Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Secret Origin of Cap'n Neurotic pt.6 - On-stage and Off at the BSU

Before moving on to my Sophomore year, I'd like to take a quick detour to cover a few of the other things going on in my life during those first two semesters. First up: my involvement with the OSU Baptist Student Union.

Coming to OSU fresh off of my mini-breakthrough with my Youth Group, I thought that the BSU would prove to be my main source of friends and activities.

I was sorely mistaken.

In an earlier post I mentioned in passing the distinction between looking like a fool on purpose and on accident. I have no problem getting up in front of large groups of people and giving a speech, or acting, or singing and dancing and generally being a total goofball; doesn’t faze me at all. But get me off the stage, and force me to strike up a conversation with a total stranger, or fit into a group of people who already know each other well: instant deer-in-headlights. This on-stage/off-stage dichotomy would pretty much define my time at the BSU.

I think my social paralysis is one of those rare neurotic tendencies that actually has a bit of validation behind it: many’s the time my attempts at small talk or ice-breaking humor have been met with blank, uncomprehending stares. There was a former co-worker who never was able to tell when I was joking; I would make a sarcastic comment, and she would respond in a tired, world-weary tone “No, Todd,” and then proceed to patiently explain just why the comment I had just made could never happen. And lest you (quite justifiably) think this is just my paranoia, I have Book Monkey witnesses to back me up on this one. Anyhow, this sort of reaction caused me to keep my sense of humor under wraps until I was sure it would get a reaction other than stupefied glances or condescension.

How did I ever manage to overcome this neurotic behavior to make friends? Well, in Parker I was around my dorm-mates almost constantly, and so was able to gradually suss out what parts of my personality would and wouldn't fly; at the BSU, where the socialization time was much more limited, I floundered a bit. Of course, it also helped that the odds of someone in Parker recognizing a reference to Monty Python, Robert Jordan, or the X-Men were much higher than at the BSU. One Sunday, I was invited to lunch after church by a couple of upperclassmen. It was a nice gesture on their part, but I have rarely had meals as uncomfortable as that one. Outside of church, I was unable to find anything in common with them; the closest I came was noticing that there was a book on the making of Jurassic Park on their coffee table. I tried to use that as a springboard for conversation, but the idea died quickly when I mentioned I had read the book, and they both acted like that was one of craziest things they'd ever heard; almost as if the task of reading a Michael Crichton novel was tantamount to having read Moby Dick for fun. Needless to say, I was not invited back.

Now, the BSU did set all of the Freshman up in "family groups," with two upperclassmen acting as our "mom and dad"; the groups would meet for Bible study and fellowship an hour before the Thursday night service, which in theory would have been a good tool for socialization, right? Well, my fellow family group freshman consisted of two Stillwater residents who had known Ma and Pa for years thanks to attending the same church; P.A.L., another Parker resident who was at least as big an introvert in those settings as I was; and two or three random folks who only showed up once in a blue moon. So, the family group, not that big of a help; outside of bonding with P.A.L. over the uncomfortable situation of seeing Ma, Pa, and our two Stillwater sister get along like gangbusters, I didn’t gain much from the group. Of course, that was still a function of my neurosis; I remember one week when Wrath decided to come to the BSU with me and sat in on the family group, he was more comfortable and chatty with my group after 5 minutes than I had been after a full semester.

The one aspect of the BSU where I felt comfortable was the Drama Team. Basically, the DT would do skits at various churches in the state, sometimes for Youth groups, sometimes for a church service. When I was practicing, traveling, and performing with them, I felt comfortable; when I wasn't, I had a hard time translating that camaraderie into a wider range of friendships. I attended most of the BSU services and functions, but the pull between hanging out at Parker where people seemed to finally get me and attending the BSU where I was slipping back into full-on Outsider mode started to wear me down, and it would only get worse as the Golden Year began to run down.


Zinger said...

Anytime you mention the BSU, it reminds me of the day that OSU beat UMass to go to the Final Four in '95... :)

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Y'know I was actually planning on talking about that in a new running feature, "Embarrassing Moments in the Life of Cap'n Neurotic." And yes, G'ovich, the runaway dog at the park will be covered as well.