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Posts Tagged ‘Arts’

Carl Jung, the father of analytic psychology, thunk up the notions of introversion and extraversion, among other things. Most people commonly associate the terms with the contrast between being shy versus being a social butterfly. However, the terms actually refer to how people recharge and get their energy, in my understanding. Extroverts draw energy from being around and interacting with others, while introverts feel and do best when alone.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (a personality test, of sorts), concocted by an astute mother-daughter team and based on Jung’s work, helps the test-taker determine what sort of person they are using four personality polarities, one of which is the introversion/extraversion scale. A psychological horoscope, if you will. Like most of psychology, it is a way to find fancy titles for characteristics about yourself that you already kinda sorta knew anyway, just like a juicy-sounding diagnosis brings pseudo-relief to the afflicted simply by validating their internal experience with a formal external label. “Oh, is THAT what it is?!”

The emperor has new clothes!

I have long teetered between being an introvert and an extrovert. I fluctuate and fluidly morph between the two. This has confounded me to no end. I want to know which I am, and I don’t seem to be able to nail myself down. And yet most of the time, I can tell which I am. I have somewhat of a bimodal cycle: over the long term, I can see eras of my life in which I was more introverted or more extroverted. And within those cycles, I can identify days in which I was one or the other, within the context of the overall trend.

A recent interview I heard with Chris Martin reminded me of this…he was talking about how he balances fame and self-awareness; he said he stands on the outside trying to get in by flaunting his fame, “Look at me, I’m famous, let me in!” Then he gets in, and about ten minutes into his flaunting and attention-seeking, he says something he realizes makes him look and feel like an idiot, and, shamed and humbled, he slinks back to his rightfully humble place in his mind.

This struck a chord with my teetering (which I suppose we all do – it is how we balance ourselves between any two extremes). I will sink my teeth into a goal like a dog with a bone, and I savor each and every moment, living it to the fullest. I do not quit. I am out there for the world to see, and proud of it. Determined. Driven. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Then after some time, something will happen to slow me in my tracks. I am going so fast, so focused forward, that it often takes me a bit to perceive the interruption, a bit more to acknowledge it, even more of a bit to comprehend it. I may even slow down and turn around temporarily, humoring it long enough to shut it up so I can proceed ahead again. I love the brink, after all. Adrenaline’s curse. But eventually it sinks in, and I, like Mr. Martin, am forced to assess my direction and slink back to my rightful place in ho-hum moderation.

Don’t get me wrong; ho-hum moderation is a good place to be. I just have to work harder to convince myself that I can stifle my penchant for the higher levels of stimulation I crave. And force myself to remain buckled in with my seatback in the upright position and the tray secured. It is really hard, really really hard, to discipline myself as such, when I believe in my heart that it is far more interesting to roam about the cabin and experience every bump of turbulence while simultaneously in perpetual motion. You get more effect that way. And perspective. You get to see out of many windows instead of just a couple. Taming the tiger in an adventure-seeker is no small task.

Then again…perpetual motion prevents us from seeing the slow-and-steady, which purports to win the race.

Balancing the opposing extremes is a delicate process, after all – and certainly not for the faint at heart. No, those who squarely know which side of the fence they’re on, rarely teeter. They find safety in their identity as clearly one or the other. They are either this or that in their personality, wont to change over. Sweet or salty. Indoors or outdoors. Hot or cold. Overly controlled or lack of control. Pre-dishwasher rinsers or throw-em-in-filthy. Ginger or Mary Ann. Spender or saver. Tastes great or less filling.

Once upon a time I took to the stage to express myself. Like my stagemates, most of us worked best solo. With each season and each composition, it was almost like a classic group therapy experience:

Stage 1: Getting acquainted: Everyone was thrilled to be working with each other. Everyone said nice things about everyone. Everyone’s ideas were great. It was going to be the best show ever.

Stage 2: Transition: After the niceties and rolling up of sleeves, then came the clash of ideas. Everyone wanted their vision of the final production to be realized, and began to get edgy and snippy when having to accommodate others’ ideas. Too many introverts who like to show off and remain private, thrown into a closed room for too many hours. Battles ensued. Tears flowed. Tempers flared. Assorted footwear angrily removed and violently hurled across the stage. It was bad luck of somebody didn’t go stomping off stage in a dramatic display of defiance. Hours were spent, but not wasted. It was necessary gnashing of teeth. It almost had to happen, to be gotten out of the way to give way to productivity.

Stage 3: Work phase: Everyone had seen each other at their worst and each had been nonverbally assigned a role in the family (e.g. mover/shaker, scapegoat, placator, intellectualizer, devils advocate, wet blanket, natural leader, etc.). Finally the work could begin, take place and get done. Then it was refined, and refined some more. Bonding happened. Give and take, gave and took. Everyone began to get pumped by seeing the possibilities and realizing them. Things came together. The energy gelled. The ugly turned beautiful, beyond everyone’s wildest imaginations, surprising even the most optimistic.

Stage 4: Wrapping it up: The performances. The joy of doing well, and all sharing in how good it was. The joy of making a mistake, knowing the audience missed it, and being able to laugh about it together. The pinnacle high of a job well done. The curtain call and applause making it all real.

My favorite part was being able to be an introvert in an extroverted role. Very much on display, yet encapsulated in my own world, shielded from the eyes of others by the glare of the stage lights. For all I knew, all that darkness in the theatre with only the exit light glowing in the way-back, was the same darkness I’d rehearsed to so many times before, whether with my stagemates, or alone, like going into a church to pray alone at an odd time, and having the whole place to yourself. Thanks to the blinding lights and deafening sound, the filled house was no different from the countless times I couldn’t sleep and went to rehearse alone in the silent dead of night. Thank the Lord for some forms of sensory deprivation. I might have been embarrassed and self-conscious if I had been fully aware of the audience.

Later, in broadcasting briefly, I enjoyed the same dichotomy of on-display anonymity. And now, ditto for blogging. You subscribers give me the willies. In a good way 🙂 I cannot see you, I will not know you, and vice versa, except through the safety and security of what I choose to share. You remain out there in the dark balcony seating, but I can do what I do best in the comfort and privacy of my inner being. The introverted extrovert who, no matter who acknowledged what I had done “privately” in the public, had the privilege of keeping a piece of my introverted heart to myself. Carefully letting others know me as I wished for them to know me, yet guarding my inner reality. No one could ever know that, no matter how bright the lights.

No one can ever penetrate the deepest of depths. Not even ourselves, really.

Perhaps I’ve answered my own question…I sound like an introvert. But stay tuned…this is prone to change. I am told that according to careers and personality types, I am supposed to be an outgoing extrovert, hands-down, no questions asked. I scoff at that notion. Rather, I find myself having a greater understanding for those I help: the bipolar who struggles for balance. The schizophrenic trying to reconcile one reality with another. The traumatized who is driven to trust but cannot. And any of them who find themselves at the tip of a double-edged sword who are haunted by one extreme, yet cannot do some of their most remarkable work without being at that extreme.

There is genius in walking the non-normative ledge. Innovations always come from risk. And innovative people and those on the fringes of the bell-shaped curve are never fully understood or respected by the masses inside the safety of the “normal” curve. Am I such a nut for the exhilaration I experience, running long and hard in diagonally-pelting rain, when my best ideas are generated in those moments, and life’s problems seem entirely solvable? Perhaps one must be a bit unstable themselves to help the unstable. There is value in understanding and appreciating the need – nay, the drive – to scribble outside the lines of life.

One day when I have all the time and money in the world, I hope to submit myself to advanced training (which basically amounts to selling your soul, investing what will be your last dime 30 years from now and  sequestering oneself for several years, cut off from income and subjected to selective human contact – otherwise known as pursuing a doctorate). (You have to be cut off from the norm to think on the edge, eh?). Then I hope to be qualified to masterfully and expertly analyze what is and what is not…the conscious and the unconscious, the real and the surreal. And, like all good psychology students, figure themselves out and put an end to the question of whether I am truly and introvert or an extrovert. This will determine whether I become a well-adjusted, smiling, actively aging person like in an ad for assisted living, or whether I become a well-adjusted, scowling, opinionated curmudgeon. I see the value and worth in both, and I can see myself perfectly happy in either role, justifying either based on the positive and negative experiences I have had throughout life. Aging is, after all, finding a healthy balance between change and stability, risk and security.

There is risk in investing in the mirage of security, and safety in taking calculated risks.

Well, how about both? Who says I can’t be a well-adjusted, opinionated, smiling, active curmudgeon? Maybe God made me that way on purpose. Perhaps there’s merit in straddling the line between extremes. Teetering means constant change, and change keeps us young at heart. Somebody’s got to make it look fun and exciting to be introverted, to the extroverted crowd. And just maybe I can better understand how and why God made people very much on purpose, precisely the way He made them…inside or outside the curve, or squarely in one camp or the other…or flitting between the two.

Vive la difference!

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