Life in the big city – Day Six

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Well, I’ve had quite the adventure. Six days, alone, in New York City, my first vacation in several years and my first time in the city since the early 2000s. I visited four museums, attended three operas, and saw just about every major sight in the city. All told, it was a very successful trip with few snags. I love New York!

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I imagine the thought of being alone in New York is terrifying to some. Actually, I didn’t feel afraid once. I had no negative encounters. This isn’t to say they don’t happen, but if you’re careful  where you wander, no one bothers you. I didn’t see any bad apples anywhere I went (and I covered a lot of turf). There are other tourists and regular folk everywhere, and more cops available than you see at home. There are moms and kids walking the street and riding the subway, even at night.

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So did I get to do everything on my list? Almost. In some cases the weather didn’t cooperate, in others, my energy level fizzled. I did a lot of walking. Living here is wonderful exercise, even though public transportation will get you anywhere (except the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For that, you have to wander Central Park for several hours). I didn’t get to the top of Rockefeller Center to see the city at night from above; I didn’t do the night time boat ride around the tip of Manhattan. I didn’t go to the Bronx Zoo.

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Standout moments? Seeing the Statue of Liberty’s face up close. Mimi’s death in La Boheme. The memorials to the dead at the 9/11 Museum. Standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, looking out over the city, while listening to Neil Diamond’s poetic reminisces about it in Brooklyn Roads. Seeing my friend Michael again.

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I didn’t even spend much money here. Many of the attractions are free, I ate cheaply, and a few things I paid for in advance. The best deals in New York? The Statue of Liberty (boat ride, pedestal and museum access, and Ellis Island museum for $18) and the subway (I rode it all week, and all over, on a 7-day MetroPass for $30. I didnt take a cab once).

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So now it’s back to my mundane, everyday life. Jarring as it will be after this magical week of sights and sounds and stimulation, it’s a welcome return. The conveniences of home have their own special attraction, and life becomes stale no matter where you live. That’s why we need to get out of our elements periodically, to get a fresh perspective on life. We return a little bit changed, a little more knowing, a little more open to possibilities. Mind you, I haven’t been taking this advice lately. My life is extremely routine, but I broke free for a week and it was wonderful.

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My NYC breakfast spot, and a description of me in the summer?

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Online college

Online-College-Freshman
Tomorrow I start my 39th, and next to last, college course before finishing my degree, which I began almost thirty years ago. I went into business for myself right after high school graduation, then spent about ten years working slowly on college credits while running it. Since I didn’t need a degree being my own boss (and the one I pursued wasn’t even in business), I went solely for personal interest and satisfaction. I like learning and am naturally curious about things. I stopped school after finally getting my associate’s in 1996, but picked up the mantle again three years ago because I was bored (instead of working sixty-hour weeks as I had for many years, I was down to forty). Also, the new availability of online learning appealed greatly to the introvert in me.

Online class is great for introverts. I participate more in online classes, via discussion boards, than I would in live classes, because live classes are dominated by extroverts. That’s where they thrive. Online is where I thrive. It’s not unlike Facebook, where I am more social than I tend to be in real life. So yes, I strongly applaud online school, as it allows those of us who are quieter and more reserved to “chime in” in a way that works for us. Actually, you can’t shut me up on the class discussion boards, and it’s an area of every course I’ve taken where I have gotten very high participation marks. What’s more, classmates tend to appreciate my carefully rendered feedback. None of this is to say that I cannot participate in class discussions in real life, but new people and environments make me uncomfortable and it takes a while to warm up to them. Even once I do, I am always more verbose with the written word than I ever have been with the spoken, so I can really shine online.

I’ve always done well in school, whether live or online, because I am observant of things others don’t notice and am hyper-focused on the written and spoken word, introvert qualities that serve one well in learning. I take things very literally, and am always finding errors in instructions and written texts (I have found many professors’ syllabi to be riddled with errors and lack of clarity – and these people have advanced degrees). A life in academia may have suited me, and I may have pursued it were it not for my hesitance to go to college after high school, which was a little intimidating. Running my own business appealed to me more as it gave me lots of control, and if there’s one thing I like it’s the freedom of having control over my life.

But now it has all come full circle. I no longer have that control and work for the Man, and in four months I will have a college degree in English literature and poetry. Yes, I know, not the most marketable of degrees, but it is the subject area that interests me the most. My intent was not to get a marketable degree, but to get a degree period, and to also satisfy personal interest along the way. It has been a nice journey, for the most part (I could have done without the Statistics courses, even though I aced them). If it were not for the expense, I would continue on to a master’s. We’ll see.

Is online school easier than live school? I’ve done both and see little difference. I spend a good twenty hours a week on classwork – three hours a day – which includes reading, writing papers, tests, and the discussion boards, which are very time-consuming (reading the daily posts of twenty other students and responding to many of them in a qualitative way). The coursework is the same as that given in live classes, and the online curriculum is fully accredited by the regional college board. So aside from not having to drag myself to a physical location and being able to do my work at midnight if I so choose, there is little other difference – except that the courses are accelerated. What live classes cover in sixteen weeks, we cover in eight. So it can feel a little rushed (this was never more true than in my recent Western Civ class, where we covered 4000 years in two months).

Now, as for that poetry degree, I am aware that some do not consider it a “real” degree, much as they do not consider online classes “real” college. It seems the discipline of poetry is viewed as requiring no more skill than ruminating in a diary. To them, I would say this: try writing a poem that a respected literary journal would publish. Then come laugh at me. Fact is, professional writing of any kind – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screenplays – is hard work. While poetry may not be highly valued, or even understood, in today’s world, it is the highest expression of our language. I enjoy the linguistic and creative challenge it poses, the introspection it requires, and the possibility of moving someone else with something I’ve written. That is reward enough for me.

Running on empty

After a long day at work, where I interact with many people and juggle many responsibilities, I am usually exhausted – not so much physically (though this is certainly possible), but mentally. I run out of steam. I lose the social energy that I muster to do my job, and look forward to some peace and quiet. Recharge time. It is a must for most introverts, and lack of it can make me quite irritable and cranky. It is somewhat akin to not getting any sleep.  Our introvert brains are wired differently than those of extroverts, studies have shown, and mine often needs down time, STAT.

This need not involve sleep – for me, it rarely does, though occasional naps can be helpful. Recharging for me can involve internet-surfing, reading, writing, working a puzzle, doing something out in the yard or around the house, watching a show, listening to music. None of these activities require me to speak or expend social energy, though they do require my attention (in the case of puzzles, considerable attention). This does not weary me like having to be social does. When I am low-energy, uttering a single sentence can feel like delivering a monologue, and answering a phone call is out of the question – much less making one. Also, having to repeat myself is especially annoying at these times. I know this may not make much sense to many people, but it’s really a matter of energy overwhelm and social tolerance levels . If I’ve had to expend more social energy than usual on a particular day, or for longer periods of time, the overreaction to stimuli can be extreme.

Those who have known me for a long time have certainly seen this effect in me, and it may seem Jeckyll-and-Hydeish if I have been overtaxed on some social occasion. It doesn’t go over well with mates, and I have lost many this way. I reach a point where my social energy drains and I get very quiet and pull inward. This is my cue that it’s time to go, which I sometimes ignore either to be polite or – yes, even still – because I tell myself I should stick it out and hang in there a bit longer for the sake of those around me. This is rarely a good idea, but it is the conditioning I have come to adopt living in an extroverted world. It took me a long while to recognize this and take care of my need for being with my own thoughts after socializing, but it is vital to my peace of mind and quality of life, even if it does mean a life of relative solitude.

I do usually enjoy and value the time I spend with people, and in fact often ruminate on it fondly afterwards.  I need time to assimilate social contact into my experience and to reflect on it. It’s all part of the deal. It must have been an introvert who said “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” The Phrase Finder reports that this sentiment originates with the Roman poet Sextus Propertius, about whom little is known. However, poets are certainly good candidates for introversion, and Propertius is a man after my own heart (that phrase originates in the Bible).

With apologies to Alexander Graham Bell

I’ve never much cared for the telephone. I’ve always found it rather intrusive and annoying, an interrupter of solitude. It has no consideration for whatever I might be in the middle of. I don’t usually look forward to calls, either making or receiving them. I will frequently let the answering machine or voice mail field a call if I am even mildly occupied, and will definitely never answer if I don’t recognize the number – salesman, ninety percent of the time.

Fact is, I usually consider talking on the phone a waste of time unless there is a particular purpose for the call. I don’t like chit-chat, it does nothing for me but bore me to death. Friends have grumbled at times that I don’t call them. I stopped having a landline several years ago, and reluctantly have a cell phone mainly for emergencies and other absolute necessities (it is hard to function in modern life without a phone number). I am not tethered to my cell phone like most people nowadays – you won’t catch me on it in a store, subjecting everyone around me to the one-sided blathering of my otherwise private conversation, and I would never use it while being cashed out. People don’t like it when clerks do this to them, so what makes them think clerks are any different? It’s rude, on either side of the transaction. It’s treating the other person like they’re not important enough to merit your brief attention.

Is phone-aversion an introvert thing? Do most people perk up at the sound of a ringing telephone, at the mysterious allure and potential of the unknown call? Judging by the smart-phone and texting addiction of  the younger generation, I’d have to say “yes,” absolutely. Constant contact is king.

I can understand extroverts loving the telephone, since they crave contact and being social.  I see people at work who spend their entire break talking on their cell phones, while I usually spend mine reading. These same people are on the phone the minute their shift is over, and they also usually arrive for work talking on the phone. They surreptitiously whip out their phones during work, checking Facebook or texting.

What did people do before cell phones, I often wonder, since it seems they can’t function or feel secure unless conversing with someone 24/7? Was it only a decade ago that people had to walk around – gasp! – totally disconnected? When they couldn’t call home from the store to recite every flavor of ice cream available to see which one they should buy? Oh, and do we need milk? How much of these conversations have any meaning? Does anyone care that your favorite song just came on the radio?

Granted, cell phones come in very handy at times (like the milk query), but some people take it way too far, providing their unseen cohort with a blow-by-blow accounting of their every move. I’ve noticed that people tend to share more on the phone with the other party than they likely would were they standing right next to them. It must be the fear of silence. Silence during a phone conversation is unacceptable, whereas it is perfectly alright in person.

Why is phone silence not allowed? Might there be an insecurity about whether the other person is still there? Is it because time is money on some calls? Is it because we feel stupid holding a phone and not saying anything? Whatever the reason, I suspect it has a large part to do with my dislike of the telephone – it abhors silence and demands non-stop talking, which is pretty much my idea of hell.

A blog introduction: passions, intentions and introversion

Blogs.   Do people actually read them in today’s endlessly busy and distracted world?   I will soon find out.   But whether anyone reads or not,  I have always found writing to be an endeavor that mostly benefits the author.  If others benefit as well, then that is an added bonus – and a gratifying one.

This blog will be loosely structured with many topics, all from my particular perspective.  Therefore, it would seem prudent to share a little about myself.

I am a 48-year old single gay male living in Eastern Connecticut, where I was born during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (the famous “missiles of October”).  I was a somewhat troubled, melancholy, lonely child who often felt like I was living in a semi-autistic fog, and those old feeling states have occasionally plagued me into adulthood.

I am a lifelong introvert, something I haven’t really appreciated about myself until recently.  It was a bit of a revelation when I read the textbook definition of introversion and almost every trait rang true.  I am overwhelmed easily by too much contact or stimulation.  I recharge my batteries by being alone, and strongly crave alone time after a few hours of being social.  I usually abhor chitchat, cell phones, cocktail parties and interviews.  I don’t like being interrupted or put on the spot, because it can take an introvert time to focus and I need time to process my thoughts and form a response.  I express myself much better on paper than in person.  I have been praised since grade school for my writing skills.  I have few friends, and the few relationships I have that I enjoy are the deeper ones.  I dislike surface contact.  Things have to have meaning and make sense or I have little patience for them.  I’m a good listener, provided what I’m hearing has some depth.  I am drawn to introspection and reflection.

I am also a lifelong entrepreneur, having started my own business when I was 18 and keeping it for almost 30 years.  Working for myself appealed to me greatly as I dislike authority figures and taking orders.  I am self-motivated and don’t need someone barking at me.  Since I now work for someone else (long story for future post), I have to endure some barking.  Hence the bumper sticker on my car:  “Wag More.  Bark Less.” Praise goes much further than criticism, yet seems seldom used in the average workplace.

Some interests/passions of mine include music (symphonic, esp. Beethoven and Tchaikovsky; opera (Puccini, Gilbert & Sullivan); Neil Diamond, who I have seen in concert a dozen times and whose music I have a deep affinity for; reading (a true introvert passion!  Love Shakespeare, Dickens, King, Koontz, Preston/Childs); American history, the presidency, quantum physics and the true nature of “reality,” consciousness studies, metaphysics, and basically the notion that we create our own reality.

I greatly admire those who manage to creatively express themselves in ways that others relate deeply to – especially, those who take their pain and torment and create something divine (Tchaikovsky, Beethoven).  I consider Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to be the greatest work of art I have ever experienced, and have a separate blog posting about it.  As Robert Bly observed, “where your wound is, that is where your genius will be.” Tchaikovsky is another hero in this department.

I hope you enjoy my posts and find something that strikes a chord or two in you.  To quote a passage from my favorite movie, Shadowlands, “we read to know we’re not alone.” I hope I make you feel less alone.