Have you ever taken the Meyers Briggs test? If you do, you’ll end up categorized along four different scales, including introvert/extrovert. This doesn’t have much to do with the usual idea that an introvert is shy and retiring while an extrovert is a party animal.Susan Cain's book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, made a discreet splash last year. I can’t bring myself to read it. I’m sure it’s full of important data, amusing anecdotes, and helpful advice, but it sounds too earnest for me.
The concept I remember from Meyers Briggs is that an extrovert gets her energy from being with other people, while an introvert charges her battery with solitude. No one would think it, since I can be pretty lively in company, but I am an introvert. I need huge doses of solitude to keep me going.
Once when Amanda was four and sitting quietly, I said something to her and she complained, “I was thinking, and now I’ve lost my think.” That’s how I feel. I like my thinks, and want to be left alone to wander around with them.
When I get home and see Joe’s car in the driveway I am likely to feel, “Oh good, Joe’s home.” When there is no car in the driveway I feel, “Oh boy, I’m alone.”
Once we were spending the evening with Mary Anne and Larry. I’ve known them over thirty years, and the four of us are as close to family as friends can get; among other things, we share late-in-life parenthood. I said to them, “Being with you is almost as good as being alone.” They understood that I was expressing profound affection.
Since I retired I have had lots of solitude. Amanda goes off to her school, Joe goes off to his. My day stretches out in front of me, available for puttering, reading, writing and thinking. I love that.
Still, I have discovered that you can get too much of a good thing. Recently I had minor surgery on my foot. I have a walking cast, but mostly I have to sit with my foot elevated. The pain comes and goes, and if I’m willing to sleep for hours, I can control it with drugs. With all this solitude and enforced leisure, you’d think I would write and write, read and read. Instead I’ve bought streaming Netflix, and I’m watching many movies, as well as multiple episodes of Parks and Recreation.
This experience confirms my belief that watching TV is depressing and addictive. And when I’m confined to a chair, solitude is no fun at all.
So while Sartre had a point when he said that Hell is other people, Milton also got it right. "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." I've got my dog, my cat, my ice pack, good books, good drugs, but if I can't emerge when I want to, my little solitary heaven becomes a bleak and gloomy place.
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NEXT POST SEPTEMBER 20