The Slippery Ledge of Life as an Introvert
Writers are often misunderstood. We are believed to be reclusive and unfriendly when many of us are simply introverts. An introvert is not a shy or anti-social person, but one who is put out of sorts by dealing with others for prolonged periods of time.
This doesn’t mean we don’t like people. I, for one, really do. But unlike extroverts who thrive on interaction and the company of many people, we are bled dry by long term social exposure. We love our friends, but we need to take them in small doses. And then we will need large amounts of recovery time alone to get our balance back. Being with others drains us because we’re always distracted by what’s really going on in our minds.
You see, many introverts live double lives. There’s the surface, visible life observed by those around us, and then there’s the internal, magical life where we much prefer to dwell. In that internal world live all of our dreams and enchanted fantasies, and all the lovely imaginary friends who entertain and inspire us. For introverted writers, that internal world is essential.
I have always had imaginary friends, as far back as I can recall. I’ve been very fortunate to have many real life friends, too, but none of them have had this internal, magical world. I felt compelled to keep its existence very quiet.
I didn’t mention it to another living soul until I was nearly thirteen years old, and the person I chose simply couldn’t understand. She was a family friend who I trusted, but her inability to grasp what I was trying to share caused her to suggest that my mother have me mentally evaluated. Thankfully, my mom didn’t go that route.
She’d known about the imaginary friends since I was five. At that time, we were living in a two story apartment and my bedroom was at the top of the stairs. One night I was lying in bed chatting away with my ‘friends’ when I heard her shout up to me.
“Are you talking?”
This question seemed ludicrous to me. Of course I was talking. How else does one communicate with one’s friends? I answered “yes” in a tone that reflected my feelings on the matter, and that tone gave my young mother pause.
I have no idea what went through her head, but it took her a few minutes to respond. When she finally did, all she said was: “well, go to sleep!”
That was that. She never asked who I was talking to or why, she just accepted it and moved on. No judgment, no panic, no looking up the nearest men in little white coats to come spirit me away to an institution. I’ve told her many times how much I appreciated that parental decision. Her one and only kid was an artist and an introvert with imaginary friends. When I was little, she was okay with that.
It’s been harder for her as we’ve moved through our shared adulthood. Like most people, she doesn’t understand how an introvert can love to perform on stage or enjoy public speaking. She thinks introvert = shy. Many people do. My mother is an extrovert and would much prefer I were one, too, but that’s simply not how it shook out.
Not all writers are introverts, of course. One of my dearest friends is also a novelist and she is a textbook extrovert. She loves being social and can do it continually without needing ‘alone time’ breaks to recover, as I do. She thrives on the company of others. It strengthens her.
I envy this in her, but at the same time I wonder how she stays sane. I asked her recently how she manages never having any real time by herself to recharge. She said she has a few hours in the morning before her husband wakes up. She sits in the front room and works on her writing while he sleeps.
I explained that, for me, there’s a vast difference between being alone in a room and being alone in the house. Even if the other person is sleeping, they’re still there. Ergo, you are not alone. I would think this is true for most introverts.
Alone is a precious, specific commodity that can’t be faked or hedged. No, being by yourself in the bathroom while you brush your teeth doesn’t count. The true state of alone is a matter of ear shot and proximity. If I can’t talk to my imaginary friends without being heard by a real person, that’s not alone enough.
Yes, I know what this sounds like: insanity. But I’m sure any introvert reading this would concur that we are not at all crazy, we just practice sanity on a different frequency. We are livers of two distinct and vital lives that will never cross each other. Well, if they do, then our cheese has definitely vacated our cracker.
Introverts have learned to carefully walk the tight rope between the inner and outer worlds. We do it all day long and all night long. Our dreams reflect both realities, which can cause confusion at times. But I remain ever grateful for this state of mind, this way of thinking and living. Without it, there would be no stories and no characters—no magical place where beautiful adventures are in constant motion.
Without it, there would be no me.