Please welcome today’s guest writer, Katie Van Zanen. Katie graduated in 2014 with a writing major, and environmental studies and religion minors. She lives in Grand Rapids for the summer, but will be moving to Cairo, Egypt, in August for a year with Mennonite Central Committee’s SALT program. She will serve as a Communications Assistant for EpiscoCare, a community development agency under Episcopal Diocese of Egypt.
Monday is Cheap Pint Night at Founders Brewing Co., and from 7:00 p.m. to closing, you can get a class one beer for $2.75. That, my friends, is a good deal. So the week after I’d turned twenty-one, I joined throngs of local twenty-somethings, mostly Calvin College upperclassmen and young alumni, in the trek to Grandville Avenue for my first pint.
Founders is exactly the sort of place that my parents would hate, and I, too, will probably hate when the novelty of standing on a sticky floor until 12:00 a.m. wears off. It’s loud. It’s full of people. Someone inevitably elbows you in the beer, and you slop a good quarter of your 8.5% ABV beverage onto your shoes. One of your friends will go for a third round and need shepherding when it’s time to leave. But the beer is good, and if you’re looking to run into someone you haven’t seen since high school, Founders is a solid bet.
My roommate Katie (confusing, we know) is a hardcore extrovert. Though she’s not a big beer drinker—she once told me she was ‘feelin’ it’ after three swigs of shandy— she finds Monday nights exhilarating. You never know who you’ll find there. There’s always someone to talk to. There’s always someone to crowd your personal space. But for me, there’s also always symptoms of social anxiety. I grew up in Grand Rapids, so when I turned twenty-one and started going to bars, I suddenly realized where all my GRCHS classmates had been hiding, and there’s nothing more painfully awkward than the compulsion to greet people you haven’t seen in four years and haven’t wanted to.
But acquaintances from Calvin or friends of friends also make me nervous. Small talk takes up a sizable portion of an introvert’s emotional energy, and I’d prefer not to expend any effort on people I don’t already know. It’s not that I don’t care where my classmates are working, or when an acquaintance is getting married. It’s just that if we’re going to converse face-to-face, I’d rather learn something I couldn’t figure from a Facebook profile. So many of these conversations are like chatting with your dental hygienist, who asks what grade you’re in while both her hands are in your mouth. She’ll ask the same thing next year. And she may recognize your molars, or your strangled gargle, but she won’t remember what you said—it’s more about passing the time than connecting. And it’s boring. (Granted, that may be misanthropy as well as introversion talking.)
So some nights, to spare my friends, acquaintances, and self the discomfort of my fumbling attempts at conversation, I stay home with a book instead. I don’t have to talk to people I don’t already know. No one has to be polite as I struggle to make conversation, and I don’t have to pretend that I don’t already know from Twitter that you’re moving to Colorado for grad school. Instead, I make some progress on the enormous quantity of unread books on my shelf, because I just can’t help myself at Schuler, or Powell’s, or John K. King. Despite the fact that I’m not a particularly deft wing woman and always inconvenience the carpool by wanting to go home early, my friends are often perturbed by this decision. You’re no fun, they say. Don’t be a party pooper, they tell me.
I resent this.
My shandy-sipping roommate may delight in the scores of future friends to be made at Cheap Pint Night, but my heart rate jumps whenever someone so much as mentions “mingling.” I don’t wear white shirts to Founders, because I will almost certainly both spill and sweat profusely. It is, honestly, seriously, actually difficult for me to enjoy myself in the presence of more than six people at once. Guys. I’m not kidding. No, I’m not sick. I’m not even busy. I just don’t want to go.
I’d rather buy myself beer at the Wealthy Market and walk home with its weight tugging my purse strap deep into my shoulder. I’ll pop the lid off a bottle, tuck a paperback under my arm and head to the porch. And then I’ll sit there with my feet up on the ledge and ignore everyone I’m supposed to be joking with, or asking what they’re doing next year. Marilynne Robinson and John Steinbeck have no interest in such conversational acrobatics. I will be perfectly happy sharing a breezy silence with them.
I’ll head to Founders for a few Mondays this summer so I can say good-bye to all the people I won’t see after August, because I like good beer and just enough people to survive a Monday evening, provided I’ve had a good night’s rest and healthy dose of coffee preceding it. But I’m almost positive that if I want to stay home and read, the people who matter will still like me Tuesday morning. And I don’t need to apologize. I probably will, because I hate disappointing my friends, and I’m a sucker for a good guilt-trip. But shame on them for making me feel bad for enjoying my own company instead of that of a few hundred tipsy twenty-somethings. Monday may be a good night for a beer, but every night is a good night for a book.
Katie is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.