You know how some people are good with names and others are good with faces? Well, some people aren’t good at either. That’s me. I never would have made it as a waitress, and it’s a good thing I never tried.
For years I have told myself that I am not a people person. My justification for this is based on the intensity of physical discomfort I feel when placed in social situations. There was a time when I would actually have panic attacks, but these days, it’s just a private pain. Knots in my stomach, sweaty palms, that kind of thing. Outwardly, though, I’ve learned to appear extroverted. Several people who know me pretty well don’t even believe me when I tell them I’m really an introvert, which is a testament to the acting skills I’ve developed over the years. Also, being in a group setting in which I know most or all the people around me is much different from one in which I only know a few. In general, crowds kinda scare me. I avoid parties and get-togethers when I can, and if I’m forced to attend a social event, I tend to hover near the edge, far from the action.
The very weird thing, however, is that I have also discovered, over the years, that in spite of how much I dislike being around people in the plural, I actually really enjoy being around people in the singular. There’s something about the intimacy of those one-on-one moments that kind of exposes you, or has the potential to, at least. It’s a recognition of mutual exposure, of mutual frailty. A chance to get to know another human being on a deeper level, and usually all it takes is a question or two in addition to a sincere interest in what the other person has to say. I absolutely love to engage in these kinds of exchanges, and my daughters can vouch for it. Put me next to a stranger in a taxi, a plane, or a bus, and I’ll get ’em talking within minutes, sometimes for the whole duration of the trip! It’s energizing!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been getting to socialize in this way a lot more than usual. I moonlight as a mehndi artist, using henna paste to decorate fingers, hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, backs, ankles and other body parts with intricate designs. I got started with this thanks to my artsy niece, Jasmine, who asked me out of the blue one day if I would “do some henna” on her. Until then, I’d never really heard of it, but after trying it out on her and my daughters and myself that night, I was hooked. Mehndi designs are absolutely beautiful and I’m a sucker for beautiful things.
For a couple of years, I only practiced the art on friends and family, but last year the opportunity to go public with it kinda just fell into my lap. I took it, and once I got past my initial fear and self-doubts, it was fantastic! This year I’m even more comfortable, and I have finally gotten to the point where I can hold conversations while doing it, which is the best part of all. Most of the tattoos don’t take very long, a few seconds to a couple of minutes, but some are a little more complex, which gives me time to actually meet different people, get to know a tiny bit about their lives, and even share a little about my own. We laugh, talk about our kids, our jobs, our interests. Mistakes we have made. Successes we have had. Fears. Joys. Sometimes they tell me very personal things.
I’ve decided that I’m still not a people person, and I probably never will be. But I’m definitely a person person. Someday I’m going to write a book about that.