Thursday, December 19, 2013

So Many Words

Today, we'll send over 300 billion emails, 19 billion text messages, yet we'll still feel alone. The average person will say 2,250 words to 7.4 other individuals. Will these words be used to hurt or to heal?

Touch, Pilot episode


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cooperating In Silence

Like the hours on horseback, Royce and Hadrian remained quiet. Hadrian unsaddled the horses and gave them a light brushing while Royce set up a small cook fire. It was entertaining to watch. Without a word, they would toss tools and bags back and forth. Hadrian blindly threw a hatchet over his shoulder and Royce caught it just in time to begin breaking up the branches for the fire. Just as Royce finished the fire, Hadrian had a pot of water ready to place on it. For Arista, who lived her life in public among squabbling nobles and chattering staffs, such silence was strange.

Excerpt from Nyphron Rising
by Michael J. Sullivan


Thursday, December 5, 2013


Although I tend to avoid work outings as much as I avoid mosquitoes, I do find myself attending now and then. The most recent outing was a going-away lunch for a coworker who'd found a better job. There were a lot of us at that outing, and our table stretched beyond the capacity of my eyesight; I couldn't see the other end.

The guest of honor gave a speech at some point. He paid homage to our boss, he reminisced about the good and the bad times, and he poked fun at the lot of us -- including me. That part, of course, went like this:

"...and I'll always remember my attempts to get Zeri to say more than thirty words."

Normally, I might take issue with such nonsense. But on this occasion, I could only nod and acknowledge my coworker's sense of humor; afterall, it was a little bit flattering to be mentioned in a toast.

A glass should always be raised for the introvert.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Triumph In Walking Lightly

Hazel is different. She walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth. Hazel knows the truth: We're as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we're not likely to do either. People will say it's sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it's not sad, Van Houten. It's triumphant. It's heroic. Isn't that the real heroism? Like the doctors say: First, do no harm. The real heroes anyway aren't the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.

Excerpt from The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

I guess I'd say that introverts tend to walk lightly, too. We tend to make fewer connections, but deeper ones. Often, we go unnoticed. Perhaps we leave fewer scars. I don't know.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dear Zeri: On Getting Others To Understand

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I just found your blog about being an extreme introvert and wanted to say thanks for sharing. I'm feeling particularly misunderstood these days.

One thing I'm constantly trying to figure out is how to get people to understand and respect me being an introvert... I've realized that's never going to happen except for people I'm very close with. So I need to learn more coping mechanisms. I wonder if you'd consider writing something about coping in uncomfortable environments (I didn't see if you've already written about that). For example, I just returned from a 10 day vacation with my in-laws (9 people total). I pretty much had a meltdown by the second day because I was getting basically no alone time and everyone was talking all the time at the same time. I even got a really bad cold which I'm sure was related to the stress. I started hiding out as much as possible and I'm sure everyone thinks I hate them... which almost seems true because I find it so stressful to be around them. I'm not sure how to appropriately deal with that situation. I need to get better at being able to deal with these situations I can't control. Any tips?

Thanks again,


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hi, L --

Thanks for writing, and my apologies for the late reply. I only check in sporadically, but I suppose it's nearly time for another entry. I have to confess, though, that I try not to give out too much advice on my own blog. I try to keep it more personal. I do know of several forums that have great advice for introverts, though. I'll forward some if you're interested.

That said, I can very much relate to the situations you've described; while I don't have any standard tips to offer, I can tell you what my own experience has been.

First, about the vacation-related stress: that sort of thing happens to me, too. During situations like those, it feels like every muscle is tense, and like I'm ready to pounce on anyone who comes near. Being stuck like that for too long can definitely take its toll on your health. I've found only two ways to cope in those scenarios. If at all possible, the easiest thing to do is to get away. Make time for yourself, even if it seems odd to others. Step out to the bathroom, but go for a walk, instead. The other thing that helps is if you can be honest with others. I know I've struggled with that in the past; it's hard to be honest without being cruel, and so I often avoid saying anything. But if you can calm yourself enough to say what you're feeling in a reasonable manner, others will often understand. Even if they don't make less noise all of the time, they'll at least understand if you need to get away from them. And they'll understand that you aren't really hating them -- that you're just having a hard time dealing with so much stimulation.

There is a third thing that helps in those situations, but it's the one that takes the most time: it's practice. It may never become entirely easy, but I think we eventually find ways to zone it all out. Ways to calm or distract ourselves. It still takes a toll, in the meantime, but it gets easier not to burst while we're in the midst of it all.

As for respect and understanding, those things are fleeting. Not even fellow introverts will always understand you. We don't come across introverts as often, and so we act towards the rest of the world just like anyone else does; thus, we often treat each other, including our fellow introverts, in the ways that give us such a hard time. Friends will falter sometimes, but at least they're friends. All you can expect is that they'll try to be as understanding towards you as you'll be towards them.

Hopefully some of this helps.

Thanks again for writing. Good or bad, it always helps a little to know that others deal with the same things as me.

Be well,

... Zeri

Friday, August 2, 2013


Thanks for your response. I really appreciate it. It's nice to feel understood. Sometimes I feel like such a freak when it seems everyone else can cope with "normal" situations so much better than I can.

I understand not wanting to give advice but I appreciate your personal experiences. I often do the thing where I pretend I'm just going to the bathroom or something and then disappear for long periods of time... I think that gives a bad impression, although often I think people don't even notice I'm gone since I'm sort of invisible even when I'm there.

The thing I really want to work on is being more honest and straightforward with people. I've tried this with my mother-in-law. I will say to her, "I'm just feeling really overwhelmed by all the noise and stimulation and I require a lot of quiet, alone time." Her response is always, "Me too! It's driving me crazy... blah, blah, blah!!!" To which I always want to respond, "No I don't think you do get it because YOU are the one I find the most overwhelming to be around!!!" But I don't say that because I think it will hurt her feelings. It's interesting to me that she claims to feel overwhelmed by the chaos and yet she's the biggest contributor to that chaos. At that point I know she thinks she understands how I feel but clearly doesn't because I'm trying to ask her to not talk to me, that I need to be left alone to recover, but she takes it as an opportunity to talk to me even more. Clearly my passive requests are not accomplishing what I want them to. I'm not sure if I need to be even more direct and say, "YOU are talking to me too much and I can't deal with it anymore." If someone said that to me it would really hurt my feelings. But maybe sometimes I need to just stand up for myself and my needs even if it does hurt other people's feelings.

Happy Friday,


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hi L --

Yes, it might help to try asserting yourself more. Like I wrote last time, it can be challenging to figure out how to do so without being cruel, but it's important to try, I think, especially if you're becoming stressed out on a regular basis. Friends of mine (and probably many others) use a method of 1) saying something kind first, then 2) describing the problem or stating what is needed, and 3) finishing up with another nice statement. Here's an article that describes something similar as a way of being assertive and nice at the same time:

Personally, I find such steps to be a bit disingenuous; on the other hand, they seem to work well in many cases. You could start by telling your mother-in-law that you like talking with her, and hearing her stories, and getting to know her, etc.; then tell her that, while all that is true, you need a break from it occasionally, and that it's overwhelming; and then, perhaps, finish up by saying that you appreciate her understanding.

That said, she may not ever really get how overwhelmed you become. She may not understand how you are, but it's worth getting her to understand what you need.

In any case, I wish you luck. Situations like that can be tricky to negotiate.

Be well,

... Zeri


Monday, September 2, 2013

On Things That Make You Go Quiet

The definition for the word "sardonic" at Merriam-Webster provides an example of its usage:

a sardonic little jab that made her visitor quiet and subdued for the rest of the night

I'm not sure what made the visitor quiet, in this case, whether it was the sardonicism or the jab, but it makes me wonder what would do the same to me. In general, either of these things are likely candidates.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

How Wonderful To Not Talk

A conversation between CJ and Danny in the show West Wing:

"You know when I came over Wednesday night and it was late and we didn't really talk? We just--"

"I have a vague recollection."

"Did that make you feel bad?

"Bad in a-- in a what?"

"You know-- used."

"For my body?"

"Something like that."

"I'll work through it."

"You sure?"

"It happens. Women want me."

"It's just, I know we have a lot to talk about and I don't want to leapfrog any of it but it was kind of wonderful to just--"

"Not talk."

"Not even a little."

They laugh.

"You want to do it again tonight, don't you."

"I really do."

"I'll leave the door open."

From West Wing
"Requiem", Season 7, Episode 18


Monday, August 19, 2013

Silence As Truth

Silences can wound as surely as the twisting lash, the poet Sadiq Khan once wrote. But sometimes, being silent is the only way to tell the truth.

Excerpt from Shantaram
by Gregory David Roberts


Thursday, August 1, 2013


My father recently replied to an email I'd written weeks before; as to the late reply, he said that he was confused about the issue of "family connectedness" I'd mentioned. He didn't explain his confusion, but I suspect that he wonders whether I've inherited from him a tendency to be less connected.

This is a subject I've pondered in various ways throughout the years. A movie I watched a few months ago caused me to revisit the subject in a new light. The movie, "Giant Mechanical Man", depicts a culture in which people, in general, are difficult to connect with. Everyone wears earbuds; they listen to material on electronic gadgets rather than to anyone else, and no one is available for others.

What I realized while watching is: that's me. I listen to audiobooks every day. I walk to work with earbuds nestled in, and I regularly go out to restaurants while listening to stories, too. I even listen to stories while grocery shopping, and while I'm out running. I'm not doing it to avoid others, yet I wonder whether it's a habit that aids in my tendency to be less connected. Technology is the new evil because it separates us; on the other hand, it's nothing new that being separate is "worrisome."

Maybe I should make myself available to friends and family more often than I do, but I don't think I have a responsibility to make myself available to the entire world. If someone wants to talk with me, I'm not going to avoid them. I welcome it. I'm not trying to ignore people, nor am I callous. While I'm not motivated to create or maintain as many as others might like, I do desire meaningful connections. I may want fewer, but the deeper they are the better.

In a way, I find that it helps that I listen to stories. It helps me to understand myself and the world. It gives me a way to connect with others -- with something that I care about: good stories. And what's the point in sharing stuff unless I care about it?

What's the point in being connected unless I mean it?


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Danger In Shielding Oneself

In a story I recently read, Pandora's Star, the human race becomes concerned about a shield -- an apparent force field -- that envelopes another solar system. Why would anyone need to be shielded unless they were a threat? If the shield is a defense, then -- so the reasoning goes -- they're likely to go on the offense.

Although it's only a story, this sort of reasoning is applied to people like me on a fairly regular basis. I've tried to understand it over the years. If I spend too much time alone, or if I don't spill my guts to everyone who wants them spilt, it tends to make people uncomfortable. Liking my privacy has never been an acceptable answer. I think the reasoning goes like this:

I can be private as long as I'm not noticed. If I choose to be in the company of others, or to make myself noticed, then I'm asking to be questioned. If I choose to remain quiet in company, or to remain apart, shielding myself from others, so to speak, then I must be hiding something. And if I'm hiding something, then there must be something troubling me; anything troubling me is likely to become dangerous for others later on.

Or, at least, that's how I imagine the onset of fear progresses.

Not everyone minds having a quiet person around. But it's a rare find. It's a kind and accepting nature that allow others to just be -- to join when we want, to talk when we have something to say, to stick around even when we're not entirely involved.

A shield isn't necessarily a danger. Sometimes it's just a way of life.


Monday, July 1, 2013

In Order To Evolve, Like Bread

Making bread is an athletic event. Not only does it require dashing around to several stations of the bakery as you check rising loaves or mix ingredients or haul the mixing bowl out of its cradle -- but it also takes muscle power to activate the gluten in the dough. Even people who wouldn't be able to tell a poolish from a biga know that to make bread, you have to knead it. Push and roll, push and fold, a rhythmic workout on your floured countertop. Do it right, and you'll release a protein called gluten -- strands that let uneven pockets of carbon dioxide form in the loaves. After seven or eight minutes -- long enough for your mind to have made a to-do list of chores around the house, or for you to replay the last conversation you had with your significant other and what he really meant -- the consistency of the dough will transform. Smooth, supple, cohesive.

That's the point where you have to leave the dough alone. It's silly to anthropomorphize bread, but I love the fact that it needs to sit quietly, to retreat from touch and noise and drama, in order to evolve.

I have to admit, I often feel that way myself.

Excerpt from The Storyteller
by Jodi Picoult


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On Being Neglectful

"Dad?" she said, turning to face him.

"Yes," he said; he always replied to direct questions, but usually with the fewest possible words.

"Dr. Kuroda sent us an email. Did you get it yet?"


"Well," continued Caitlin, "he's got new software he wants us to download into my implant tonight." She was pretty sure she could manage it on her own, but -- "Will you help me?"

"Yes," he said. And then a gift, a bonus: "Sure."

Excerpt from WWW: Wake
by Robert J. Sawyer

The passage above makes me think of myself, and how I must often seem towards others. I worry about being too neglectful, and about seeming too cold. I worry that I give too little -- what with my short supply of words -- and that it translates into a lack of affection; I worry about this especially when it comes to the ones I care about most.

I wish never to neglect those that I love. Although my words may come sparingly, my feelings are profuse. Hopefully they see that I care intensely.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Relating To Loners

Years ago, I came across the book Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto, and I fell in love with it immediately. I responded strongly to it, especially to the introduction. Whenever I reread the introduction, I feel my heart leap and my eyes well up.

But I wonder if my response is helped out by my tendency to transpose concepts. Although the book is written for loners, I find it easy to replace the word "loner" with the word "introvert" in my mind's eye, and the feelings described in the book still pertain to me. They are still incredibly accurate. They describe how I've felt for most of my life in a way that I could never have said better. All it takes is to transpose "introvert" for "loner", two concepts that are not equivalent. Granted, the book is also incredibly wrong-headed about many things; yet, it still manages to get to the core.

I wish everyone would read the introduction to this book. It's powerful. Here are some quotes that I like from it; when necessary, I've transposed the aforementioned words:

The premise, the presumption implicit in any crowd, from concert hall to kaffee klatsch to office party, that shared experiences are the only ones that count. The only experiences toward which everyone aspires. The only real ones... proved -- what? That anything worth doing is not done alone.

This way to be, this way we are, gets us into trouble. We are a minority, the community that is anticommunity. The culture that will not on principle join hands. Remote on principle from one another -- this is our charter and we would not have it any other way -- each of us swims alone through a sea of social types. Talkers. Lunchers. Touchers.

We form a chorus, but the oddest chorus in the world, a willful antichorus. In saying entirely different things, usually not saying them aloud to anyone at all, we are saying a lot.

Does it matter how I got this way? Not if I am happy. I am. [Introverts] need no more to be cured, nor can be cured -- the word is gross in this usage -- than gays and lesbians. Or people who love golf.

I find myself nodding in agreement when I reread the introduction. Society doesn't always get introverts, but we will thrive in our own ways. We'll figure out that it's worth being ourselves, even if it takes a bit more work to get there.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Idle, Commonplace, Wishful Thinking

What would the world be like if we all took care with the words we spoke? What if we all said what we meant, or tried at least? What if we listened more and said less? What if our words were important?


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Not A Bother

Have you ever been jarred awake from a deep sleep? Or yelled at for daydreaming? That's what it's like to be criticized for being quiet.

Some people will attack the most innocent things. I'm not referring to those who are only making fun. I mean those who genuinely seem offended by quietness -- those who take it personally, as though it's an insult to them. I've been called names because of it, been labelled arrogant, self-centered, and rude. I've even been in scuffles because of it. My quietness has been the subject of countless arguments. It's shocking how much animosity I stir up just by minding my own business. After all these years, it still confounds me how much of a bother being quiet can be.

What should be considered harmless doesn't always feel safe.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Silent Treatment

Maybe I gave in too quick. Maybe I should have held out longer, but for what? The woman is without mercy. Elaine and I, sure, we had our little spats; she might give me the silent treatment: nothing compared to Marilyn. Marilyn is a whole new universe of silence. I mean, we're talking a silence so cold, so relentlessly powerful, it actually sucks all the sounds out of the air. It's like being vibed into a black hole. You're out in space alone against this galactic vortex of disapproval.

Quote from Northern Exposure


Thursday, January 17, 2013

On What We Practice

An old friend once said that he used to be quiet like me, but that he eventually got over it and became more sociable. He pushed me to do the same, and told me I could change, as if introversion is something to be cured, something to get over, or something to work against. I was taken aback by his statement. I remember thinking at the time that he should have known better than to say something so insensitive.

My friend knew about prejudices. He faced at least two on a regular basis, one that he could hide from, and one that he couldn't: to be clear, he was both gay and black, and he grew up dealing with these two, natural "hardships". He was also my boss, and we worked in an environment geared towards multiculturalism. As I said, he should have known better. He was responsible for fostering acceptance at work, and he yearned for acceptance in his personal life. I didn't understand how he could be so blind when it came to me.

(As a side note, I should say that it may be far-fetched to claim that there's such a thing as a culture of introversion; yet, I can't help but think that there is. There are common misconceptions about introverts, as well as a similar way of being mistreated. We may not band together, but we still share a lot.)

I was more open-minded back then. Though I wanted to argue the point with my friend, I opted to reflect on his, instead. He seemed to think that -- with enough practice -- I could change. I, in turn, wanted to ask him if he could become less gay with enough practice.

I knew the answers intuitively, but that didn't stop me from trying to see if I really could change. So whenever I went out, I practiced being more social. I tried to understand what it was like to be what everyone else was. I tried to blend in, and to appear unfazed. I tried to participate, and to be "normal". Others who do this call themselves "practiced extroverts". There are even manuals written about how to change from an introvert into an extrovert.

All it takes is practice, they say.

What I say is that it's sad that this is how it is. Certainly it's useful -- practical, even -- to become capable at social activities, but I think we're all encouraged too often to practice the wrong things. Why should we spend our lives making ourselves into what others want us to be? Why are we putting all of this effort into changing into something we're not?

Why don't we, instead, practice getting better at being ourselves?