Originally I wrote this post with two different threads woven together.
It seemed like a pretty ingenious idea at the time! But eventually I had to admit that, even though each thread had its own unique font-size and format, this clever bit of literary brilliance just made it difficult to keep track of each of the related but separate threads. So I have just taken a cleaver to the post (See what I did there? Clever and Cleaver?? No? Oh boo-hoo. I thought it was pretty good word-play myself! But then again I thought a multi-threaded post was a pretty good idea too - - -) and turned it into the two separate posts it was meant to be.
This first one, a largely introspective post, will be followed next week by a more travel-bloggy post about the trip that triggered this inward look.
Every time I go up (to Michigan) for a family reunion I don't expect to be writing about it. (As is usually the case for these reunions this was the latter half of August) After all, it's not like I haven't done the trip before - lots of times - and it's mostly family stuff, of which I'm not about to plaster too much of all over the web due to privacy and potential security issues.
But as is often the case, at some point something about the trip strikes me and I end up writing about it anyway. This time it was a sort of personal reboot, or at least the realization of that reboot.
Hopefully I'll explain that a little better below.
At the tail end of this particular trip, when I was only four hours from home, (But 13 hours from the previous night's stop, so that was far enough.) I was sitting at a nearly indestructible concrete picnic table in the rest area that was my overnight stop when the thoughts start to flow.
It's not quite sunrise yet and though I've been up long enough to brew a cup of tea I'm taking my time about drinking it in order to let the clock run so as to avoid rush-hour when I skirt around the edges of the city later.
I know from past disappointment that when the thoughts start to flow like this, no matter how obvious and memorable they seem at the time, I need to capture them right now because later I will have probably lost most of that profound, intracranial-conversation to the muck swirling in the bottom of that pool of untagged-memories. Ever since smart-phones I do this with my phone's audio recorder app. Of course, when revisited later most of those thoughts are - well, to put it in fancy terms - crap - but you never know.
By the way, it may have been coincidence, or could be that the sound is what triggered my thoughts in the first place, but behind my voice on the recording, like an exquisitely appropriate sound-track, you can hear the distant, lonely call of a train working it's way southward somewhere off in the woods.
No matter how blue the sky, the thing about traveling in the heat of the summer is that it's hot, it's dusty, the colors are faded, bleached to an almost monochromatic grey by the relentless sun, and there's just a touch of desperateness to it all as bug-spattered cars cycle through hot, crowded fuel-stations and jockey for the closest parking spot at tired rest areas populated with half-dried weeds struggling up through cracked pavement.
But despite all that, despite two weeks in Michigan without air-conditioning during record-setting heat, as I sat there on that dew-damped concrete bench accompanied by the background rumble of idling truck engines, that distant cry of a train, and the occasional tire-whine of a passing vehicle out there on the highway, I found I was actually feeling a little melancholy that the trip was effectively over, but I was also feeling pretty good because a kind of peace and contentment had snuck in and settled firmly into my belly. ( At first I thought maybe it was just the tea, but I was wrong - - - )
There, with my elbows braced on the table-top, the grit under them crunching slightly every time I raised my cup for another sip, the realization struck me that this, where I was right now, is the real world.
The real world isn't one of those highly choreographed sit-com sets The Wife and I peer at through the window of our TV some evenings. It's not the bucolic, predictable but comforting story-line of a Hallmark movie, or the carefully crafted word-pictures of the latest book I'm reading. It's not even, especially not even, our familiar and isolated little homestead with it's perimeter fence keeping the rest of the world at bay.
The real world is steamy, gritty, a little chaotic, confusing, often plot-less, and sometimes scary.
I have spent much of my life feeling as if I am outside looking in. The guy that is perpetually standing out on the snowy sidewalk looking through the brightly lit window, past the tantalizing stocking-leg lamp, at Ralphy's Christmas. And sometimes that makes me sad, even though I know being on the inside would be uncomfortable for me and I would be looking for the first opportunity to escape back outside anyway.
Yet sitting there under the cold, almost blue light of the newfangled lampposts strategically dotting this fairly new rest area, I realized that I was actually glad to have been forced from the isolation of the introvert and be reminded that I can survive mixing with the real people once in a while. The experience has been a palette-cleanser that allowed me to reset my perspective of how I actually fit into this world.
Not as an outsider as some, especially those who can't understand not being 'normal', would have me believe, but more of an outlier helping draw the defining lines around 'normal'.
Note that in the painting at the top of this post the lone figure is positioned towards the left side and facing out of the frame rather than into it. That wasn't a conscious choice, it's just how the image turned out when I initially sketched it up. But, despite the art world's "rule" about having figures look into the painting so the viewer's eye isn't directed off the edge and away from the artwork, I thought it was a good representation of how my mind works and how I navigate the world, so I left it that way.
The Oxford dictionary succinctly, pretty much dismissively, describes the introvert as "a shy, reticent person", but they are wrong. Egregiously wrong!
Those more knowledgeable about this trait often describe the introvert as "characterized by being reserved and thoughtful with a tendency to be inwardly oriented and to gather strength or energy from being alone rather than from the company of others". Although highly simplistic, this is at least a slightly more comprehensive and informed description - but is still wrong.
Introverts aren't gathering strength and energy when they are alone but rather they're stopping the drain of strength and energy it takes to be around and interact with people.
Everybody, in fact all living things with even rudimentary brains, have a Reticular Activating System, a RAS, which is a bunch of neurons located in the brain stem, that lizard-brain that is involved with the baser functions like heartbeat, breathing, and other reflexive actions that keep us alive.
Simplistically, the RAS part of our lizard brains regulates our "awareness" level, or the amount of information we are processing at any given point in order to be cognizant of and able to deal with any dangers around us.
Evolution has dictated that our personal RAS be turned up or down depending on the level of external stimulation, although we actually have no conscious control over the level anymore than we do our heart-rate. (Yeah, I'm ignoring the handful of Yogis out there that can make their hearts do whatever they're told.) This automatic adjustment of RAS levels is predicated on the simple, basic fact that the more external stimulation the more opportunity for danger so internal awareness levels need to be higher.
From a scientific perspective introverts are the 15% or so of the population with RAS's that operate at a higher base volume than the rest of the population and the need to isolate in order to process and regulate the constant flood of information this creates before our heads explode is what drives us to the 'introvert traits'. (Conversely, extroverts have a low RAS baseline level and tend to use social interaction to amp things up.)
The problem is some, and based on my level of introvertism I surmise that my RAS is turned up pretty dang high definitely making me one of the 'some' in this case, can take this to the far end of the spectrum. Which, while it seems to me a pretty normal place to hang out, is often classified as odd (To put it gently, though other, more graphic and derogatory descriptions have drifted their way to my ears on occasion.) by non-introverts.
But regardless, I find two solid weeks of social interaction uncomfortable and exhausting, yet I realize, as I'm sitting here about to wrap up the trip, that I'm actually feeling pretty sanguine about being "forced" out into the real world. (I know! I know! Sanguine is a pretty pretentious, nose-in-the-air, Champaign-and-caviar kinda word coming out of someone that doesn't even drink beer, but it's not often I get to properly use a word like that!)
The experience has "rebooted" my perspective on the world and helped me recover my understanding of where and how I fit into it. Which also has the effect of reminding me there's no need to beat myself up over being an introvert - that's just how I'm wired, even if not everyone understands. (To be fair, I don't understand the life of an extrovert either.)
Sure, if I had a choice I may not have chosen this particular set of personality traits for myself and lived a different kind of life closer to the center of the bell-curve, but I am what I am and, despite spending my entire career thought of as "weird" by my colleagues, I'm actually, at this moment in time anyway, fine with that.