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.


  1. Today I realized I should stop telling you I love your blog in person, and pay you the compliment of leaving an actual comment. ;-)

    "I put on shoes a little too big for me, clomp around in them and hope that nobody notices they don't quite fit." -- That line brought tears to my eyes, Mom.

    Do you know that I have never, EVER realized you consider yourself an introvert? I think you do a lot more dancing than clomping in those shoes of yours.

  2. As a fellow introvert and someone who feels more comfortable engaged in a book than engaging with more than a couple of people at a time, I totally concur with your sentiments. I've had to stretch as well, and also worked in a posh store which meant trying to connect daily with strangers. Now that the kids are grown and the job went away with the great recession, I have time to be alone and read and write. But I am beginning to feel too withdrawn and have to make efforts to reach out to old friends - or find kindred spirits in blogland. Saw your comment on Pamela Terry's blog, a kindred spirit indeed, which led me here. I'm going to have to try pretending to be a princess, or maybe a duchess (what my grandfather called me), albeit a kind one.

  3. I took the "Are You An Introvert" on the Susan Cain website.
    I scored 100!

  4. You are brave, I think. To clomp around in those too-big shoes trying to do what you know you need to do, but all along wanting to hide in the background, brave!

  5. This is one of those times I feel like I'm truly blood related to a member of my family. As I get older I'm finding I'm so much like my father's sisters. You and JoJo especially. This post is a description of myself! Guess we must be from the same family!