How I Became (A Little) More Extroverted This Year


Barclay: Wouldn’t you like to take a walk with me to the arboretum? The zalnias should be in bloom.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Reg, as your former counselor, I don’t think it would be appropriate.
Barclay: I don’t need a counselor. What I need is the company of a charming, intelligent woman.
Counselor Deanna Troi: [indulgent] Good night, Mr. Barclay.

~from Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Nth Degree”

Ummm...don't I know you from somewhere?

As 2010 winds to a close, I find myself in an introspective mood. There is something especially important I’ve come to realize over the past twelve months: all my favorite fictional characters, however weird, can teach me something about life. Like wise mentors sent out of the pages of Joseph Campbell, they are archetypes sent to help me understand things better.

This year’s trifecta is an odd one. As an introvert myself, I often find myself drawn to eccentric, misfit, off-the-wall, and just plain weird characters. (Well, more than often…actually just about always.) I already had H.M. Murdock, my current favorite since the summer of 2008, Wikus van de Merwe of District 9, and the new arrival, Lt. Reginald Barclay of Star Trek: The Next Generation. One is a member of a rogue commando unit, one is a mid-level corporate bureaucrat who really, really doesn’t like aliens, and the new guy in town is a timid engineer who spends too much time in the fantasy worlds of the Holodeck.

Sounds like the start of a joke. These three actually helped me find out more about myself.

Like Barclay, my greatest weakness comes in interacting with others. I may have all the technical knowledge I need, and even be one of the best at what I do. Unfortunately, in this culture, all of that is useless if one cannot interact with co-workers in the right way. Because I became so overwhelmed in the past, I would often retreat into the holodeck of my own mind. Fantasy worlds were more comfortable, and much less dangerous, than the Real World. Barclay is the extreme of introversion and is possibly an archetype for Asperger Syndrome and/or avoidant personality type.

While I’m not (yet) a huge Star Trek fan, I’ve been able to appreciate the episodes featuring Barclay because he’s portrayed by the same actor as the original Murdock, and also for the progression he makes from painfully shy to at least reasonably confident. There was the one incident in which he became the smartest being in the galaxy, but it wasn’t permanent.

Like Reg Barclay had Troi and LaForge to help bring him out of his shell, so I’ve had wise, compassionate, and caring friends. I’ve gushed enough about them in the past, and they know who they are, but I’m still profoundly grateful to know them. As the old saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher(s) will appear.

Awww...Reg needs a hug

Wikus is a great example of going from pretty shy to pretty kickass in under two hours of screen time. When we first meet him, he is a pencil-pusher who’s a little too convinced of his own importance. He conceals his naturally nervous tendencies with bravado and a cheeky sense of humor. (When he’s pushing around defenseless aliens on the job, he’s able to pretend to be a tough guy, but once he gets home, he says things like “I have to get to the toilet quickly!”)

His story is one of transformation, both literally and internally. Once infected with the mysterious “essence” of the aliens, Wikus begins to physically mutate into one of them, and thus see things from their perspective. Through a traumatic event he is able to overcome his inherent nervousness (and his dorkiness) and become a freedom fighter for the aliens. At the end of the film, when the audience sees him fully transformed into an alien, it is unknown what, if any, of his human personality he has maintained. However, it is implied that he has kept his gentle sweet side to a degree (making presents for his still-human wife and leaving them on her doorstep.)

What I see as a personality learning moment in District 9 is the ability to go through change, and become stronger, while still keeping the softer side of one’s nature. Ironically, I see that Wikus becomes a better human being while turning into an alien “prawn.”

It's the swietie man coming!

And then there’s Murdock. I still find him nearly impossible to read after two and a half years of careful study. Is he crazy? Is he merely pretending to be crazy? Does he have PTSD, Asperger’s, ADHD, schizophrenia? Or is he just a fairly normal guy who found himself in the horror that was the Vietnam War?

The main thing Murdock (and the rest of the A-Team) has taught me is that in order to find true happiness, one must adapt to the situation at hand. All locked up? Use what you have to break out. Bad guys harassing you? Make a joke to their face (and then kick some tail.) Need a quick disguise? There’s bound to be one in your super-cool van. Murdock doesn’t try to fit in, nor does he really try to stand out. He simply is. He may display anything from shyness to hyperaggressive behavior, depending on the situation. And more often than not he is better adjusted than his teammates.

One thing I have noticed about Murdock: he enjoys the time spent with his team, his friends, but he needs plenty of time to unwind and relax in his private sanctuary, which just happens to be a room in a mental ward. (It beats having to work for a living, and Murdock is just clever enough to pull it off.)

So yeah, I’m not *really* like any one of these guys, my heroes. But they’ve helped me see how I might better use my strengths and even start to work on my weaknesses. And it won’t just be a one-year thing; it’s an ongoing journey.

Hannibal Smith: It’s been fun.

Murdock: More importantly…it’s been educational.

Murdock is watching you...

Like what you read? Drop me a line at wikusandmurdock@yahoo.com!

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on December 4, 2010.

4 Responses to “How I Became (A Little) More Extroverted This Year”

  1. *sigh* I just love your thoughts. You can put into the printed word my jumbled thought process since I was a little kid.

    Not yet a Star Trek fan? Mwahaha *rubs hands evilly and pulls of a goofy Yoday voice*

    “You will be. You…will…be.”

    😛

    “I look forward to your report Mr. Broccoli.”

  2. (Yoday? That was supposed to be Yoda. Blast!)

  3. It would be great if you become a Star Trek fan…..then we could share another fandom!

    I also like to find in characters things about myself, so I can appreciate this blog. I don’t think I relate as well as you to the characters you mention, but I can usually find a bit of myself in almost any character. And often can good examples to emulate in fictional characters.

  4. This past year and a half… I noticed the same thing, too.

    In the past, I typically wouldn’t engage in conversations with my classmates if I saw them by themselves. Now, I can hold a pretty decent conversation. Yes, I am still not initiating conversations (as majority of the time it’s my classmates doing the initiating). BUT, a major improvement is that I have been willing to talk, as well as demonstrating my funny/dorky side outside of the seriousness when I was in class with them. Of course, in an OT’s point of view, it might be little to some, I actually see that it is actually a big step forward.

    While I am hoping some day that I can initate conversations with regularity… at the meantime, I am definitely using my OTS celebrity to help me if I were to attend OT conferences. After all, that will help me draw people into talking with me instead of the other way around. In other words, I got to hide this weakness of mine through the benefit of being in the limelight.

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