“Are you sick?”
One of the attorneys at the law office where I worked when I had just graduated from college looked at me with concern and curiosity. I knew his concern was whether I would get his contracts done for a real estate deal he had going.
“But…,” he searched the ceiling tiles in our small, unattractive offices for the root of his question, “But, you, you, you aren’t TALKING.”
Clearly, this upset him. Some people have trouble accepting changes, even if they are temporary.
“No,” I said, and resumed my work.
“OK. You’re mad at me.” He leaned against the door frame and frowned. “Right?”
“Nope, I’m fine.”
Now he would not let go. “Something is wrong. You aren’t talking.”
“Jimmy, I know this is going to surprise you, but sometimes I go for minutes, even hours at a stretch without saying a word.”
Jimmy shook his head in disbelief. He was still pretty sure I had to be getting a cold or something.
That’s the trouble with stereotyping, of course. You think you’ve got someone pegged, classified as a known quantity, and then they do something outside the usual pattern. Jimmy was right in a way of course.
I am an extravert, no, an EXTRAvert. I talk. I talk in my sleep.
Heck, I sing, laugh and run in my sleep, all without leaving the bed. I fight demons, explore locked rooms, chat with Mom in her antique shop in heaven, argue with Dad, look for my cats and dog, discover I’ve missed a final exam, brave tornadoes, drive cars and buy houses in my sleep. I even fly in my sleep, or at least in my dreams. And all the while I talk about it.
So quiet time in the land of Chatty Cathy seems like an odd thing to the outside observer. But sometimes, I go for hours at a stretch in silence.
I don’t know how introverts do it, exactly, so I would be glad for comments by you folks who get fired up from within. See, when I’m thinking, it’s usually pretty verbal even then even if my mouth isn’t going. It’s true that there’s another set of processes that go on for me mentally. They are more visual than verbal, with puzzle pieces that may also be sounds or smells or textures or even tastes. I always wonder if it is this puzzle-world that is the realm of the introvert but I’ve never been brave enough to ask before today.
Sorry for the rude part, there. The act of putting it into words so that you would understand it organizes it for us too, often so clearly that the answer is right there, waiting to be said and heard at the same moment. Shake your head and laugh at me. It’s OK. I do have a sense of humor about it.
They say introverts are smarter. I say, perhaps. As I have mentioned before, never make the mistake of thinking that what an extravert says is the only thing they are thinking. It’s just the thing they are thinking out loud. Depending on the person, there might be several tracks running in there.
Are we extraverts poor listeners? It would certainly seem so, especially to the trapped introvert, cornered by conversation so much that if they determined to say something, they feel certain it would be lost in the hurricane of discussion issuing from their chat-buddy. Strangely, though, some of us actually listen while we’re talking, take in body language, other conversations nearby. We entertain the possibility of purchasing a pair of red shoes inspired by a momentary stranger. In our defense, the act of sharing our thoughts aloud with you is an offer to exchange toys, for so often that’s what our thoughts are.
Having an introvert sigh, but never exactly get the chance to say, “That wasn’t very well thought out and if you’d just clam up for a moment you would see that I’m right about that,” really gets interpreted as rejection of the offer to play. We hear or see the sigh or the eyeroll and understand that we’ve hit the wrong note again. Sorry about that.
As much as I do talk, I really do want to know what other people think. What’s it like in there, all alone? Come out and play with an idea with me. I do listen. Why, sometimes I’m strangely quiet.
Today, the power company came to perform some special maintenance on something in the neighborhood. They had sent a letter saying they might, saying the outage would last all day possibly, but not saying exactly when it would be. Today was that day. Just after 9 a.m. everything went quiet.
The lights went out. The Hubs’ radio was silent. The printer squeaked and sighed and stopped. The laptops I work on dimmed and indicated they were now working from battery. The telephone lost its display. The internet hub no longer brought the hubbub of the outside world.
Only the sound of the gate next door slamming against the fence as someone walked through it, scattering the finches from the feeder and the voices of men in the street, not loud but at a working level filled the world for a moment.
Tony woke up from his cat snooze on the desk, moved over to me to sit in front of me while he looked out the window at the new reality of noise from outside only, just a few sounds. There was no white noise of the indoor world. Quincy woke up from his long doggy dreams and hopped down from his spot, wagging his tail. It must be time to go outside. I let him out.
What a lovely quiet it was! I said nothing. I pet Pixie who has only a brief tolerance for my attention, once, twice, three times. That was her limit. But being quiet, she sniffed my hand one more time, and being quiet, I let her. I had to find out how long my little silence would last, so asked the workers how long the outage would be.
Maybe two hours, came the answer. Two hours! I emailed my supervisor to let him know that I would work a little longer in the evening because of the outage. I grabbed my copy of A Wicked Pack of Cards, the Origins of the Occult Tarot by Decker, DePaulis and Dummett. I began to read the introduction, keeping an eye on my work Blackberry for questions I could answer off the top of my head. And I had questions, even from the introduction and noted to myself that I must follow up with my learned friends to find out. Was there ever a second book as planned?
I remembered suddenly one of my dreams last week where I met with none other than Kit Marlowe, Elizabethan poet, dramatist and spy, said to have been killed in a barroom brawl in Deptford. But was he? Kit is the Knight of Wands in Kat Black’s Touchstone Tarot, sociable, talkative, varied in interests, never seated long nor staying. In my dream, he smiled a wonderful smile and embraced me and together we enjoyed the silence of dreams and played with an idea.
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