The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

October 31, 2003

Social wallflower

Originally posted to Diary-X on Oct. 31, 2003

It’s Halloween, and at my place of employment, that means it’s Chili Fest Day.

For the past few years, my company has hosted an incredibly impressive potluck chili luncheon on All Hallow’s Eve, during which 200-plus of us congregate to eat—you guessed it—chili. Someone from each department brings in a huge crockpot of homemade meat-beany goodness (or vegetable-beany goodness), and other volunteers bring oyster crackers, tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, pounds of grated cheese, brown bread, and corn muffins. And then there’s dessert—a table laden with chocolate brownies, apple crisp, pumpkin pie, cheesecake, doughnuts, and candy (and this year, one lone glass dish of pale-green Jello mold).

Yes, it is quite the feast we have here. And, as always, my benevolent employer provides icy tubs of bottled beer: Corona, German lager, Guinness. I am continually amazed that we’re offered beer at midday functions such as Chili Fest and retirement picnics. I never drink any—there’s no way I could edit after that. (An aside: our December holiday party is always held on a Friday at 4 p.m., and I do indeed take advantage of the open bar at that gathering. Last year, desiring a reddish-colored drink to match my red turtleneck, I ordered a vodka cranberry and actually had to return to the bartender to ask him to water it down. The thing was all vodka. At work!)

Anyway, so I’ve eaten a lot today. I’m a huge fan of chili—it’s just so warm and comforting, and my mom always served it on white rice, another of my favorite foods. John and I have three chili variations in our cooking repertoire: ground turkey with tomato sauce and black beans, chicken with stewed tomatoes, black beans, and cheddar cheese, and this white-lighting chicken dish that we’re still perfecting. Today I sampled a veggie chili and a white chicken chili, along with generous portions of chips and guac, cornbread, and chocolate brownies.

The reason for having Chili Fest, besides the food, is to bring people from all areas of the company together. Ostensibly, we’ll meet colleagues from different departments and floors and just somehow start talking to them, and we’ll form all these nice cross-departmental relationships that will make this a Better Place to Work. But of course, everyone hangs out with the people they already know and like, and we all stand around talking in little knots, and the only contact we have with strangers is “excuse me” and “can you grab me the bottle opener?” I assume it’s like this at most workplace gatherings.

And actually, that’s just fine with me. Because sometimes I feel like secretly, I just cannot stand socializing with people. If you know me in real life, this is probably surprising, because I’m a pretty outgoing, social, talkative and friendly person. I keep the conversation going at parties and dinners. I ask people open-ended questions about themselves. In fact, very soon after I started working here, my boss called me into his office and asked me to head up a “social committee” to plan departmental events and activities, with the goal of fostering “community” within our team. (Many of my teammates are somewhat introverted.) Once people see you as a Social Person—I think I came across this way in my interview—the image sticks, and there’s just no way to shake it.

But you know, sometimes I want to shake it. Sometimes being the one who carries the conversation at dinner makes me tired. I want to be the shy one, the reticent one, the one who pipes up here and there but isn’t really expected to do anything major. I think of this when we have guests spending the weekend with us (unless they’re old friends of mine), when we break into small groups for discussion in class, when we go out to dinner with John’s friends. But I’ve never been attracted to voluble men; I’ve always played the talkative role in my relationships. The one guy I dated who talked more than I did—the puppy dog—lasted just a few months. He wearied me (and also, I began to suspect he was gay).

I’ve always enjoyed my alone time. Sometimes I don’t want anyone to talk to me. I don’t want to call old friends, I don’t want to go out to lunch at work; I just want to be left alone so I can think or read or surf the web. I secretly want to go into hermit mode. And I honestly don’t know why. I don’t think I’m faking when I’m outgoing and friendly, but still, the hermit part of me is there.

So today I’ve covered the merits of chili and my secret desire to sometimes be a social wallflower. I suppose I could tie it in with a Halloween theme—I’m dressing up as an introvert this year!—but that would be cheesy, so I won’t do it.