I is for Introvert

 

Photo source: dethjunkie on Tumblr

A couple of posts ago, my mom left a comment suggesting that I explain my MBTI personality type (IN[F/T]P). I think it’s a great idea because the MBTI test is a good way to gauge general motivations and impulses, although the personality types find unique expression in each person depending on environmental factors and personal history. When I get to the F/T part, I’ll explain the uncertainty, but I think that, since so much can be said about each element of the type, I’ll dedicate one post to each. And so we begin with a discussion on introverts.

Most people have a very clear image of introverts: shy, even avoidant, soft-spoken wallflowers. However, while introverts do prefer solitude over crowded parties, introversion doesn’t have to mean that one dislikes the company of others or is incapable of functioning well in social situations. I’m an atypical introvert; in fact, most people (those who don’t know me well) would be shocked at the idea. I’ve been called bubbly, high-energy, vivacious, even a “social butterfly.” While the latter is way off, I am capable of interacting with others and having fun at concerts, parties, and other social situations, and doing it pretty well. I go to work, socialize with my coworkers, and lead weekly meetings; I dance at parties; I’ve attended nearly every concert that my husband has performed over the last eight years that we’ve been together. That doesn’t make me an extrovert, and this is why: it’s incredibly draining.

In between these things, I need periods of solitude (equal to the amount of time spent socializing, if not more) in order to remain healthy and sane–to (as a similarly introverted friend of mine said once) “feel like a person again.” My house is my cave, my safe place, and most of my nights at home include just one other person, my husband, who isn’t so much another person to me as the cliche “other half.” Being together is like being alone but in the best way; we respect each other’s privacy and need for silent meditation, but we also feel comfortable freely sharing our thoughts with each other when we want to bounce them off another person who innately understands our motivations and sense of the world. I can sit quietly for hours without the pressure of feeling the need to entertain and then pipe up with an idea, out of the blue, without filtering my thoughts. Anyway, I need time alone (or mostly alone) to re-energize, to think and address the thoughts and emotions I’ve collected throughout the day or week, and to create (whether it’s a sewing project or a poem or short story). And when I don’t get this time to myself, I become tense, moody, even at risk of a breakdown.

Introversion, as defined by Jung, means “inward-turning.” This means that one’s energy and motivation come from one’s internal world: thoughts, ideas, dreams. Introverts are thought-oriented seekers of depth (rather than breadth) of knowledge and substantial (rather than frequent) interaction; I’d rather have an intellectually nourishing conversation with a small group once a month than attend a cocktail party full of small talk once a week.

For introverts, energy is expended through interaction with the external world. We need time to reflect before and after bouts of action, and too much action can cause us to feel stifled and cornered and become withdrawn. In essence, we’re like sea mammals or amphibians that spend most of our time underwater, poking our heads up now and then to express air and glimpse the busyness above but always needing, for whatever reason, to go back down again.

Courtesy of g00dtrip on Tumblr

Filling in the Details

Well, this is the longest I’ve gone between posts — over four months! It’s shameful, and I am ashamed. But, in my defense, I have been going through some pretty significant changes during this time, and they’ve thrown me for a loop, and I’m just now finding my feet once again.

The biggest change is that I am, as they used to say, quick with child.

announcement

Announcement by Eric Parton, Father-To-Be

I’m currently 19.5 weeks along, and it has thus far been a fascinating, exciting, sometimes painful (hip pains are no joke!) journey. Eric and I weren’t necessarily trying to get pregnant, but we’d decided at the beginning of the year (literally the beginning — early New Year’s morning) that we were ready and would let fate determine when it would happen. And then it happened. Since then, I’ve been obsessed — researching the baby’s weekly growth and developments, researching what to expect and what to do/not do during pregnancy, keeping a journal, figuring out the solutions to financial challenges, musing over names, and planning the nursery (which is going to be cost-effective, whimsical, gender neutral, and elegant). It’s a lot to think about.

The second big thing that’s happened is that I got a job as a web copy writer, in addition to the freelance work I was already doing, and so I have had very little time to devote to other things, like this blog or answering emails (I have been really bad about that). I’m excited to finally have a writing job, which means gaining good experience in the industry, building my portfolio, and being challenged in many ways. Good things. I’ve recently been designated the company blog editor, in addition to my copy writing responsibilities, so I’ve had blogging on my mind for the past week and have been feeling guilty for ignoring this one for so long. I enjoy blogging as an open letter to the world and a public dispensary for my thoughts, and I want to keep at it.

So I’m finally resurfacing and am determined not to let this blog die a sad, lonely death. I’m also determined not to make every post about my pregnancy (it’s inevitable that it’ll creep in now and then, but I promise to try to make it at least as interesting as my other posts).

That being said, onward!

To the Mystery in a Cloud

Nimbus II. 2012. Digital C-type Print 75 x 112 cm. Hotel MariaKapel, Hoorn, Netherlands. Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.

I’m a terrible blogger in some ways. I’m whimsical, coy, and frequently silent. I blame this on being an INF(T)P (I also love blaming perceived flaws on personality types and star signs — I’m a Pisces — because it helps me bear them philosophically). Anyway, seeing as I haven’t posted in a while, I’ve been racking my brain for the past few weeks for something to post about. I’m extremely picky about what I feel is “worthy” of posting. It can’t just be something cool I found, where I post a brief introduction and a link and am done with it; it has to be something I can explore and build on to say something about myself or my perception of the world (very INTP). I don’t know why I’ve set this requirement for my blog, but there it is.

I was cruising Pinterest and Google images today for inspiration for a new tattoo idea I have: just a cloud, but not a cutesy one, or a cartoonish one, or an 8-bit one, or a Chinese-style one, something kind of ethereal that will still somehow work with my more classic-style blue jay tattoo. The idea was inspired by the following lines in Wendell Berry’s poem “The Morning News”:

What must I do
to go free?  I think I must put on
a deathlier knowledge, and prepare to die
rather than enter into the design of man’s hate.
I will purge my mind of the airy claims
of church and state.  I will serve the earth
and not pretend my life could better serve.
Another morning comes with its strange cure.
The earth is news.  Though the river floods
And the spring is cold, my heart goes on,
faithful to the mystery in a cloud,
and the summer’s garden continues its descent
through me, toward the ground.

I love that. If I had to name a personal living hero (and I’m not really into that; hero worship is a little dangerous), I’d probably say Wendell Berry. The line I bolded has particularly stuck with me; I think of it every time I watch the clouds drift across the blue expanse above me like a herd of diaphanous elephants. If I identify with any natural presence, it’s clouds. They have tender, fleeting existences; they take various shapes throughout their “lives” as they are created and transformed by the elements and forces around them; at different points, they are benign or malignant, soothing or ominous; and when they’re gone, it’s only back into the earth, where they nourish life and eventually are reborn in other forms. In some ways, at least from my perspective, their mystery is our human mystery. And when I get my tattoo, and people ask me what it means, I can say with droll, stark ambiguity, “I’m faithful to the mystery in a cloud.”

During this morning search for tattoo inspiration, I came across (not for the first time) the photographs of Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde, whose surreal images of clouds within empty interior spaces have garnered a lot of attention this year. These images are not of clouds photoshopped into spaces; Smilde creates the clouds himself by misting the air and then turning on a fog machine, and an assistant takes the photo at the right time.

Nimbus D’Aspremont. 2012. Digital C-type Print 75 x 110/125 x 184 cm. Kasteel D’Aspremont-Lynden, Rekem, Belgium. Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.

The creation of the cloud, as performance or installation art, is a statement on impermanence and the awe one feels when watching something mysterious and unique (as no two clouds are exactly alike) unfold. The photograph, however, is representative of mankind’s special ability and deep desire to make the evanescent (more) eternal.

An article on Slate explains: “Smilde is interested in fleeting moments, the ‘in-between situations’ that are open to interpretation.” Smilde himself wrote that “the cloud brings duality because you can’t really grasp how to interpret the situation you are viewing. This is not so much about the shape of the cloud but rather by placing it out of its natural context; in this case the unnatural situation can be threatening.”

I don’t find the surreal threatening, however. I’m always drawn to the liminal and the strange. Like Emily Dickinson, I know it’s my kind of art when “it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me.” Viewing his photographs is a spiritual confirmation. It nods to a wordless truth — something about the beauty of transience, how things have power and beauty simply because they are impermanent — that is wonderful in every sense of the word.

It’s like seeing a spirit in daylight.

Nimbus Minerva. 2012. Digital C-type Print 75 x 113/125 x 188 cm. Academy Minerva, Groningen, Netherlands. Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.

Nimbus Platform57. 2012. Digital C-type Print 125 x 198 cm. The Hague, Netherlands. Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.

Nimbus Cukurcuma Hamam I. 2012. C-type Print on Dibond, 125 x 184 cm. Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Onur Dag.

Bats in the Attic

bats in the attic

We discovered recently that we have a relatively small colony of little brown bats living in our attic, pictured above (you can click on the image to see it larger). It might surprise some people, but we’re mostly excited about them. The guano mess is going to be a pain to clean up, of course, and the removal by exclusion process can be a hassle, but their presence is a welcome addition to our ecosystem for a number of reasons:

1) They eat insects like mosquitoes, wasps, gnats, and agricultural pests. In fact, a single little brown bat can eat around 600 mosquitoes in an hour. We are rife with mosquitoes around here, but we’ve already seen a significant decrease in their population since the bats arrived.

2) Guano is apparently an excellent fertilizer. We’re starting a garden this year, so we’ll test that theory soon enough. You can’t beat free fertilizer.

3) They aid in crop pollination.

4) We think they’re cute. They have sweet little faces and furry little bodies and squeaky little voices.

Who couldn’t love these little faces?

Or this one?

So, instead of just calling someone in to evict them (or worse — we’ve heard some terrible stories), we’re going to offer them an alternative: a bat house, mounted on the side of our house beneath the vent they’re currently calling home. There are lots of bat house plans online for those who like to DIY, but we were intimidated by that prospect (being fairly inexperienced in the ways of building wooden structures and knowing that bats can be kind of picky about their accommodations), so we ordered this one:

It’s good-looking in the picture, but it’s beautiful in person. And it’s extremely cost effective compared to other bat houses of similar quality and specifications we’ve seen. The only adjustment we made was to add shingles (i.e. free samples from Lowes) to the eave, which is recommended to prevent water damage and regulate heat absorption.

For anyone interested in buying/making a similar bat house, other criteria for good bat accommodations, as established by Bat Conservation International (a great resource for all kinds of information about bats), are as follows:

1) Multiple chambers — large houses with multiple chambers tend to be more successful than ones with only a single chamber because bats prefer options and privacy. Our bat house has only one chamber, but I imagine that, given its size, the size of their colony, and their current arrangement between the attic vent and the screen, the bats will still consider it an upgrade.

2) Roughened interior crevices — all over, not just on the landing area — are essential so the bats can have something to cling to while they sleep. If the house lacks this feature, they won’t be able to use it.

3) The shade of the exterior paint/varnish is another important factor to consider, and it varies from region to region. For cooler areas, a darker shade is best to increase heat absorption, but hotter regions need lighter shades to keep the temperature comfortable. No one wants to live in a house that’s suffocatingly hot or freezing cold. The Bat Con site has a map showing regional paint/varnish shade needs.

4) Height and depth — bat houses should be at least two feet tall with a landing area that extends 3″-6″ from the opening. The chamber(s) should be at least 20″ tall and 14″ wide.

5) Open-bottom construction — this provides decent air flow and keeps the house clean. Guano builds up pretty quickly (I know from experience, obviously) and can make a house unlivable.

6) Decent sunlight — bats need houses that get at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. This keeps them warm while they sleep. Ours have parked themselves on the eastern side of the attic, which is the side that gets the most sunlight, so that’s where we’ll mount the bat house.

7) Mounting on buildings or poles — according to research done by various groups, it seems that bats prefer their houses to be mounted on buildings, but they also seem to do all right in pole-mounted houses (as shown above). One location they definitely don’t like is a tree-mounted house. I imagine this has to do with the critters that live in or frequent trees. Building-mounted houses are particularly good at protecting bats from predators and invasive pests.

8) Houses should be checked annually for signs of decay and wasp nests, which can create problems for the bats. If nests accumulate or you find some wear on the house, adjustments should be made in the fall/winter after the bats have migrated or in early spring before they make their return. You pretty much have to leave the bats alone once they’ve occupied a space.

Again, Bat Con Intl. has further details on their site, and I highly recommend visiting it if you’re considering buying a bat house or even if you just want to get some more information on bats. Education is never a bad thing.

We’re going to set up our bat house this evening (before the bats wake up, which is around 8:00 PM) and hopefully start the exclusion process, unless they’ve already had their pups, in which case we’ll have to wait until August. I’ll provide bat status updates as they happen. I love them, and I’d like for other people to love them, too. And if love isn’t possible for everyone, I’ll strive for bat appreciation.

Feel free to leave any comments or questions about bats (or anything else I’ve mentioned) in the comment section below, or you can click the contact link at the top-left of this post to message me privately. Bats are wonderful and helpful creatures that are, unfortunately, highly misunderstood, and it’s my goal to provide a little space to help change that.

March 20

In honor of the March equinox/first day of spring  (at least for us in the Northern Hemisphere), here are a few things that look both forward and backward — fitting for this time in which dark and light are momentarily in balance and things begin to wake or make their return.

“The Current”
by Wendell Berry

Having once put his hand into the ground,
seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,
a man has made a marriage with his place,
and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.
His hand has given up its birdlife in the air.
It has reached into the dark like a root
and begun to wake, quick and mortal, in timelessness,
a flickering sap coursing upward into his head
so that he sees the old tribespeople bend
in the sun, digging with sticks, the forest opening
to receive their hills of corn, squash, and beans,
their lodges and graves, and closing again.
He is made their descendant, what they left
in the earth rising into him like a seasonal juice.
And he sees the bearers of his own blood arriving,
the forest burrowing into the earth as they come,
their hands gathering the stones up into walls,
and relaxing, the stones crawling back into the ground
to lie still under the black wheels of machines.
The current flowing to him through the earth
flows past him, and he sees one descended from him,
a young man who has reached into the ground,
his hand held in the dark as by a hand.

From “Rising”
by Wendell Berry

6.
Ended, a story is history;
it is in time, with time
lost. But if a man’s life
continue in another man,
then the flesh will rhyme
its part in immortal song.
By absence, he comes again.

There is a kinship of the fields
that gives to the living the breath
of the dead. The earth
opened in the spring, opens
in all springs. Nameless,
ancient, many-lived, we reach
through the ages with the seed.

It’s our first spring at our (first) house, and it’s exciting to discover the flowers and plants we didn’t know existed when we bought the place late last summer. We’ve planted strawberries and lemon thyme in the front yard around the mailbox and more strawberries in the backyard near the porch, and the seeds we’ve ordered for our vegetable and herb gardens should be coming in any day now. So, for us, it’s a time of surprise and anticipation, of eagerness and hope. It’s also, as with other things, a time of returning. As my husband said while we were preparing the soil around the mailbox, “It’s like being a kid again — digging in the dirt outside.”

Review of American Athenaeum’s Winter Issue: The Understanders

My editor-in-chief sent this review to me a couple of days ago (I’ve been strangely internet-averse lately and so haven’t been as vigilant with my email-checking as I usually am). The author is David R. Matteri, who has some glowing things to say about the issue and AA as a whole.
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American Athenaeum invites you to step into their “museum of words” with their latest “Understanders” issue. Inspired by T.S. Elliot’s unwavering dedication to his craft in the face of stinging criticism, the editors dedicate this issue “to every artist who stays true to their art and vision amid the naysayers.”

Reading this issue really is like walking through a museum. The “Views from the Past” section features writing from across human history. There is poetry from Li Qingzhao and the Sixth Dalai Lama, and haiku from Matsuo Basho. Sojourner Truth and Henry David Thoreau speak of gender and the human impact on the environment in a pair of thoughtful essays. We even get a few laughs from the wickedly funny play “Philosophies for Sale” by Lucian of Samosata, a chapter from Hugh Lofting’s “The Story of Doctor Doolittle,” and James Kenneth Stephen’s poem “The Millennium”:

Will there never come a season
Which shall rid us from the curse
Of a prose which knows no reason
And an unmelodious verse:
When the world shall cease to wonder
At the genius of an Ass,
And a boy’s eccentric blunder
Shall not bring success to pass

It is this journal’s mission to bring together voices from the past and present, and there are plenty of strong contemporary writers here. For example, Ed Tasca shows us how the people involved in the trial of Socrates could have interacted if they had access to twitter in “If Plato Tweeted: A Techno Defense of Socrates.” The entire story is written in tweets as Plato tries to gather support for his beloved teacher. He does his best to defend Socrates in under 140 characters but is rebuffed at every step:

@Platothephilosopher
Meletus, you were the one who brought the charges against our great teacher. And all you care about is Glucosamine’s party?

@olympusrules_Meletus
Plato, my inbox is on overload! Give it a rest!

Plato’s frustration is confounded by the technology he uses. Not only do people disregard his arguments, but they also criticize his lack of technical savvy: @Aristophanes3xfestivalwinner says, “For Olympus’s sake, Plato learn how to tweet. All ur tweets are 2 long and don’t make sense.” The communication breakdown is parallel to our own dysfunctional internet debates. It is funny, but so close to the truth that it hurts.

Jacqueline West takes a leap into magical realism with her short story “Paper Dolls.” It is about a young woman living by herself in a big city. She works at a school, but does not interact with other people or get enough to eat. Loneliness and hunger permeate the story as the woman goes about her mundane life: “No one would have noticed, she knew, if she had folded herself into smaller and smaller shapes until she finally disappeared.” Out of this crushing loneliness comes the unexplainable urge to create a paper doll in her small apartment. Over time, this doll takes shape and an eerie, life-like personality. The woman starts to hear voices as her work progresses: “Hungry, they said. Hungry.” It would be unfair to tell you what happens next; let’s just say that the departure from the real world is sudden and shocking. Trust me; you have to read this for yourself.

Adriana Páramo takes us into the poverty-stricken heart of Kuwait in her essay “Cheesus, A Very Good God.” Sent to this oil-rich country as a teacher, Páramo goes on a quest to learn more about the mass of immigrants moving into the small sheikdom. She offers an extensive history of the country’s prosperity and shows how the multitude of jobs created by the booming oil industry attracted so many immigrants that the number of native Kuwaitis dropped to 37 percent of the population by 1995. Páramo witnesses the grinding poverty and abuse that came as a result of this mass migration by posing as a Christian missionary. However, Páramo also discovers that the missionaries she tags along with are just as capable of cruelty and ignorance as the apathetic Kuwaiti government. It is a tightly written essay loaded with gritty details of the horrendous living conditions the immigrants are forced to live under with the opulence of Kuwait City looming in the background:

The kitchen, a tiny windowless room of about ten-by-fifteen feet where, despite the lack of ventilation, ten propane cylinders were connected to ten small stoves with mismatched, amended hoses. The assemblage more so resembled a grade-school science project than a functional kitchen for grownups.

There is more to this issue than just solid prose and poetry. There are also reviews and historical essays, and there is a special section dedicated to authors promoting their latest books with stories that reveal their creative processes.American Athenaeum is a rich journal with plenty of jewels to offer. With that said, I’ll leave you with one more jewel from Editor Heidi Parton: “Reading opens us up to a larger community—however remote in space and time—that is always there, and through it we realize that we are never truly alone.”
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You can view the original post (and check out more lit mag reviews) here.

Resepelophobia

My own term for a phobia of mine, from res meaning “object, thing” and sepelo meaning “to submerge, bury.” Or, in terms that don’t showcase my scrappy Latin scholarship, I am deeply disturbed by submerged man-made objects — shipwrecks, submarines, the undersides of floating ships, etc. I’m squeamish about the reservoir near my home (and I won’t swim in the deep parts) because I know that there is a complete ferry bridge and at least one 19th century stone house still standing at the bottom. I will never scuba dive where an old shipwreck is present, and I can’t even look at sonar images without feeling some anxiety.

Like this one showing Wyse’s Ferry Bridge at the bottom of Lake Murray (2005)

 

I’m fascinated by phobias — their sources, the mechanics of them, the names we give them, what they say about us. Phobias are marked by irrationalism, which is a trait of the unconscious, the imagination, the dreaming part of ourselves — all things that I love and spend most of my time thinking and writing about. A phobia is, to put a twist on a popular Buddhist analogy, the gnarled finger pointing to the moon of a hidden truth about a person. So I probe my fears with the hope that I’ll uncover those truths.

The RMS Titanic may be the origin of this phobia. When I was about eight years old, I watched a National Geographic documentary about the ship that showed Robert Ballard’s deep-sea footage of it. And while that documentary ignited a lifelong fascination (nearing obsession) with the Titanic, it also instilled in me a deep fear of sunken things. I’ve often envisioned what it must have been like for the people who went down with the ship, the terror and panic they must have felt at being swallowed up by something so much larger than themselves and vastly unknown, to be trapped, to drift downward, deprived of air, watching the light dim into total darkness. And when I see a submerged object, I get that same feeling of being trapped, swallowed, frozen and water-logged.

It may also have something to do with the shock of seeing something familiar in an unfamiliar place, and the confrontation with death that such an image represents — something lost, decayed, hollowed-out. I remember being told by a Mormon missionary that the Devil waits in the water, and I think that sentiment reflects the same fear in a way — that something is waiting underneath the surface, something that will consume you and cannot be controlled.

I’m even afraid of things that were once at the bottom of a body of water but have since been pulled out. Several years ago, my husband treated me to a Titanic exhibit for my birthday, and there was, among other things, a part of the hull with a second-class guest room on display, which is awesome but also deeply disturbing. While the teacups and gloves and other things I’d seen in the display cases only creeped me out (in the same way that Victorian post-mortem photos creep other people out), I felt lightheaded, tingly and weightless when confronted with the hull. It may have had something to do with the size of it, but I think it was mostly that the teacups and other things didn’t look much different than other old things with a less loaded past. The hull, however, was unmistakably from the bottom of the ocean — its exterior had the texture of petrified wood, and its edges were ragged.

But then, as I’ve said, fear doesn’t get in the way of my fascination with submerged objects. In fact, it’s part of the intrigue. While I wouldn’t toss myself into the water to swim around a sunken ship off the coast of Cancun, I’ve visited the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor, forcing myself to look over the entry railing at the oily shadow of the ship that  lay beneath and all around me. I didn’t do it to conquer my fear but to test it, or rather to test myself, to see if I could stand it. It was the same at the Titanic exhibit, where I walked around the piece of the hull on display, choosing to feel the fear — that floating, hollow sensation that radiates from my core even to the tips of my fingers — rather than miss the rare opportunity to see a part of the ship. I don’t mind fear, in a way, at least not enough to be dominated by it. I’d rather walk with it, arm-in-arm.

I suppose that part of what defines a person is not only what s/he fears but what that person does with that fear, the perspective one has of it. Fear is a doorway between the conscious and the unconscious; it is primal and necessary. By looking into the face of our fears — not to dominate or destroy them, but to examine them — we peer into a deep part of ourselves that would otherwise remain unknowable. So I gaze into my fear, seek to know it and live with it, so that I can more deeply know myself, and so I can experience that loss of control that comes with fear and let it deepen my sense of reality, let in a little darkness to contrast the bright sureness of other things.