Month: September 2015

It’s a Tough World for Introverts

Many writers claim to be introverts. J.K. Rowling is one. She came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series while alone on a train that was delayed for four hours. And there are plenty of others like the famous poet and recluse Emily Dickinson and the melancholy alcoholic Edgar Allen Poe.

I’m no exception. I much prefer to hide in a corner, rather than socialize at a party. I love to spend time observing the lady in front of me in the grocery store, rather than making conversation with her. I enjoy listening to my family or friends talk and not saying a blessed word. My favorite moments in life are when I am curled up on the couch with a good book, or when I am alone in a coffee shop–just me and my tablet (and a tall vanilla chai tea latte, of course).

Oddly enough, no one believes this. My kids accuse me of gabbing too long after church on Sunday. My friends joke that I drill newcomers with twenty questions. People I don’t know often comment on how outgoing I am.

The first time I attended my writer’s group meeting one of the members shouted across the lunch table, “Gee, Amanda, you’re not shy, are you?” She said it as a complement, letting me know that she thought it was great how easily I fit in among the group. And it did make me feel good. But I also knew I was faking it.

Extroverts rewarded
Like most introverts living in America, I learned the lesson early that being quiet doesn’t generate rewards. The most popular girl in my first grade class and through most of grade school was also one of the most talkative. I still remember how she introduced herself to each of us on the first day of school. I remember it, because I yearned to be more like her.

Later on, that same girl rallied the class to catch a teacher who was fainting. About half my classmates jumped up to join her, saving the teacher before she hit the ground, while I sat dumbly in my chair, watching. This incident has bothered me ever since. Why did I sit and stare when I could have jumped up to help? What a horrible reaction.

The answer, according to Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, it turns out, is a psychological trait I share with other introverts. According to Olsen Laney, if you have a stand-still reaction to emergency situations and tend to shut-down or react in slow motion, you are most likely an introvert.

In high school, I envied the kids who joked and told funny stories. They always seemed to be running through the classroom, laughing loudly with all the other students trailing in their wake, rather than sitting quietly in home room like me. How did they have the confidence to do this–to know that whatever they said would generate a laugh? And where did they get their energy?

How I longed to be a social butterfly, receiving frequent phone calls and party invitations and greeting strangers like old friends.

I always dreaded the awkward pause when meeting someone for the first time and neither one knows quite what to say next. Today, I find myself filling that silence with nonsense to put the other party at ease.

The outgoing girls were the ones who were cheerleaders and got asked to Prom. They had big bubble handwriting and everyone wanted to hang around them. They were the ones that seemed to enjoy life and have fun. Why couldn’t I be more like them?

Why, indeed.

Learned behavior
When I arrived at college, a shy freshman with little social grace, I determined I would change. I would “learn” to be more outgoing. I would start speaking up, even when I didn’t want to. I would force myself to go to parties. I would initiate friendships, rather than wait to be asked. I would go on friendly dates although I didn’t feel like it. I would join new groups and make myself mingle, although I often was afraid.

The weird thing about forcing yourself to conquer a habit or fear? It works.

People began to view me as outgoing. Over time, I grew more confident in social settings. In the work world, I became more assertive in groups, expressing my opinions, which led to leadership roles and assignments. I took the plunge to start my own website and blog about my life. (I still can’t tell a joke. But that’s a topic for another blog.)

I guess it’s true what they say–we make our own reality. But inside, where it counts, I’m still that shy girl who prefers my own thoughts and company. Whose parents scolded her for always having a book in her hands and being too sedentary. I still need plenty of time between social gatherings to recharge my battery, although my life situation and many responsibilities don’t provide it.

In researching this topic, I discovered a new term for people like me: ambiverts.

Ambiverts are a mix of the two–the middle ground. Although the article didn’t state it, I think ambiverts are introverts who have “learned” to be extroverts.

We pay a high price, we ambiverts. It exhausts us to always be making and talking. I often feel like a faker. I find myself wondering why more people don’t see through the clever conversation as a learned device. And then I think… maybe they do.

When I told my family over breakfast that I was going to blog about being an introvert, my children groaned loudly. “Mom, you are not an introvert. Why do you always say that?”

My mother-in-law who had joined us, agreed: “No, I don’t see you as an introvert.”

Only my husband, a strong extrovert and long time member of the ‘Yes, dear’ club, nodded his head wisely. “Yep, she’s an introvert.”

Poor man has had to deal with my regular scolding: Don’t talk to me for at least one hour after I wake up in the morning.

Fourteen and Me: Growing Up in a Super-sized Family

imageMy husband doesn’t understand why I don’t write more about growing up in a family of 15. “It’s so unusual. Everyone will be interested,” he tells me.

Maybe he’s right. In fact, maybe that’s precisely why I have trouble writing about it. It marks me as unusual…different…odd. It makes me uncomfortable. I have spent a lifetime struggling to fit in — to go unnoticed for peculiarities like having an outlandish number of siblings. Why bring this fact to light now?

When I think of my childhood, I think of a rich vein of yellow gold surrounded by dark soil. There are treasures there, but I have to dig for them. Sometimes my shovel glitters, and sometimes, I get nothing but dirt. Usually, there’s a mixture of both.

The dirt
My sister and I have embarrassing memories of being called down to the office at our grade school to try on donated clothing. We were considered “poor,” I guess. Although I certainly never felt poor and indeed was wealthy in the things that really mattered — good home cooked food, a loving family, a brain that helped me succeed in school and plenty of God-given talents.

The glitter
By the time she and I came along, there were no more children. We were the last of the litter. We were the lucky ones. The older siblings doted on us, and we were given attention that the middle siblings never received.

Growing up on a semi-farm with 14 siblings meant that we didn’t spend a lot of company with other children outside our family. There was no need. We had a built-in baseball and football team and someone to play with whenever we felt the desire. For a while, it seemed like family gatherings happened every weekend, and there was always a new face around the dinner table.

I remember bonfires and volleyball games that seemed to last all night. I remember singing around the campfire, while my older sister and brother played guitar. I remember sleep-overs at my Godmother’s house every summer. I remember peanut butter milk shakes made in the old blender with broken buttons and coming home from school to see my dad shaking out the strands of homemade pasta so they would dry, and we could sell them at auction. He was proud of the fact that the pasta he made and my mother’s apple pies and Italian bread would always sell for a good price.

The Dirt

Just a small portion of the family garden, neatly laid out and ready to produce a bumper crop.

Just a small portion of the family garden, neatly laid out and ready to produce a bumper crop.

I never knew where that “auction” took place. It is only in later years that I realized how much they depended on getting a good price at auction for our livelihood.

My mother was a practical sort. Her days were spent baking bread, canning vegetables, spanking our bottoms and keeping my dad happy. I think the only time I caught her reading a romance was when she was recovering from flu and read the novel excerpt in her Good Housekeeping magazine. She recounted the entire story to me the next day, until I was so curious that I found the same magazine and read it, too.

I never remember her reading to me. She was far too busy for that luxury. When I started school, I could not read well. It would take some encouraging teachers and hard work on my part before reading became a pleasure and not a chore. But somehow I learned and when I graduated from eighth grade, I was given the language arts award.

And that really is how I remember most of my childhood. Few handouts, lots of hard work, eventual rewards.

The glitter
I remember sitting around giant metal tubs filled with carrots, usually with another sibling or two. Our job? Scrape each carrot clean, cut off the ends, and add to another giant metal tub. It was canning time.

To mask the drudgery, we would play games like charades or tell one another riddles. There was always something to talk about and someone to talk about it with.

When the chores were done, my mother would call us in around the piano. We were each asked to sing a part. I was soprano, my sister, alto, and the boys would be tenor and base. One of the frequent songs was called, “Tavern on the Green.” If you ask, I can still hum the soprano melody today.

I don’t remember how I learned to play piano. There was no money for lessons. Like most things in my life, playing the piano just kind of happened. One day, I looked at the music, and I recognized the notes.

The dirt
A few years ago, my father, who is now 90, decided he would learn to play the piano, too. He began to practice daily and soon he was picking out small melodies. While I was visiting one weekend, I sat and played a little of the open songbook he had been working on. He turned to my mother and said, “Why she’s quite good. I didn’t know she could play piano. How did she learn to play like that?”

In a family of 15, the accomplishments of any one child went largely unnoticed. My younger sister was in 7th grade before anyone noticed she could draw. My oldest brother broke his leg and had to be homeschooled before anyone recognized his high IQ. Under the extra attention from my mother, he blossomed, eventually earning a Ph.D. in Chemistry.

Attention is something you longed for but never quite got. In a family our size, you learned early not to expect a lot of fanfare for accomplishments. You had to be your own cheerleader, your own life coach, your own dreamer.

The glitter
I guess you could say being raised in a big family builds character. It certainly built mine. People have labeled me a work-horse, determined and persistent. If I am any of these things, I am grateful. I will need them to succeed in my writing journey.

One thing is for certain, I don’t spend a lot of time looking for or expecting handouts.

And that, dear reader, is the sweet sound of my shovel striking gold.

That time I was in two places at once

imageThese days, I often wish there were two of me — one to do the dirty dishes and the other to lounge by the pool.

“If only I had more time,” I say. That’s my new mantra. I grumble it as I leave the house to take my daughter to school or stop at the drug store or run to the post office. Usually, I’m dressed in old sweats and flip-flops, no makeup on and my hair looking like a discarded bird’s nest. If I had a clone, I could catch up on some z’s, and I wouldn’t have to leave the house without a shower.

In my fantasy, I send the clone to the day job and spend the afternoon writing my next novel at Starbucks over a chai tea latte. I’m also 30 pounds lighter and I’m eating a cinnamon roll. (Hey, if I’m going to fantasize, I might as well make it good, right?)

Anyway, in case you are wondering, I do know no one can really be in two places at the same time. I have not totally lost it (yet).

But recently, I got to thinking about this. And then I started googling, and the more I learned, the more I began to wonder….

Law of quantum physics
Scientists say it is possible to be in two places at once — if you are a subatomic particle. You see, in the world of quantum physics, which operates on a different principle than our reality, a tiny object is neither a particle, nor a wave. It is in a constant state of flux and therefore, is a bit of both depending on how it is viewed. This means it can be moving or still simultaneously. In other words, it can take two different paths at the same time. (I sound intelligent, don’t I? Thank you, Wikipedia).

Of course this does not apply in our reality — the real world, so to speak. We can’t be in two places at once…can we?

Famous saints
According to many, Padre Pio could do it. This modern day Catholic saint, who died in 1968, was widely known to have the ability to bilocate or be in two places at the same time. Many witnesses have come forward to confirm this claim. Of course, skeptics say Padre Pio was a fraud. He also suffered from the stigmata — the wounds of Jesus Christ — and was accused of using carbolic acid to create the wounds.

And yet…here I go again diving into something I never thought I would ever write about in a blog post — I have had the experience of being in two places at the same time. My mind, not my body. Let me explain.

Hot date
I am 19 and home from college for the summer. I am getting ready to go to church, a forced commandment in my parent’s home, no matter how disinterested I am at the time. My younger sister is getting ready to go on a date with a new boy. “No fair,” I think. “Why does she get to go on a date, while I’m stuck in church.”

The doorbell rings, interrupting my private pity party, and my sister begs me to get the door so she can continue to prep. I do and am surprised by the boy who is standing there — he’s quite cute — clean-shaven, blond hair and in blue jeans. I’m surprised because my sister’s choices in men are generally more rough around the edges than mine — usually a few tattoos and earrings. This boy looks like someone I might choose.

“Take a seat,” I say, gesturing to a chair in the kitchen. “She’ll be right down.”

I take off back up the stairs so I can finish blow-drying my hair. On the way up, I exchange a few words with my sis.

“Hey, he’s in blue jeans. You’d better change from that fancy dress to something more casual.”

My sister is in panic mode. “We’re going to a movie, and we’re already late. There’s no time,” she tells me, flying down the stairs.”

“Have fun,” I call after her.

And that, readers, is when the magic happened.

Two places at once
You see, I was still blow drying my hair. My mind, however? Well, my mind was curious. It was busy wondering what my sister’s hot date was thinking when he saw how dressed up she was. So, it took off down the stairs after her.

Many hours later, my sister walked through the door, blathering on about her incredible date.

“Do you think he likes me?” she asked.

“Yes, I do,” I told her. “Didn’t you see his face when you came downstairs?”

“No, how did he look?”

“He looked really happy to see you.”

I went on to describe other details. We must have talked for an hour before I arrived at a shocking realization. How could I possibly know what his face looked like or any other details when my sister came downstairs? I hadn’t been downstairs when they left. I had been upstairs blow-drying my hair.

The realization hit both of us at once, and we stared across the bedroom, our startled faces mirroring one another.

“How can that be?” she asked. “I swear I felt your hand on my shoulder as I went downstairs.”

“I know,” I say. “I remember following you downstairs. That’s how I saw what he looked like. I was right behind you.”

“But you weren’t,” she said.

“No, I wasn’t. I never went downstairs. It’s…impossible.”

That night I pondered the mystery. Years later, I am still pondering. My body never left the upstairs. But somehow, my mind did.

Maybe it has something to do with those subatomic particles?

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