Reminiscence and the 90’s – A Wallflower’s Way of Recalling the Greatest Decade in History

Reminiscence

/rɛmɪˈnɪs(ə)ns/

A narrative recall of events now past, that welcomes an indulgence into dreams, desires and days that once was. An enjoyable recollection of the tangible aesthetic of a moment captured in memory. A vivid reflection to the time elapsed in reading the world when it told a different tale.

There are a few facts that I have come to accept about myself…

Granted, calling anything a fact these days is basically akin to inviting a firing squad to pepper you with scrutiny. I gather though, that it is safe to assume that any insights you collect that pertains to the structure of your own personality can safely be labelled a fact – especially if you have spent more than a decade to put the validity of your self-knowledge to the test. I learned once, in developmental psychology, that you are considered an expert in a craft or field if you have spent roughly ten years engaged with the knowledge that underpins it. Well then, I guess at 27 one can at least confidently assume that you can consider yourself quite proficient in navigating your own idiosyncrasies.

What are these facts then? Well, they are the integral parts of the gestalt of deeming myself a wallflower. First, I am an introvert. Quite simply put, it means that I find energy from spending time alone as opposed to being charged by social engagement. Secondly, I am an HSP (a highly sensitive person). Closely related to introversion, but not to be used interchangeably, it means that I am one of roughly one fifth of individuals with a sensitive attunement to the world and that I become more stimulated by vicarious thoughts, feelings and overall experiences. Largely, this is because of a deeper level of processing. Thirdly, I am an idealist. Basically this means I am a dreamer: someone who gets hopelessly lost in the nuances of possibilities, creativity and imagination. As a fourth fact, I am a thinker. Whereas the previous facts may have alluded to this notion, it at best conveyed that I spend time by myself thinking, engaging in the hobby actively to make sense of what I experience – and that this thinking can become imaginative. But being a thinker actually implies that there is a joy found in the very thinking to be done.

So that makes me your average hybrid wallflower composed of recluse Van Gogh, nuanced Emily Dickinson, Shakespearen dreams, and Socratic pondering. They all break bread together 5 minutes before midnight keeping me awake a tad longer, and contemplate the poetic script that will paint my dreamscapes.

Nontheless, they shape my perception of the world, and leave a vivid memory in its wake.

This brings me to the fifth little fact that also boldly leaves its mark on my narrative. Sometimes, when I lay awake to wait for the supper of the greats to retire from the executive parts of my mind back to my unconscious, another uninvited (though always welcome) guest joins the gathering. It is the part of me that is undeniably what I would deem to be: a reminiscer.

And without it, the fabric of being a wallflower just would not appear to be cut from a different cloth…

On the Topic of Reminiscence

Now if you dabble in a bit of psychology, a little light reading in the field of gerontology (a study of old age and the challenges and developments that surround it) will reveal a great interest that has been evident in studying reminiscence since the ideas of a life review in old age was posited by Robert Butler back in 1963. P. T. P. Wong and L. Watt furthered this quaint investigation by seeking to establish the types of reminiscence that is seen in successful ageing.

  • Instrumental reminiscence looks at the past as a goal-directed continuity that strecthes into the present and holds answers to competent problem-solving.
  • Transmissive reminiscence (also a storytelling reminiscence) seems to harbour value in tapping into the cultural and traditional wisdoms of the past to inform the future.
  • Escapist reminiscence discredits the present to elevate the desire for the past and its exagerated value. It is also referred to as a defensive reminiscence to implicate its qualities in helping the indivual cope with present difficulties by applauding the past.
  • Obsessive reminiscence encompasses the intense rumination over the past in which one is preoccupied with thoughts of guilt and feelings of being unsatisfied.
  • Narrative reminiscence (also called informative reminiscence) presents itself as a simple recounting of the past to relate facts within the present, seeking to simply describe history instead of interpreting it.
  • Integrative reminiscence seeks the reconciliation of past events to yield a meaningful and coherent value to the present; it integrates and deeply interprets the spectrum of such events (good or bad) and ties it to an enduring personal process of finding purpose.

I believe that any proud reminiscer can count themselves lucky. The past, and history (to be more encompassing), is a grand scheme from which to make sense of, guide, and even predict present and future behaviour.

  • It holds an accountability over the problems that humanity has faced and most often created, and in so doing presents a framework of solutions (instrumental reminiscence).
  • It is a source from which to access proud traditions that allows you to take root in your cultural identity (transmissive reminiscence).
  • It offers a coping mechanism in the way it archives the pleasant memories of a time that may be in contrast to the present difficulties we face (escapist reminiscence).
  • It holds the key to tapping into the fount of our present guilt, shame or even trauma which likely shows us the need for healing – because it preoccupies us so (obsessive reminiscence).
  • It records humanity in all its detail, allowing us the ability to reconstruct key phases in our development (narrative reminiscence)
  • It helps us find meaning in a past rife with hidden wisdoms – insights that we seek to make part of our own compelling narrative (integrative reminiscence).

The Value of Reminiscence

Now, it all depends on your perspective as to the stance you would take on this matter. Many goal-directed individuals relentlessly busy themselves with the future, and surely have little use in looking back to old ways of thinking, feeling or even behaving. There is no use in applauding old achievements when new ones are to be made. Yet, these same individuals create an amalgamation of anxiety-inducing schedules and deadlines that siphon the joys they may have once held for their trade.

In comparison, those who dwell in past thoughts find great inspiration and encouragement for their present challenges, and even feel a fleeting joy at the longing they feel back to a time that may have seemed more prosperous. History is after all the custodian of all that is human. But these are the same individuals that often wallow in depressive pits because of their yearning to return to the way things were; doubting that they will ever relive those golden moments.

Whatever way you look at it, it feeds into the dichotomy of the feelings that reminiscence inspire (or that drive it in the first place). And perhaps I have lived on both ends of this dichotomy as I reflect back on a time when I felt all was well within my own soul, as it was in the world. Let me take you back into the nostalgic realm of the 90’s…

The Decade of Liberty

Yuval Noah Harari put forth a riveting statement in the first chapter of his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

By the early 1990’s, thinkers and politicians alike hailed “the End of History”, confidently asserting that all the big political and economic questions of the past had been settled, and that the refurbished liberal package of democracy, human rights, free markets and government welfare services remained the only game in town. This package seemed destined to spread around the whole world, overcome all obstacles, erase all national borders and turn humankind into one free global community.

Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons from the 21st Century, Page 11

Now sure enough, in the now tumultuous economic, ecological and socio-political climates that affect our time before the turn of another decade, it does indeed seem that the nostalgic 90’s held a large collection of pipe dreams. And it may well have been seen differently depending on where you were situated. Contextually, not all countries were feeling the momentum of development all at once. But in the wake of those developments that had a global impact, things were indeed coming along. America was a global superpower that managed to end its armed conflicts either diplomatically or without any escalation. In fact, the Clinton administration seemed more focussed on negotiating resolutions rather than fuelling disputes. It was not so much that wars never took place, but they did seem to end – such as the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq or the Black Hawk Down incident which saw the military returning home from Somalia before anyone knew it even became violent. Even the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 seemed to herald the dreams of liberation that could be held in the years to come.

Back in my homeland, South Africa’s political arena was also being cleaned up. The horrors of the Apartheid era gave its final sputtering breath, paving an open road which could be tread by new ideals of freedom and equality. The democratic era welcomed the inclusiveness of the collected strength of a rainbow nation, it celebrated the beauty of diversity, and allowed reconciliation, forgiveness and the building of a new generation that would move beyond the mistakes of the past. And heading this ideal was an icon of tolerenace, forgiveness and leadership in the immortal likes of Nelson Mandela.

Markets surged, the economy boomed, and the job market held enough opportunity to actually see rates of unemployment drop. World peace seemed to steadily ensue as years of conflict between groups of people dwindled away to allow a consideration of more peaceful alternatives. Technology was seeing an unprecedented growth that involved a steady shift in how people were living their lives and spending their free time. Household computers became mainstream by the end of the decade; the internet brought the world into a vast matrix of information and connectivity; and even fields such as film and music started revolutionizing entertainment. Then there was the achievements of science, such as with the launch of the Hubble Space telescope; till this day, it proves itself vital as an astronomical boon and research tool while in low Earth orbit. Institutional dimensions were not only building vertically toward their high-end goals of success and actualisation, but expanding horizontally to become more diverse.

An enduring message seemed to be echoed in the 90’s: a recurrent theme that was shaped by the outcomes of national and international strides toward liberty, democracy, development and creativity. Hope.

Tap into a bit of Eriksonian theory on psycho-social development, and hope is regarded as the enduring virtue in resolving the crisis of developing a basic trust over a mistrust of the world and one’s surroundings. In other words, the world could be seen as a safe and reliable space that provided consistently and met needs responsively.

Being a kid born in the midst of such soaring ideals and mindsets truly set the trajectory for the way I perceived the world. Vibrant messages of such hope valiantly prevailed over a past that people wanted to forget – a past that most had the luxury of remaining blissfully ignorant of, because the world was changing. So in effect, we didn’t need to be reminded of it just yet. History was a heretics harlem that one could now look back onto as a mere phase that finally seemed passed. And whatever the future held appeared nothing less than positive. If mindful engagement had become a coping trend in westernized contexts in recent years, then people were already doing it unawares in the 90’s. Everyone just seemed hyped and ready for the changes that were happening, and likely to happen. And most people were just enjoying it!

The testament of my 90’s childhood fell nothing short of the expectations that the decade allowed people to entertain. I remember being a fairly carefree kid in blue jeans and sneakers who expertly crafted pretend play to a legendary level. The hope infusing 90’s gave birth to the immortalised legacy of pop culture icons like the Power Rangers – a handful of unorthodox protagonists who were nothing more than a bunch of teens who accidentally stumbled upon the monumental task of safeguarding the planet. It reignited the hero genre for every bright eyed kid who just imagined morphing into a brave maverick to turn the tide against imaginary foes. Anyone could become a superhero, regardless of your playground reputation. Kids entertainment like this inspired a whole generation of millenials to be more confident than they actually probably were. Imaginary foes symbolised playground bullies. Super-selves were embodiments of the confidence that every kid had buried deep within himself. And that stick that had become a power sword during symbolic battles in the garden (at least until suppertime), became the pipedream of millenial young adults in the 21st century who kept on pursuing the fantasy that they could become anything they set their minds to…

The 90’s also saw the construction of the grandest scheme that could ever be given to the shape of any childhood with the Disney Renaissance. If the end of the 80’s signified this shift in giving a mermaid a voice, the 90’s burned a path of success in its wake in making a bookworm yearn for adventure in the great wide somewhere; allowing a street rat to discover his inner worth; reminding a king of who he was and what his destinty held; making two people from different worlds paint with the same colours of the wind; seeing a hero go the distance; or inspiring a girl to follow the duties of her heart. The Broadway- like musical stylings that remarried traditional animation created some of the greatest masterpieces in film and entertainment that would forever change the way fairytales were being told. It captivated all audiences with its expressive characters, its self-empowering songs, its heartfelt tragedies, and its relatable struggles that mirrored a spectrum of human battles that people were facing. And still it allowed the hero-complex to surge through its plot line to eventually skyrocket to a happy ending and a set of persevering life lessons in all its colour and song. It was these lessons that kids picked up on in all their 90’s driven, hope-fuelled idealism; and a happiness that people (me included) still recapture in quiet nostalgia with stay-in movie nights and the creation of restorative happy niches.

Fads blazed through childhood in a thousand different toys, collectibles, games or pastimes, making regular hobbyists out of a generation who would grow up to expand the field of work with their diverse interests. All manner of childhood stimulation was aimed at fun, innovation, marvel and imagination. Best of all: all these seemed to be progressively structured toward family involvement and engagement. There was more happiness to be created, greater bonds of love to be deepened… people were reigniting the inner flame of youth in all it’s excitable, laid-back and imaginative splendour.

And these same values fed back into a film industry that invested in glazed romances celebrating love in all it’s ridiculous, fantastical, and glorious themes.

Music echoed the applaud of this free and creative era, giving birth to genres that showed the diversity of culture, relevance, background, and artistic freedom. This was seen in anything from R&B, hip-hop, death metal and grunge. People were acclimatising and celebrating difference in unique, colourful and statement-driven ways. It left a firm and evergreen impression that would cascade right into the new millennium to witness even more individualised styles that have been shaping genre-blurring icons to overcome old labels and own their creeds.

Liberty Lost?

The ideals of the 90’s did not translate in it’s full integrity into the new millennium. Events such as 9/11 sparked the horror of terrorism and threatened the tenuous peace that had seemed likely to spread as the decade of prosperity unfurled. Failing models like capitalism had disastrous effects on different households and families as it made the economy fall into the recession. Trust seemed a feeble construct in a world that was likely to harm you – a world that now appeared unsafe as new armed conflicts erupted along with civil wars; as people were displaced from homes to become immigrants and refugees; as careers were blindsided by monetary disaster; or as hate groups flared to spark hysteria in sporadic skirmishes of violence… People became more cautious and prone to suspicion and less likely to open up to one in earnest regard. And with the advent of social media, interconnectivity and authentic bonds between people appeared to be dwindling even more. The timing could possibly not be more off with a rising ecological and climate crisis that begs for the joint cooperation of a world population more than ever. Ironically, it appears to direct its plea for help to a population that is left disheartened and disillusioned by the dawn of the 21st century.

On all accounts, the situation seems grim. The question then begs asking: does it serve our purposes to reflect back longingly to reach for the fading memory of the decade that seemed to hold so much promise? Coincidentally, I came across a compelling statement made on the account, Shower Thoughts, on Twitter. Being a platform known for its blunt dissemmination of thought-provoking content that can be anything on the spectrum of humorous to shocking, a statement was left that was worthy enough to give anyone pause.

Powerful stuff. And taking a more careful look at the inherent implication that effuses therefrom, one could deduce that human ignorance seems to indeed be the preferred default to blissful existence and contentment. The world would surely seem more peaceful if we were unawares of the more covert shifts in global affairs.

If we take the argument back to the views on reminiscence, then such longing seems escapist at its core. The favourable regard for the past over the present may well set loose a chain reaction of retrospective thoughts and intense preoccupation with the paradise decade. What was mere defensive reminiscence steadily grows into an obsessive sort with the added unsatisfaction of not having lived life when it was seemingly at it’s best. Many might share this very same incentive; those who have come to bear witness to the unfolding problems of the modern era.

The View of a Wallflower

Yet despondency cannot exist with such ease. I recall a quote. As a lover of fantasy novels, I have at times been confronted with the criticism of wasting time on the unrealistic nature of those books filled with marvel, mystery and magic. However, a lesson I have taken from life was that perspective-taking is an invaluable tool in trying to understand a contradicting world. Seeing things in a different light comes near effortlessly for the wallflower, who mulls with their observations on the daily. Naturally, I would find great affinity to works of fantasy that portray very human struggles within a completely fictional situation. In fact, every work of fantasy in its essence makes epics of those experiences of humanity that seems so mundane in its run-of-the-mill occurrence. With this change in context, comes a change of view in the way we would have seen these grappling issues otherwise. In essence, books in the fantasy genre seem to portray wisdom very imaginatively.

So, back to the quote…

In the Fellowship of the Ring, well into their journey, Frodo comments to the wizard Gandalf on the nature of their mission and the burden that rests on him as the ring bearer.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1) – J. R. R. Tolkien

Consequently, Tolkien fictionally portrayed this wisdom in a time of writing, since 1937 till roughly 1949, when the Second World War was uprooting the lives of countless people. At the same time, in a part of the world that sharply contrasted the setting of a scholar, Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp trying to survive the experiences that would inspire his writings for Man’s Seach for Meaning. Within his set of ideas, was proposed a similar notion of not having control over circumstances external to oneself, but control over one’s reactions.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl

Both serve as priceless drops of wisdom; even today, as a drought of knowledgeable views appear to follow those contemporaries who are more likely to hold answer to alleviating the trepidations posed by the present problems of the world. And in the act of seeing this as wisdom, the reflection on these notions of the past could be classified as integrative reminiscence. Meaning is sought by finding the value of these past views in a presently unfolding life, essentially helping us to discover a purpose coherent with our own goals and aspirations. One might be as bold as to even say, although we do not wish to recreate the horrors of inhumane actions to inspire reflection, that we wish for more such moments of synchronised and momentary epiphany – where meaning is inherently found in the circumstances that are presented to us.

This means, that the past holds value. Instrumental reminiscence would then be evident in showing us that history has instances that ultimately mirror the present. Similar, but inverse in perspective. It can offer answers that may aid in solving the problem.

So, is there any real value in looking back on the 90’s as a great decade? Is it worth anything, that we even aim to long for it? A man named Clive Staples Lewis may hold the answer in his description of joy.

All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still “about to be”.

C. S. Lewis

Understanding what Lewis meant here requires a deeper understanding of the shape of his life – a life which led him to define it the way he does. But in essence, he defines joy as something that lies in the act of longing itself. And any thing that inspires longing typically assumes that it was first experienced at one point or another. So by that account, the 90’s – as the source of desiring (in this case) – inspires joy (understood as the act of desiring). Taking it a step further: if we look at the ideals of the 90’s, and what it emulated, then what we desire is the peace and prosperity that seemed to run through its many dimensions. What we desire, therefore, is the hope that underpinned all that the 90’s promised in its progressive nature.

Ultimately, in that act of desiring hope, we experience joy. Hope must have indeed then be something that enlivened many during this time when so much happiness was going around.

What we should come to realise, is that an enduring value is attached to the 90’s by our yearning for its more simplistic milieu. The longing for hope evidenced that people still, two decades later, believed that it was not a frail enough construct to exist. It was real. It was even tangible. More importantly, it was possible. Hope was possible.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the 90’s is not a cautionary tale of idealism. To me at least, the message of hope seems to be a far more laudable lesson coming through in its confluence of feelings that it inspires through memory.

The Wayward Wisdom

History, in fact, is suffused in evidence of human adaptability that substantially fuels hope. Wars erupt as cold tensions finally thaw into fiery conflicts; yet, it burns itself out at great cost and leaves in its wake the ashes of deep regret – a regret which makes groups reconsider the shape of its diplomacy and openness to understanding. Perspectives narrow themselves to physical borders, egocentric group think, and cultural institutions. Curiosity counters such tendencies and drives humans to assume more labile points of view that transcends a mere foreclosure to tired ways of thinking. Logic, reason and pragmatism has proven to trump the limitations of emotional reactivity, effectively discounting our psychological authenticity by working according to schemas. However, unpredictability and creativity reminds us of this humanity, and how it is these differences in our chaotic natures that have made us truly progressive. Push and pull. Ebb and flow. The world has had its ways of restoring balance. If anything, the 90’s was a convergent point of all that the past attested to, finally offering a more global moment of reflection to how things can aspire to be. The 90’s was a balancing point.

And perhaps, this was more important than any of us ever realised. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1950, which recognised his inspiring writings at the height of the Atomic Age, William Faulkner made powerful statements in his lecture that echo its truths even now…

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it…

…Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

… He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse.

William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 10 December 1950, Stockholm
Willaim Faulkner – Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

The verities of the heart” … Faulkner calls to action the young minds of a generation to rekindle the connection with their innermost selves, and not look to their external world as the exclusive architect to their realities – should . Therefore, fear – even though valid – should be acknowledged to the extent to which it can finally be placed aside. This leaves open a mindful space of investing in the fundamental principles of belief that truly deserve our attention. It is a fair and beautiful statement of not only caution, but of hope; and it justifies perhaps our means of looking for these answers in an age when valued knowledge was more forthcoming.

The retelling of the 90’s is a move towards narrative reminiscence by regaling the shape of the decade. But in recalling its facts, we find that the acts of this reminscence becomes transmissive as well; once we discover that there is something to be taken from this time. In this sense then, reminiscence may also be instrumental. In the light of modern difficulties that have metastasized, then psychologically at least, there is a purpose in looking to the shared feelings that permeated the collective consciousness of societies in this period. The possibility of hope can be a galvanizing force that can work alongside the immediacy that appears to be required of us in modern times. Thus, by the very act of recognising hope as the recurrent theme throughout the decade, our past reflections have given us a likely solution.

Perhaps in remembering the 90’s, it may also be true that we seek an escape. But if what we escape to is in the act of reclaiming a lost virtue melded in the idylic patterns of the past, then its purpose for the sake of coping and resillience is priceless to say the least. Perhaps we may even obsess over the time lost to us in this decade with its unique feel, shape and energy that seems so impossible to recreate. But then again, this distraction posed by the decade may in fact tell us something about what we are facing right now… perhaps our yearning is rife with the clear message that what we are posed with currently is deprived of something fundamentally crucial to our capacity of acceptance.

If the 90’s taught us anything, it is that human conflict eventually paves its way to resolution. It taught us that we are in possession of an immense capability to restructure the faults of history to broaden and build on our perspective for the future. It showed us how the quality of hope shapes our views and memories, effectively transcending right into our deeper psychological structure. More importantly, it serves as a template from which to value the sixfold nature of reminiscence, proving that our reflective remembrances of the past can ricochet right into our process of meaning-making, mindful awareness, and act in the conserving the most frail, yet redeeming, parts of our character.

Reminiscence is much like a ship that tempers its hull against the tides of time, anchoring us in the harbour of preservation and by the docks of old wisdoms. We need only board it.

Love and light fellow bloomers.

The Awkward Moment – A Tale of The Introvert Problem

We are multidimensional. It is one of the only fair and truthful descriptions to afford ourselves. Sewn together from biological blueprints and structured patterns of thought; dipped into a cosmic mix of creativity; and left to dry in the light of undivinable uncertainties… all of it has left us a mass of contradictions that defies comprehension.

Image by Classical Art Memes

Yet, our curiosity ceaselessly drives us to achieve greater clarity on the human experience. Categories and mental tick boxes are the vows to a wedlock with sanity. Meaning: we basically need a way to structure our thoughts, feelings and behaviours if we intend to pursue a life with reason.

So, we satiate our sanity with a collection of patterns that help maintain that order. And what a delicate task this is. Thoughts tend to be sharp due to their edgy logic. Emotions are dirty little things that have a knack of leaving a stain on immaculate moral records. And behaviours can culminate into any number of consequences depending on their shape, reach, and influence. And in wake of such important realisations, we instill virtues that we religiously pursue, relating to the self: self-discipline, self-restraint, self-monitoring, self-control… reminiscent hammer-beats to temper the human spirit into pseudo-selves to present to the world. All to be acceptable. Who doesn’t love a stellar moral citizen that keeps their cynicism on humanity in check… Am I right?

Image by Classical Art Memes

What about wallflowers though? Oh well; they tend to be especially thorough in mulling through their cognitive, emotional and behavioral repertoires. Sideline bloomers are adept at staying out of a situation, remaining partial to the daily drama’s of our counterparts who prefer blossoming in the show garden right at the centre of life. Not to say that we never showcase ourselves, we are just a little less vaudevilean in our attention-seeking behaviours. That is, until we feel more self-efficacious in taking centre stage in the show. Other than that, we have some streetsmarts about blending in and prefer a soliloquy with ourselves as audience…

But every so often, a hitch works itself into our prospective schemas of steering ourselves – unnoticed – through a particular situation that involves people. As a wallflower, you may still be chilling on the sideline; you may still be busy intuiting a given moment that may possibly present itself. And for a short while, you may actually entertain the idea that you are riding the wave of a conversational flow, or sailing smoothly through a social gathering. There is no real need for an extemporaneous show of your social skills, just yet. That is until you are caught with your petals out of place in the wondrous little spark of cosmic unpredictability called the awkward moment.

An awkward moment is a beautiful little human catastrophe that worms itself into your self-representational sphere every now and then, offering its fair share of a little strife, existential dread and embarrassment. It’s a bit like engaging in a unintentional, self-destructive, social calamity, where even Karma thinks you are so deep in that she may need to give you a break during the next cycle of a Mercury retrograde. It’s so bad in fact, that your guardian angel files this in the backlog of messes you get into when they are on sick leave, because no amount of divine intervention can deal with that degree of perplexity. It’s a bit like your self-esteem stepped on a Lego brick. Its quick, its jabbing, and a 200,000 pain receptor volley worth of agony. Afterward, you recollect what is left of you in a measly little mass of melancholy and shy away to the nearest corner to close your bud for the rest of the show to suffer in silence. Oh honey, every awkward moment endured surely has to be an investment in a well-deserved peace for one’s afterlife…

Inage by Classical Art Memes

Well…perhaps that is overdramatic. But the consequences can feel nearly as intense in my expert opinion.

So let us imagine the situation for a brief moment. Nothing quite saturates a description like a hypothetical little simulation. Maybe I dreamed this; perhaps I imagined it. Maybe this is stored somewhere in my private memory banks or in those relating to a friend (one that just led to a great deal of identification). Whatever the case may be… I recall a distinct example. So I am fairly sure this happened…

Storytime!

I was minding my own business at this party I had no real intention of attending…

Image by Classical Art Memes

As a proud introvert, I was probably stuck in the section which I would like to call, “The Island of Misfit Toys”, where people are too shy, drunk, stoned, or asleep to pay much heed to any need for actual mingling (I thought they were beautiful). But never you mind: everyone was thriving in their own way. There was a vibe going, and everyone was digging it. And there I was, just sipping away at my garnished G&T on the rocks, legs crossed, eyes cruising, and engaging in a bit of adult supervision over the playground of outcasts.

Image by Classical Art Memes

Now, one drink in, my observational skills were running optimally with all the customs of sobriety. To add, quite frankly, I was also too engaged in a sophisticated snapshot moment that felt much too sacrosanct to be overturned by just any bit of loquacious repartee (fancy little word for striking up a convo) with the commoners. The King was on his throne baby, and he was sipping from his goblet.

Soon though, my drink was starting to get a little low as my steady sips slowly siphoned away at the hours, and so I thought it opportune to make a prompt exit from this social hibernation to rectify the matter. And what a perfect little corner of the club to stealthily sneak in a bar visit without notice.

You see, after a highly stimulating week that had it’s fair share of interpersonal engagement, I became pretty stoked at the idea of spending the night in. But, if you are me, it is likely that your more gregarious circle of friends took it upon themselves to try and spoil the world with your demure presence. And it is not to say that their arguments for this little excursion is particularly convincing. It is just that their overwhelming energy needs to be dialed down to a malleable level for you to survive the night, so being agreeable just appears less taxing. Its a hard knock life…

Image by Classical Art Memes

If your an introvert that was socialised in a world celebrating the extrovert ideal, then you have become reasonably equipped to manage yourself effectively in situations like this. You just pop out that survival guide for the highly sensitive, own your best smile, and quietly plot your way through the superficial social gathering about to ensue. “Blessed are the meek”… or something like that. I just did not want to be bothered much.

Image by Classical Art Memes

So now I found myself at this party, mosied up to the bar, and busied myself in the recall of another one of my referenced short-form dialogues to politely ask the barman to whip up another little pop of inebriating magic. So not the drama… That is, until HE walks up…

Yes dears, this is yet again a story about a man…

One who had the exact same idea in mind by coming to the bar. Now, I was tending to my own petals when I caught a glimpse of him. He was a well-groomed charmer that totally seemed to have lost his kind on the other side of the club, because I could not imagine why he would come to cast his magic dice for a gamble on the dating scene here. And boy oh boy, was he ever ready for a mating dance. A classic pompadour hairstyle with a fade, buttoned down shirt, tight-fitting jeans, and a chest cut as deep as the Mariana trench; this man had aspirations. He was a strapping vision, with a jawline so square that there was no way of cutting corners around that mouth if he started talking. And he was about to wet those lips with a bit of liquid seduction before he started prowling the club again, I could tell. Opportunity was out there. Except of course, when opportunity was a wilting little wallflower just waiting to be watered with some whiz-bang seductions slowly served on the ice. And that was when he looked at me… and I realised that my casual observation had become a stare about two descriptions in. Damn it! I whipped my neck back to the front so hard that every reincarnation of mine would experience neck spasms from that moment out.

Oh, but if anything, that just gave him the warm welcome he would have probably taken himself if I was not so generous with my curiosity. So he pounced. That’s right, hang on to your cocktail umrellas ladies, because the bartop weatherforcast predicts a smooth opererator is about to blow you away.

Image by Classical Art Memes

Now god; you know, I could only venture a guess as to what any other wallflower may be going through at this particular point. But there I was – just a boy that sauntered his way to the bar to wet his whistle (with no intentions of using it for idle banter), only to have a strapping Adonis swerve in from Olympus for a weekend of introvert hunting. Clearly the gods are less busy these days… And damn! These deities get cheeky on their little earthly excursions. To look at him was something different altogether… He leaned on that bartop with such a casual flair that he shifted the whole perpendicular angle of every other object in that room. On top of that, his now steady gaze had its lazer focus direced on my poor and unsuspecting self.

Unsuspecting. Well, that was perhaps not completely truthful, considering this whole description was spiced up with a serving of acute predictive detail. But, I guess that a very small part of me desperately wished that the clear social cues would not lead to an actual fruition of his plan to interact with me. Wishful thinking, right? And what the hell was wrong with me in any case?! A hot guy just comes to burn up the stratosphere of my private little world out of nowhere – that is any lad’s dream.

“Hey”

Oh f*ck. Great. Confidence. Suave. Good looks. Undeniable sex appeal. And then that voice… with the smooth tang of an aged bourboun… I say that as if I knew exactly how to expertly describe whiskey, but I guess any bar rookie could probably describe bourboun as smooth for lack of any other description. Smooth? what did I expect, that his words were going to choke me?! The only thing I was struggling to swallow was my own sense of self-awareness. It’s all good Gernus, just offer a sweet and simple hello back. The man is waiting. “Hey”.

Image by Classical Art Memes

“I haven’t seen you around… Where have you been hiding yourself?” Oh, you know, hiding behind my forgotten and forlorn fantasies of a quiet night in while perching on the armrest of that couch there in the shadows. Damn it. He caught me at my game!

I was duly reminded of one mechanism behind this encounter from an insightfull little post that highlighted the four aspects of a stressor, as posited in research done by the Centre for Studies on Human Stress.

  • Novelty
  • Unpredictability
  • Threat to the Ego
  • Sense of Control

I believe this beautifully summed up the parameters of that particular incident that so gloriouly represented how real the struggle truly was. A new encounter…striking me from the blind side… to thoroughly draw my capabilities into question… in regaining a hold over my cool little sideline gig I had working for me so far. Yeah, it was rightfully labelled N.U.T.S.

Image by Classical Art Memes

Oh my sainted aunt… Just answer the poor man! He asked you another question!

“Well, where have you been looking?” Teasing smile, calm composure. Well done wallflower! Where did you pick that one up?! Have you been spending some time waiting at streetcorners during the witching hour? Because your flirting game is just enchanting! Maybe you’ll be ok after all.

[At this point, mental asides became a crucial coping mechanism… As you can tell.]

Crooked smile in response, and with eyes lighting up, he edged closer in this little spell I just conjured. Well, that just worked…

“Clearly I haven’t been looking hard enough.” Wow. Alright. He came locked and ready with a heavy arsenal of swoon-worthy artillery. He probably could have said about a hundred different things after that. But why would he need to? His eyes spoke a whole other language that shared volumes of insight to where his mind was leading him as he took a good look at me from bottom-to top. Ending at the eyes. Classy. we may just have a gentleman on our hands.

“Guess you deserve a drink for the recent victory then.” You see, this is when things started to go a bit south. Why did I say that?! He obviously liked that, but that little comment made me aware that I was on a slow departure heading right into a Humility Heights. I could not keep this up! I had set the expectation bar far too high!

Now look… I threw a perfect one-liner as rebuttal a moment ago. That didn’t secure me an effortless pass to this little back-and-forth with this fellow. He was a master at the game. I think I was not even worthy as a practice run for his best pick-up lines. Not to pull my own self-worth into question, but I knew that my capacity for social engagement was near depletion by that particular Friday. I was an introverted HSP that just needed a little recharge and a self-prescribed dose of alone-time.

Image by Classical Art Memes

But here I was: just living it up like the sex symbol socialite and nightclub high roller with the two-drink bartab that I clearly didn’t know was flourishing inside me till that evening…

“Sounds like a plan. What does a guy have to do to get a drink around here you think?” He nudged another teasing look at me. In hindsight, the cues were simple, obvious, and even without hassle. There was a simple courtship schematic to follow here, honestly. As a wallflower, I should have known that silence followed by agency would buy me a one-way ticket into the next leg of this conversational journey. My friend had just recently reiterated that actions truly speak louder than words.

But in that neon light the nuances disappeared into the netherworld of neverminded reactions, and that pesky little mouth of mine just adopted an altogether different mindset. My grandmother use to say that the guard in front of her mouth was gone… well mine just cashed in on an early weekend leave while I was left to deal with those lips that were about to move in all the wrong ways. So I answered him instead: “Oh…well…you can just ask the barman…”

“Ask the barman…” For f*ck sakes… Stellar answer Sherlock! Why don’t you just remind him to come back here for a refill when his drink is getting low! I am sure he would appreciate the info to make his life easier…

Image by Classical Art Memes

The regret was immediate. Flabbergasted, he gave an odd chuckle, his pace of approach completely broke, and the vibe we had going just slowly and torturously evaporated until a lovely silence lay in the void of a missed opportunity. If he was about to flirt, what in the name of Aphrodite would he say? God, I basically just dismissed him in the shake of lemon wedge. And boy, I bet it stung! Damn it.

Oh but there I was, still on the bandwagon to this sudden uncomfortable encounter, waiting with dire desperation that my drink would just arrive. I was triggered… I just shot myself in the foot after all. The humiliation was setting off a synaptic disaster in my executive brain. And I knew that the systemic overheat of grasping for another topic to save the moment was causing a blush that would leave any make-up mogul shook. The awkward moment had flowered in my garden… and it smelled of self-defeating shame, sounded like the nervous tick of fingers on a countertop, and tasted like cheap gin. Beautiful.

He tried his approach again as the barman magically appeared. No sooner had that drink made its landing on the countertop, when my hand shot out with a such a desperate need that the glass was knocked over… effectively spilling my coveted drink, my saving grace, my dignity, and the final hopes of walking out of this accident unscathed.

He tried to say something, but that was amid the full blare of deep house and EDM. It resulted in my repeated apology for my lack of ability to hear anything that he was trying to say. Honey, the walls of Jericho had already fallen, and blowing anyone’s horn was not exactly going to build up what we had going. You might as well give up. He was handsome. But neither his looks, nor the faint memory of my five seconds of competent banter could save what was futilely lost.

For a fellow like me, these awkward moments have a higher probability of occurring (at least to extent of my own experiences). Overstimulation, sensitivity to minute detail, excessive processing, and high reactivity are but a few of the reasons to why an introvert such as myself (that draws energy from quiet time) would stumble upon the awkward moment in social engagement. Even more so if you happen to process information more deeply (by being an HSP). The two traits mutually influence one another to create the perfect conundrum of dealing with difficulty – if your are not smart about it. “HSPs simply process everything more, relating and comparing what they notice to past experience with similar things,” says Dr Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person. So our minds are pretty occupied at times – perhaps too much to keep our mojo flowing in all the right ways.

In fact, our very perception of the present moment is tied to activity in a small brain region called the insula, that seats self-awareness – which has shown increased activation in HSP’s according to research by Bianca Acevedo and her colleagues. And taking to account then how a wallflower may process a given moment, fully in touch with their inner flows and feels, this seems to explain quite a lot.

But that is just the science speaking – it tends to help with those spurts of post-rationalisation that occur for nearly a decade afterwards…

However, I always believed that awkward moments were humbling. (Well, saying always may be a bit of an overreach… I certainly had my doubts in the past when my confidence sputtered like a candle burning in a hurricane). It seems to reallign the internal gyroscope of awareness, reset one’s attentive functionality, and even to reboot the set of social systems with which one operates. Above all, it negates the penchant to pontificate, especially because it makes us so aware of our humanity. Very, very aware… One often has a sit-down simulation with oneself to prepare for similar conundrums in future…

Image by Classical Art Memes

As always, turning experience into insight seems a beautiful route to follow here… So, in dealing with that cosmic malfunction called the awkward moment, remember this:

Eccentricity and oddity is the spellwork behind your inner magic; just as idiosyncrasy is the spellbook to your individuality. Wield it without woe, and be the wizard to weave your way amid your own quirks and charms.

Love and light fellow bloomers!

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Images drawn from the amazing Classical Art Memes, that in their humour really managed to bring life to this tale. Follow them for a daily dose of legendary laughs.

For a sliver of psychology, visit Mental Health @ Home and The Highly Sensitive Refuge. Experiencing the insights of both platforms have been valuable in stitching this story together.