#52Beats. Beat One: Introversion

During the very first week of my project aimed at no-pressure blogging, I spent a long time paralyzed by indecision on what I should blog about. Well. If anything, that proves that 52 Beats should be a useful exercise for me.

The thoughts going through my head went something like:

“I should totally talk about the Marie Kondo book I’ve been reading.” – “Is that really what you want to dedicate the whole weekly post to?”

“I should talk about the Bristol Zine Fair!” – “You can describe the entire experience in two sentences.”

“How about the whole introvert thing about having time and space to myself?” – “You’ve got friends who will take that personally and assume you hate them.”

“I think I want to take my laptop to a coffeeshop and blog from there.” – “Excellent, let’s establish that as a habit.” [and then spend weeks not blogging because we didn’t manage to get out to a coffeeshop that week]

So. I’m blogging from the corner of my couch, surrounded by the strewn-around results of the organizing kick I’ve been on thanks to the Marie Kondo book and the pieces of the costume I wore to the Bristol Zine Fair, and having taken the time and space to myself is the sole reason I’m still healthy and relatively sane after two ridiculously busy weeks.

And since I can’t decide on which of the three main subjects to blog about (four if we include the perfectionistic habit-building aspect), let’s have ourselves a three-part blog this week I’m going to talk about introversion, as this was the subject most frequently on my mind during this week.

(I had intended to have a multi-part blog, but the first segment ran long enough to make me want to procrastinate on the rest, and I know where that road leads.)

I, Introvert

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the grips of a dilemma. I hadn’t had a proper day off in over a month, following a working trip, a house move, several weeks of remote freelance work without an internet connection at home (it’s exactly as fun as it sounds), a run-up to a comic convention with all associated deadlines, and a weekend exhibiting at that comic convention. I was satisfied with what I’d accomplished, but feeling rather exhausted, all the more so for knowing that I had another two weeks of work deadlines before I could catch a breather.

That breather would coincide with another comic con, which was held in Bristol, my current  home, and which my closest friend and art partner were going to attend together. Which meant that the first few days I’d have away from most responsibilities, I’d also be unable to spend on my own. So I did the unthinkable. I told my friend I wasn’t ready to hang out again so soon.

It took me some forty-eight hours to build up the courage before putting forward a request for personal space. For me, that was an improvement on past performance. My usual M.O. is to avoid requesting space, solitude or silence, and quietly letting my exhaustion levels build up until I start snapping at people.

Being an introvert sucks when you’re a people pleaser, and living in the western world doesn’t help. We’re all about social interactions and the net inflow of experiences/stuff, to the extent that choosing to abstain from either or both is only considered acceptable when one’s not feeling well. (Or perhaps for religious reasons.) For an introvert, it can be difficult to establish the boundaries, especially when other people around you genuinely mean well when they offer their company and comfort. Plus, it doesn’t help that with most things we use for pleasure and comfort, it’s difficult to provide a net outflow.

Consider this: it’s easy to offer to take someone shopping. Net inflow of experiences and stuff. But how do you offer the opposite? If you abstain from taking the person shopping, that preserves the status quo. If you pointedly abstain, that just makes everything weird. “How about we don’t go shopping?” – “Well, I wasn’t really going to, anyway.” – “No, but how about we specifically don’t?” – “Okay. Do I need to do anything?” – “No, I’m just pointing out that since you wouldn’t enjoy shopping, I’m suggesting we don’t do it.” – “…thank you?”

See the problem there? Trust me, I’m not painting extroverts as insensitive, either. I can imagine how frustrating it can be when the best way to help someone you care about is to leave them alone. Not in a “you’ve done enough, now get out of here” way. Rather, in that hard-to-believe paradigm of “I promise I’m not mad, and I still love you, but if I do this thing by myself, I’ll have more energy at my disposal than I will if you’re helping me.”

For me, it really works this way more often than not. During these past two weeks, I’ve been able to summon great feats of concentration and work discipline when working to a tight deadline. I know that I would’ve been unable to do that in the company of anyone else.

Another thing in my personal introvert experience is that I need to spend some time alone to be myself. Not in the sense that I can’t be myself when I’m around other people. In the sense that I need alone time to remember what “myself” means. What things I like, and whether my tastes have changed without me noticing. What experiences are just my own. (That can be as simple as going to some place where I’ve never been, or have never been by myself; being somewhere by myself and with someone else are two separate experiences, equally valid.) How I feel about some things or other, small or big.

That last one deserves special mention. I’ve shared many special moments with special people in my life, but our respective feelings about those moments didn’t always align. It could be as simple as one person feeling stronger than the other about the experience; that’s not too hard to handle. It’s trickier when both people have equally strong feelings that don’t fully align. Not a case of “I love it” vs. “I hate it,” but each relating to the moment from one’s own, unique, point of view… and then feeling frustrated because the other isn’t feeling the same. I think that’s why my closest friend and I would often get into pointless arguments after shows of our favorite bands. As in sync as we were, we weren’t the same person. We were each tying weaving own respective halves of a shared experience into our own tapestries, and then acting confused when the results didn’t match.

In so many stories, when a couple is having problems, one half of it tends to say, “I need to discover who I am outside of this relationship.” For me, I am one half of this couple, and the other half is the rest of the world. Every person in my life with whom I have shared experiences, woven shared tapestries with. The truth is, I’d spent my twenties weaving myself into so many of these that I’d almost forgotten about my own. Now I’m making an effort to remember how to use the loom by myself, and I’m starting to see new patterns. It’s only natural that they’re still influenced by the people in my life, but there’s a difference between ‘influenced by’ and ‘co-authored with.’

And just to reassure all the special people in my life: I’m not pulling away or isolating myself. I’m happy to do together all the things we do. But I also want to keep bringing my own things to our shared table – and I need space in which to figure out what they are.

* * *

So how’s that for a week’s worth of mixed metaphors? Any fellow introverts out there relating to this, or willing to weigh in? No pressure. 😉

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