Today I am on the road heading south, the Everglades and New Zealand shimmering on the horizon. Monday I took a walk around our neighborhood in Asheville. It was a beautiful fall day with a few wisps of color still stubbornly clinging to the branches of the trees. The air was warm for late November but with a hint that something was about to change. A whisper in the breeze indicated that winter was on its way. As I ambled down streets I travel sometimes multiple times a day, the thought struck me that this would be my last day of fall here in the mountains, and one of the last times I would see these familiar streets until after the winter has come and gone, after the freezing and thawing, and the cold north winds have advanced and retreated once again. I was again reminded that all we have is this moment right in front of us and that that is all we really need. This moment.
The holidays are upon us. A time to get together with friends and family to eat unhealthy food products, reminisce about times spent together, and hopefully avoid talking about politics or religion. I like to get together with people, but there are times when it holds no appeal whatsoever for me. So when does a gathering transform itself from being something I look forward too into something I dread?
After reaching The Tipping Point.
As an introvert, there is a tipping point I must always try and be aware of. It is the precipice reached while being around others when my patience begins to wane and I get the creeping desire to retreat back into my shell as soon as possible. This tipping point functions in two different scenarios, either of which can send me over the edge. The first one involves the amount of time and/or social interaction I can partake in before I need a break. The other scenario is related to how many people I can stand to be around at any one time and still expect to feel comfortable and enjoy myself.
Once falling over the edge of the tipping point, my politeness begins to recede, the smiles come less freely, and my attention begins to drift off to far flung places. There is a physical weariness as well. I can run a marathon and feel energized and enthusiastic, but put me in a situation where I have to make small talk for multiple hours and I can feel utterly spent.
The amount of time I can spend engaged with any one person or group of people varies greatly. Some people I can be around for days and still feel ok, while others take it out of me within a matter of minutes. It’s all about the level of engagement. I don’t want to listen to someone who opens their mouth and away they go down whatever circuitous paths their mind might be wandering along. I’ve already got to listen to my own never ending discombobulated brain dump and that is exhausting enough! I also tire of hearing about the minutia of someone’s day. What they ate for breakfast, who said what to so and so, etc. I think to myself “Does this story have any point at all?”. I know, some people need to verbally process. I do too sometimes, but not about my breakfast.
Each social event has its own tipping point. After the attendance at an event surpasses a certain number, I no longer look forward to going and instead begin to view the occasion as a chore. I think this number might be two, myself included. Just kidding. Between eight and ten persons is a good number, depending on the individuals of course. Some people count for more than one. Beyond that number, the gathering must naturally break up into smaller units in order to have any conversation that doesn’t feel like a support group meeting of some sort. As a larger group breaks up into smaller components, then I have to make decisions. Which sub-group should I go too? What should I talk about? If I just go sit in the corner and pick up a magazine, how rude will everyone think me?
Lucky for me, over the years I have developed a strong introvadar. With it I can generally pick out the other introverts in the room. This is not hard and I’m sure you can find them too. We are either hiding in a corner of the room somewhere, hanging out by the food with our mouth full so we won’t be expected to talk, or we’re outside where it is quieter. Once another introvert is spotted, I move towards them as quickly as possible, hoping as I cross the room that I don’t get stopped by an extrovert who needs an ear.
Contrary to what one might expect, introverts are great conversationalists. Why? Because we do not enjoy small talk and consider it a waste of valuable energy that could better be spent staring off into space. When we do talk, we like to have conversations about the things that keep us up at night, about the things that truly excite us, and about how annoying and tiring all the extroverts in our lives can be. Don’t get me wrong, we love extroverts and we need them. They can be quite entertaining and they fill up awkward silences very well, though for an introvert, there is really no such thing as an awkward silence. This term was clearly penned by an extrovert. Silence is a beautiful thing, even in a room full of people. For introverts, silence provides the space for life to breath, to notice the things of beauty all around us, and to appreciate all the wonderful people in our life. Even the extroverts.
This post was influenced and inspired by Caring for Your Introvert
I can feel it again. The restlessness, like an itch waiting to be scratched. I shift in stance, my weight moving unevenly from one leg to the next. My hands are in and out of my pockets. The signs and symptoms are all there. I need a fix. I reach into my left front pants pocket and pull out my ipod touch. God I hope there is a wi-fi signal here. Yes! I quickly check my email, nothing new there, move on to make sure my RSS reader is up to date and see if anything interesting has popped up there, and then it’s on to Twitter, where I can let the endless stream of data wash all over me.
I’m waiting in line at the store, at a stop light, wherever. There’s a few seconds to kill. Maybe I’ll play some Angry Birds, never mind that there is hardly even time for me to begin a game before this brief pause in my day is done. Just touching the icon, watching the game load, perhaps even getting a chance to fling a bird or two before the light changes, this will be enough to fill the blank space in time with something.
Mary and I are at a restaurant, breakfast of course. She gets up to go to the restroom. This ought to give me a few minutes. Sure I could try and start a conversation with the guy sitting by himself at the table next door, or walk around and check out some of the art on the wall. Nah, there’s got to be something better happening somewhere else. I reach for the device that has been sitting there on the table, beckoning me, taunting me to pick it up while I was desperately trying to be engaged in the conversation and not wondering if anyone had commented on my last status update. Check the settings. Damn, no signal here. If only this were an iphone, I wouldn’t have this problem. Plants Vs. Zombies? No, the waitress is kind of cute and though I am happily married, I’d be embarrassed if she saw me doing something as adolescent as playing a video game. I can check my calendar and To Do list, now that’s something important and useful. Maybe I’ll work on a new system to organize my To Do’s so that I can To Do them better! Yes, that will get my fix, moving To Do’s around, re-categorizing them, and tagging them. It’s almost as good as slaying zombies with daffodils.
When I was younger, I was a cigarette smoker, and I loved it. When I quit, it was like saying goodbye to a lover, one whom I had shared some of the best times in my life with, but with whom I knew I would be better off without. Nicotine was a time filler, a way to deal with nervous energy and social anxiety, and a way to connect with people. I had many a good conversation after bumming or giving out a smoke. It was what I reached for when I didn’t know what else to do.
Data now seems to serve the same function in my life and that of so many others. Now that we have cell phone coverage and wifi blanketing so much of the earth, data can always be with you. Just like a pack of cigarettes. Data is the new nicotine.