Tag Archives: Introvert

An Introvert Walks into a Conference…

canstockphoto3908268I’m in a hotel room in downtown Minneapolis, wrung out and exhausted from smiling and talking about my novel with other writers. My hobnobbing and pitching at a writer’s conference garnered two requests for pages from lit agents. I’ve already called and texted friends and family to squee about it. But as usual, the exhilaration has melted away into the realization that I will have to work harder than I ever have at digging in and writing. I do not spend a long time in joyland. The water’s too warm.

The woman who met with the same lit agent in the time slot before me, passes me in the hallway, eyes downcast. She told me about her book beforehand and despite the fact that it wasn’t my cup of tea, I could see her light up when I asked about it. That’s writing for you – guts, out on the table for everyone to see.

While waiting to go in to meet with another lit agent, the woman behind me complimented

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Looking for some fashion sense, obviously.

my suit. I had felt, to that point, like an idiot. I went with a black business suit, like out of a stock photo from a 1990s corporation. Most others looked like what I imagine writers to look like – all Bohemian scarves and elbow patches. I looked like I was interviewing at an accounting firm. Still, it was kind of her to give me that little boost before my pitch session and it made me think about the fact that I’m not kind like that.

People talk about supportive communities and I fail miserably when it comes to the little compliments that boost. I’m so in my head just trying to cope with being surrounded by people, that I miss those opportunities. I’m a compliment blurter, which means I’m usually interrupting someone so I can get it out there. Better than none at all, I suppose.

Right now, I’m hiding in my hotel room writing. Other writers have found compatriots and are off to restaurants and bars. Some are even rubbing elbows with agents and editors. I’m eating leftover chips from lunch and have started the coffee maker. I thought I’d find a sense of camaraderie here and instead, it made me realize how long I’ve worked on my own and how I’ll always need an out and I can’t decide if I’m sad or just resigned about it.

canstockphoto89044This is me.  Following happy news with a chaser of Michelle. I came back to the room, threw on a t-shirt and sweats, started writing lists, checking agent name spellings, taking notes on everything I was asked to do. Pulled out my calendar, looked at time frames and figured what I needed to get done and when. Time to go to the evening event. I’ll put on that suit again and find a chair near the door.

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Premature Glee at the Holidays Almost Being Over

This morning I was wrapping the last few Christmas gifts and humming carols. It’s the happiest I’ve felt in about three weeks. Last night was my in-law Christmas event. Tonight we have a small eve dinner with my mother-in-law and then, on Christmas day, my husband, daughter and I spend the whole day padding about in our jammies.

And then, the day after, everything gets cleaned up and put away. Holiday boxes get canstockphoto8088029lugged up to the garage rafters. Nobody will attempt to foist their tarted-up joy on me. I don’t have to throw elbows to avoid hugs. I don’t have to smile for pictures. I can wander off and no one will notice and ask me if I’m okay.

This year, if authenticity is to be lauded, I’ve been a very good girl. To the point that I may not be invited to any holiday events ever again. And that makes me so very, very happy. An introvert’s bliss.

2017 is going to be a good year for creative spirits. Our politics will be shit and we’ll all possibly die during a Putin-Trump dick measuring contest, but we’ll be inspired. Art flourishes under duress.

I have no resolutions except to find my own way, to not be sidetracked by shoulds, to find kindred spirits with whom to survive the attempted destruction of values that I hold dear. To stand up when needed. To intervene when required. To dig in when asked. To hope for that which seems improbable.

On that note, I’d like to say thank you to those who have subscribed to The Green Study, to commenters and to anyone in general who have tripped over this blog on your way to somewhere better.

Happy Almost End-of-the-Holidays!

 

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Surviving the Holidays: An Introvert’s Guide

It happened in rapid succession. The emails landed with a resounding thud on my psyche today. “Hello Everyone, We’re thinking that for Thanksgiving…” and “I know it’s early, but we’d like to coordinate the family Christmas…”

I am an introvert. I find human contact only manageable in small doses, before I need to run away to a dark hidey-hole to process the interaction. Extended family celebrations, with the enforced captivity, doubly so.

Does this get-together feel as awkward as it looks?

Does this get-together feel as awkward as it looks?

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last few weeks, you know I’ve been finding my middle-aged spine. It’s a little angry and resentful and involves me inadvertently shouting “NO!” at random strangers. I’m usually not gracious about the holidays, but I suspect this year, it will be a torment unlike any I’ve ever known. Relationships will be permanently altered. Gifts will be taken back.

I’m trying to come up with a survival plan. I believe it involves duct tape and a plane ticket to anywhere else. Not as useful as you’d hoped, right?

Here’s some tips for surviving the holidays of the next couple of months.

Be picky about the time and place for celebration.

Have your holidays at a restaurant with a long wait list. That will force a reservation end time under an hour and 15 minutes. Perhaps if you’re lucky, your wait staff will be irritable and clumsy, which will make for an abbreviated, but entertaining meal.

If you must go to someone’s home, engage in passive-aggressive hostilities immediately upon entering the host’s house.

“Do you have slippers? I don’t want to get my socks dirty.”

“Maybe I’ll just hold onto my coat.”

“What’s that fish smell?”

Partake in uncomfortable family traditions with authenticity.

Random bossy relative: Let’s everyone go around the table and say what we’re thankful for.
Me: Um, I’ll go first.
Random bossy relative: Wonderful. Quiet everyone! Michelle will be starting us off.
Me: I’m grateful that I only have to see you wankers twice a year. I’m grateful that I already ate before I got to this salmonella-fest. I’m grateful that…what? What’s she crying about?

Reminisce, especially if there are newlyweds or out-of-town visitors.

“Remember that time when Aunt Betty’s sweet potato pie gave everyone the bends for days on end? Oh, would you look at that, I see you’re using the family recipe.”

“Didn’t you bring Cathy last year? She was really pretty. Who’s this one?”

“You’re looking good, Mitchell. That stint upstate did wonders for you. Did they ever find the body?”

Be boorishly entertaining.

Re-enact scenes from “Soylent Green” while walking around with the cheese cube tray.

Start a lively political discussion by calling everyone something+the word Nazi.

Insist that your child, who has just started playing the trombone, perform for everyone. Until he or she gets it right.

Make small children cry.

“I’m sure Santa won’t eat you if you are very, very good.”

“It just broke off! I’m sorry – I thought Barbie was supposed to bend that way.”

“Isn’t it sad that all the Lego people die at the end? Oh, I thought you’d already seen it.”

Make a discreet exit. Do not return.

“Let me get those extra presents out of the car.”

“Oh, it looks like we’re almost out of whipped cream. I’ll run out to the store and get some.”

“Where’s the bathroom?” It’s best if it’s on the first floor and has a window.

Administrative Note: The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest is revving up with some very thoughtful entries! You have until Sunday, December 7th, 2014, 12:00 pm (US Standard Central Time) to get your entry submitted.

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Filed under Humor, Personal

Radio Silence

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Allegorical sculpture (Silence) by Giuseppe Blasetti, Campo Verano, Rome Italy.

A fog enveloped me in the last week and like most dense, inexplicable fogs, I find my way out of it by writing. Of late, there has been much lauding of the introvert. I have read Susan Cain’s Quiet and while the studies she cited were interesting, the clear agenda was to battle the predominate value of extroversion in our society. I am an introvert who can function as an extrovert when needed. But there is a dark side.

In the last week, I’ve been at events, on phone calls, in meetings and pummeled by emails and texts. Several days in, I began to wonder if I had a brain tumor. Words were getting stuck in a loop in my head. People’s agendas seemed crystal clear beneath their rhetoric and I went into sensory overload. My brain declared a partial shutdown.

In science fiction shows, when someone gains the ability to read minds, they are bombarded by the cacophony of voices – so many people with contradictory thoughts and agendas. I am not a mind reader, but like most humans, I have the capacity to read body language, hear voice inflection and understand verbal cues.

Whenever we talk to someone, there are a thousand little nuances that our brain is taking in, without really noticing. It’s an assimilated part of the conversation. When that starts to unravel, my brain notices the strands. Nuances become separate channels of information and I feel bombarded. It takes all of my energy to focus, to listen and to not turn and walk away while the other person is mid-sentence. Sometimes I just stare while they talk, turning over a word or phrase in my mind that they said 10 minutes ago.

Unfortunately, I always come to this realization when it’s too late. I become short-tempered with the people I care about because I’ve been drained of energy by social engagement. I begin to feel like a ball of walking rage, where every interaction feels like I’m being imposed upon. Every conversational exchange, in person or via the many electronic means, requires effort, thought and focus.

Since the partial government shutdown, the rhetoric has become so intense and nonsensical that it causes me paroxysms of swearing and muttering to myself. I keep hoping there is a finite supply of sports and war metaphors, but politicians and pundits keep coming up with more to describe their inaction and playground shenanigans. Like our duly-elected representatives,  I stopped listening.

Emails and voice mails go unanswered. Appointments and meetings are rescheduled. My writing becomes awkwardly introspective, like a teenage girl writing bad poetry (1983 was a very prolific year). When pressed, I’m irritable and abrupt and have no desire to converse. Sometimes I’ll sit in my reading chair, staring morosely out the window, unable to shake the feeling that the world just needs to shut up. Since I’m writing a blog post, I’ve taken my morning coffee with a little irony.

Silence wants nothing from me. I don’t have to respond or react or hold a certain expression on my face. I don’t have to follow up or get back to it or take notes. No actionable items, no content to manage, no concerns about giving the wrong impression, no feelings to hurt, no opinions to enunciate.

Sometimes solitude feels uncomfortable – the quiet being such a contrast to the constant noise of everyday life. All the emotions and thoughts that were summarized and cut short, in order to communicate effectively, bubble up and I wait until they settle in and are absorbed.

Standing on the deck this morning at 5am, I inhaled the autumn silence, crisp and undiluted. It seems such a luxury in our modern age, in the middle of suburbia, to hear nothing. Slowly, the fog begins to dissipate. And I prepare to engage with the world again.

Wishing you a few restorative moments of silence

before your week begins!

Shhhhh……

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The Perfect Choice

I can hear the cracks in the wall before the tidal wave lays me low. They sneak up on me – the whispers of shoulda, woulda, coulda. I am paralyzed by my imperfect perfectionism.

Before I can rally, I need a breather. I watch a movie, flip through a magazine or read a book – media filled with perfect people, perfect writing, perfect pictures of a well-adjusted life. I’d love to say I feel so self-confident that these images and words don’t push me farther under the bus of self-loathing. But it’s not true. When I’m feeling low, these are the proverbial kicks to the gut that say “See? I told you so!”

There is, as an NPR blog writer called it, a New Perfectionism. Perfect parenting, perfect workouts, perfect household hints, perfect ways to be an effective and efficient employee, perfect time management skills, perfect possibilities for every aspect of life.  I don’t doubt that there are many people out there who aren’t anxious or overwhelmed or filled with self doubt. I am not one of them.

I’ve been reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’s been recommended to me at least 20 times, so I finally cracked it open on vacation. When it comes to my own introversion, it’s not been particularly enlightening. I’m good with the fact that I am an introvert who can function as an extrovert when needed. What I found interesting were the chapters about how extroversion became the ideal in our society – the valuing of personality over character. Selling one’s self became more important than ensuring you weren’t, deep down, a complete shithead.

The idea that how we appear is more valuable than our character is designed to teach us to judge a book by its cover – to sort, categorize and label people based on first impressions. If you have perfectionist tendencies, this value system exploits that need in an endless procession of how-to articles, cults of personality and advertising standards. Perfectionism sells.

While on vacation, it struck me that I’ve been so tired over the last year – working hard, struggling against entropy, trying to be better at everything.  I’ve expended tremendous amounts of energy with very little in the way of return – or at least returns I’ve been able to recognize. I don’t want to be exhausted all the time and it’s not necessary. The New Perfectionism indeed – now I want to be the perfectly balanced person. Nice work, brain. Any more circular thinking you’d like to do?

Friends often say to me: You’re too hard on yourself.  A cliché won’t stop 40 some years of pushing myself. And like any other character trait, there’s an upside. I have worked hard to become a productive member of society, to have stable relationships, to be a decent parent. Those things have not come easily to me. The downside is that not only am I tough on myself, but I’m often tough on others and I don’t know how to relax (And don’t tell me to relax – I’ll just want to punch someone in the face).

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to question this perfectionist mentality. I can’t physically sustain a driven life. Many activities, which take up vast quantities of time, aren’t really important. And lastly, I’ve moved beyond the survival and self-sufficiency stage. I’m here. I get to be a bit of a dilettante. I get to dabble and meander and be a little lazier.

I felt a huge mental harrumph after typing that last sentence. Says who? Now get back to work. Maybe it would be more honest to say that since I will likely continue to push myself, I should redirect those efforts towards fulfilling work, family time that doesn’t involve force marching everyone through chores, activities that enrich instead of deplete. There are choices to be made.

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After reading The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, the idea of choices took on a whole new meaning – and it explains much of the anxiety people feel in our modern society. By pursuing perfection, we are inundated with choices at every turn. Of course, Mr. Schwartz decided the proof was in the pudding by immediately following up with Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. With so many other volumes of What You Are Not Doing Perfectly on the shelves, I’ve resolved any paradox by choosing not to read it.

Faced with so many experts and how-to gurus, the choices are overwhelming. But these choices are only necessary if your perceived goal is perfectionism. And what is perfect? Perfect is often what you want other people to see when they look at you, your home, status, possessions, children or body. Perfection represents love, power, respect – any number of things to people, but perfectionist behavior rarely yields those results. It can be, as I’ve discovered, quite tiring and unrewarding.

If perfection is through the eyes of someone else, then perfect becomes subjective. If definitions of perfection are subjective, it can be ours to define. It may end up looking entirely different than as advertised. Contents may settle. Results may not be guaranteed. Objects might be closer than they appear. There might be unintended side effects – like uncontrollable laughter, unexpected napping, small pleasures and infinite joy.

Perfectionist thinking is hard to unravel. Letting go of the behavior sometimes involves doing a half-assed job, showing up late, putting it off until later, not ironing it, not doing a progressive number of reps, letting the picture hang crooked on the wall. The next step is figuring out what you’d like to do instead  – something rewarding, pleasurable, luxurious, frivolous. I have piles of work to do. I wrote this blog post instead.

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Ordinary, Extraordinary People

canstockphoto12816975She was optimistic, energetic, earnest and animated. Decision time. Do I say something funny, but sarcastic and possibly mean? Later, as I listened to her art presentation to a class of engaged elementary kids, something in me shifted slightly. My envy and inferiority and smugness dissipated and in its place, distilled and unfamiliar, was admiration. She was extraordinary and I had something to learn.

It is a hard won battle with myself, to see outwardly optimistic people without the lens of cynicism. Something sadistic in me wants to cut them down to size, wants to make them see reality, wants to make them realize that life is hard and not particularly sunny and why the hell are they always freaking smiling? I want them to be real, failing to remember that their real and my real are two entirely different animals.

Why this necessity to force someone to view the world as I do? Am I so uncomfortable with myself that I irrationally need to create a mini-me, in order to feel like I belong? Are outwardly happy people such an anathema to me that I must right the situation?

I ask this question more frequently of myself than I ever did before.  Since having a child, I regularly cross paths with other people who raise, teach or care for children. These are often soft-spoken, patient, gentle people who get down on the floor and play. They smile a lot. They shrug off temper tantrums and seem interested when a child tells their never-ending story in gasping breaths.

I’ll be the first to admit that I often feel uncomfortable around children. I was the person who never wanted to hold other people’s babies because the child would sense imminent danger and in a wail, shriek out “Baby-dropper, baby dropper!” You would have heard it, if you spoke baby. Now, in case you wondered, I managed to get my baby upright and independently walking without actually dropping her on her head. Although after one 6 hour crying jag (hers and eventually mine), I was sorely tempted.

The down side to being assertive and intense and introverted is that my people skills border on misanthropic. I’m uncomfortable with how uncomfortable I am. I’ve read that one of the guidelines to success (and I assume that purveyors of these guidelines mean happiness) is to surround yourself with the people who have qualities you aspire to possessing as well.

Here’s the beautiful thing about kids and people who work well with kids. They don’t care if you’re a misanthropic, awkward adult. They are so damned happy you are there and involved, that they laugh along with your wry commentary. They seem delighted to see you. Every damned time. When I visit a classroom, I’m popular. Not through my dour personality, but because I’m there. I have days when it nearly brings me to tears. How would life be, if every time you walked into a room, you were flocked to and welcomed? It’s a marvelous, heady feeling.

Connecting with optimistic people has not been deliberate on my part, but my dark subconscious mind must understand how badly I need to be engulfed by light. I am surrounded by people who lift me up and it astonishes me  – and I suspect, saves me from disappearing into the shadows.

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Filed under Parenting, Personal