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THE FARTHERMOST VIEW

Selected Podpieces

INTROVERSION

Not long ago I had an epiphany. Now this is not to be confused with THE Epiphany, which was the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.

No, my epiphany was a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way. That is also the epiphany they mean when they talk about epiphany in the short story, though they go on to end it with "and afterwards nothing was ever the same again."

But I’m not talking about gentleman callers or fine fiction. No, my epiphany was the realization that I am an introvert.

To those who know me well, this is no big news. My sister would say, “What did you think you were, the life of the party?” Well, no, I never made that mistake.
I would have called myself an introvert if you’d asked. But my mistake was to equate introversion with shyness. That was my childhood label: Alison doesn’t want to play circle ball, or sleep over, or Fly Up from Brownies to Girl Scouts, because she’s shy. And it may have been true.

But about forty years ago I grew out of my shyness, and then I was at sea. I liked going out with men, but the thought of going to a bar to meet one struck me cold with horror. I wasn’t stupid, but there I was in college and I couldn’t think of one reason why Kuhn believed that a rational choice between competing paradigms is impossible, at least not till I’d gone back to the dorm and thought about it for an hour or two. I was a librarian who gave surprisingly popular Library Orientation talks to hundreds of people every year, but when I found myself at a library association conference, I couldn’t think of a thing to say to a single one of the three hundred other librarians at the welcoming reception.

And talking on the telephone? It takes me hours of preparation just to call my sister.

This wasn’t shyness; this was incompetence. This was failure. The simplest things, the most unthreatening social events, were great struggles for me, and I was ashamed.

But not very long ago, through a strange combination of factors that include aging, therapy, blogs, books, and fate, that proverbial lightbulb came on over my head. An introvert isn’t shy, she just gets her kicks from being alone!

An extravert gets energy from being with other people. After a party she’s often raring to go on to a bar or an all-night breakfast place with the gang. An introvert feels drained at the end of a party; she needs to go home and sit on the sofa with a glass of something and not talk for a couple of hours.

The classic examples? Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Who gets off on hanging out with people? Who wants to sit back and ponder things?

In books and online I found numerous lists of introvertal characteristics. For instance, introverts often can’t think on their feet, and so don’t perform well in seminars or departmental meetings, but they write terrific memos. Introverts may be great at making speeches, but they’re not too good at small talk. Introverts often don’t like to talk on the phone; they are big fans of Caller ID.

And here’s a key one: An introvert is delighted when friends cancel plans to get together, because it means she can stay home alone!

I don’t know why it took so long for me to understand introversion. It would have been helpful to know that I wasn’t a failure in life, I was a successful introvert! An Introvert and proud of it!

Well, perhaps, now that I do know, nothing will ever be the same again.
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