Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ain't It Good To Be An Introvert

A friend was surprised to learn the other day, during a story I was telling about my youth, that I seemed to have put myself into a lot of social scenarios while I was growing up. And so the veracity of my introverted nature came into question. This has caused me to think back on those days (specifically my grade school years and thereabouts) more than I have in quite a while.

It's true that I could be found doing things that would make it hard for anyone to pinpoint me as the unsocial type. Even nowadays it can be hard to peg me unless you're around me for long enough. (This reminds me of the post that I wrote about spotting introverts; I thought about writing something more in depth about the topic, but then I realized that most of us introverts don't really want to be spotted. Being spotted would interfere with our ability to keep to ourselves, to remain inconspicuous, to have our inner worlds protected. Or maybe that's just me.)

No matter what it looked like from the outside, I had a hard time with my nature when I was growing up. I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. If I'd listened to the people around me back then, I might have concluded that being quiet and keeping to myself was a bad thing. Peers were often uncomfortable with my quietness, and some were even visibly upset about what probably seemed to them like an insistent unfriendliness. Occasionally people were mean. Others tried to change me. Some acquaintances set out trying to make me more talkative. And, naturally, there were those who simply made fun of my quietness.

Growing up, I didn't know what to make of all this. I instinctually knew that I wasn't doing anything wrong and I felt as though I was just being myself. Sometimes I even resented the treatment I got. But as much as I resisted allowing others to tell me how I should be, I couldn't help wondering if everyone was right. Not only that, but there was no one to model for me how I could operate in a social world. Everywhere I looked, people seemed to need conversation; people flocked together. That was my only model of the world, but not a model that made sense to me. Each of us is left to figure our own selves out, but introverts do so in a way that's even more alone. We do so largely without any clues.

So in an attempt to figure myself out, I would put myself into situations that didn't suit my nature. I worked in jobs that required lots of talking. I lived with roommates. I didn't always say no to group activities; I did enter into group settings, though I was always the silent party. I pushed the boundaries of my social comfort level. Oftentimes these choices overwhelmed me, but I did what I could to alleviate that. And I did so without knowing what I needed (at least not in any rational way). How was I to know that I needed to be able to get away, to be alone, or to retreat to an isolated spot? No one else I knew ever seemed to care whether they escaped the company of others.

Still, I'm glad for many of those learning experiences. I'm not sure if I would know myself as well without having had them. I never attempted to change who I was -- I only strived to know whether I could be anything more; I wanted to know whether what I felt about myself was right (or whether I was simply afraid and shy like everyone told me I was). Rather than learn to be ashamed of my quiet nature because of the rebuke I got, I guess I decided to wear my quietness like a badge. And I learned a lot from my resistance to change. Nowadays, I still push my own social boundaries to some extent, but I choose more carefully. I tend towards smaller social settings, more individual ones. I choose friends who are comfortable with my quiet nature. I moderate my activities and balance my venturing out with enough recuperation time to suit my needs.

But sometimes I think it would've been nice to have had access to some of this knowledge while I was still in my youth. It would've been nice to find others who were like me, if only to know that being like me was okay. It would've been nice to know that I wasn't alone, even when I was.

Because it is okay to be an introvert; in fact, I think it's enviable! If only I had always known how much so!


Monday, August 10, 2009

Being Unusually Chatty

A friend from out of town (we'll call him Burma) was visiting this past week, and while we were in the midst of a conversation, his wife (Kate) made a comment to him that caught my attention, a comment that I often hear people make towards me. We were discussing another old friend of ours, and it went something like this:

Burma: I've never been able to get close to him [our old friend]. We never had very personal conversations.

Me: Really?

Kate: Wait, you don't usually have personal conversations. In fact, you're being unusually chatty tonight.

Burma: Well, I'm drunk, so ...

I doubted Burma's story about being drunk, seeing that he was barely halfway through his only bottle of beer, but I was making sure to closely watch his reaction to the comment. I was curious how it made him feel.

See, being told that you're unusually chatty is the same as being told that you're normally not very talkative. I've already mentioned in the past how people tend to point out my quietness; this is the same thing, but perhaps as a more "politically correct" version.

Often when this sort of comment is directed at me, the intensity of my self-consciousness temporarily spikes; I'll probably have a more difficult time staying focused on the conversation at hand. In the past, I would frequently disappear into my thoughts altogether, and trying to get myself back out again to join in with the people around me would be quite difficult. I become more aware of the scrutiny of others, more aware of how my quietness makes others feel, more aware of the process of the conversation (of the body language and facial expressions and the feelings and attitudes that are conveyed), and I become entangled in that web of awareness.

But my friend hardly skipped a beat. He's a much more social animal, so I'm not surprised. I think he's more private than he is introverted, but it was curious to see a little of his wife's perspective of him. Plus, it was nice to hear what he was implying: That he is comfortable enough with me to have personal conversations -- to be chatty, as it were.

As curious as it was to watch someone else deal with a scenario that I regularly face, I did wonder whether I should somehow deflect his wife's comment. And I wondered whether I would have appreciated a deflection. But I had no idea how I could accomplish such a thing, anyway. I'm not that skilled at conversation to begin with!


Monday, July 20, 2009

Specialized Literature

Sometimes I think about writing a book that deals with extreme introversion. There aren't very many books on the subject of introversion specifically; while there are some good ones among those that do exist, they tend to be very generalized. They're often written for (or about) anyone who has experienced even the slightest inclination towards introversion. Sometimes these books are generalized to such an extent that they read like horoscopes, allowing anyone at all to relate. What I imagine doing is writing for those of us whose temperaments there is no question about, for those who fall squarely and deeply within the introversion spectrum. It would be about my own experiences, of course, but I imagine it would include a lot of research targeted towards a smaller percentage of the population. The subject matter would be more specialized; it would cover something between moderate and extreme introversion. I feel that an accurate discussion on the subject can't be had without making it much more focused. And how can it be very helpful if it's not accurate?

Anyway, one reason that I'm pondering this today is that I've noticed that a lot of visitors come to this blog by googling the phrase "extreme introvert." I feel a little guilty for not writing anything particularly helpful here, or at least for not writing more regularly. On the other hand, this is only a personal blog; I never meant it to be anything more important than that.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Don't Need No Stinkin' Words

From the movie Up:

"You don't say much. I like you!"

From the movie, The Express:

"He's doing a lot without saying nothing." (In reference to Jackie Robinson and how he was making a difference in the world, spoken by a character who struggles with stuttering.)


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Natural Defenses

With the prevalence of swine flu in the news lately, I can't help but think that introverts would be more likely to survive in the event that such a disaster became more widespread. After all, we tend to come in contact with others much less; thus, we'd simply avoid one of the ways in which we might encounter a virus. It's like a built-in defense mechanism. Introverts may or may not be born rulers, but perhaps we are born survivors.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Me, Regularly

A sudden and total atmosphere of isolation came over him, pervasive and almost tangible, a spell. The others sensed it and stared. The world of solitude closing around him was at that moment impenetrable, a shield, airless, hereditary, penetrating to his bones, his veins.

Excerpt from The Paragon
by John Knowles


Saturday, March 21, 2009

On Natural Selection

Even though I don't consider myself shy, here's a quote that I find relevant (and amusing):

"Yeah, well, you know, frankly, you're doomed. You and all the other shy people are. Natural selection favors the loud and the aggressive. I don't mean this in a bad way, but genetically speaking you're a cul de sac."

Excerpt from Black Books


Monday, March 2, 2009

Reclusive = Easily Forgotten

This morning, a co-worker messaged me briefly. Here's the bulk of it:

She said: Hey, good morning ... so the beard is back huh?
I said: Ya, for the moment
She said: for the moment?
I said: I need to maintain my disguise
She said: well .. you are incognito anyway... no one remembers you work here anymore anyway ;)
I said: That's the plan


Even though I played it off and pretended that it meant nothing, her last statement affected me more than it normally would have. I guess I'm sensitive lately. Usually I would've told myself that it's good to be able to escape from the attention of people so easily. But today I took the statement to mean that my presence/contribution at work is unimportant.

I suppose this comes with being a recluse. Still, I do like to think that my work matters.