Now that we’ve all sung the praises of self-reliance and frolicked hand-in-hand around the Maypole of quiet contemplation, there’s only one thing left to do. Beg the question.

is solitude really all it’s cracked up to be?

aaa

don’t mean to be perverse (it just happens) but I believe there is such a thing as too much solitude. There’s a reason they put the extra-bad prisoners in solitary confinement, after all. Too much alone time is punishment. Bad punishment. Worse than regular prison even. It might be slightly more punishing for your average, extraverted con-next-door, whose disinterest in prolonged thinking probably landed him in the hoosegow in the first place. But I’m betting it’s no walk in the park even for loner-turned-mass-murderer introverts. That thing we “i’s” love most – our own company – can actually turn around and bite us on the butt.

Picture that scene from Papillon where, crazed by isolation and hunger, Steve McQueen chases a cockroach around the prison cell and eats it alive. Andrew Zimmern notwithstanding, that is a man gone buggy with solitude.

The descent from solitude into loneliness and other nasty places (we’ll get to those in a moment) is a particularly slippery slope for introverts because it’s unfamiliar territory. We’re not used to feeling lonely when we’re alone and we’re not well-equipped to handle it. It isn’t as if we have a stable of party-animal acquaintances to call up for an impromptu night of roof-raising and cow-tipping. Most of us prefer to keep a small circle of close friends who are likely to be as antisocial as we are. We’re lucky if they pick up the phone at all. (I trust I’m not the only one this is happening to.) So when Sunday night rolls around after a nice peaceful weekend alone and the recharged introvert gets an itch to call up a friend for dinner & a movie, he may be out of luck. Suddenly a mournful wind begins to howl, the shutters start to flap and tumbleweeds blow heedlessly across the endless desert plain. Now is the solitude of our discontent.

nce it gets to this point, some kind of social interaction needs to take place or things really start to go downhill. In her paper Lonely Madness: The Effects of Solitary Confinement and Social Isolation on Mental and Emotional Health, Carly Frintner states, “Prisoners who are isolated for prolonged periods of time have been known to experience ‘depression, despair, anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, hallucinations, problems with impulse control, and/or an impaired ability to think, concentrate, or remember.'” It can even cause “impaired vision and hearing… tinnitus [(ringing in the ears)], weakening of the immune system, amenorrhea [(absence of menstrual periods in women)], premature menopause… and aggressive behavior in prisoners, volunteers and animals.” Holy cow.

somebody better pick up that phone.

cc

Don’t get me wrong: I love solitude. And one night of movies-for-1 probably won’t turn anyone into a serial killer (provided it’s not Gigli again.) Such extreme reactions to isolation take months or even years to develop. The point is, even the most stalwart introverts need some human contact. Even you. Even me. Like it or not, we are all social animals. Some more animal than others.


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[*apologies to Hollywood]

ntroverts cannot be trusted to show up for social engagements. aaaaaaa. We’re sorry. Sometimes, that hootenanny/clambake/hayride just starts to sound less and less appealing the closer it gets. By the time the big day arrives, full-blown buyer’s remorse has set in and we suddenly feel a bout of hay fever coming on. By the same token, some introverts can also be unreliable about blogging, being prone to long hiatuses involving imaginary sword fighting and hydroplane piloting. But such excuses are for amateurs. You deserve better.

So.

I’ve been busy reading a long, thought-provoking speech, delivered to the West Point plebe class by the noted literary critic William Deresiewicz and forwarded to me by my good friend Librarian Amy. At just under 6,000 words, Solitude and Leadership was massive even by military industrial complex standards – yet so compelling, it defied skimming, cramming, speed-reading or just skipping to the end to see who-dunnit. I found myself ingesting the whole thing word-for-word. Happy?

According to Mr. Deresiewicz, it turns out that leadership requires thinking (who knew?) and thinking requires solitude. People who can think for themselves, people with vision, know the value of solitude. Not just shy and misanthropic people (my personal favorites) but high-profile public types like General David Petraeus, a Thinker with a capital “T” who holds a PhD from Princeton and was named Public Intellectual of the Year by Prospect magazine. He rose through the ranks not by simply following orders or executing routines, but by revolutionizing counterinsurgency strategy in the Middle East. Strategy that took serious thinking. Thinking that required you-know-what.

o what does this have to do with you and me? What if we aren’t in the military and don’t give a fig about leading? What if we’re not intellectuals? What if we just want to be left alone? I’ll tell you what. As humans, and especially introverted humans, our battle for solitude begins the moment the umbilical cord bites the dust. Whether it’s in the labor room, at a meeting or on the battlefield, we’re surrounded by the powerful influence of other people. Which can be a good thing when we’re hungry infants without the know-how or cash to order a pizza. But very distracting when it comes to thinking for ourselves.

“…the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

oo

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote those words in his essay Self-Reliance over 150 years ago. And that was before anybody had to wrestle with Wikis, widgets or whether or not to buy an iPad. Web sites were places where spiders lived and tweets were birds’ way of saying, “You think being in the midst of this crowd is tough? Feh!”  He who attempts the independence of solitude today faces continual pressure to abandon it. To connect and stay hyper-informed. Deresiewicz calls the obsession with Twitter, YouTube and even good old TV “elaborate excuses to run away from yourself.” By “marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom” of message boards and round-the-clock news, he says, you are “continually bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts.” Or lack of thoughts, as was brilliantly illustrated by one Facebooker’s recent update: “I have nothing to say.”

ll this distraction impairs your ability to think, he exhorts. “Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. . . Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.”

Don’t think I don’t know what’s going through your mind: This twit has some nerve ranting about the evils of social media on a blog. Well, let me tell you a thing or two, pal. I do have some nerve. And besides, Brother Deresiewicz doesn’t even mention blogs in his speech. Furthermore, he’s completely on-board with reading books, which this little tirade now resembles more than anything.

So here’s to solitude and being still with our thoughts (cocktails permitted).

I vant to be alone.



Every day, more than 1,673,007,068 people on this planet need to spend long, restorative stretches of time alone. That’s over 1½ billion – with a b – who prefer intimate, civilized, one-on-one conversations to rampant mixing and mingling. Who may be electrifying orators from the safe distance of a podium or stage or laptop but feel uncomfortable in close quarters with groups and impatient with chit-chat. A population greater than the People’s Republic of China that hates parties and needs quiet isolation and seclusion to recover from them.

In short, the world is lousy with introverts.

For every introvert holing up in Houston,

there are millions more dodging karaoke in

Beijing and poo-pooing polka in Prague.

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Clearly, dear reader, you and I are not alone in our need to be alone. Just ask the 285 million people who play chess online worldwide. Or the 3,100,000 book lovers on goodreads.com. And then there are the unreckonable masses you’ll never even see: The leagues of company softball dodgers, the AWOL’s from after-work get-togethers and the no-shows at social shmooze-fests who contribute to our ranks by their very absence.

Which raises an interesting point: Maybe the world seems overrun by extraverts only because they’re so visible. Shamelessly flouncing about in public while the rest of us are home watching Celebrity Rehab – invisible to the naked eye, yet everywhere. Like ninjas. Or cockroaches. (Not the most flattering analogy, but we all know who’d prevail over whom in a nuclear blast.)

My point – and I do have one – is that our tribe is strong. Introverts may not be in the majority, but there is a colossal coterie of kindred spirits out there. And the best part is, none of them expects you to attend home jewelry parties or go folk dancing unless you darn well feel like it.


Earlier, we blithely dismissed 75% of the world’s population (extraverts) as the “lower three quartiles.” That was unkind and we’re sorry. So what say we move on and try not to bash the extraverts? We apologize. Never mind that only one of us did the actual bashing. I’m sure none of us wants to point fingers.

The fact is, introverts comprise 3/4 of the highly gifted people in the world (the “upper three quartiles”). Something to do with all that silly thinking and reading and reflecting, I suppose. As a people, we are replete with smartitude. Not that there aren’t gifted extraverts, just a smaller percentage. And they can’t help being generally less gifted, any more than they can help being less sensitive, less reflective and more energy-sucking. There but for the grace of God go I’s.

Hmm. (Fingers tapping).

Oh to hell with it. What’s a cocktail party without a little trash-talking?

Extraverts talk too much. Let it hereby be known that “Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh,” is not our idea of contributing to the conversation, and edgewise is no way to fit words in. Introverts have something to say. Plenty. We’ve been doing a lot of thinking, you know. And most of the listening. We have opinions. Ideas. We might even dish some hot gossip about Miss Flugerman in Accounting if certain people would shut their pie holes and listen.

But extraverts thrive on talking. Put a bunch together in a room and you know what you get? The McLaughlin Group. All hopped-up on their own verbosity, interrupting each other, not listening and generally creating mayhem. My ex, an extravert, watched this show religiously. Every Sunday morning, the gentle peace of birds chirping and wind chimes blowing softly in the breeze was shattered by a televised version of the Tower of Babel. The cacophony was ungodly. (Incidentally, that other Babel turned out rather badly as I recall.)

The McLaughlin Group: my idea of hell.

To be fair, extraverts don’t seem to mind being interrupted – which introverts find rude and abhorrent – when someone else wants to speak. But it can be tricky. If you’d like to try this, just send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Still Waiting for a Pause in the Monologue to receive your free 2 x 4. Offer not valid in Washington D.C.

Just one more thing while we’re on the subject of talking and then we’ll save some snarkiness for next time: Book stores are not satellite office spaces, Mr. Guy-Who Makes-Sales-Calls-On-His-Cell-At-The-Borders-Coffee-Shop. Some of us are trying to read here.

NEXT: Extraverts don’t read.

Artist, David Shrigley

(Setting: The Cerebrum Lounge)

Inner I: Well. You must be very pleased with yourself.

Inner E: What? Hang on, I love this song…Mum mum mum mah! P-p-p-poker face!

Inner I: You know very well what I’m talking about. This blog we started – introvertini.

Inner E: Blog? Oh yes. Great social medium. Carry on! Mum mum mum mah….

Inner I: That’s just it. You know I’m not social. You’re the social one. I’m an introvert.

Inner E: Oh look, it’s Pat and Edie!  Get over here, you two!

Inner I: You’re not listening.

Inner E: I’m all ears. You’re insecure.

Inner I: Not insecure. Introvert.

Inner E: Insecure, introvert. Same thing. Isn’t Edie a doll?

Inner I: She’s a pip. And no, it’s not the same thing.

Inner E: So what’s the problem?

Inner I: The problem is there’s this blog that needs writing.

Inner E: And….? (Turning aside) Waiter! More shrimp over here!

Inner I: And now you seem to be preoccupied so I’ll have to do it.

Inner E: So do it.

Inner I: (Scuffling feet and looking down) Dmntwnaa…

Inner E: What?

Inner I:  I said I don’t wanna.

Inner E: And why in the world not?

Inner I: Not sociable. Don’t feel like talking.

Inner E: Oh for heaven’s sake. I’ll never understand you.

Inner I: Duh.

Inner E: Anyway, wasn’t this whole thing your idea? What do I know from introvert? I’m an extravert.

Inner I: That’s beside the point.

Inner E: Not really.

Inner I: Fine.  I’ll do it later. Right now, I just need some time to myself.

Inner E: You’re weird. Everyone thinks so.

Inner I: Not everyone.

Inner E: At least 75% of the people I know.

Inner I: You said everyone.


NEXT:  you call it 75%, I call it the lower three quartiles.

Introverts may not often go wild, but we will certainly throw you for a loop.


Think introverts are easy to spot? That shadowy figure lurking behind the potted palm might be an introvert. But then again, so might the crazy dancing fool wearing the Tiffany lampshade and/or bright orange birthday suit. Being the complex and outnumbered creatures we are, introverts find various ways to assimilate into extravert culture. Here are the author’s top three, from the ridiculous to the sublime:


1. booze

Alcohol is notorious for releasing inhibitions and misgivings – and when it comes to socializing, no one has more misgivings than introverts. But invitations must occasionally be accepted and parties attended. Miss Otis can’t always send her regrets, so Miss Otis has a nice fortifying cocktail instead – the results of which range from relaxed intermingling to extreme overmingling wherein Miss O finds herself under the table – and possibly the host – the morning after. It’s a curious and not entirely un-fun peek into the world of extraversion and can make the introvert invitee either wildly popular or permanently persona non grata – which then excuses her from all future invites. Brilliant.


2. mixed type

Most people are neither pure introvert nor pure extravert. (Most people simply aren’t pure anymore, but that’s another story.) According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), an introversion score anywhere between 51-100% makes you officially an introvert or “I”; same goes for extraverts: if you’re 52% extravert, you’re still an extravert or “E”. Once in a blue moon, some character will score exactly 50-50; that type is designated “X” and all bets are off.

Mood and environment can also be variables, especially for those teetering between types. A person may be more introverted one day, less so the next. If you care to know your type, it’s best to take the test more than once to get an average over time. For instance, the MBTI says I am on average 80-90% introverted, which means I’m self-energized 80-90% of the time and energized by other humans 10-20% of the time, or about as often as Lindsay Lohan is sober.


3. persona

One of the more interesting defense mechanisms that introverts use to cope with life in an extraverted world is a carefully crafted alter ego called the persona. Some refer to this as extraverted introversion, but I find that misleading since the person is only feigning extraversion. This tool gets used at work a lot.

The persona is a very complicated thing. It’s not entirely authentic, as it doesn’t reveal the introvert’s true preference for solitude or need for quiet reflection or vulnerability to energy-sapping. In fact, it’s designed not to reveal those things. On the other hand, it’s not entirely fake, either. The introvert creates the persona drawing from his or her own real inner extravert as well as experiences with others, not unlike the way a child learns by watching adults.

It’s mostly like a really good actor playing a role. Meryl Streep IS Julia Child, the introvert IS the extravert. To do this, the introvert must put everything introverted on hold – reserve, quietness, observational skills, thinking before speaking – all go safely into the vault. In their places, the introvert must substitute interaction, moxie, even a certain brashness. Skin thickens into armor. Panache goes into play. At its finest, the persona is a true art form and a wonder to behold. No one would ever in a million years guess that the person is an introvert. The author personally holds Dennis Rodman as the all-time Master of the Persona, but there are many other I’s who often masquerade as E’s. Maybe you. Maybe me.

Does all this shape-shifting wear on the introvert? Yes. It’s exhausting. Just talking about it is exhausting. More exhausting than dropping all defenses and simply abiding, zen-like, the daily energy suck? Debatable. But let’s stop here and recharge for now. Talk amongst yourselves. Share your thoughts. Take a nap. Have a cocktail.

I know which way I’m leaning.

So glad you came. Let me take your coat. Get you a drink. Bend your ear.

This is a place to celebrate, share, and shed some light on the life introverted. And pal, the world has plenty of misconceptions about introverts. Eighty-seven out of 100 people think introverts are shy (according to research conducted in my mind). Even Webster’s defines introvert as “a shy or reserved person.” But introversion and shyness aren’t synonymous. Robin Williams is an introvert. So is Eddie Murphy.  I’ll even go out on a limb here with Dennis Rodman.

Introverts are not by definition unhappy. We laugh, sing, and sometimes hide rotting shrimp shells in a co-worker’s drop-ceiling for the sheer hell of it. Neither are we mentally ill for the most part, if that’s what you’re thinking.

But shy or unshy, sane or insane, there’s one thing all introverts have in common:

People suck the life out of us

Now let me freshen your drink and explain.

Introverts can handle a reasonable amount of social interaction, but we seldom go the distance of the more outgoing extravert*. We don’t get energized by it. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our energy gets sucked dry.  And  extraverts do most of the sucking.

Extraverts are energized by people. They blithely exchange energy with other extraverts all the livelong day. We introverts rely on our own built-in generators to recharge. We do not – and cannot – draw energy from another person. We’re self-energizing. So when the two types hook up (nonsexually speaking), the extravert type powers up while the introvert type drains faster than a junkyard battery. Ross Perot was wrong. That giant sucking sound you hear isn’t NAFTA siphoning jobs out of the country. It’s introverts getting space bagged**. 

A lot of people may find this premise objectionable. Extraverted people, mostly. But that’s a lot. In fact, extraverts comprise up to 75% of humans on the planet. The reason most people think there’s something wrong with introverts is

because most people aren’t introverts.

Ergo this blog. Nothing against extraverts. Some of my best friends are, etc., etc. But in a world full of hail-fellows-well-met, the self-contained people-shunners need to get together once in a while and have a party. A wild, crazy, uninhibited Web bash where no one’s energy gets sucked and all interaction is optional. No introverts will be harmed in the making of this blog. Andy Warhol once said he’d like to sit home and watch every party that he was invited to on a monitor in his bedroom. If you can relate, you’re probably an introvert. Also, by now, any extravert would be off networking, rubbing shoulders and playing team sports.

So take heart, dear reader. If your life force has been depleted after providing the world its daily supply of energy, you’re among kindred spirits.

It’s a wonder there’s enough strength left to blog about it.

Cheers!


*unless there’s gin involved

**www.spacebag.com


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