Monday, June 10, 2019


I'm in the midst of a stepping away of sorts.  Ever since I moved to Utah I've wrestled with the question and a definitive identifier of whether or not I need to be alone or with people.  Introversion? Extroversion? I think I have both needs, but I also think living in the city, I got used to living a certain way and, regardless of my own personal needs, it was a lifestyle and in this new place it was different.  So was being around people a need? Or just something i'd gotten used to?  I think both but that's always made it difficult for me find the answer i'm looking for. (We moved almost five years ago and in case you're skeptical, yes, I'm still adjusting to living here.)

So, recently I realized I'm really tired.  Tired of making things happen, tired of searching for the meaning in each and every thing or interaction.  Tired of organizing, hosting, planning, proposing. Tired of being afraid that if I'm in my house for a certain length of time, only bad things happen.   I spent the first couple of years here seeking outward. Of course I was very comfortable with all the inward business.  Being alone, knowing who I am or am trying to be.  Introspection. These are familiar places.  But the social aspect was a puzzle, and with a lot of confusing pieces.  Who, how, what exactly.  Another challenge was that I had left my tribe and adopted myself into another, but was there really a place for me here? Could I force anything to happen? Should I?

It's all very complicated but the answer I've come to of late, at least to that last question, is no.  I don't want to force it.  I'm tired and I need a break.  In all kinds of ways.  For example, I'm putting some distance between me and Facebook.  I realized I don't want to really know that much about my neighbors whereas when I first moved here I was desperate for that feeling of community and connectedness.

I really appreciate good friends but I've decided not to put so much pressure on myself to make things happen with them.  People are busy and life is complex, and so are friendships, for that matter.  I'm simplifying by removing any sense of obligation from my hands when I feel it doesn't procure for myself much reward.  I suppose you could call this the plight of the introvert- they love social interactions but it can be very draining, depending on the circumstance.  I've found that my required circumstances are quite particular these days.  I've always been very selfish in that, in general, if it doesn't benefit me, I mostly stay away. I'm not a pleaser, in other words, except for my own self. I try to be a giver, when I can, and I've learned a lot from self-sacrifice. But lately I guess I'm just garnering less and less pleasure from unnecessary things, so I'm rethinking my methods.

The other day at a family gathering, I sneezed and my sister-in-law hollered from across the way, "bless you!"  I told her that a few days before, I'd been outside and heard a neighbor sneeze. I'd been tempted to yell "bless you!" but refrained because that would reveal my presence and we agreed we like to do whatever we can to encourage, or at least not discourage neighbors from doing or saying anything that we might be able to overhear and find entertaining without their knowing.  I'm pretty sure everyone feels this way. You like to pretend no one can hear you and you hope they think we can't hear them.

As part of my self-prescribed isolation, I've been doing a lot of reading.  This winter was a doozy for me in that I think every last ounce of vitamin D in my body completely dried up.  The lack of sun was a problem. Also, the perpetual cold weather well into spring chilled me out to the max, like I found it difficult to just get WARM.  So my favorite thing to do these days is sit out in the mornings and read in the sun.  This morning I had plunged fairly deeply into an old favorite, The Hours by Michael Cunningham, which is so beautifully written, I have to retrain my brain to pause and feast on the words and consume them by piecemeal.   As I was reading about Virginia Woolf sitting down to write, I took in the following words:

At this moment there are infinite possibilities, whole hours ahead.  Her mind hums.  This morning she may penetrate the obfuscation, the clogged pipes, to reach the gold.  She can feel it inside her, an all but indescribable second self, or rather a parallel, purer self.  If she were religious, she would call it the soul. It is more than the sum of her intellect and her emotions, more than the sum of her experiences, though it runs like veins of brilliant metal through all three.  It is an inner faculty that recognizes the animating mysteries of the world because it is made of the same substance, and when she is very fortunate she is able to write directly through that faculty.  Writing in that state is the most profound satisfaction she knows, but her access to it comes and goes without warning.   She may pick up her pen and follow it with her hand as it moves across the paper; she may pick up her pen and find that she's merely herself, a woman in a housecoat holding a pen, afraid and uncertain, only mildly competent, with no idea about where to begin or what to write. 

I thought about me and about my life, what I'm doing and what I want.  I thought about this stepping away, wondering if there will every be a return or if I will continue down a different path entirely, as I continue to shift into this new lifestyle. Wondering if I've mostly only mentally stepped away, as opposed to physically.  I thought about how to reconcile my desire for isolation with my desire for adventure and stories. And I thought about Emily Dickinson with whom I've recently reconciled, as mentioned, and how she lived an isolated life with a few family members, perhaps a brother for a neighbor, and very few visitors. I thought, if she can live like that and still write good things, maybe so can I.

As I read my book and thought these thoughts, I could hear some children playing in a nearby fenced-in yard and their mother giving them instruction.  I pictured myself sitting there, hood pulled over my head to protect my neck from the sun, reading and thinking, invisible to my neighbors, my presence undisclosed to them.  I thought about my other neighbor who had sneezed and how I had enjoyed it, like I'd accidentally overheard some big secret.  I reveled in that delicious feeling of blameless eavesdropping, a super spy hidden to the whole world where no one would ever find me and I could sit in the sun and read my books and exist solely to do those two things.  And then I sneezed.

1 comment:

Joel said...

I'm impressed that you have been able to put so much effort into social interaction for so long. I think I gave up shortly after getting married. I do struggle with our labels like "introvert" and "extrovert" and feel we're all somewhere on a spectrum, and that balance varies from day to day and month to month. Sometimes I'm in the mix with coworkers, for example, and at other times I just sit and listen to them chat. Katie never wants to do anything social at all, and it requires a lot of effort for me to get her to go to a neighborhood barbecue or ward activity. Over the last few years I've largely been content to be at home with our family.

I don't know where this comment is going, exactly, except that I can appreciate your experience and you shouldn't feel obligated to put yourself out there more than you're comfortable with.