I did something stupid recently. I’m not saying that that in itself is newsworthy, mind you. I’m pretty sure nobody even noticed, but I felt the consequences of it keenly. But enough with the build-up. Here’s what I did:
I passed more than two weeks without taking a single day to be entirely alone.
If you’re like most people, then I can picture your expression just now. The world at large cannot understand why that should be a problem. I’ve encountered this communication failure more than once. For example: one of my friends is a classic extrovert. The phrase “human contact overload” makes him laugh. He has no idea at all what it means. None whatsoever.
You see, most people believe that being introverted and being shy are one and the same state of existence. It isn’t true. Shyness is nothing but uncertainty. More times than not, a person can get over uncertainty by sufficient effort to achieve acclimation. Once a shy person gets used to the situation, then there’s no reason left to be shy.
Introversion may look the same—showing the same reluctance to spend time in crowds, for instance—but the underlying basis is different. Extroverts often believe that one can “get over” being an introvert, just like one can “get over” shyness. I’d like to see them try to get over being an extrovert. “But there’s nothing wrong with being an extrovert!” As if there’s anything wrong with being the opposite.
Do you think that introverts walk through life with a thick shell about them, holding the world at arm’s-length? Wrong. Introverts walk about with their insides exposed to every injury the world can inflict. The only possible distance to which an introvert has recourse is solitude, and that is only a temporary and periodic remedy. One always must go back into the world, back to the barrage of reckless emotions and words that stab, sear, abrade, and pummel any soul too sensitive to deflect them.
I must admit, sensitive is a foul-tasting word for me. I’ve heard it so often spoken by people bragging about being thin-skinned (as if that’s a virtue) that I hate applying it to myself for any reason. An introvert just tends to be more aware of some things than an extrovert, and not in a good way. To be aware of what others are feeling, but unable to do anything about it or to shrug it off and go your own way, is a disadvantage to be sure. Emotion, to me, is like a residue. My own is difficult enough to keep within proper bounds. Then others add their emotions—mainly negative, note—and the weight just grows heavier with every passing hour spent in the world. Solitude is the warm bath that soaks away that persistent leaden residue and returns me to a state of equilibrium.
I believe that solitude is beneficial for more than über-introverts like me. (I don’t mean my own solitude, although I’m sure that others benefit from finding me on a more even keel afterward.) I promote solitude whenever I can, especially among my extroverted friends. It may seem odd, a definite oxymoron, this inviting of many people to solitude. I won’t claim that it’s an easy habit to develop. We in the Western world, for the most part, have lost the knack of it. If you try to sustain it as a lifestyle, people will look at you as an oddity—I speak from experience here. Some of them will even assume that there’s something wrong with you, that you are in some way defective because you don’t plunge headlong into every opportunity for companionship of every kind. So, if you worry about fitting in, don’t even think about attempting solitude. If your self-image depends on others’ approval, stay far away from quiet contemplation and time spent alone. But if you ever find the ceaseless crescendo of the world painful to your ears, there is no shame in making strategic withdrawals from time to time. On the contrary, there I find strength.
That’s why going two weeks without genuine solitude was an incredibly stupid thing for me to do. I know I’m weakened without my time spent alone. I know it, but I fall into a routine and don’t realize the danger until I’m beyond running on empty. My work suffers from the stress of “human contact overload.” My relationships suffer.
Solitude, banzai! Let’s hear it for silence! (Um… you know what I mean.)
I have had the worst time writing this week. Honestly. Worship team practice on Thursday, another funeral on Saturday, church and travel on Sunday, more travel on Monday. Every time I end up with a schedule of any kind beyond my regular routine, I end up throwing the regular routine out the window– and I live on a second-story apartment, so you can imagine how my routine has fared. My current project has suffered more than anything. Poor thing. That’s why, for this week’s “Slowly I Turned,” I’m going to motivate myself by sharing the first chapter of that poor project with you lot. Keep in mind that this is still an early draft. Things might change a little here and there before everything is ready. Certainly the awkward angles shall be smoothed in subsequent drafts. (Beginnings are always tricky.) But this will give you a rough idea. Title: The Genesis of Max Variel. Genre: comic fantasy. Ready… set… go.
The Genesis of Max Variel
Unique on Hollytree Lane, a large shabby-grand Queen Anne house stood tall and ornate amid plain salt-box homes. The Queen Anne’s screen door sighed in the shade of the wraparound porch. A young woman, dressed in long sleeves despite the springtime warmth, pulled on a pair of gloves that suited both her dress and the house she exited. She opened her mouth but was cut short before she could speak a word.
“The fateful expedition departed number 7, Hollytree Lane on a lovely spring afternoon, little knowing what was soon to befall.” This declaration came from the girl seated on a wooden chair not far from the front door. Not quite a teenager, she was in the midst of offering her long brown hair to be braided by an older girl.
“What do you mean, Junie?” said the eldest, she of the gloves. “What do you know?”
The short middle girl answered instead. “It just means that she’s been watching too many documentaries on public television. She’s just trying to mess with your head, Prin. Don’t take her so seriously all the time. She doesn’t know everything.”
Junie merely adopted an angelic smile. “Where are you going, Prin?”
“Shopping. Wan needs a new coat, and Nana wants chops for dinner. Grandpa is in the basement, so you’re in charge until I get back, Kate.” Prin hitched her canvas shopping bag more securely on her shoulder and set off.
“Have a lovely time,” Junie called toward her eldest sister’s departing back.
Prin walked the four blocks to the pet store first. There the elderly woman behind the counter merely nodded at her entrance. Prin took her time looking through the selection of doggie coats and costumes. Even when she took her purchase back to the counter, the proprietor didn’t speak. Neither did Prin. The two kept their mutual silence through the whole transaction. On her way out, however, Prin smiled at the woman, who fluttered a hand at her in a friendly way.
The supermarket stood only a block up and two blocks over from the pet shop, but Prin followed such a circuitous route that she spent twice the time getting to the former than she had spent getting to the latter. She approached from the rear, entering through a gap in the chain-link fence and dodging around parked delivery trucks as she worked her way around to the front. There she spent several minutes surveying the parking lot. Like a neo-Victorian ghost, she slipped through the doors of the supermarket so quickly that the automatic sensor barely had time to register her presence.
Prin had come at a peak hour, so no one acknowledged her in the busy aisles. She hastened to the meat section at the back of the store. The chops her Nana wanted were on sale. Prin stood back until the assortment of women with small children in their carts dispersed from in front of the display. Only then did she approach, select two packages, and carry away her chops to the self-checkout.
Outside the exit door, she froze for three whole seconds. She took off at a walk that fell just short of a jog. From out in the parking lot, a young man came loping at an angle to intercept her. The chase only lasted until Prin turned the wrong way into the trash collection row behind the supermarket. Barred by dumpsters on one side and a tall chain-link fence before her, Prin wheeled around to face her pursuer.
“Why’d you always run away from me?” He looked like a twenty-something, but his speech and movements suggested he wasn’t long out of high school. He put on a wounded look. “I’m not out to hurt you. I just wanna talk to you.”
Prin edged sideways, away from the dumpsters.
“Aw, come on,” he coaxed. “I haven’t seen you in forever. It’s not fair—I told you my name, but you still won’t tell me who you are.”
Eyes averted, Prin only said, “You ought to go back to work.”
The young man made a dismissive noise. “They won’t miss me. I’m almost done anyway. Just ten more minutes. So, what’s your name, steampunk girl?”
“Steampunk?” Prin edged a little farther. “I don’t even know what that is.”
“Your clothes. That’s what one of the girls at the checkout called them. She says you must make them yourself, ‘cause she’s never seen anywhere that sells stuff like that. You make your own clothes?” Her admirer took a step nearer. “You do a good job. You look real good in them.”
Prin scurried aside. “You shouldn’t be talking to me.”
“Why not?” When Prin persisted in avoiding eye contact, the young man ducked down to peer into her face. “Come on… just tell me your name. I’m Max, just in case you forgot. Now it’s your turn.”
“Prin,” she blurted.
“Prin?” repeated her admirer dubiously. “P-R-I-N?”
She nodded, sidestepping farther along the fence. “I really need to go home now.”
“Let me carry your bag for you,” he offered.
When he reached out to follow through on the offer, however, Prin’s eyes went round and her face went ashen. “No!” she exclaimed. Her hands shot out, palms outward in a defensive gesture to fend him off.
There was a pop and then a great cloud of dust. Prin gasped and started coughing on the dust. Fanning the dust away, she cried, “And I wore gloves and everything!” She dropped to her knees. As the dust began to settle, a Great Dane of brindle pattern emerged from the haze, lying on the ground as if dead. Prin set a hand on the dog. “I’m sorry,” she whispered through her tears. “I’m sorry! It’ll be all right, I promise. I’m very sorry. Just try to stay calm. Can you stand up?”
The dog shook its head drunkenly, but in response to her words it tried to gather its feet under it in a prelude to standing. Every time it tried, though, the dog tipped over. Its sixth attempt proved successful, if shaky. Prin kept glancing around at the deserted loading area. Once the dog had taken a few experimental steps, Prin said, “Follow me.”
Eustress, You Say?
I’m told there are two different kinds of stress, one healthy and one unhealthy. At the moment, I can’t really see a difference between the two. Anyone who has been following this blog (or any of my various Internet efforts, for that matter) knows that my newest book, Makkarios: Come Together, has entered a promotional giveaway for the last five days of January. So far (as of half past seven in the evening of Saturday the 28th) four hundred and twenty-three people have downloaded the free e-book.
This whole situation has left me in an odd position. This project is, in my opinion, some of the best work I’ve done so far. I surprise myself by how eager I am to introduce it to as many people as possible. But at the same time, the prospect of letting myself in for so much potential rejection makes me cringe. Funny, isn’t it?
Psychiatric types would call this “eustress,” because it’s a healthy situation, yet it has the same effect on my writing that “distress” has. In short, I can’t write. I have a project going right now that I really like, with interesting (read: odd) characters and a fair measure of humor in it. I have most of the story line planned in varying levels of details. All that remains is to write.
So what have I done today? I got my hair cut. I went grocery shopping. I talked to my father on the phone. I played computer games. I worked out. I watched Spirited Away again. I washed dishes. I worked on my Sunday school lesson. I poached an egg. (Regarding the egg: it was my first attempt. The results can be summed up in one word: gruesome. But it tasted fine.) Everything, in short, seemed easier or more urgent than writing. And now that evening is well underway, I’m left haunted by a restless dissatisfaction, because I fit so much that was unnecessary into my day at the expense of what I really wanted to do.
Ah, but most of it really was necessary. The haircut, for instance, was really more a public service than a luxury. I hadn’t had a chat with Dad for several days. It’s nice to have food in the house again. And if I’m to make Eggs Benedict for my sister’s birthday meal, then it is essential that I figure out how to poach an egg without making the diners go into dry heaves at the mere sight of it.
I guess the problem is, I hate the thought that I have wasted even one hour given to me. I hate the thought that I would be so weak-willed as to trade what I really want for something that doesn’t interest me all that much, just because of something like stress. Rest is good. Rest, however, comes when I do what I know I’m made to do, what I love to do. As they say, it isn’t work if you love it so much that it’s always somewhere at the back of every thought.
Tomorrow’s another day. And if it isn’t, then none of this will matter anyhow, so I’ve just got to let it rest. Mm, rest sounds good. One of these days, I expect I’ll figure out how to ride these waves instead of getting tossed end-over-end in the surf and coming up with a mouthful of sand.