth

Tempe Town Lake is a man-made lake not far from here where you can use a paddleboat or a kayak or go fishing. It’s also a popular location for triathlons. 

The water is not crystalline.

When I swam in Tempe Town Lake, I couldn’t see my hand at the end of my completely outstretched arm.

The water you swim in affects how you see things, both literally and metaphorically.

What did you think was typical across households until some startling point in time when you realized that your family was the only one who did that thing? There are threads of these anecdotes across social media.

We project our surroundings and circumstances onto everyone. We assume everyone is the same “base model” and that others just make different choices. 

Who we were raised by, who we spend/spent time with at school, at work, during free time, online and off affects both who we are and what we see as “normal.”  

(I recognize these upcoming statements are easier said than done, particularly if you’re following shelter-in-place guidelines and the concept of spending time with people is anacronistic.)

If you want to eat better, spend more time with people who eat well and less with people who don’t, because eating well in that context is “normal.” 

If you want to save money, spend more time with people who save and less with people who spend, because saving money in that context is “normal.” 

If you want to feel happier, spend time with generally happy people.

And so on.

This is true of habits not as easily measured, too. Spend time with generous people, with thoughtful people, with empathetic people, with kind people, if those are the people you want to be like, if those are the skills you want to develop.

In this light, it’s possible to have affection for people and also not want to spend a lot of time with them.

Part of the difficulty many recovering substance addicts have is their social circle. If I spend my time with my friends who spend their time getting drunk, I either need to be able to be with them and not get drunk or I need to spend time with other people.

It’s hard.

It’s applicable to anything that could be considered addiction: drugs, alcohol, junk food, shopping, gambling, working, gaming, etc. Maybe also to frames of mind: generosity, complaining, benefit of the doubt, victimhood, thoughtfulness.

Beginning in August, I took part in The Creative’s Workshop, where I spent at least an hour every day virtually interacting with other people engaging in creative work and being vulnerable in a space where showing your work and giving and receiving feedback was normal.

It changed me, for the better.

“People like us do things like this.” Find the people doing the things you want to do, and join them. Be open to who they are and who you might become, and over time, you will shift.