Thursday, November 11, 2010

3 Common Misconceptions About Introverts

This is what introversion looks like? Really?
I'm going to be extra bad today and actually start out on a tangent, because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want. Last night, I was reading a couple of articles about introversion and this morning, I thought it would be a good idea to maybe write a few quick thoughts about it here, since I have yet to address this subject as it relates to creativity.

So I run a quick Google search to find a couple of pictures or something to go with the post, because I think Blogger posts are just so much nicer when they have some kind of picture involved. I was really struck by how many of the pictures that came up under a search for "introversion" actually feature an image of a person, an animal, or whatever that robot thing above is sitting by itself while looking miserable, sad and dejected.

That says a lot to me about how our extrovert-centric world sees us introverts and I can't say I like it one bit. I can kind of feel this post going away from what I originally wanted it to be about, but that's OK. I can always address other aspects of introversion in future posts. In the meantime, I think I'd rather begin to speak about introversion by talking about some of the stereotypes we as introverts face, so here are a few common misconceptions about introverts along with some simple truths straight from the horse's mouth.

1. Introverts are miserable, sad and dejected individuals like our little robot friend up there.

While it's certainly possible for introverts to be miserable, sad or dejected, it's simply because they're human and those are emotions humans can sometimes feel. However, being an introvert does not go hand in hand with that. Many introverts are very happy people and a great many also live very rich intellectual and creative lives that they find very fulfilling.

As an introvert, it's simply that different things make me happy. I feel happy when I find time to curl up with a good book and a pot of tea or paint a picture. I feel happy when I'm around the teensy handful of people I'm close to, as well as my cat, and can enjoy a delicious meal that I cooked myself. I feel happy when I have a free afternoon that I can spend practicing Tori Amos songs on the piano. Parties, gatherings, and crowds on the other hand -- you know, the things that make extroverts happy? Those things pretty much just make me want to crawl under a rock and die, so I avoid them the same way anyone else avoids activities they don't enjoy or that they consider unpleasant.

Also, introverts aren't naturals at the game of show-and-tell. We don't feel the need to give voice to every thought that floats through our heads like an extrovert does. (I would say I myself actually say maybe 10% of what I'm actually thinking, if that.) We work through our emotions via inward reflection and quiet thought, not "talking it out". You can't always tell what we're thinking or feeling just by looking either. Extroverts mistakenly think that if someone isn't bouncing off the walls at all times or yammering a mile a minute, then they must be unhappy. Maybe it's time for them to think about the fact that not everyone is just like them and that that's perfectly OK.

I would also like to add that most of the misery, sadness and dejection I've experienced had nothing to do with my introversion and everything to do with the fact that other people couldn't seem to accept me as I was for whatever reason and leave me the hell alone. I don't know why the simple sight of someone minding their own business and reading a book instead of yapping and socializing non-stop bothered other people so much, but it really did. Some people even seemed visibly disturbed by the fact that I really wasn't interested in making friends or talking a lot, despite the fact that I wasn't hurting anybody or bothering anyone else. To this day, I still don't get why that had to be such a big deal when my choices affected no one but me.

2. Introverts don't have any kind of social skills or social confidence whatsoever.

Again, not true. Introversion and social ineptitude are not the same thing. Introversion and shyness are not the same thing either. A shy person has trouble with social interaction for any number of reasons. An introvert simply prefers not to socialize very often (if at all) because they find it draining, but said introvert may have excellent social skills. There are shy introverts out there for sure... but there are also shy extroverts as well. I'm actually a perfect example of an introvert with social skills who simply prefers not to use them. I worked in high-end retail sales for many years and I was good at it. I hated it and considered it to be the worst possible job for me, but I had to do something to make money and that was the most lucrative option available to me at the time.

Most people I worked with had no clue how introverted I really was though. Some never picked up on it at all and just saw how charming and popular I was with the customers. They were the ones who thought I must have been the homecoming queen or the head cheerleader in high school instead of the school weirdo, which would be closer to the truth. Then others did pick up on it, but really didn't know what to make of it. They just thought I was a bitch... or a total snob who thought I was better than everybody else. Then again, most salespeople tend to be extroverts, so that's hardly surprising.

My professional life is much better suited to me now. I get to make a living by being creative, which is a strength with many introverts. I also get to work at home on my own computer on my own schedule. I can play whatever music I like and can have as many pots of tea as I can drink. Best of all, I call all my own shots, so I never have to answer a telephone or deal with strangers walking into my office and interrupting me. I make up all the rules in regards to how I do business, as well as how and when people are allowed to contact me, and if other people want to work with me, they follow those rules. It's that simple. As a result, I finally feel the same way about my work life as other people have always said they felt about theirs.

3. Introverts are mentally unhealthy and need to be broken out of their shells. Don't worry if they kick and scream at first. They will be thankful for it once the process is complete.

Oh, for Pete's sake!
This is the one that always makes me chuckle and pull out both middle fingers. There is nothing "unhealthy" about being an introvert. In fact, you extroverts probably enjoy a lot of what introverts have had to offer the world without even realizing it. Did you know that it's your introvert that typically grows up to be a scientist, an engineer, a writer, a painter, or an inventor? Do you appreciate the novels you read or the medicines that make you better when you're sick? How about modern technology-related items like cell phones, iPods or the internet -- do you like using those? Well, thank an introvert! Chances are it was one of them that made it possible. Good thing no one ever succeeded in turning them into a different person, huh?

As for the part about all introverts just waiting for some kind extrovert to come along and force them out of their shell, it is never appreciated. I definitely speak from personal experience here. I've had many past friends, ex-boyfriends, and former acquaintances roll through my life that volunteered to take me on as a little pet project without my knowledge or permission, figuring I'd thank them for it later once I was enjoying my brand new extroverted life.

These include an extroverted ex-boyfriend who thought his relentless attempts to force me to dress up in booty shorts and go clubbing every other night would be good for me and an ex-acquaintance who actually thought I should abandon my copywriting business to punch a cash register at a bottom rung department store because it would force me to socialize on a daily basis. Naturally, it didn't matter that I personally hate booty shorts, clubs and retail jobs. I'm sure it isn't lost on you that my vocabulary also states that these individuals are no longer part of my life and you would be correct in assuming that that's the reason why. I'm nobody's fixer-upper. Anyone who thinks I should want to be needs to GTFO.

No one appreciates being told that they aren't good enough as they are and that they need to change in order to make themselves acceptable to someone else. Would you? Well, neither do we. Most of us like being relatively solitary and keeping to ourselves. It gives us time to record the many ideas we have and to work on the creative projects that make us feel alive. It's what we were made for, after all! We're also happy with the way we don't talk much, party much, or have a tendency to seek out the spotlight at all times.

There are, of course, many more misconceptions about introverts out there, but those are the three that have been the most prevalent in my own life and the lives of other introverted creative types I've known over the years. If you'd like some further recommended reading, try Caring for Your Introvert. It's probably one of the best articles I've ever read on introversion, actually. It even comes complete with a picture of happy, smiling introverts for a change! Also, feel free to share your own experiences as an introvert as well. Clue me in on what I missed and maybe I'll address it in a future post.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Proud Maisie and the Beginning of an Obsession

Proud Maisie - Frederick Sandys
I have ridiculously strong memories attached to this piece. I didn't know what it was called then, but when I was still in high school, my art class was given a copy of this image to imitate as a study on how to draw hair and facial expressions. I really can't remember a time before or since when I had more fun with an assignment.

It was really all about the hair. 

Before I'd ever seen this piece, I'd already been obsessed with the idea of beautiful hair for a long time. I was born with horrendously bushy, frizzy hair myself and I'd always wanted nice, long, shiny, beautiful hair instead. It probably goes without saying that the day it was decided I was old enough to start wearing my hair however I wanted was about ten times better than Christmas.  

I also find hair really interesting on a creative level because of what it represented to me when I was younger. It's really the one thing about your appearance that can literally be anything you want it to be, provided you're willing to do the work and bother with the maintenance. You can make it any color, any length, any style -- and when you get sick of it, you can just change it up and try something new. It's a little bit like a metaphor for life and as a teenager, it also represented broader concepts like beauty, freedom, and choice. Being able to change the impossible, out of control hair Mother Nature stuck me with into exactly what I wanted instead made me feel like I could do pretty much anything and that "I can do it" attitude has actually stuck with me over the years.

Naturally, when my cheap photocopy of this piece was placed in front of me to copy that long-ago day in Mrs. Jay's drawing class, I was thrilled. The hair on the model in this is just amazing and I was chomping at the bit to get started on the challenge of capturing it myself. The experience was almost kind of meditative, as well as very challenging. I really did well at it, too. I've always been good with graphite and I'm terrific at using it to capture minute details. Hell, for all I know, that drawing is still around here somewhere despite the fact that I did it more than fifteen years ago. 

That day in art class actually began my obsession with drawing hair. Before I did that exercise, the hair on the characters I drew wasn't that huge of a part of the composition or anything. After I did this, it always was. It still is to this day, which you know if you've seen much of my personal art in any of my galleries. It also tends to represent much the same thing it always did for me as a young teen. It's odd the experiences that one day dictate the trademarks your work will always have.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo First Day Jitters... Conquered!

Well, I successfully made it through my first day of this year's NaNoWriMo. I'm proud of myself for sticking with my decision to participate this year instead of skipping it like I did last year even though I still have other things to do. Now that my writing clients keep me busy pretty consistently, I just can't let work obligations be a viable excuse for not working on my personal stuff anymore. (I'm never going to become a novelist one day with that attitude!) At this point, it's either figure out a way to find the energy and time or not do it at all... and not writing for myself ever is just not an option I'm willing to entertain.

I was pleased to see that I've apparently learned a lot about how to structure a novel and keep it moving... probably thanks to learning how to mentally structure something by doing it constantly for my clients. I've also been taking mental notes on story and character building by studying how it's done on television shows and movies where I really like the style. Mad Men has been a big one. I really like the way the writer for that show doesn't bind himself to lots and lots of boring follow-up in regards to the storylines. If it doesn't help illustrate his theme or keep things moving, he just doesn't bother... and it works.

I've started Prophet Birds by structuring it similarly and it seems to be working really well for me as a style. I used to get lost in hundreds of words worth of boring, long-winded "explanations" for things that probably don't really need explaining. This year, I'm trying to "show not tell" by developing characters through shorter scenes that reveal their personalities by allowing you to see into their lives voyeur-style instead.

I really like how it's going so far and I'm really excited about what the finished product will be like. Not only does it read better, but it's more fun to write. I've learned to trust that when I don't feel like describing someone's bus ride home from their job... or some annoying scene that really isn't anything but them eating dinner and talking about nothing? It's probably because the scene isn't necessary, meaning I should just skip it. I feel like I've made some kind of break-through as a creative writer that should have been made a long time ago. That's a real motivator for me!

I'm mildly annoyed that since I tend to be up and writing past midnight, my word counts for the day tend to be kind of jacked up and inaccurate, but whatever. I know I got my shit done on the right day just as I was supposed to and that's all that matters, right?