Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sibling Assignment #153: On Being an Introvert

This Sibling Assignment comes from me and it's an outgrowth of a conversation my sisters and I had with our mom back in December.  It's also an outgrowth of conversations I've had with other introverts and of comments I've had directed at me about my personality.  The assignment is simple:

Write about yourself as an introvert.  You can do with this whatever you want.  Discuss what it means, tell about your experience, or anything else.
Christy write an insightful autobiography of her progress toward accepting herself as introverted, here, and Carol explores how her extroverted personality is growing a bit more introverted as she ages, here.

Almost every time I write that I am an introvert or tell someone I am, immediately the response is, "No you're not" and the other person tries to talk me out of it.

This tells me that stigma is attached to introversion -- I suppose introverts are thought of as anti-social, reclusive, weird, unattractive, without passion in social settings, and, among other things, not fully developed people.


Not true.

I think this is why I get the "No you're not" response so often.

No one ever says, "Good for you!"

I'm not anti-social.  In the right doses, I love being with people, especially people I know.

I am energized and most comfortable when I am alone or when I am sitting, as I am today, in the apartment with the Deke, hardly a word spoken between us, no television, no radio, just quiet.  Our silence with each other is far from hostile.  It's what we like.  When we need to discuss what's happening in our lives, make a plan, or if we come across something while reading that one of us enjoys, we let the other know, but we live much of our married life being quiet.

I suppose people try to argue that I'm not an introvert because I am good in all kinds of public performance situations.

I am a good public reader.  I was an enthusiastic and, students and colleagues told me, a passionate teacher.  This translated into years and years of high level performance.  I preach good sermons.  I have been a sound leader in group situations, even in committees.

In the limited amount of acting I've done, my work was solid.

In fact, I love to read in public, teach classes, act, and do other things that involve other people.

So where does the introvertedness come in?

While I enjoy these things, they wear me out.

After a sermon, I was genuinely friendly and interested in my fellow parishioners, but when I was done preaching, I dreaded the welcoming line after the service only because it exhausted me.  I would go home and sleep for a couple of hours, wrung out by that social exchange.

Back in the many years when I was the Shakespeare Guy for a Methodist family camp called "Shakespeare Camp", I would give the campers an introduction to each play we saw in Ashland before we went into town and saw the play and then I would facilitate discussion about the play the next morning.

I loved being the Shakspeare Guy for this camp -- and I enjoyed the campers a lot -- and did it for about fifteen years, starting in 1986.

I also loved that the people who ran the camp gave me my own cabin.  After I would present or lead discussion, I always went straight to my cabin and fall on my camp pad and sleeping bag and, without thinking, a voice always said, "They don't know how hard that was."

And I fell asleep.

The voice wasn't referring to the content of the plays.  It wasn't referring to the people who came to camp.  It was referring to my need, after an intense time of social interaction, to be alone, be with my thoughts, and to recover, get my energy back.

When I was in plays at LCC, I spent a lot of time in solitude.  In rehearsal, when I wasn't needed, I often went on walks around campus, with my camera (an introvert's dream hobby) and took pictures. In the building, I found places I could retreat to, away from the more extroverted actors to energize myself with solitude, and to get my concentration right.

I am happy to say there was an exception.  I enjoyed very much hanging out with my fellow Rude Mechanicals during the times we were not on stage in A Midsummer Night's Dream.  The conversations were lively, the stories were good, and we had a lot of good laughs together.

When I was a narrator for the Shakespeare Showcase, my call to the theater was always about an hour before performance and I always slipped out the theater's back door into the empty hallways where the music and dance and acting faculty offices were housed -- to be alone.

Readers of this blog know that I go to almost every movie I see alone.

I take long walks almost every day.  Alone.

Even when Russell and I went on photo walks together, we both broke off and went our own way. Much of the time we were alone.

I'm not anti-social.  I deeply enjoy time with my friends, especially my longtime friends from Kellogg, Whitworth, and in Eugene.

I think it goes without saying, we live in a nation that favors extroverts.

Over the years of the Obama presidency, I've read editorials deeply critical of our president because he isn't good at glad-handing, twisting arms, dining or drinking with members of Congress.

Obama is a great orator, typical of certain introverts (like Abraham Lincoln), but it's pretty clear to me that he is most comfortable when he's apart from the crowd, reading, thinking, playing the introvert's dream game, golf, and keeping the company of close friends and family.

Over the years, a number of people have said to me, "It's been really good to get to know you.  I always thought you were so aloof, even arrogant."

It's the curse of the introvert, I suppose.  Especially if the introvert lives a public life.  What is really a feeling of awkwardness in social situations, especially new ones, or of shyness, is often mistaken for arrogance or aloofness.  I have often thought, speaking of President Obama, that what people call his arrogance or aloofness, might very well be his unwitting expression of introvertedness -- likewise, President Richard Nixon -- and in contrast to President Bill Clinton or LBJ.

Most people don't see the introvertedness of Marshawn Lynch, do they?

It's a personality trait, not a personality failure.  It's a trait we see in presidents as well as actors and teachers.

The other day, I was on a solitary walk in Kellogg and a guy about my age or older was sitting on a bench beside the bike path that cuts through town.  Piles of snow surrounded him and I thought it might make a good picture.

But, as is almost always the case, I couldn't bring myself to ask him permission to take his picture.

I know that my introverted nature, especially with strangers, has cost me many opportunities when I've been out taking pictures.

I marvel at Ed, my lifelong Kellogg friend, who strikes up conversations with people wherever he goes:  the casino, on a jet plane, on a tour bus in NYC, when he's on a cruise, when he helped run the Tall Pine -- well, everywhere.  He finds out fascinating things about people.

I almost never do this, and, if I do, it's only after a great effort within myself.

And it's not because I'm conceited or think I'm too good.

It's because I'm basically an introvert.

Have I ever mentioned that the Deke and I got to know each via email and that we sent emails back and forth for about two and a half months before we got off line and went to a baseball game together?  And we lived about seven blocks apart.

I'm grateful that I'm not a 100% introvert, that when I was in Eugene this past December it was energizing to see my many friends at Billy Mac's, to crawl to a few pubs with the Troxstar and Loren, to have dinner at Pam's, to have coffee with Margaret, Jeff, and Michael, to drink beers with Dick, Don, and Cliff, to run into Sherri and Jay, to have long visits with Rita, to have long talks with Sparky, to meet and work with Marci, and to see old friends from the theater at the Shakespeare Showcase.

Likewise, I'm energized when the Hall of Fame of Great Guys convenes in North Idaho.

I don't retreat from these things.

But, on a day to day basis, I seek solitude.

I enjoy doing things by myself.

If you are reading this and you are an introvert, there's nothing inherently wrong with you.

And you'll probably want to take some time to yourself and reflect on that.

(And don't let anyone talk you out of it.)

1 comment:

Mary Parthemer said...

I get this, Bill! Thank you for expressing the qualities of an introvert.