Originally published in May 2018 on cheri.blog:

I recently returned from a work trip. And I was reminded, once again, that I’m not a conversationalist. Those who know me well, and even those who have met me once, know this. Compared to other kids, I was quiet when I was little, but as I grew up, I came out of my shell — a cheerleader in junior high, student body secretary in high school, constant partier and socializer in college. I’ve wondered, though, if all the drugs I’d done through my late-teens, 20s, and early 30s ultimately mellowed me out, or even rewired my brain. But there was always a reservedness there, an observant nature, and a belief that I didn’t think it was necessary to speak unless I had something meaningful to say. Small talk has never been my thing.

Meeting me in person is underwhelming. A handful may not agree, as over the years I have clicked with some people on this earth. But for the majority of people I meet, especially over the past decade, I leave no real impression, except maybe for the fact that I seem more interesting on my blog or Instagram or something, and in person am incredibly disappointing. Sometimes I want to apologize to people, or warn them in advance the moment I meet them — I just want to let you know, this is all there is to me, just this moment right now, as I smile or shake your hand or give you a hug. Nothing more. I’m not witty, lovely, outgoing. So please, let’s get that out of the way so you’re not disappointed later.

I might be quiet, and it’s not that I’m shy, or bored, or angry. Oftentimes, the more articulate and affable people around me — like my husband, for one — say things that I might have said, so I don’t have to say them. And sometimes, I think my thoughts are uninteresting, so why bother saying them and calling attention to myself?

Most often, however, I’m quiet because it takes me a while to absorb information. I have a hard time shaping and articulating responses during conversation, and I think it’s gotten worse with age. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve formed a response to a question or discussion days later. My thoughts flow better on paper, but telling stories in person? I can’t. I don’t retain information and remember things I’ve read — I can’t for the life of me tell you the key points about an article I read yesterday, or the essay I edited for work recently, or share details of events or stories that have happened to me in an engaging way.

I’ve mentioned some of these challenges to my husband, but I’ve never written about them, nor admitted them to anyone, really. I’m not sure why, but I suppose it’s because I’ve succeeded so far in many aspects of my life — school, friendships, work — that these deficits haven’t seemed to hold me back or impinge on my success.

My current job allows me to work remotely full time. Teams communicate primarily via text-based communication like Slack channels and asynchronous discussions on private group blogs — and now increasingly through Zoom video meetings, which mostly make me anxious, and remind me of all the meetings I used to attend at my past jobs. But our general approach to distributed work and text-heavy communication is one of the reasons I applied to the company over five years ago — it seemed like a work environment that allowed people to communicate in different ways, and as I reflect on some of my bigger career and academic decisions — like proofreading marketing materials in solitude at a college campus, or enrolling in a low-residency writing MFA program that I completed mostly at home — I have unconsciously gravitated toward roles and settings that have made it easier for me to communicate, and thrive, in my own way.

I’m glad to have had these options. But as I get older — and the grooves in pieces of wood get smoother and deeper — it’s quite easy to stay cozy in my shell.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

13 thoughts on “Underwhelming

  1. I really enjoyed your blog, as these are thoughts that I have had many more years than you have been alive. Thank you for so clearly articulating them. I’ve only met you thru your mothers eyes, unless I’ve forgotten. Listening to her I’ve come to know you as being, caring, resourceful, very adaptive and an all around wonderful person and mother. Stay Blessed!

  2. I love this, partly because it’s actually unusual for anyone to write about how they come off. No one really knows! So doing this is engaging a real mystery.

    From knowing you from our MFA program, for what’s worth I found you pleasant and thoughtful. You seemed to me like an introvert who could interact well—that is, I suppose, an introvert who wasn’t also overly shy. Seemed, and seems, a perfect combo for a writer-editor!

    1. Nice to get the Goucher perspective here, Richard! And it makes me think about how we come off across our different circles and spheres — school, family, work, various groups of friends. Depending on the context, I can be an outgoing introvert (when I need to be)!

  3. > for the majority of people I meet, especially over the past decade, I leave no real impression, except maybe for the fact that I seem more interesting on my blog or Instagram or something, and in person am incredibly disappointing

    I am sure this doesn’t require any comment, but I felt compelled this definitely wasn’t my impression!

    I also resonate with the final paragraph. I can be fairly outgoing when I have to be, but I work (and exist) best when I have space to think, and to just ‘be’, which is one of the things I value most about working at a8c. I am still fiery and passionate, but also find it increasingly more desirable to give in to my introverted side. Oh, and I’m right there with you on the Zoom calls…

    1. Thanks 🙂

      I’m glad that even as we grow and use other tools, written communication — especially thoughtful, longform communication via p2 — is still viewed as highly valued and essential to our processes.

  4. Your posts are always interesting and it’s very good to see you back. I have to disagree with a small part of it, having known you even just a little as part of BloggingU – you may not be outgoing, but you certainly are lovely. We have a saying ‘Lovely is as lovely does’.
    There is so much pressure on us to be and do what everyone else thinks we should that it is sometimes uncomfortable to be ourselves, but nature didn’t want us all to be the same. I was reassured to read about how you don’t retain much of what you read. I don’t either and if people give me traffic directions, I immediately forget them.

  5. I find this fascinating….because for years I have struggled to explain this to myself let alone others. And here, you’ve done it for me. Additionally, where I used to be more ‘verbose’ even in my writing, I have gone from writing hundreds of words to as few as possible. I find more comfort in the simplicity of words written as much as I do in not being in conversations.

    1. Strangely I’ve found comfort and creativity in the small text field you’re given when you’re composing a caption on Instagram — I’ve somehow been able to write more freely and simply there the past few years, and I think it’s because the screen is small (as compared to the bigger blank page I see on my laptop when I’m trying to write a blog post on WordPress).

      So I thought to try and mimic that process by drafting posts via the WordPress app on my phone — I have no idea if that’ll take the pressure off, but I’ll try. Overall, I too have become more succinct in my writing in general.

      1. I get this. I will have to find you in IG. I use IG but usually to post my blog. But my blog probably fits more in the IG profile. I like your reasoning. It makes sense. I do love to create an image and find words that bring it to life….hence the start of my ‘doodling’.

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