I remember hearing it all the time when I was growing up in West Roxbury, a suburb of Boston—“Why don’t you go out and play?” The fact is, I never really wanted to. I wanted to stay in my room and read. Or watch TV. When I was old enough to take the T into Boston to go to the movies, I went by myself. Horror, science fiction, fantasy. That was the sort of stuff I liked—back in the pre–Star Wars era when most people gave you a strange look if you told them that’s the sort of thing you liked.
I pretty much grew up that way, but always with the sense that I was some kind oddball. Didn’t everybody want to go out and play? Have a circle of friends? Have best friends from the time they were kids? I didn’t. When I was in grade school, my parents hooked me up with a kid on the block—we were to be friends—and we did play together for a few years. But for my part, it was a pretty half-hearted affair. Sports? Not interested. Cowboys and Indians? No, thanks. Cops and Robbers? No. To be honest, I wasn’t much of a playmate.
After grade school, my friend and I parted. He went off to a different school. And that was that. We never had much to do with each other afterward. In junior high, I had no friends. High school? I was on cordial terms with a couple of kids, but I didn’t give or receive a call from one person after graduation. I never dated.
If it weren’t for the fact that I’m the one telling this story, you might think that I’m relating the early life history of somebody who ended up on a roof with a rifle. But I’m not. While I still don’t have many friends, I’ve been married for close to thirty years, have two sons—one grown, one mostly grown—and I’ve been a working screenwriter for almost twenty years.
So what was wrong with me? Or more to the point, what went right?
A number of years ago, my Rewire Me moment came when I was attending a writer’s conference. I stopped in on a lecture by the author David Morrell (author of the novel First Blood, among many others). His subject, particularly relevant to our profession, was “Extroverts and Introverts.”
To recharge your batteries, an introvert needs to be alone. Being alone energizes you. Being with other people drains your energy. It takes effort. With extroverts, it’s the reverse. Being with other people energizes them. It’s being alone that takes effort.
The first point he made was that people tended to be born one way or another. And then he went on to describe the difference between these two kinds of people. It wasn’t that introverts, for instance, hated or feared other people, or couldn’t stand being around other people. No. As he described it, to be an introvert meant that it took “work” to be with other people. To recharge your batteries, an introvert needs to be alone. Being alone energizes you. Being with other people drains your energy. It takes effort. With extroverts, it’s the reverse. Being with other people energizes them. It’s being alone that takes effort.
And that, of course, is why so many people who choose to become writers, who spend much of their lives working alone, tend to be introverts.
It was like meeting myself for the first time. I wasn’t an oddball. I didn’t have some “condition.” And there wasn’t anything wrong with me, after all.
I was just another kind of person.