Wednesday, November 1, 2017

on being an introvert

Ever since I can remember, I’ve felt awkward and uncomfortable and … well … dumb in lots of social situations. Meeting new people, a big party, making small talk in general – I suck at it.
I get overstimulated easily, and spending even a little time around lots of people (including crowds) is exhausting.

I am an introvert.

I never knew it until a few years ago, at least I didn’t know I was one, and I’ve never been so thankful for a label. It explains why I am wiped out by a little bit of a lot of people, but feel alive and well when I am in deep conversation with a few friends. It explains WHY I’m content with a handful of close friends. Why I spend so much time up inside my head. Why not leaving the house for three days is not only ok, it’s enjoyable. Why I hate meet and greet time at church.

I can “play” extrovert just fine in some situations, so I wouldn’t say I’m shy. I WOULD say, if I’m honest, that the extrovert me is in control of my surroundings. Like if I’m talking to customers, or teaching something, or standing in front of crowds, I’m fine. Because I’m in charge, basically.

Ouch. I didn’t realize that was true until I typed it just now. We’ll see if I leave it in.

Anyway. This inherited characteristic has, predictably, made my daughter and one of my granddaughters just as awkward as I am.

So I was with the girl this weekend we each did some writing. Hers is better than mine and so I’m sharing her words with you:

“Being the shy introvert that I am, I often find myself regretting the “road not taken.” I don’t take very many chances, preferring to stay in the safety of my comfort zone most of the time. But sometimes, staying in my comfort zone causes me to miss out on the fun other people seem to be having. I often regret not joining a conversation, or not enjoying myself at an event simply because I don’t know anyone. Because of my shy nature, it amazes me how some people can just strike up a quality conversation with a complete stranger, or always be comfortable no matter where they are. I like to think of those people as have a very large, mansion-like comfort zone, while mine is limited to only a few small rooms.

While other people’s comfort zones may be bigger, it doesn’t mean they are happier than I am.

They can just be happy in most places, while I am comfortable in only a select few. In a way, doesn’t that make the places I can be comfortable in more special by default? Think about it this way: if you were competing for something, would you be more excited about getting the high ranks from the judge who gave everyone high ranks, or the one who only gave them to one or two contestants? The pickier one, right? It’d seem like more of an achievement that way. That’s how I imagine my comfort zone. If I can be myself in a certain place, that place has to be familiar and special to me.
Even so, sometimes I despise how small my comfort zone is. While others are talking and building lasting friendships, I’m most likely in the corner reading, or not even there at all. I’d like to be able to be comfortable wherever I go, but I’m not. 

So I’m working on it. I try to speak up in class or take the time to talk to someone new. It’s nerve-racking, talking to people I don’t know. But I do it, because sometimes I have to step outside the small place I call my comfort zone. Maybe I’ll eventually be able to be comfortable everywhere, but I’m not there yet. I’m just going to live my life where I’m comfortable, and try not to care too much what people think.”
You don’t need any more of my words to get inside the skin of an introvert. And if you are part of this tribe, and if you’re still in your jammies at noon I probably am too so don’t fret.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

on words that wound: the sound of silence

Today, I just wanted to scream. Yell my head off. Intervene. But I kept silent.

I still don’t know if I did the right thing. It feels like I didn’t.

The woman in the store that was screaming at the 3-year-old who was screaming. I wanted to scream right at her to stop. Instead I turned away and made my way to the front of the store. The screaming continued, it followed me to the register and out into the parking lot.

By then the girl was crying in earnest. Not throwing a tantrum anymore, just crying. They walked right up beside my van, and the woman started screaming the most vile curse words imaginable at the little one.

Still I was silent.

I watched, yes I watched very carefully, because if she had laid a hand on that girl I would have intervened, called the police, all of it.

But she didn’t, and so I didn’t.

I felt helpless and half sick, and unsure and confused about what, if any, responsibility I had.

I was worried that she would do far worse to the child. I’m still worried about that.

But I didn’t DO anything.

My 12-year-old grandson was with me, and he was absolutely horrified. As we sat there discussing what had happened, the woman and the child disappeared from sight.

I still feel half sick, and I still don’t know if I should have done something or if it would have only made matters worse.

What I do know, however, is that words wound. They are damaging. Tone of voice carries meaning, for better or for worse. This extreme example has made me remember to watch my words. To check my tone. With the young people I love, and with the old people I love. The ones in between too.

I saw that little girl’s face. Indeed, she was throwing a monstrous tantrum in the store. I know, it’s frustrating to manage a situation like that. I remember. I’m not taking anything away from the absolute fact that mothering is the hardest thing. In the world.

I remember yelling at my own kids. I wish I hadn’t but I did. Out of anger, frustration, fear, whatever – I yelled. So I’m not saying anyone is bad for yelling at their kids. It happens.

And kids throw tantrums. It happens. 

But there is a broad line between discipline and abuse. This was so extreme, so out of control, frankly it was scary.

My heart is heavy now, and I can’t shake those images. My grandson said it was very depressing. Disturbing. He is right.

I don’t know what would have happened if I would have spoken up. I’ll never know.

I’ll be praying for that fit-throwing little girl, that she is safe, that her wounds won’t be too deep, that they will heal. That people will come into her life and speak love and lightness and acceptance to her.

And I will be a little more careful with my words, I will think about my tone of voice – not just volume, but tone. Tone of voice can carry so much weight. It can call you stupid, incompetent, frustrating, irritating, a liar. When the tone is hurtful, the words sometimes don’t matter.

And this:

I always have the option to be kind. Even when I’m angry, frustrated or scared – I can still be kind with my words and my tone of voice. Even if the words are hard to hear, even if they correct and instruct, I can be kind.

Is that easy? Of course not. But it matters.

I’m still feeling the turmoil of that scene, and I admit that I am scared for that little girl. I didn’t say anything, didn’t act.

It’s too late now.

But I can carry the lesson with me, and choose to be kind even when it’s hard. I can.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

on middle schoolers: what they carry

A couple of weeks ago, I took my favorite 13-year-old to a workshop about "writing your story" - the book The Things They Carried  (Tim O'Brien), a memoir about the Vietnam War, was to be her jumping off point.

She has written quite a lot of fiction, and it's really very good. But this. This is the real stuff, the things our kiddos are grappling with every day.

This grabbed me by the heart.


"They carry library books, notebooks, pens, paper. They carried heavy backpacks in the morning and string ones during the day.

Earbuds blasting music, they carried the assigned textbooks and the knowledge required for the test next period. They carry iPads and binders and their precious smart phones with them to every class.

Everyone carried the secret anxiety of failing a test or forgetting an assignment, losing a paper or having to present something they hadn’t finished.

Some carried Sharpies to draw with - either on their arms or on their papers - during the dull parts of class. Others had fancy watches, bracelets, necklaces which are never removed. Some considered these items lucky, other just liked the way they looked.

After class they carried their complaints. Madison complained of all the makeup work she had to do, and Delaney hated that she had to bring four separate binders to school. Some, like Isabella, fretted that they had already almost finished their book, but wouldn’t have their class’s library day until the end of the week.

They carry hidden emotions and secrets and stress.

They carry the anxiety of growing up, feeling like high school is coming too soon, too fast.

They carry confusion, about why they are being told to pick a college and a career path already.

They carry the thin boundary between childhood and adulthood, never knowing what to do.

They carry too much, but not nearly enough at the same time."


I remember when my own kids were this age and sometimes so mouthy and sometimes crying for no reason and sometimes tormenting each other and sometimes being so sweet with each other I could hardly stand it.

I see all this in her now, veiled as it is sometimes by the way it manifests, and I ache for her and am so proud of her all at the same time.

But I'd forgotten, you see, my own 13-year-old pain. Yes, this world is is a different one than the one I grew up in, but the feelings are the same. Pressure is pressure, anxiety is anxiety and confusion is confusion. She helped me to realize that despite our age difference, despite our completely different 13-year-old worlds, despite technology and politics and everything going on now that wasn't happening then, the heart cry of a 13-year-old remains the same.

And honestly, some of the cries of our heart never change. We still carry hidden emotions and secrets and stress. We still feel like we carry too much and not enough.

If we can remember, we can give grace even as we correct and instruct these young ones in these hard, hard years. We can remember to understand what it feels like. We can identify with them, and tell them we get it, and maybe, just maybe, we can help them carry the weight of right now as they move toward crossing that thin boundary between child and adult.

I love the transparency of this piece of writing - I love that she can use words to express her world. I love that she is willing to let it out, out into this big big world.

When I asked her if I could guest post her here, she hesitated, then said: "But why would your readers want to hear from ME? I'm just a kid."

Why indeed.

Because no matter what stage of life we're in, we can remember. And when we remember, we can relate to this messy age, and maybe love them just a little bit better because of it.


Friday, September 29, 2017

six things Nashville taught me

Just got home from a wonderful vacay to Nashville with the hubs and my son and his wife. They live in LA (as opposed to KANSAS ... I wish ...) so having this stretch of time with them was really great. The drive was long but the conversation was good.

I learned a few things while we were there:

1) How to call an Uber. Now of course I knew of this thing but I've never USED it. By and large they were all fine, and the pickups were crazy fast, although I never had enough room to put on my seatbelt and this one time the driver showed up with a passenger so there wasn't room for us so he kicked the "passenger" out and we piled in and then he changed his mind and kicked us out.  At least I think that's what happened ...

2) There is a huge replica of the Parthenon in a random park. I don't know why.

3) Nashvillians are friendly, friendly folk. Seriously you guys, we got hands-down the best service every single place we went! Friendly doesn't begin to cover it. Except for that one lady in the antique mall who apparently was having a bad life.

4) The accent I was expecting was mostly missing. Apparently there are 100+ people a day moving to Nashville. I suppose that's the reason that other than a "Shootfire!" from the Walmart cashier and a bunch of "Hey ya'll"s from the good folks at the flea market, everyone sounded like me. Disappointing - I mean, who doesn't love a good accent?

5) The world really is small. While waiting in line (OH HAVE I MENTIONED THE LINES??) we met a lovely couple from Israel, she a judge and he an aviation mechanical engineer.

(Learned that the judicial system in Israel does not include juries.)

Then we were joined by a couple from Australia who met singing on a cruise ship, and then two guys from Norway showed up. FINALLY, some good accents!

6) The music is good but the crowds are insane. This is truly tourist territory - I've only been to Vegas once but the Broadway strip in Nashville sure reminded me of it. There were live bands all up and down the street, and the people watching was so so good, and I thought I was going to get crushed or buried alive 5,463 times.

(These silly things were everywhere. No, we did not get on one.)

For this impatient introvert, the lines and crowds were a bit overwhelming at times, but I wouldn't have traded a bit of it.

Sadly, we didn't see Garth or Dolly or Travis or Vince, but we sure did hear a lot of great music. My favorite was the Station Inn, where a bunch of mostly old guys just show up and jam. The fiddle player is 85, and he plays there four nights a week. There was also an 11-year-old girl playing with them at one point, and just about every age in between.

All of that said and done ... we had a blast and I am glad to be home.

Where have you been lately, near or far? Share with us?

Tired but happy,