This year, I am making a New Year’s resolution that might appeal to you too—or to someone you know. Here it is: I resolve to stop trying to make my introvert self live up to the extrovert ideal of our culture.
Introvert that I am, I excelled as a child at book reports, and that’s really what this is. The book I read, that led to my resolution, is Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. My report can be summed up in three words: Read this book. Even if you’re an extrovert, you will recognize many of the people you know, love or work with, and you will benefit from learning a little more about what makes them tick.
Quiet was published in 2012, so you may have already read it or heard of it. I didn’t read it until now because I was number 674 or something on the library hold list and only just got my hands on it, which says something about the number of people who found the title appealing. I should have bought it. In fact, I probably will buy it, so that I can re-read comforting sections from time to time.
People who know me casually might say: you’re an introvert? Really? But that’s why you have to read Susan Cain’s book, in which she explains better than I can why “introvert” does not mean shy or anti-social. Many introverts, myself included, love good conversations with friends and colleagues. It’s the networking event, the cocktail party, the old college mixers and high school dances, that daunt us. Some introverts can’t do them at all. Many others, like me, can tolerate or even enjoy an hour or two—but then we’re SO relieved to get home and open a book.
But what I really loved about Quiet is—just as she promises in her subtitle—the way that Susan Cain makes the case not only for what introverts are not but for what they are. For, as she puts it, the power of introverts.
In a room full of talkers, who’s really tracking what’s going on? The listeners.
In an art gallery, where does the power reside? In the art. Which was created in solitude, in a studio.
How does a movie, a play, a poem, a book, a ballad get its start? In the head of one person, sitting alone, scribbling words on a page or tapping them on a screen. Whispering lines out loud to hear how they will sound, someday, in a hushed theatre full of people. No matter how powerful the performance, its source is this: the deeply quiet moment of focused creativity.
These days, teachers and bosses want everyone working in teams: collaborating, brainstorming, talking talking talking. In her book, Cain takes an in-depth look at what we stand to lose by insisting on constant teamwork, open office plans, classrooms arranged into table groups.
When I worked in TV news, I mostly produced long (really long, by today’s standards!) features and special reports. I loved coming up with stories that got me out of the city: to wheat farms in eastern Washington, to an iron foundry in Port Townsend, to the last daffodil farm in Puyallup. I loved interviewing, and still do, because it mostly consists of listening. Many times, the photographer and I would be driving back to Seattle and we’d have a conversation that would go like this:
Photographer: “How do you think you’ll start the piece?”
Me: “I don’t know. I won’t know until I sit down to write.”
Photographer: “That one shot I got, with the wheat stalks in the foreground—“
Me: “Great idea. Definitely. I’ll look at it.”
I was terrible at talking the story. I had to be sitting alone, starting to put words on screen, in order to figure out what I wanted to say. I’m still that way, although I’ve gotten a little better. But thanks to Susan Cain, I vow to no longer view this as a flaw. It’s just the way I work best: in happy solitude. From which I will eventually emerge, ready for feedback on what I’ve written, and perhaps some cozy conversations with friends.
Registration is open for Intro to Memoir Writing at SCCC. Starts Jan 6. Six Monday nights. Non-credit = all inspiration, no stress!
Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.
Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.