Introverts, Extroverts and the Energy of August

I was talking on the phone the other day to an old friend –the kind of old friend you can admit anything to—and I let slip that I really didn’t like high summer that much. My friend agreed. I was surprised, since I’d expected that saying I don’t like high summer is tantamount to being a traitor to human-dom.

I once read that extroverts recharge by being with other people and introverts recharge by being alone. Within that definition, I am an introvert. Being around human activity wears me out. And summertime—mid-August in particular—is bursting with human activity. People are desperately on vacation. The roads are crowded with vehicles loaded to the gills with pods and bike racks. Vacation spots are crowded–even my pond gets busy.

 All this frantic desire to have a good time in the one or two weeks of allotted vacation time—a desire that often results in a great deal of loudness and pushiness—is in contrast to what is happening in nature.

In nature, high summer is a languid time—drowsy and sated. The broods are raised, the fruit is fruiting and things are going to seed. It is a time of rest and recovery.  It is a time of peaceful ease. Yes, the natural world does have a loud and pushy time of year, but it is not August; it is spring.

I suppose it is my sense of this screeching against the natural order of things, like a train off its rails, that is at the root of my aversion to high summer. I want it to be a time of rest, but it rarely is.

Come September though, with its wine sweetness of fall days, people drift back to their homes and their routines. Things shift and settle into their natural track once again and introverts like me breathe deeply, welcoming the quiet, full days.



Every Once in a Long While

Every once in a long while, I will spend the entire day reading. Not for work, not for school, just for pleasure. It’s a rare combination of: having a book I want to read, a release of my usual discipline around tasks I have assigned myself, and a general fatigue.

Today may be one of those days. I have discovered that Barbara Mertz, aka Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels are one and the same. Elizabeth Peters is the author of the Amelia Peabody series—Amelia being an intrepid, formidable Victorian lady who helps her husband in his archeological digs in Egypt, and solves mysteries along the way. A more apt example of the saying: “The man is the head but the woman is the neck––and the neck turns the head” isn’t to be found in storytelling. I love Amelia.

When I discovered, earlier this week, that the author of my beloved Amelia Peabody series is also Barbara Michaels, author of gothic-y galloping good stories, I tingled. It was like discovering a sumptuous room in a house you thought you knew every corner of. So I went to the library and took out the three Barbara Michaels books they had. I have started one and it has all the book elements of a day long read—not too complex, a good story, strong protagonist and a wee bit scary.

Add to that, the full moon that has disturbed my sleep this week (general fatigue) and the completion of two flogging tasks a few days ago (release of self-discipline) and I’ve got the table laid for a day of reading.

I hope your day is a pleasant as I expect mine to be.

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I’ve taken to spinning on the deck these fine August mornings, and by spinning I mean spinning wool. I have fifteen pounds of merino I want to spin up to eventually weave into a blanket on the eighteenth century loom I finally resurrected here.

Nothing makes me happier than that loom. It is built like a house (an old house) out of squared timbers, mortise and tenon jointed. Given the age of the loom, the timber used to construct it—something fine-grained like maple—is virgin. The built-in seat is chestnut and the back beam, a massive round piece, is a tree trunk. It is a piece of machinery that was made to weave all the cloth used for a family of that time. None of this fiddly craft stuff. That is what I love about it—its utilitarian integrity. Which brings me back to spinning.

Not many people spin fiber these days, since there’s no need. Our clothes come from the store. But spinning is much more than a long-forgotten, unneeded task; it’s a state of mind. When I first started spinning this merino, I was frustrated because it was different from the wool I was used to. It had a shorter, finer staple (the length of each individual fiber) so my usual long-draw method of spinning didn’t work. I had to re-learn it. My hands had to become comfortable with a different way of doing things and my brain had to tell my hands what to do. Spinning uses both sides of the brain—the left, logical side calculates pressure and drafting angle, while the right feels the twist and intuits the motion. When it all goes properly, the logical structure set up by the left-brain becomes second nature and the intuition of the right brain works unimpeded within it.  When that happens a sort of magic occurs. You are in the flow.

Spinning thread, in Greek mythology, is the metaphor for a life. Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis measures it, and Atropos cuts the thread to end it—the Three Fates.

When I’m spinning in the flow, I understand that life is nothing more than the doing of it. I try to spin an even thread; I try to smooth out the bumpy parts, hold my breath through the thin parts, correct the thick parts, but the most important part is to let the thread go into the bobbin, otherwise I can’t spin the waiting fibers into new thread. It is twist, try, trust, and let go.

Whether the thread is perfect or not (and it is not) is not the point. The point is to spin, ever mindful of that third Fate with her scissors.


Selfish is Better

Mother Theresa spent five decades ministering to the poor of Calcutta. For her life of selfless service you would think she would have felt fulfilled, but you would be wrong. In letters she wrote and asked to be burned after her death (but were not), she admitted to her advisors and priests that she felt empty, lost and even tortured. Those were her words. Her advisors said that just showed her closeness to Jesus—that she suffered as he did. That’s one interpretation, but here’s another: She wasn’t filling her own needs, and so she didn’t feel fulfilled.

We’ve been conditioned to hold up the selfless life, the life of sacrificing one’s own needs to help others, as admirable. But what are we really doing when we do this? We are denying ourselves the compassion and love we think it is so admirable to give others.

We’re supposed to be living selfish (in the meaning of self-care) lives; lives of compassionate self-care, not lives of willful self-neglect. If we truly take care of our own needs out of self-love and self-respect, we will have learned compassion for ourselves, which naturally awakens compassion for others, since we will have understood the connection of all things.

So when Mother Theresa admitted that she felt empty and that she continued each day through self-will, she was actually ignoring self-compassion and its fulfilling, connecting aspect. She was left feeling empty, because she was empty.

Like the oxygen mask in the airplane—the  one you’re told to put on first before you help someone else—it’s  your job to take care of yourself first, because how much are you helping, really, if you’re passed out from lack of oxygen?


Wanting To Be Wanted

At first I felt Facebook was a way to unproductively clutter up my life. Later, when I started this blog, I thought it was a way to let people know when I’ve posted. Then, for a brief heady moment, I felt it was a community.

Now, I have to admit, I feel like it is a competition. Honestly, I never feel better after reading my FB news feed. I feel inadequate. Why am I not on vacation in the Lesser Antilles? An old college friend has a big house and a vacation house? Everyone seems to be having much more fun than I am.

These are not supportive-of-my-friends thoughts. These are envious thoughts. I don’t feel like I’m staying in touch when I read these posts; I feel like I’m missing out.

After I browse through FB, invariably I feel I must defend my life to myself, quiet as it is. This is what I do: I work in my garden, I write every morning. I swim when it’s hot out. I run errands, I make dinner, I read and do crafts.  That’s about it. I don’t have a stressful job, I love my husband, I don’t go out to dinner much. I don’t even go on vacation usually. But reading my FB feed makes me feel bad about this.

I want to be wanted. I think most people do. So out of insecurity, we tend to accentuate the positive and FB as a platform exploits that. No one ever posts about the non-glam side of existence: “Plucked out chin hair number ten—why am I growing a beard after menopause?”

FB puts a lot of pressure on us to “have a great time all the time.” To heck with that, I say. For the record, I’m not happy all the time—far from it—and I’m wicked out of shape right now, and I do have chin hairs until I pluck them out (this may be news to my husband—sorry, sweetie!) But I’m also kind and smart and lucky—oh so lucky—and so yes, worth filling up space. Maybe even Facebook space.