Sunday, April 22, 2012

Inside Out

   “Hardly anybody ever writes anything nice about introverts. Extroverts rule. This is really rather odd when you realize that about nineteen writers out of twenty are introverts. We have been taught to be ashamed of not being ‘outgoing’. But a writer’s job is ingoing.”
 ~ Ursula K. Le Guin ~

     I am an introvert. And I am also a writer. It isn’t easy trying to look and act like an extrovert when you aren’t one. The way I make it work is to pretend I am someone else. No kidding. My first job interview after college, in order to calm my nerves and boost my confidence, I pretended I was a princess who had fallen on hard times. I got the job.

     In a recent issue of TIME magazine, Brian Walsh wrote an article about the upside of being an introvert. There are a lot of cool people who are shy. I think Mr. Walsh is pretty cool for turning himself inside out and admitting to the public that he hides in the bathroom when he needs a few minutes to recover from working a social event as a reporter. He says he would rather cover a famine or flood than make small talk with strangers at a cocktail party. I get it.

     Insofar as it challenges me to be friendly and helpful, to get the job or to get the job done, I’m glad to make the effort to be more outgoing even when it makes me feel frizzled afterward. But it has taken me decades to understand: introversion isn’t a flaw, it is part and parcel to the kind of writer I am. I like sitting in a quiet house for hours on end with no other sound but the tick of the clocks and the hum inside my head. I like the solitary work of harvesting words from the fields of imagination to feed my need for expression. I don’t mind turning myself inside out for perfect strangers, as long as they aren’t standing around in a circle looking at me. I like being alone. Some of the time.

     While I am an introvert, I am not antisocial. I could never thrive as a hermit. I like people too much to eschew them altogether, especially children, and adults who have kept a child-like wonder of the world around them, and people who are interested in interesting things. But I like them one or two at a time.

     I could have been a wallflower, standing around the edges of life watching others have all the fun—in many ways it would have been easier—but I have realized the satisfaction and joy of personal experience that observation alone cannot deliver. So I write a novel and try to get it published, help a refugee settle into her new life, get a sales job in a posh store, travel to Brazil to speak to a group of pastor’s wives, and try to make others feel more comfortable at parties than I do. I put on shoes a little too big for me, clomp around in them and hope that nobody notices they don’t quite fit. Someday I may grow into them. Meanwhile, I pretend I am a princess.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ugly Cake

     My cousin makes ugly cakes. I am not being mean, she told me so herself. She and her youngest daughter have toyed with the idea of opening a tea shop and serving sweeties with their teas, but every time they test a cake recipe it turns out ugly. A cake doesn’t have to look good to taste good–hers are delicious–but if it is true that you eat with your eyes first, there could be a problem.

     She came for a visit last month. She hasn’t been to see me in a long while, so I wanted to make our time together memorable. I baked a buttery cream cake one sunny morning and left it to cool on the counter while we packed up some cucumber and strawberry sandwiches and went for a long walk to the river. When we returned, I sliced the cake into two layers and spread lemon curd between them. Something went wrong. When the cake was assembled it looked wonky. My cousin seemed pleased that I had made an ugly cake just for her. It was so yummy we both ate two pieces.

     I’ve been thinking we should collaborate on a project in which the confectionary challenged submit their unsightly but tasty recipes for publication in the Ugly Cake Cookbook. If we market it well, she could use the capital to open her Ugly Cake Tea Room. Stranger things have happened. I can remember when people used to buy Pet Rocks.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bunny Business

     My daughter works in a rehabilitation center. As she was going about her duties yesterday morning, she passed a gray-haired woman in a wheelchair propelling herself rapidly through the hallway with an empty Easter basket clutched between her teeth.

     “Out collecting eggs this morning?” she asked the woman as she entered her room a few minutes later.

     “No,” the older woman responded with her usual abrupt manner, “I was delivering them.”

     It turns out the unit secretary keeps a ceramic bunny dish on her desk this time of year. It is usually empty because her candy disappears so quickly she cannot afford to keep it filled. In the early hours of the morning, before the secretary’s shift began, the old woman had filled the dish with jellybeans, Cadbury minis and chocolate bunnies. My daughter passed her in the hallway while she was making her getaway.

    Medical care facilities are often filled with cranks, grumps and melancholics. It is natural and understandable because many of them are suffering. But there are also those special people who, despite their own difficult circumstances, reach out to others.

     And there are some folks who just make you smile.

Bunny dish by a. speer studio