Home vs. School: Smashing the Closet Door

In my last post, I talked about behaving differently depending on circumstance, and considering myself one thing while keeping the flip-side of the coin “closeted”. Now, I’m bringing the issue of the metaphorical closet up once more, this time relating to how it’s been affected in light of my recent move from Harrogate to Knoxville.

For the good majority of my life, I’ve lived in this general area. I grew up in Middlesboro, Kentucky just a drive through a tunnel away, then moved to Harrogate for my middle and high school years. And, of course, I ended up staying in Harrogate for college. I thought that I would be living here until I graduated, but with my family’s move to Knoxville before the start of this semester, things aren’t so simple anymore. When not at school, I’m going home to a completely new area with new people, environments, expectations, and opportunities. Meanwhile, being at LMU in the place where I’ve lived for years sends me back to a familiar environment – almost a comfort zone, if I can call it that. However, my mindset regarding this area and how I interact with it has definitely changed since moving.

LMU has become a “safe zone” for me in this area. For the sake of a nerdy comparison: if my general range of “homes” is an area in an MMO, then the university is my starting zone, a place that I know is safe, familiar, and devoid of monsters. The people here have many different points of view and personalities, but in the end we’re all here for the same purpose: to learn. I feel comfortable revealing parts of myself to them that I wouldn’t ordinarily because diversity is both expected and respected. Others learn from me and I learn from them without being attacked. Here, I can live mostly with the closet door open.

My long-time home, the Harrogate-Middlesboro area outside of LMU, is the “wilds” area right outside the safe starting zone: familiar, navigable, and not incredibly dangerous, but an area that I still have to tread cautiously in. While LMU is full of people that I’ve known only for a couple of years, elsewhere in the surrounding area are people – family, especially – that I’ve been around practically my whole life, or a good portion of it. They’ve come to expect that I behave, look, and be a certain way, and some of these traits they’ve applied to me are vastly different than what I’m like now. I’ve found myself stepping back behind the closet door when in this zone of influence.

The new place where I’ve bound my “teleport home” spell, Knoxville, is the big city at the other end of the wilds. It’s vast, new and exciting, and most of all it’s as anonymous or as personal as I want it to be. This city has so many different areas and niches that I can choose to seek out others or be alone if I wish. I can reveal as much or as little as I want, because for every person that may disapprove of me there are more that won’t. When I was limited to LMU and the Harrogate area, I had only a small spot on the map where I could truly be myself, because everywhere I went I would bump into someone who shouldn’t see me as I am. I had nowhere to hide. In my new home, I have everywhere to hide, and everywhere to not hide as well. I have another and larger “safe zone” to retreat to. Here, I can rip the closet door off of its hinges.

While I had a permanent residence near LMU, I was always careful to keep certain things hidden, especially those things pertaining to my spirituality, romantic orientation, mental state, and other potentially sensitive subjects. This wasn’t because I feared making things more difficult for myself, but because I feared any trouble that it might bring to the people around me. However, as circumstances have changed over time, I’ve become more willing to open up about myself, especially now that I have access to any number of potential communities to connect with in my new home city. Over my next three posts, I’ll be touching on different aspects of myself that I’ve kept closeted for what I feel has been far too long: how I’ve dealt with them in the past, how they’ve affected my interactions and relationships at LMU, and how I’m moving forward in regard to them as I adjust to home life in an urban environment. Feel free to follow my blog to keep up with the rest of the series!

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A Closet Extrovert?

During a conversation a while back, a family member of mine said something to me that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since:

“Sure, you may be introverted, Alex, but you’re a closet extrovert. Look at how you act when you’re onstage, or at one of your anime conventions!”

This statement baffled me. I’ve always considered myself a complete and total introvert; if you were to give me a codified personality test like the Meyers-Briggs, I would score as introverted every time. I love alone time and need a lot of it. I’m rarely excited to be around large numbers of people aside from during special events, and on the rare occasion I am around a lot of people for a long time, I have to withdraw immediately to “recharge my batteries”. How on earth was I capable of being extroverted in any way?

Not only was I not sure how I could even be considered extroverted, but didn’t want to be. Once upon a time (and by that I mean only a few years ago), I gloated in my status as a personality type that I mistakenly saw as being a minority, and saw myself in an elitist “I’m a super special delicate and sensitive snowflake and better than you” light. While I’ve since left that mentality behind, and I’m definitely happier for it, I’m still comfortable with my introversion and see it as a simple reality of what I’m like as a person. For someone to suddenly define me as something I’ve never considered myself before was disconcerting, to say the least. Continue reading

Friendship is Magic – and Only Logical

Many people are able to make and maintain social connections easily, and are instantly friends with anyone they meet.  I have never been able to count myself among their numbers, unfortunately.  I am introverted by nature and draw my energy from being alone; too much time around too many people and I’m drained.  While I certainly enjoy the time I spend alone, I also don’t fancy being alone all of the time; this is where my friends come in.  There are many different kinds of friends and many different ways to express friendship, and all of them are important.  Even for introverts like me, there’s lots of positive energy to be found in even the smallest social connection.

The most unlikely friendships sometimes turn out to be the strongest ones.

Perhaps rather obviously, one of the first things I look for in a friend is commonality.  A large factor in many friendships is the sharing of interests; I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy, so I have many friends who also enjoy sci-fi and fantasy, and so on.  However, interests aren’t the only things friends can have in common that affect their relationship.  Many people are drawn to others with similar personalities as themselves, since they feel they can understand each other with more ease (as is the case with my three closest friends at LMU).  Being in a pre-existing group together can also help facilitate friendships; merely being in the Honors’ Program made me more comfortable making connections with the other students there, since I knew I had something in common with everyone there from the very beginning.  In short, one thing seems to reoccur in all of these scenarios:  I chose my friends based on what was safe.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; however, I’ve seen many exciting friendships unfold between people who seem to be completely different.  To use a literary example (my specialty), a “safe” friendship would be like Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings – the two are from the same community, have much in common, and are united by a common goal in their story in addition to this.  This is in stark contrast to Gimli and Legolas, a dwarf and an elf who at first understand each other very little; by the end of the story, however, they are the best of friends, willing to fight and die for each other.  Looking outside of one’s usual circle for connections can be very rewarding, and can certainly lead to interesting adventures.

Internet friendships are no less real than any others.

Relating back to the concept of all types of friendships being important, a topic of controversy for many is the very recent concept of “internet friends” or “online friends.”  Technology has allowed us to connect to people in entirely new ways; social networking and other forms of online activities allow people who may have never met in real life to interact with each other, share ideas, and form friendships.  Naysayers may insist that “Online friends aren’t real friends!” or “If you’ve never met face-to-face, you’re not really friends!”  I find this point of view to be limiting in the extreme.  A good many of my social connections are sustained through the online community: online role-playing game partners, members of the forum of a fan club I’m a part of, friends I’ve met in person perhaps once at anime conventions and then only kept up with through the internet afterward.  For a while a few years ago, online friends were some of the only friends I interacted with regularly, and I considered them to be very real.  If one’s idea of a night out with friends is a series of raids with their World of Warcraft guild, then more power to them.  In fact, it sounds like a ton of fun – sign me up!

Not only are friendships obviously rewarding and fun in their own right, social connections between friends are also incredibly valuable resources, such as for academic or emotional support.  I met one of my newest friends through my Math class this past semester; it turned out that we were both huge J.R.R. Tolkien nerds, and the common interest got us talking right away.  Later on, if it weren’t for us teaming up near the end of the semester for an intense period of studying, my Math final most likely would’ve turned out a bit worse than it ended up being!  With that trial over, we’re tackling more creative endeavors using our newly discovered teamwork; both being writers, we’re working together on a story inspired by the Harry Potter book series.

In the end, the real point of friendship is a simple one: to make our lives and the lives of our friends more awesome than they were before.  Not only do they make the passage through school much more enjoyable, but they enhance the passage through life as well!

Are you introverted or extroverted?  What kinds of friends do all of you have?  Any interesting stories about your exploits that you’d like to share?  Feel free to leave a comment below; I can’t wait to hear about your adventures!  If you’d like to hear more about my own adventures, consider following my blog for even more of my stories and thoughts.