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.

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).