It happened at a job interview. I found myself feeling clueless about eye contact: how much was too much? I was trying to pay attention to what the interviewer was saying, and ended up worrying that I was staring like an expressionless sociopath so I looked away – just when she asked me a question. I’d been vacillating between trying for a neutral expression, hoping to look attentive and reflective, and occasional smiles, which I was sure were apropos of nothing, ill-timed, and making me look even more nuts. I couldn’t help it. I had no idea whose face I was using, or how it got there, but it wasn’t mine.
Surprisingly, I got the job.
Nearly a decade has passed, and there have been few comparably cringe-worthy incidents.
Until now, that is.
I was talking to my new housemate. Suddenly, I had no idea where to put my arms. And, by association, my hands. You’d think this would be the same thing, but believe me, it isn’t; each of these appendages is uniquely awkward, multiplying the awkwardness at least fourfold if you don’t count the elbows. Which, really, you should, because they can be easily bashed against door frames and the like. So make it sixfold, more or less.
Speaking to my housemate was the easy part: I just let my hands do the talking.
I suddenly had someone else’s arms, didn’t know how they got there, or what to do with them.
The listening part, now that was another story. When my new roomie was speaking, again, I concentrated on listening, but was distracted by the fact that I suddenly had someone else’s arms, didn’t know how they got there, or what to do with them.
I tried putting my hands in my pockets. I didn’t have pockets. Realizing this, I began crossing my arms, then stopped myself, worrying that I’d be telegraphing closed body language when I wanted to develop a warm, open rapport. This guy would be living in my house. I needed him to trust me. And vice-versa. Especially vice-versa. I wished for a prop but none presented itself. [Note to self: always carry a coffee cup in the house when the roommate is home, just in case.]
So why, I wonder, after all these years of being more or less unscathed by this type of body-language social awkwardness, was I so suddenly – and forcefully – stricken?
During the conversation with the roomie I’d found myself envying the Venus de Milo for her lack of appendages (although admittedly the naked breasts would have introduced a whole new level of awkwardness).
Perhaps her arms weren’t accidentally broken off, as is commonly believed. Maybe they were lopped off in a moment of madness by a frustrated, humiliated ADHD sculptor who’d suffered a similar episode. He too, needing to increase his personal income, had returned from yet another dreary, fund-raising soirée where he’d had to schmooze with potential patrons while feeling entirely out of his element. He returned to the studio, having had a bit too much absinthe, and – chop chop. Damn arms.
But back to me.
Like ADHD itself, social awkwardness shows up based on context. As I’d been talking to a virtual stranger, I felt awkward, unsure of myself. I worried about what I was projecting, and wasn’t able to relax and listen to what he was saying. This does not happen with fellow ADHD artistes, colleagues, and friends.
I’m convinced Vince cut off his ear because of audio cacophony; perhaps the unknown Venus sculptor left us our first recorded history of an artistic response to the frustration of ADHD social awkwardness by cutting off the arms of the Venus. And notice we ADHDers talk with our eyes.