The Right Way to Be Human…

This is not a political post, I promise, but it is about Hillary Clinton, or at least one particular bit of the narrative about her. You see, I think she is in many ways a lot like me.

I am not good at small talk or in social settings. Put me up in front of a classroom or auditorium and I feel at home; it is a safe place for me That may sound odd for someone who is incredibly uncomfortable around other people, but up there in front there exists a buffer, a slight remove that alleviates my anxiety over being in the world. This fact about me, though, leads many to perceive me as aloof, overly analytic (if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told I think too much I’d be wealthy indeed). It is not that I don’t want to be comfortable around others; I’m just not. It isn’t that I don’t want to have “normal” conversations, but I cannot help but sweat the details.

This affinity with Secretary Clinton burst forth during the Democratic convention (full disclosure: I watched both conventions and am an absolute political/policy junkie). She used that exact phrase in her speech: I sweat the details. Whatever one might think of her as a candidate, I do believe that is true about her. Her mind gravitates to the how, the what, the why. Everything ultimately turns to policy, the matter of fixing something or at least understanding the underlying reasons and broad implications. That is her lens, just as it is mine.

And that leads to the coverage. Commentator after commentator addresses her perceived unlikeability, the notion that she is cold and distant, unwilling to let the world see her human side. She is called guarded at best, more commonly wary, but more often than not secretive. She simply is not human enough, or at least so the story goes.

This is not a post intended to defend or promote Secretary Clinton, nor is it a post about the ridiculously imposed double standard of public femininity. This is much more personal. In all of that coverage of Secretary Clinton I hear all the things I have heard about myself since childhood. What I experience as thoughtful is called overly critical, what I experience as curiosity is regarded as overthinking, robotic. What I experience as conversation, the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and perspectives seen as debate, confrontational.

My brain constantly seeks connections, revels in following the trail of implications, is most comfortable (even joyful) when ferreting out the nuances. Perhaps that does set me outside ordinary social conventions (being compared to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory is not uncommon for me). Even that wee boy with his stuffed bear understood that he wasn’t quite acceptable, even if he did not yet know why. My whole life I have been told, subtly and not so subtly, that I am doing it wrong, that I need to be friendlier (whatever that means), to relax, to be more approachable. But when I hear that, when I am told I am doing it wrong, what I hear is that I am wrong, that there is something wrong with me because no matter how much I might change my responses to the world I cannot change who I am.


And I like who I am; I love that brain up in my head and how it works. I love the details, the permutations and implications, the connections between things and the subterranean meanings behind the world. I do not have a casual relationship to the world and I would not want it any other way; it makes everything a source of fascination, of inquiry and understanding. What I don’t like is that seems to be a barrier to admission, to acceptance in the day-to-day world. Is it any wonder, then, that I gravitate to writing? The blank page is endlessly accepting; I need not fear alienating my notebooks.

And that brings me back to Secretary Clinton. What is so wrong about preferring policy papers to heartwarming stories? Wait, I take that back; there is a terrible false dichotomy in that question. For people like me, and probably Secretary Clinton as well, those policy papers are heartwarming; they share a worldview, they explain how we see the people and world around us, how we envision a better world. For us policy is personal, the analytical is inspirational, the details we care about are a reflection of our innermost selves.

So, I don’t ask that you agree with Secretary Clinton (I am doing my very best here to remain apolitical), but I do ask for understanding. It hurts to be rejected for who you are, for what you love. It is one thing to disagree (heaven knows lots of people disagree with me on lots of things, and that is great), but it is another to dismiss or even denigrate someone simply because of how they tick. When I offer my thoughts, my understanding (I am well aware that my conversation almost always tilts toward analysis) that is how I share, that is me opening up, letting you in. And after decades of that not being right, not being good enough, it is no wonder that I hide in corners at social events, cling to my wife at parties terrified of being on my own.

And when I hear the world say that Secretary Clinton is not a real person, that she lacks a proper personality, that she isn’t playing the role of wife, mother, woman well enough I take that personally. Whatever you think of her choices in her public or personal life she is who she is. And if that isn’t good enough, if she is not human enough, then I suppose I am not either. And that just make me more wary, more afraid, and more alone.

And to honest, I don’t like being alone.


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9 Responses to The Right Way to Be Human…

  1. 1
    Nessa BR says:

    Thomas, I share most of these traits and instincts you’ve described so well (and I’ve been a prolific writer since childhood, also!) What has saved me from heedless, deplorable societal judgements has been an eagerness to interact with people and to seek happiness–an extroversion that is buoyed up above my introverted core, basically. Catholic school rigors and challenging childhood circumstances forged me into this odd, eternally childlike hybrid. 🙂 I do guard my inner core fiercely, reveal it only to trusted loved ones…and there is an innate loneliness in that dichotomy. All of which goes toward saying: I feel your pain, and I too grieve for the way Hillary Clinton is vilified and misinterpreted. The notion of a prospective president’s character being best defined by approachability and likeability is pretty danged absurd. Thank you for pinpointing so much in this post.

    • 1.1
      thomas says:

      The thing is that I don’t think I am an introvert. I am not shy; it is just that after so many years of being told I do it wrong I am terrified to try. I don’t think that is shyness; it is just something else.

      And I don’t think of myself as guarded either. When I go deep into the analytical weeds I am very much sharing my innermost self, that is the core of my being. It is not that there is some truer Thomas that I keep hidden, that is my essential self. Even the language we use to talk about that, the assumption that deep down we all have some similar sense of being that people like me (And Secretary Clinton) keep hidden away is fundamentally heartbreaking. That is me, and when it is not good enough, not properly human, or attributed to untrustworthiness it hurts, through and through.

      I daily dread the weight of “relatability” in the vernacular of marketing. I perpetually wonder why people don’t easily relate to me, but I cannot help but wonder what they may be missing even though the world perpetually tells me (and people like me) that we are the ones fundamentally lacking.

      • Nessa BR says:

        :::nodding with understanding:::

        :::nodding even harder at what it takes to be “relatable” in Quiltland:::

        And a sigh. 🙂

  2. 2
    Joan Hawley says:

    My brain loves your post and my heart loves your soul. All of this resonates with me. Consider your universe to be expanded by one more kindred spirit, as I now do.

  3. 3
    Tori says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I have admired your work for years and love what you bring to the table, not just in the sewing/quilting industry but to this world in general. There is no one “right” way to be a human, and this post is an excellent reminder of that.

  4. 4
    kittyann says:

    Ahhhh, you are NOT alone, no no. Indeed you have quite a bit of kindred in the world Thomas. I, and my husband, being among like kind. Over the last 60 yrs I have come to accept *my* place in the world, where I fit in in the scheme of things so to speak. I became ok with said place after much seeking to find out why, oh why did others perceive me as *odd* *aloof* or maybe even slightly *crazy*? Hahhahaa. I just am, I am, I am me. Even though I’ve tried to be more engaging, more social etc it never felt ‘right’ to my soul, so one day I said “enough”. And when I did this I felt a weight lifted from my soul, and a side benefit was my overall health improved, my anxiety lessened, oh joy! 🙂 I belong to a guilt guild of over 200 members. At our gatherings I know I am accepted, the members who have known me for 20+ yrs know I am an ok human with much to share, but on my own terms. Like you, I love being up front demonstrating, teaching etc but don’t expect me to join a bee of a few people, I cannot, I tried. And isn’t wonderful we both found mates who love us for who we are Thomas? We are loved. I really like your analysis of Hillary, she is a thinking woman, I like that. Best to you always, Ann in NC

  5. 5

    Yet another thoughtful piece from you to appreciate.
    Hats’ off

  6. 6
    Barbie says:

    Thank you for opening your heart to show another of the many ways to be human.

  7. 7
    Rosanne Derrett says:

    Hi Thomas,
    It’s hard to put this into words but I am almost the same. I’ve been told for too many years that I am weird, odd, strange even to be avoided. As a result I’ve developed a really bad social phobia. I am now to turn and flee social events, avoid making social appointments and have been so bad that I’ve even thrown up and fled!

    At 52, I’ve elected to drop my social mask and be me and if people don’t like me then that’s their loss. I still get terribly anxious about social events (panic attacks anyone?). I know I’m different and awkward around people but I can’t change that part of me to suit others. I’ve spent too many years trying FFS! My family and one friend in particular have pushed hardest to say that I am unacceptable so I walked away from them. Even now in social situations, being British, I describe myself as social Marmite. You will either love or loathe me but at least be honest before the back stabbing starts.

    Yes, I over-analyse and in social situations, I’m far more interested in the how and why but not the what. Results are just that – the people and process are far more fascinating. Small talk bores the crap out of me and I now my brain functions in a more male than female way. It makes life harder but infinitely more interesting. Its also in part a complication of the personality disorder I have (not a nasty one)

    I’m alone but very rarely lonely!

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