Just be yourself?

I am what people would define as the opposite to an introvert. I love people and talking to them, I like big crowds as much as I like having noone around me, I like partying, I am known as being very social here in France as well as at home in Edinburgh, and I am not shy. So far, so extrovert. But there is one problem: sometimes, I will lock the door to my room and not come out for two days.

Well, except when I have class. Or to get food. I spend a day getting ready mentally for a party, often going from class to class and keeping social encounters to a minimum. I will sit and listen to music, study, read a book or write and do strange things like pretend I am a famous dancer. Emphasis on the studying and writing. I prioritise all of these things on certain days because they are who I am and what I like to do. Unfortunately, I have trouble communicating this to people, and if I did I would probably be asked why I don’t just want to have a coffee with a group of people, or just sit on grass in the sun with people talking, instead of being a weirdo.

Its ERASMUS!!!!!! Is the echo heard throughout the streets. Just come for one drink. Just come watch a film. I would, but I don’t want to. I’m sorry. I have shit to do.

Why am I apologising? For I get tired of the sound of my own voice. I get tired of explaining myself, because that is what lots of conversations are in their essence- an explanation of your day, your moods, your motives. When I am in the mood, I love being sociable and talking about my life, but if I do not take time to have a life outside of socialising I will have nothing to talk about. Just what is it about the term sociable that makes people so keen to explain themselves, so avid to be put into the category of sociable by others?

Because the alternative is introvert. This is a term that gets slapped on people who prefer their own company to that of others, conjuring up images of someone sad, lonely and not in touch with the world around them. I do my best to ignore labels such as these and shove them aside, but what if I find myself labelled as an introvert because I didn’t go out on a Saturday night? Or because I muted the Facebook conversation so that I could stop being bothered with notifications of my more sociable peers’ meeting up plans?

Any large amount of time I spend with people is, for me, a loss of time for the self. It is a loss in the sense that I put others before myself, because I filter my ideas so as to match the general mood of the group and shut out my more controversial thoughts or ideas for the sake of impressing or keeping others happy. ‘Just being yourself’ is impossible and one of the great illusions of modern culture: I cannot ever be completely myself with a large group because there is always someone in a group who will be upset, challenged or dismissive of something I say, and I prefer my sociable times to be pleasant ones. I find myself unable to be selfish in sociable set ups, and that is where the necessity for alone time appears and binds me to a common good. The pressure to exist as a mass and to live only to go out and have a good time in quest of a projected ideal of sociability  is where our generation loses its potential.

The wiring of my brain is different to others- I know people who function best in social setups, and who truly find it conducive to happiness to spend all their time with others. This is a time where the main minefields for my future prospects and career are spending a year in denial of a future. This is where I will fall down- by devoting all my time to others to create a projected self image and completely losing myself and my personal joys in the process.

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Straddling two lives

Beaune, Burgundy, by night.
Beaune, Burgundy, by night.

The word straddling is funny and sexual but it is the only one I could think of to fit this context perfectly.

So, I have been back in France for just over 2 weeks now, and a lot has happened. I have finished exams for last semester, I have met lots of new people, and I have said goodbye to my best friend here. I have also gotten over coming back. One thing that nobody bothered to tell me about a year abroad is that moving between two different countries over short spaces of time is hard. Emphasis is put specifically on the getting there, and then the depression which follows the year abroad or, as people like to call it, post Erasmus depression. There is little talk about those nippy little times of traveling to and from a country, or how I would often feel very thrown, confused and disorientated as I moved between two separate lives.

Of course I only have one life. But it feels like I have two. My transition from school to university was a bit like this, but I feel that this time because I have moved countries and adapted to a new culture it is much more noticeable. On my first full day back in Scotland I went and had lunch with a friend from university in Edinburgh. I was immediately struck by how strange it felt- not because he was different, but because it was as if nothing had happened and Edinburgh had just been sitting there whilst I’d gone to Dijon. I had fantasies on the plane- vivid scenes in my head of how I’d impress my friends at home with all my new found knowledge and experiences and blow them all away. In reality, I still get made fun of because I can’t work a dishwasher and I still say stupid things all the time. C’est la vie.

The one big thing, though, that stuck out, was how differently I saw things. Coming home was more of a culture shock than going to France. I detest the way people who have gone abroad boast about how they are so much more worldly than others, or automatically assume that they have one upped everyone just because they got on a plane and ate some croissants or tapas for a year. I really did not think I would feel different on my return to Edinburgh, but I did. I felt different because I am a different person in Dijon, mainly because the people I hang out with are different, and it is the people you surround yourself with that make you. The friends I have here in Dijon are the strangest, wackiest group of people I have ever met, but they are also the most genuine and have taught me how to embrace life in a way I never have before. They are by no means a stable group- as I said before, my best friend just left France last week, but part of this experience for me is learning to adapt and enjoy who is here right now.

As well as an overwhelming feeling of relief at being back in Edinburgh because I could say ‘excuse me’ instead of ‘pardon’ all the time, I was also hit by a realisation that it wouldn’t be easy coming back every time. Edinburgh and the definition of ‘home’ won’t ever be the same again because somewhere else has become home. For now, I can’t really imagine giving up a life where I am surrounded by people who share my desire for change and upheaval.