Generally speaking, I like people. I just don’t want to be around people all the time. As some people would say, “I need my space.”
When I separated from my children’s father over twenty years ago, I thought I would never get used to being away from my children. I hated everything about it. I hated not saying good-night to them at bedtime. I hated not being able to comfort them in the middle of the night if they had a bad dream or felt sick. I hated not knowing where they were or who they were with. I spent many hours crying and worrying while they were away from me. Callie was barely three years old and Austin was six years old. They were young, and this was not part of the plan. I certainly did not plan for my children to be divorce statistics. I actually felt incomplete when they were not with me then. As if a part of my heart had been taken away. Some days, now that they are young adults, I still feel that way, but now I don’t feel as if anything has been taken away. I know that they will always be in my heart and they will always be a part of who I am.
There was one positive that came from that time in my life. I eventually figured out that I liked being alone. Not that I liked being away from my children any better, but I liked having some time away from everyone. Time to think. Uninterrupted thinking. That was a novelty, and still is. I learned that I needed time to take care of myself. I did that by biking, hiking, creating, cooking and writing. By myself. Of course, I still spent time with friends and family, but I coveted my alone time. So, I have carried on that tradition over the years. As Callie and Austin got older, it got easier. It was a little tricky after I remarried thirteen years ago though. Clark had to learn not to take it personally. As someone who loves to be with others all the time, that was not an easy sell.
Today, I am writing as I prepare to end one of my semi-annual personal retreats. I try to go away to re-energize when I feel most depleted. I spent the past three nights in Mount Airy, NC, better known to most as Mayberry (as in the Andy Griffith Show). I usually try to go to the beach or to the mountains in NC, or even a lake, but that was not feasible for me this summer. I landed in Mount Airy at a wonderful Airbnb owned by a single mom. The space was comfortable, quiet and felt safe to me. I was able to bike, hike, scrapbook, cook for myself and watch meaningless Netflix shows. I also liked knowing that I was helping a single mom pay her bills. That was an unexpected added bonus. I know that people are surprised that I like to take this time away alone, but I cannot begin to explain how much I enjoy it and look forward to it at least twice a year.
Just five nights ago, Clark and I went to hear Mary Chapin Carpenter perform. This was at least the third time we have seen her together. She is always amazing. She just has a way of reaching in and grabbing your soul. We actually ran into her, almost literally, as we walked toward our car after the concert. She was surrounded by “her people” and was headed to her tour bus. Clark was Starstruck. She made no eye contact with any of us as we walked by her. I totally understood. I downloaded her new album the next day before I left for my retreat. I listened to her songs after leaving the park where I wrote my first draft of this piece, while driving back home, and I noticed that one of her songs was titled, “I Have a Need For Solitude” and it captured exactly what I had just tried writing about while sitting under that tree. Clearly, she is also an introvert.
I have a need
I’ll never be
Safe in crowded rooms
I like the sound
Of silence coming on
I come around when all the rest have gone…
When I was in my twenties, I lived in Cleveland. At the time I was going to college (again) and waiting tables. One day I saw a two man singing team from Cleveland called Willio and Philio perform at an outdoor concert event (I still have their one and only vinyl record album!) They were quite the characters and they sang folk songs. I guess that’s what they would be called. They were fun to watch and to listen to and my roommate and I became big fans of theirs. We kind of had a crush on them, from a distance. Oddly enough, we eventually ended up renting an apartment that they were moving out of in Cleveland Heights. That’s another story. I am reminded of them now because thy used to sing a song called “I Hate People.” It was hilarious. My younger brother, who is definitely an introvert, used to say to me “I hate people”, so when I heard this song, I shared it with him and it became a new inside joke between us. I understood what he meant though. It wasn’t that we really “hated” people, but we knew that being around people was stressful for us. I first took the Meyers-Briggs personality test in 1990 while working in a family support program in Baltimore. That was the first time I saw in writing that I was considered to be an introvert. A true aha moment! It all started to make sense to me. I have taken the Meyers-Briggs a couple more times over the years, and it continues to show me as an introvert. I would not dispute it at all.
I would, however, consider myself a “people person”, which is not the same as an extrovert. My people skills were the reason I made so much money waiting on tables. My people skills have carried me through many situations in my work with families and children. My people skills have helped me to raise money for non-profits over the years. I think this is what confuses people who know me. I am a people person. I put people first. Always. Often times, ahead of myself. Relationships with people are my priority in life. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it exhausts me. It takes every fiber of my body to be around large groups of people and even around people all day. My parents were “people-persons” too. I grew up watching them put others first with family and neighbors; learning about customer service through our family shoe business; and basically, just as a way of life. It was a non-negotiable in our house when we were growing up. So maybe I can blame it on them. All three of my brothers continue to live that way too, but I think three out of four of us are introverts. You wouldn’t know it by watching us, but I’m pretty sure they would agree with me.
My entire career has been spent working closely with people. Lots of little people for sure, but as any teacher can tell you, children do not come to you alone. They have adults who need tending to as well. Co-workers and colleagues require a lot of time and care too. All of my jobs have not come to me by accident, they have been carefully chosen by me, and all have involved being with people…all the time. Being the founder and director of a children’s museum required non-stop interactions with thousands of people every month. Being a Jazzercise instructor put me on stage (literally, with a microphone) in front of many other people. Serving on boards and committees, often leading them, creates a space where I am with people in intentional ways that do not allow me to just blend in in the background. Working in schools does not happen easily for introverts. You are “on” all day. So, I really don’t “hate people”. I just need time and space away from them to refuel.
I wrote this sitting on a park bench, under the shade of a tree, in the city park where I biked along the greenway the day before, while visiting Mount Airy on my personal retreat. On the spur of the moment, I added an hour onto my visit by spending some time writing, uninterrupted…with nobody else around. It was heavenly. As I drove away from the park, I wondered, “Why don’t I do this in Durham? Eno River, here I come!” New goals for the new school year.