Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More on Introverts

Remember when I posted about being an introvert?

NPR has apparently backed me up on this. Take the quiz at the end to see where you fall. (I received, not surprisingly, a score of 18.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Please Listen to My Intro-Version (see what I did there????)

I want to share a blog post I found through a Facebook friend, which explains a few things I have been trying to articulate about being an introvert. A lot of people know and use the terms "introvert" and "extrovert" these days, and can identify the categories under which they and their loved ones fall. But that doesn't mean that everybody understands the nuances of what it really means to be one or the other. Credit for the original post belongs to Carl King, whom you can read all about here
Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days. (Bagel Fairy's note: Srsly. You might regret bringing up certain topics with me.)

Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite. (BF's note: Please be polite, or at least courteous. But you don't need to talk to me for the sake of it.)

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting. (BF's note: So true, and part of why it amazes me I have done so much customer service.)

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in. (BF's note: Absolutely. I love people. I find them fascinating. I eavesdrop on people's conversations in restaurants and at work because their conversations are interesting - not because I want to gossip. And I do value the friends I have, and remain loyal even to casual friends unless I am given a reason not to.)

Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts. (BF's note: Precisely. I love music and movies, but hate loud rock concerts and crowded movie theaters. I'd rather absorb something quietly than get caught up in the insanity of excessive theatrics. Sometimes I even see movies and/or go out to dinner alone. And you know what? It's cheap and relaxing, not lonely.)

Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time. (BF's note: Yes - I do just want to be alone sometimes. But I can, and do, get lonely; this can happen whether I am by myself or in the company of others.)

Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy. (BF's note: I'm weird. I know I'm weird. I know that I have strange habits and thoughts and can be hard to live with. But I know what works for me, and I'd rather surround myself with people who accept this than buy security with conformity.)

Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them. (BF's note: Pretty much. When I am concentrating on a thought or idea, my face might be blank or even twisted up like I'm upset. I'm more likely to be concentrating if I'm doing this than if I'm saying, "Uh huh," over and over, because with the former I am engaged, and with the latter I am acting engaged.)

Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up. (BF's note:  I'll take his word for it on the Dopamine, but it makes sense.)

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ. (BF's note: Amen, brother.)

I used to think I was an extrovert because I had a lot of friends growing up, with whom I could talk for literally hours about whatever was in our world at the time. I thought I was an extrovert because I liked meeting new people, and found them interesting. Above all, I believed that all extroverts were socially adept and that, conversely, introverts were invariably awkward and antisocial; therefore, as someone who had a social life, I couldn't not be an extrovert. Introverts, I believed, did not go to school dances and birthday parties - they stayed home reading (never mind that I was known to read for the better part of the day, once I really got into a book).

Coming to such conclusions, I ignored that my favorite time of day as an adolescent was the hour or so after school I had to myself, before everyone else got home from work and practice. I didn't think it significant that I spent much of my free time holed up in my room, or that I had a hard time asking other people for help because I preferred to solve my own problems. Based on what I thought an extrovert was and who I thought I was, my version of myself made sense.

Some time in high school, perhaps because I was old enough not to depend on others for everything, I realized that I was no extrovert. When you're young, your romances (if you have them) and friendships can change weekly, so the opportunity to see yourself reflected off of others is limited. When you - and, conversely, your relationships - grow up, you learn who you are by the ways you click and butt heads with other people. It was after I realized that I was more like my introverted relatives than the extroverts in my life that I learned the truth.

This was no small thing to discover. Navigating an extroverted world as an introvert can be a very tricky process. You're the one who votes red in a blue state, or blue in a red state, or yellow or purple or not at all in a red or blue state. You're the left-handed one using standard right-handed tools. You're the strange one - not the one people take places to show off. Friends fear you're stand-offish, family members worry you're anti-social, significant others think you're cagey, and strangers sense you're stuck up or rude.

You're passed over for awards and accolades because you had the ideas but didn't shout them loudly enough; your accomplishments are obscured by those of extroverts and "assertive" types because they cling to them as if that is all they are. Some think you're slow and/or stupid because you just want to take a second to think about something before you take action. To conventionally succeed in this culture you must usually bulldoze your way toward some well-defined objective, but you'd rather enjoy the scenery a little bit first, and if you do, you're flaky, unreliable, childish, simple. There are certainly worse things than being an introvert, but there are better, easier things too.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Shit That's Really Starting to Get on My Nerves, Part IV: Winter

Now that winter has arrived at last, after a denial-filled December during which many of us pretended it would be in the fifties until spring, enjoy last year's (yet still relevant) rantings about this illustrious season.

Can I be totally lame for a moment and talk about the weather?

I’m getting damn sick of these winters every year. Winter is annoying, time-consuming and expensive. The bills go up, sweaters take up way too much of my closet space, and the whole world is cranky because no one’s getting any sunlight. The house is unbearably drafty, and creepy crawly creatures seem especially eager to take up residence in my bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. 

Waking up in the morning is more difficult than any other time of the year, not just because I’m uncomfortable, but also because I know it’s going to take an eternity and a half just to get out the damn door (especially if I get a nosebleed as soon as I get out of bed due to the dryness). I don my normal work clothes, plus an extra sweater or jacket. Then I have to put on special socks and lace up my snow boots, or if not that than at least wear sneakers to work and change into my other shoes later. I then get out my scarf, hat, and gloves, and just when I think I’m ready to walk out the door I’ve almost inevitably forgotten something. But I’m so bundled up and stiff that it takes titanic effort just to climb up the stairs and reach for whatever I’ve forgotten. And now, I’m almost certainly running late.

After nearly falling on my ass fifteen times on the walk from the door and down the uneven steps to the car, which is parked on the street and is often flanked on one side by a mountain of snow from the plow, I set forth beating the snow and ice off the windshield. Then, after rocking the car over the snow drift while narrowly missing the nearby cars, I drive to work in a two-wheel-drive vehicle that’s very low to the ground and nearly two decades old.

Once on the road, I have to check my GPS and make sure I’m still in the Midwest, because the other drivers appear never to have seen snow or ice before. Or, at least, they’ve never driven in it. They’re either flipping their shit because they saw one flake and are now driving five miles an hour, or they’ve decided that even though the roads are packed and it’s a level two emergency, they can speed because they drive an SUV. On my commute, I listen to how many schools are closed and contemplate how long it would take to earn my Master’s Degree and become a teacher.

At work, everyone tries to outdo one another with the number of times they almost died, as well as itemize the number of accidents and spin-outs they saw on their way in. They compare this year’s winter to that of last year, the year before that, and 1988. They then talk about moving to Florida—(that is, Middle America's Mecca). But none of them ever moves there, or at least not until they turn 75. Throughout the day they complain, pull up Weather.com on their computers, peer out the window, discuss whether it’s getting worse or better, call their kids, and complain some more. 

The drive home involves most of the same bullshit from the morning commute. I get home an hour later than I normally would, and by the time enter my house I can’t feel my face and the ankles of my pants are dirty and soaked. I don’t feel like cooking or going anywhere so I call for a pizza delivery, but feel so guilty about making the poor driver go out that I feel like a lazy asshole.

I take a hot shower—by far the most pleasant part of the day—using special shampoo for the seborrheic dermatitis on my scalp. I leave my hair wet because blow-drying it will make my scalp flaky, even though I have taken care to wear a hat every time I step outside. I then apply lotion over every inch of my body so my skin won’t crack, even though I wear about two or three layers. 

I change into sweats and climb into bed. There are dishes to wash, laundry to be done, and things to pick up, but it’s too cold for any of that. The last thing I want is to be constantly reminded of how cold it is, considering I spent my work day answering the question, “Cold enough for ya?”

Fuck winter.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Yeah...About That...

Okay, if I've learned anything about telecommunications and the internet over the last few years, it is that one should never text/call/blog/Facebook/Twitter/however else people throw their words out there when they are in any of the following conditions:

1. Drunk
2. Homicidally angry
3. In the throes of depression

And yet, even though the above should go without saying, many of us do just that anyway. I thankfully have not blogged while drunk (in which case I'd say, "Thank God for the DELETE button!"), but I have dabbled in the latter two: #2 when I was working in food service, and #3 the other night. And while I don't necessarily regret what I wrote (I was certainly feeling it at the time), I was at a low point.

The reality is that if I don't get in to any schools, I will just have to deal with it. There are other ways to become a writer and, in truth, I haven't really explored most of them yet - usually for the same reasons I've been nervous about the application process. Mostly, I'm afraid I'm not good enough. Or, that I am good enough, but not motivated, disciplined, or deserving enough.

I was talking with a co-worker today about all this, and the conversation drifted off to someone else we both know who works in our office. It's hard to describe this woman succinctly, but I'll try: she's a nasty, overgrown schoolyard bully who married a rich guy but for whatever reason still works and finds any opportunity to undermine people and/or flaunt her (hubby's) money. She has a way of deciding she doesn't want anything to do with you until she has purchased a new vehicle or is planning a lavish trip. Last year, she went to Italy and reported that she was "over it" after a few days. This year, I hear, she is going to Paris. Predictably, this pissed me off. So the co-worker and I were talking about it and I asked (whined, really), why assholes like her always seem to have the most charmed lives? My co-worker answered that she didn't know, but she was happy with her life, so it didn't really matter. I admitted that this kind of thing bothers me only because I am not happy with my own life, and she replied back that at least I recognized it, and that I was making a change.

And she's right. I feel better knowing - even if nothing is certain and I'm not the happiest right now - that I am working to make the changes in my own life that are necessary to make it better. Even if this whole MFA thing is a failure, I know that there are other alternatives that are worth trying. So please bear with me as I pull myself out of this and (hopefully) start finding other things to talk about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Mid-Point

Until today, I was feeling pretty good about the MFA application process. I've been telling myself that I'll get in somewhere. I believe in all the positive thinking stuff, not because some cosmic force pushes things forward just because we want it to, but because if you have true convictions that something will happen for you, you are more likely to fully commit to it. Negative thinking, conversely, brings up questions like "why bother?" So, I kept telling myself, this will happen. Just keep going.

I have wanted to celebrate reaching the halfway point in my graduate school applications. I finally submitted the eighth application on Sunday, and I finally felt like I was getting a grip on the whole thing. Only seven more, I thought, and then I wait.

I needed to do a little bit of research on a school today in order to write my personal statement, so I scoured everything that came up in my search from "official" top school lists to the comments sections on MFA blogs. Reading the latter, as with reading nearly any comments section on the internet, was a mistake.

There is nothing like reading dozens of fellow applicants' "Where I'm Applying" lists, many of which have schools that overlap my own list, to serve as a reminder of just how many people I am up against. For example, one of my top programs accepts 15 fiction students out of approximately 500 applicants. For those of you who are as shitty at math as I am, don't bother getting out the calculator, because I'll tell you - that's 3%.

Even for the "less selective" schools, acceptance rates aren't that much higher; you're lucky to find anything in the double digits. In a field as subjective as creative writing (or any art), there is no such thing as a safety school. There really isn't even a "good" or "bad" school, necessarily. No one, not even the most amazing writer, gets into every school. I guarantee that even a published, seasoned, otherwise successful writer couldn't get into every school if (s)he were to submit an application under a pseudonym.

I decided to apply to fifteen schools for two reasons: first, because I want to increase my chances of getting in somewhere; second, because there is no surefire way to narrow down programs which will be the best fit, so I'd rather cast a wide net. But I've begun to wonder - what if I spread myself too thin? What if I neglected one personal statement or skipped a step on an application because I was busy fretting over something else on a school where I didn't even have a chance? What if no one even looked at the application I spent hours putting together, because the school filled all their spots before the deadline (yes, this happens)?

Even worse, what if this entire process is completely futile? What if I get in nowhere? What if I get into one or two schools, but get no funding whatsoever? This is not just my imagination; it is a very real possibility, and it happens all the time. One of the writers who commented on an MFA blog, a poet, said that he got into only two schools, sans funding, and had to turn down his offers and say, "better luck next year." And this person had been published before.

I have never been published. I have never had my writing abilities evaluated outside of college and my friends and family. My loved ones have been incredibly supportive; they have been encouraging me and cheering me on and telling me that I will be successful. I can't say how much I appreciate such encouragement, and it has kept me going through some doubtful moments. However, with apologies for appearing to dismiss the aforementioned compliments, this says nothing about how an admissions committee will view my work. I am up against thousands of other writers, pretty much all of whom have wanted to write their whole lives, and all of whom have all been told by at least one person that they are good writers. And they all think that they want it the most, just as I think the same. What makes me different? What makes me better? I have no real grounds to say I am more talented, ambitious, or deserving.

I have been in the creative arts and working world long enough to be able to deal with some rejection and disappointment. I'll certainly need to deal with it over and over again as a writer, MFA or not. But I've never poured so much, nor hung so many hopes, on one dream. And though I hate myself for such pointless vanities, I can't stand the thought of going back to all those people I've told about my efforts and announcing that I failed. That I'm not good enough, that I'm going to keep having to push a mail cart for a while until I can find a job that actually requires more than a high school education.

The stress is really starting to take its toll - writing, editing, printing, posting, lists, exorbitant fees, late nights from meeting deadlines or just laying around worrying - and sometimes I can barely justify it. I wonder if everybody's outwardly cheering me on, but secretly wondering what the hell I'm doing all this for. Oh, how sweet. She thinks she's going to be a writer. We'll see. In truth, I haven't been writing at all, outside of application-related stuff - not even quick morning exercises. I've been blocked and unmotivated creatively, and in turn self-loathing for my laziness. (Clearly, this blog has been neglected as a result, which I am partially trying to remedy through this depressive prattle.) I then wonder, even if I do get accepted to school, will I be able to handle it? If I stop writing every time I get stressed, what does that say about me and my drive? What business do I even have telling strangers what a great work ethic I have when I'm not even so sure?

But I'll keep going anyway. I have eight lines on my spreadsheet waiting to be colored in and marked as "completed," not to mention recommendation letters which cannot go to waste over the neuroses of the applicant whose virtues they are supposed to extol. I just must finish, if for no other reason than to say that, for once in my life, I decided I wanted something and committed 100% to it.