The Great Indoors

Great-Indoors-Sears

The introverted part of me loves snowstorms, almost as much as it loves rain. What’s up with that? Is this just a preference of mine, or do other introverts feel this way about inclement weather? I think its appeal to me is multi-faceted. For one thing, it sets a mood that seems to match my preferred one: contemplative, peaceful, cozy, secure. I don’t quite understand why many people see rain as sullen and gloomy and cause for complaint, yet get excited about snow. Perhaps it’s because there is more to do in the snow – sledding, snowball fights, building snowmen. Even shoveling. It invites activity. But you can’t do much with rain except stay inside, and that’s probably one reason I’ve always liked it. I’m basically an indoor kind of guy, and always felt a little threatened and overwhelmed by the big wide world outside my door. Too unpredictable. I’d rather read about it. The indoors always felt safer, even if I knew my preference for it was a bit abnormal. Also, I wasn’t athletic, and in grade school rain always meant we had to stay inside (yay!) and play some pseudo- sport I was more comfortable with (dodge ball, volleyball), versus one where I would feel totally inept (baseball, football). Even away from school, if it were a nice day I would feel pressured to do something outdoorsy with someone, and often there was no one around (most of the kids in my neighborhood were not the sort I wanted to hang around with, so I had only two or three friends to choose from). And then there’s the matter of my fair skin and proclivity to sunburn. So yeah, indoor activities were much more user-friendly and suited to my temperament.

None of this is to say I do not like the outdoors. I spent lots of time outside as a kid, exploring “Mica Rock,” the woods, the stream, bike riding, swimming in our pool. I also like nature, even if I make little effort to engage with it (though I do love the forests of New Hampshire and the vistas of the Southwest). But as I got older and tied to my very demanding indoor businesses, the outside got put way on the back burner, especially when I lived in places with no yard. Now that I have a nice yard and more spare time I enjoy the outdoors more, but still love the rain and snow. It makes staying indoors feel “normal,” and that’s just fine by  me.

Nature Boy

I’ve always been an indoor kind of guy. When I was a little kid in grade school, I wasn’t good at socializing or sports, so I hated recess. Kids knocked me down. I was good at my school work, which was, of course, indoors. At home, I did have a friend or two in the neighborhood and we did things outside (including, apparently, terrorizing the fat lady who lived  down the street, but that’s another blog entry – I promise), but I spent many summers at my grandmother’s house where there were no kids. I’d do word puzzles and jigsaws, walk with my grandma downtown, and spend countless hours sitting on the neighbor’s front porch while she and my grandmother gossiped about everyone on the street (mostly an Italian and Polish neighborhood, until a notorious family of hooligans moved in. This was the 1970s, and I heard words for African Americans I had never heard before).

As a young adult, I continued to prefer indoor activities to outdoor ones. There were some practical reasons for this (I was very fair-skinned, I still didn’t care for sports, and I was allergic to grass and pollen), but truth be told I often felt too exposed outside. I liked to keep to myself, and didn’t want the world watching me or talking to me. Many days I stayed inside with the blinds closed, safe in my little cocoon yet often feeling very isolated. I loved rainy days because they normalized my indoor preference. I felt threatened by the outside, and quite possibly was a little too reminded of how the rest of the world was out there having fun and being boisterous and socializing and doing everything that I condemned myself for not doing. I didn’t understand that I was an introvert, and that quiet and solitude were normal states of being for me. Granted, I may have had other issues too (agoraphobia?).  I’m sure it is quite possible to be introverted and love nature, but my point is that to me, the outside was the domain of extroverts and I didn’t belong there.

As I got older I became a little more adventurous outdoors, but not very. I would never sit on the grass or god forbid lay on it, I never went swimming, and walking the dog around the block was a big deal. I had a fabulous house in a high-class neighborhood with a big gazebo in the backyard, but I rarely sat in it. It looked nice from my living room window, though.

When I moved to a resort area of Cape Cod and bought a house right on the main drag of the business district, thousands of people passed by my front sidewalk daily. What was I thinking? My very gregarious friend would sit on the stoop of the shop next door and schmooze with the locals, but I rarely joined. I conveniently had to work all the time, and preferred to stay inside with the very non-threatening dog.

Now, five years and two homes later, I live in a house with a fabulous yard, a front and side porch, and  a large back deck. I’ve spent more time outside here in the past few months than I ever did at my other homes. I frequently sit on my porch reading or web surfing and enjoying the view of the yard. I’ve done lots of landscaping, tree cutting and stump digging, and am trying to get my pond set up.  I love it here, and I’ve been trying to figure out what triggered the switch in my behavior. Is it the yard? Perhaps. It is very inviting and pleasant, there is lots to look at (the prior owner won an award for the landscaping and flowers), and there is enough of a buffer between me and the neighbors that I never see them. And yet, there is much activity in the neighborhood – sounds from the nearby playground, lots of people walking by, barking dogs, traffic – but none of it requires my interaction, and it’s far enough away that it doesn’t threaten my space. It’s comforting that the commotion is there because it makes the place, and me, feel less isolated, which I think was a problem with other places I’ve lived. It’s a beautiful noise, as Neil Diamond put it, the music of life.

This space just feels right for me. My only regret is that it’s taken me thirty years and nine homes to find it.

"Old" friends…

I came across an article the other day exploring whether it is harder to make friends as one grows older. While I personally find it to be so, and suspect it to be so generally, making friends is never easy for introverts, at any age. If we befriend an extrovert (or, more likely, the extrovert befriends us), the extrovert often wears us out with their endless social energy and then wonders why we never call (any friends of mine reading this, you know a phone call from me is a rare thing). If, on the other hand, we befriend a fellow introvert, we never call each other and hence there’s not really much interaction.

While I cite the extremes, I have found that most of my friendships and relationships over the years have tended to be with extroverts. I understand why this is – I don’t make much effort to be social most of the time, so it has been the extroverts in my life who have done it for me. The invites, the plans, the phone calls. Sure, I have gone through phases where I have been the planner, the inviter, but it is not my normal state. I need an extrovert to prod me. I’m not sure that two introverts are very compatible. My closest friends have been major extroverts who seemed to understand my introverted traits. A rare and precious find. Sure, we annoyed each other at times, but you accept faults in friends just as you expect them to accept yours.

In recent years I have become more reclusive than usual. Yes, a lot of difficult things happened. Also, some of the friends I had moved away. I myself moved away (and came back), circumstances changed, people got married or hitched (or unhitched), social groups disbanded, jobs changed, priorities shifted. Or maybe society is just becoming more isolated? With all the options we have for entertaining ourselves at home, why leave the house? Heck, I can sit here and pull up a wide array of movies and books and music to entertain myself with instantly. It’s an introvert paradise. Is it rubbing off on the extroverts, too?

When you’re young, you’re single and adventurous and not tied down to anything. As you get older, you become more set in your ways, perhaps more picky, more attached to your career and your family, less flexible. So there are some forces at work to make new friendships difficult. But certainly not impossible. As an introvert, I kind of like having people around, so long as I don’t have to interact with them for too much or too long. A few years ago I had the opportunity, for the first time in my adult life, to live with others (five!) when I owned a large house on Cape Cod. There were many things about it I liked – a comfortable level of contact, which is often difficult for me to find.

This is what I’ve always liked about work. It’s structured (which we introverts love), the degree of contact is usually good (brief interactions with customers or coworkers), and you can usually find something to bury yourself in if the interaction gets too overwhelming. Hence, I thrive at work. Always have. On the Cape I actually had the best of both worlds, as my shop was literally attached to my house!

Now, I’m detached (hee hee… a little pun there) and while I love my e-book reader and my Netflix and my Napster and Facebook, it’s not quite enough at times. Time to venture a bit toward the extrovert end of the spectrum, hard as it is at my age…….

“Old” friends…

I came across an article the other day exploring whether it is harder to make friends as one grows older. While I personally find it to be so, and suspect it to be so generally, making friends is never easy for introverts, at any age. If we befriend an extrovert (or, more likely, the extrovert befriends us), the extrovert often wears us out with their endless social energy and then wonders why we never call (any friends of mine reading this, you know a phone call from me is a rare thing). If, on the other hand, we befriend a fellow introvert, we never call each other and hence there’s not really much interaction.

While I cite the extremes, I have found that most of my friendships and relationships over the years have tended to be with extroverts. I understand why this is – I don’t make much effort to be social most of the time, so it has been the extroverts in my life who have done it for me. The invites, the plans, the phone calls. Sure, I have gone through phases where I have been the planner, the inviter, but it is not my normal state. I need an extrovert to prod me. I’m not sure that two introverts are very compatible. My closest friends have been major extroverts who seemed to understand my introverted traits. A rare and precious find. Sure, we annoyed each other at times, but you accept faults in friends just as you expect them to accept yours.

In recent years I have become more reclusive than usual. Yes, a lot of difficult things happened. Also, some of the friends I had moved away. I myself moved away (and came back), circumstances changed, people got married or hitched (or unhitched), social groups disbanded, jobs changed, priorities shifted. Or maybe society is just becoming more isolated? With all the options we have for entertaining ourselves at home, why leave the house? Heck, I can sit here and pull up a wide array of movies and books and music to entertain myself with instantly. It’s an introvert paradise. Is it rubbing off on the extroverts, too?

When you’re young, you’re single and adventurous and not tied down to anything. As you get older, you become more set in your ways, perhaps more picky, more attached to your career and your family, less flexible. So there are some forces at work to make new friendships difficult. But certainly not impossible. As an introvert, I kind of like having people around, so long as I don’t have to interact with them for too much or too long. A few years ago I had the opportunity, for the first time in my adult life, to live with others (five!) when I owned a large house on Cape Cod. There were many things about it I liked – a comfortable level of contact, which is often difficult for me to find.

This is what I’ve always liked about work. It’s structured (which we introverts love), the degree of contact is usually good (brief interactions with customers or coworkers), and you can usually find something to bury yourself in if the interaction gets too overwhelming. Hence, I thrive at work. Always have. On the Cape I actually had the best of both worlds, as my shop was literally attached to my house!

Now, I’m detached (hee hee… a little pun there) and while I love my e-book reader and my Netflix and my Napster and Facebook, it’s not quite enough at times. Time to venture a bit toward the extrovert end of the spectrum, hard as it is at my age…….

Where your wound is, that is where your genius will be (Robert Bly)

I had the pleasure yesterday of attending a performance of my favorite piece of music, Beethoven’s 9th and final symphony, at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. While many people like this piece, and for good reason, I’m not sure that they’ve listened to it hundreds of times or attended its live performance as often as I have. I never tire of it. While my dog moans to the crescendos in the third movement (I can’t listen to that part in his presence), I delight in them. I was once asked at a retreat “If you could, at the moment of your death, transcend into some work of art, which would you choose?” The Ninth was my choice. I not only admire it for its structure and composition, but for the fact that something so beautiful, so powerful, so uplifting, so sublime could be written by a man so tormented, miserable and unhappy (and, of course, deaf). That thought brought tears to my eyes yesterday as I listened to the plaintive opening notes of the third movement and thought of his resounding, defiant triumph over misery.

I leave my music to heal the world - Beethoven

Beethoven lamented that “They who think me hostile, obstinate or misanthropic, how unjust they are to me, for they do not know the secret reason I appear that way. It is not possible for me to say, “Speak louder. Shout. I am deaf!” How can I live if my enemies, who are many, believe I no longer possess the one sense that should be perfect to a higher degree in me than in others?” Not known for modesty, he declared “everything will pass, and the world will perish but the Ninth Symphony will remain … I leave my music to heal the world.”

If someone gave me a time machine and I were allowed to go to only one place and time, I would quite possibly choose Vienna on the night of May 7, 1824. To be in the audience during Beethoven’s premiere of his masterpiece would be the ultimate thrill. He hadn’t appeared on stage or written a major work in 12 years. He was at this point completely deaf. He had written a symphony that, for the first time ever, included a chorus – not only unheard of, but they actually sat silent for the first 45 minutes of the piece. The entire work was more than an hour long, also unheard of at the time, and was very demanding on the orchestra, who thought it too difficult to perform. Beethoven was so unable to conduct them due to his deafness that they were instructed to ignore his direction.

And yet, just over an hour later, his masterpiece met with such enthusiastic ovations – five – that police had to break them off lest they overshadow the applause and attention given to the royal couple, who were in attendance. At the end of the symphony, Beethoven, not realizing the music had stopped, still had his back to the exploding audience, oblivious to their reaction. When turned around by a soloist, with tears in her eyes, he saw people throwing their hats into the air and gesturing wildly to get his attention. The hall had never seen such a thunderous ovation. Beethoven was moved to tears, and music would never be the same.

A copy of the manuscript sold for $3.3 million in 2003, being called “one of the highest achievements of man”. It is included in the Memory of the World register, and was chosen, in a condensed form, as the official anthem of the European Union. It has been said that “only the most cynical of listeners can walk away from a performance of the ninth symphony without sensing that all could be well with the world, if only the world wished it so.” While the utopian words of brotherhood sung in the finale’s famous “Ode to Joy” are by the German poet Schiller, the first line sung was an uncharacteristic sentiment of Beethoven’s: “Friends, no more of these sad tones. Rather, let us lift our voices in more cheerful sounds.”

If you have never listened to this piece of music, you owe it to yourself to do so at least once in your lifetime (I highly recommend the version conducted by Sergiu Celibidache, or the Ode to Freedom concert in Berlin by Leonard Bernstein). You may not like it upon first hearing, but if you do, you may just discover something special to cherish during difficult times, to remind yourself that you, too, can triumph. It was one of my first introductions to classical music, and its power and pathos had me instantly hooked (I feel similarly towards Tchaikovsky’s later symphonies, and many of his orchestral works).

From Beethoven’s eulogy: “Ludwig van Beethoven is no more. Who will stand beside him? He was an artist, and what he was he was only through music. The thorns of life had wounded him deeply. So he held fast to his art, even when the gate through which it entered was shut. Music spoke through a deafened ear, to he who could no longer hear it. He carried the music in his heart. Because he shut himself off from the world, they called him hostile. They said he was unfeeling, and called him callous. But he was not hard of heart. It is the finest blades that are most easily blunted, bent, or broken. He withdrew from his fellow man, after he had given them everything; and he had received nothing in return. He lived alone, because he found no second self. Thus he lived, thus he died. Thus he will live for all time.”

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