Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Introvert's Manifesto

There is so much about winter that I love: twinkling lights, candles in every room, Christmas trees, Christmas services, presents, wrapping paper, cookie making, curling bows, wool everything (sweater vests, skirts, ornaments, farm animals if you're lucky enough to have them).  Someone congratulated me yesterday for not having to be pregnant through the summer and I said I would be a holy terror if I had to go through that. 

Of course, saying this out loud basically ensures a future pregnancy in Mexico in August, does it not?

Last night was our final childbirth class, given through a local hospital that boasts some number of national honors.  As usual, I left with heartburn, and my customary confusion: are they trying to get everyone to abort before it's too late?  The general messaging seems to be: this will be hard, hard, hard.  It's a good thing I didn't meet these people before we decided to get pregnant.  I don't think I would have the guts to go through with a thing. 

But, like most challenges, the further along this road of carrying a child I go, the stronger I feel.  The first three months of pregnancy were a nausea-fueled secret; at any point, I thought, I could still be making it up.  As my body changes, though, and I recognize the wondrous bubble I have seen on other women covered by my own clothing when I glance in the mirror, a tap root sinks further into the ground of my being, and I feel really tall, and strong, and indifferent to so many winds that used to blow me around like a sapling. 

I have been thinking about social bonds a ton.  I process things so internally, and my personality has always had a huge component of introversion, one which I did not always understand how to honor.  But this component is so present right now.  I haven't seen some of my neighbors in the longest time.  I was already pregnant when Bear died, and was changing jobs within my company at the same time.  I have been either processing grief or new life or motherhood for half a year, and I find myself with little energy left over for much besides my writing, my job, and my husband. 

Tim and I had been hoping for some terrific stories coming out of our childbirth class.  We wanted to meet the smorgasbordy, non-toast of our town.  We wanted awkward questions.  We wanted a comb-over at the very least, but we got the most normal group of folks, and I wonder if our collective middle-class decorum was the source of the class's over-arching dryness.  Let's just say, whenever a teacher asked, Any questions? she was almost always met by silence.  No one was opening up, ever.   

Still, leaving class last night, I was sad to not be able to see our non-friends the following week.  I had grown a little attached to the shy women, the eager men, the baby-faced couple I was sure would secretly beat the pants off the rest of us in birth - not because of their youth, but because their sporty, somewhat clueless look held a glowing charm within it: they were the sure underdogs. 

Tim joked, "I'm going to miss all these people we never talked to!"  I agreed.  Not quite ready to go to bed yet, he then drove us to a house blazing with Christmas lights, a house with its own low-frequency radio station.  At first, I didn't understand why Tim was changing the Cat Stevens on the radio, but once he explained that we were going to "hear the lights," I was game.  When he tried to drive away a minute later, all I said was, "I need to stay here." I was putty in the hands of whatever mad Christmas genius lived inside that house, who had synchronized music to the lights leaping around his yard. 

Sometimes I struggle with the fact that I like to spend so much time alone.  I worry I will wake up in four years and everyone will have forgotten about me.  I sometimes have to learn and relearn the limits of my social abilities when I get over-cranked and grow toxic inside.  Then, I know, it is time to put in my headphones and go for a walk, or drag out my art supplies and make a collage, or just rant and rant in one of my drugstore notebooks.  Whatever it is, I have to do something for me and me only.  It feels powerful to block out the world, even for five or ten minutes, and just be inside myself, listening.

Other times, like the present when my body is gripped by such a primal experience, I can't quite muster up the pep it takes to offer myself to others.  I feel very selfish right now, like I am saving everything for me and my baby, but I find it nearly impossible to care how I may appear.  I'm sure this is natural, and will someday pass, but I've never quite felt this level of indifference to what other people want from me.  It is freeing in many ways, and makes me wonder if real confidence is simply taking care of what you know you need, no matter what anyone says. 

In the Paris Review Interview with Jonathan Franzen, he discusses something I have often felt about the pleasures of writing fiction.  Speaking of his conversations with David Foster Wallace and the publication of his latest novel Freedom, Franzen says: 

The China piece came out of a question that Dave and I talked about constantly: How can we keep sitting in our rooms and struggling with fiction when there is so much wrong with the world?  During the summer after I signed the book contract, my sense of duty became utterly oppressive.  So much bad stuff was happening in the country—and happening to wild birds around the world!—that I felt I just couldn’t keep wasting months.  I had to go out and do something, get my hands dirty with some problem.  Only after the China piece failed to find a discernible audience or have any discernible impact did I get it through my head that I might actually have more effect on the world by retreating to my room and doing what I was put on earth to do.

I love to poke fun of this man, but I honestly have a lot of respect for his work and person.  He is trying so hard, and I find his focus enviable.  I also find myself watching his spiritual side develop in non-fiction pieces and, like some crazed old piano teacher whose students are off in the world now, I see myself cheer when he steps closer and closer towards some inner peace. 

Anyway, it is a busy but beautiful time of year, yes?  I find myself rooting around the kitchen often, brandishing impromptu cakes, just for the heck of it.  I think this is my version of nesting; the "nursery" is still a far-away idea, but a whole chicken waits to be buttered and stuffed with rosemary sprigs, and I am incredibly sad I can't do this before Christmas vacation. 

Some early presents for you: 

* An article about the healing affects of spending time alone, written by one of my heroes, Jancee Dunn, who used to write for Rolling Stone.

* 7 Reasons to Date (Or Marry?) A Guy With a Beard. Those of you with a weakness for beards, you can now proudly raise your hands.

* A beautiful post by my friend Amelia about her relationship to her father, who sadly passed away this Thanksgiving.

That is all!  Go out with the candles of your heart lit this season and, if you find yours in darkness, lean close to someone who can share the light from their own.

With so much love,