Wednesday, January 18, 2006

An introspective moment

When I was a kid, I used to crawl into a dark space in one part of our home, and sometimes stay there for an hour or more. It was rather peculiar behaviour, looking back on it from an adult perspective.

How peculiar? Let me describe the dark space I'm talking about.

My father owns an upholstery business. He has approximately a dozen employees. A pretty respectable operation, I think.

When I was a kid, the sewing department was in two rooms that took up one side of the ground floor of our house. The rest of the "shop" was in a separate building, located on the same property, on the other side of the driveway.

In the sewing department, there were shelves full of rolls of fabric. And I would wriggle into a gap between the rolls. It was dusty, musty, dark, and decidedly claustrophic. A strange place to retreat to, away from sunlight, fresh air, open spaces, and people. And I liked it in there.

(Have I ever mentioned that I am an introvert? Why yes, I have.)

All my life I have felt isolated; the odd man out of any and every group I've ever been associated with. (Thank God for Mary P., a true soulmate.)

Sometimes that sense of isolation is a painful cross to bear. But, in my opinion, it's also a good way to be. I don't want to follow the crowd; it is my nature to be the one fish that swims, stubbornly, against the current, while the rest of the school floats downstream.

Maybe these three things aren't even connected to one another:  crawling into a dark space as a kid, my introversion, that sense of being different from other people. Maybe they aren't related, but when I think of my peculiar behaviour as a kid, the other two thoughts follow in train.

As for that sense of difference and isolation:  I wouldn't have it any other way, even though it isn't the easy path to take through life.

What has inspired this introspective moment? An exceptionally poignant post over at Hildebrand Road, Cheryl's blog. Some bloggers can really write; the rest of us are amateurs by comparison.

copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz


At 4:52 PM, January 18, 2006, Blogger aaron said...

I don't know if I have you beat or not (not that it's a competition), but my hidden/private space was an unused school locker. I was a little kid, and it was no trouble for me to fold myself up to fit. Now there's a memory I haven't thought of for years!

I also used to have the feeling of being "the odd man out of any and every group I've ever been associated with," but that started to go away about a decade ago. Now I may feel that way at times, but I recognize there's no longer much truth to it.

At 5:26 PM, January 18, 2006, Blogger McSwain said...

Thank you, Q, for the compliment. Really, I'm stunned.

Funny thing is, I almost didn't post that piece. I didn't think anyone would get it. Perhaps I should remember that many of us have connected in blogland because of common experience. Look at Aaron up there! I have wished I could spare my son the isolation of being "different," but instead I encourage him to celebrate his differences. If only the educational system could get on board.

Unlike you, I'm very extroverted. But perhaps that is my way of trying to overcome the feeling of isolation, which is there even in a crowded room.

At 6:33 PM, January 18, 2006, Blogger Sadie Lou said...

My grandparents owned a Mexican resaurant and next door was an appliance store. One day I walked over to the old broken down appliances in the back of the appliance store and decided to get inside an old ice box. The door only opened from the outside. Once i got in--I was locked in. I didn't panic. I liked it at first--then I started yelling out the vents in the back of the ice box. Finally, someone heard me (miracle) and they let me out. I've been afraid of closed in places ever since. Your post reminded me of that day...

At 8:14 PM, January 18, 2006, Blogger 49erDweet said...

Q and Cheryl's posts/comments make me wonder. "Do all of us at some time or another have this "odd man out" feeling?

Like Cheryl, I consider myself to be an extrovert. I usually display an extremely low 'lack of confidence' level (probably self-delusional, eh?). But is that something I've picked up to overcome the fact I, too, had my hiding places? And my self doubts?

Were these unique places the youthful 49er would use as personal retreats in which his psyche could heal unassailed by outside family forces for just long enough? I don't know.

But my places really varied with my age. When younger, it was a crawl space against the wall behind the sofa, in a dark room. Then under a pew in the back row while my grandfather preached in a small church. Next, in bed, under the covers, with a flashlight, late at night. Followed by under my dad's workbench in the garage with the lights out. Later, on the floor in front of the backseat of my first car, a '30 Chrysler 4-Dr, three years before I could even drive it, and finally - my favorite place during the last three years of high school - a desolate look-out spot 2000 feet in elevation up the ridgeline behind my home, overlooking the gentle mountain glen housing my home community - with a direct view of Tahquitz Rock. I could see anybody coming more than a mile away!

Personal spaces. Introverts. Odd man out. Drumbeats. Could these all be shared stages? Or are they similar, but not really the same?

At 10:01 PM, January 18, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Fascinating response so far. I didn't know quite what to expect. I'm not entirely surprised, but I also wouldn't have been surprised if someone had said, "Q, that sounds like depression" or "Q, is there a history of psychiatric illness in your family?" (Which there is, btw — quite a pronounced family history of it.)

• Aaron, a locker is definitely a tight squeeze!

I'm glad you've found a group identity that is a comfortable fit for you. I envy that, but I've pretty much given up on it for myself.

• Cheryl, I don't know why you're stunned. Your blog is consistently well written — a cut above most blogs. Before I read you regularly, Mary P. called my attention to your "100 things about myself" post. She said, "Usually I find this kind of post boring, but this one tells an interesting story." And she was right.

Anyone who can make a meme post interesting has real talent!

• Sadie Lou, you're fortunate the ice box had vents in the back. What a terrifying and dangerous experience!

• 49er, it's interesting that you've always had a hidey-place. I probably always had a place that served that purpose until very recent years. Maybe I should find one again; it seems to serve a real psychological need.

I can relate to your outdoor spot. As a teenager, one of my get-aways was a graveyard on the shoreline of a small lake. Lots of solitude, late at night — the corpses and I left each other undisturbed — and I loved to get right down at water level and look across the surface of the water. Very healing, somehow.

At 11:05 AM, January 19, 2006, Blogger Mary P. said...

When I was four, I managed to lock myself into our bathroom, and didn't know how to unlock the door. The rest of the family was having tea outside, and by the time they found me, I was an hysterical, gibbering mass on the floor. Or so I'm told. I only remember the terror.

Like Sadie Lou, my claustrophobia dates from a traumatic childhood event.

Nonetheless, I did have hidey-holes as a child. My favourite was under my grandparents' bed. They lived in the other half of my widowed mother's duplex, and we three kids had free run of both homes. I'd slither under grandad and granny's bed, and then up and under their headboard. A bookcase on the topside, underneath there was ample room for a 5, 6, 7-year-old to sit and read, think, just be alone.

There were other places: that was just the quirkiest. And in case anyone's wondering: I only went there when the place was empty. I never overheard age-inappropriate conversations -- or other activity!

At 11:24 AM, January 19, 2006, Blogger whitechoclatespacegg said...

I had a couple of hiding places as a kid. At home I hid in my closet behind the clothes. I was number 3 of eight children, so solitude was hard to find.

My grandparents had a place in the country that was in the woods. There was a ravine behind there house, I used to stay down there for hours when I was there.

I think everyone feels a little isolated from other people at times. It's a big world full of people and we all have our own stuff to deal with. It's really easy to feel that I'm the only one to feel the way I do, I tend to forget other people might feel it too.

At 1:18 PM, January 19, 2006, Blogger Juggling Mother said...

I agree that everyone feel s isolated at times & wants to hide away.

I have very different memories - as a child I would hide away in the Forest down the road from our house. I could stay, settled in a damp hole, up a tree, or sitting on a log for hours, as long as it was so far inside the forest that I couldn't see/hear the road/people/houses.

I wonder if my bid for open air to hide in is anything to do with the fact that there were 9 people living in our house, all sharing rooms, so the silance was my escape?

Now I can hide in my bedroom:-)

At 2:50 PM, January 19, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Mary P.:
Sometimes I learn things about you through blogging, which is bizarre, considering how much time we spend talking. But I'd never heard about sliding up under the headboard of your grandparents' bed before.

Also: extroverts utilizing hidey-holes (Cheryl, 49er, Mary P.) now outnumber introverts (me) 3:1. Interesting!

• Whitechocolate:
It's true, many human experiences and emotions are universal. We have more things in common than the things that divide us.

Maybe there are millions of people out there who are just like me. But they keep to themselves, and I keep to myself, and we go on feeling isolated.

• Mrs. Aginoth:
I have teenaged children, and I sometimes hide in my bedroom, too!

I have had the same experience of being in the woods somewhere, trying to get deep enough into the woods to escape the distant traffic sounds. These things are definitely emerging as universal themes.

But there must be someone out there who hasn't done this, someone who prefers to be always in a crowd of people. My ex-wife comes to mind, but I doubt she's reading, so you'll have to take my word for it.

At 11:46 PM, January 19, 2006, Anonymous J said...

Talk about feeling like the odd man out--I'm definitely the abnormal one in this crowd! I'm racking my brain, but I can't recall ever having hiding places when I was little. Maybe it's because I had solitude enough without having to seek out a cubby hole anywhere. My entire family (4 of us) is introverted, so getting quiet moments was never much of a problem in our house. And I've always had my own room, so maybe that counts as a hiding place of sorts.

If I sought out a hiding place at all, it was less a physical space and more a "cubby hole" in time--I crave early morning time to myself, while it's still dark and before anyone else gets up. Even though it wasn't physical, maybe that was my way of meeting the same need for personal space that is common to all of us.

At 9:08 AM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I can relate to that, too. Being up before anyone else, or up later than anyone else — I love those times when I'm alone in my thoughts and activities. It costs me a fair amount of sleep!

I'm glad you spoke up to say that you never had hiding places. I was sure this was a biased sample we were getting … but at least we've established that hiding in a little crevice somewhere is a commonplace childhood activity!

At 12:25 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I understand. I haven't always felt like the odd man out, but I have often enough to be very well acquainted with it.

There have been many times in my life when I just felt like I would always be the guy looking in the window as opposed to participating with the others.

Sometimes this has been hard for me, but most of the time I never think twice about it.

At 12:45 PM, January 20, 2006, Blogger LoryKC said...

I never had a consistent hiding place. With five kids in the house, anywhere I could find either had someone in it or someone would find me!
I was always trying to build a fort or a house in the backyard to have my own space! (Had to give up when I kept getting help. While assistance is nice, it defeated the whole purpose...)
Anyway, I certainly felt like the "odd person out" of most groups conversations for much of my life until recently. (Actually, it's probably been about 10 years now but I did not even think to count until reading Aaron's comment!) I was very shy as a child and as I got older, thought I had to "hide" that! Weird. I still think of myself as an introvert but my husband can't figure out why I say that!

At 8:17 AM, January 21, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Jack:
You strike me as such a dominant personality, it's hard to imagine you being left on the sidelines. But I know, regardless of personality type, we all have our struggles. Still, I sometimes wish I was more assertive, like you.

• Lory:
I didn't know your acquaintance with Aaron went back so many years. Usually blogging buddies are people we've never met in person, although I gathered you and Aaron actually know each other.

You touch on another subject that interests me: your shift from a (relatively) introverted person to a (relatively) extroverted person. Mrs. Aginoth also said she has shifted from one to the other. But I think it's pretty unusual.

I'd like to hear an expert talk about it sometime. That is, were you a true introvert as a kid, or was it just social circumstances that positioned you that way? (So that your truer extroverted nature could emerge when the circumstances changed.) Another possibility is that you were confusing shyness with introversion — in my view, they are not the same thing, as I explained in one of the earlier posts.

Or can people really make a shift from definitely introverted to definitely extroverted?

Personally, I'm not going anywhere. I'll remain an introvert my whole life. But I have grown in self-confidence, and that helps a lot in social situations.

At 6:14 PM, January 22, 2006, Blogger LoryKC said... is quite possible that I've confused shyness with being an introvert more than once. Honestly, I'd never thought about the difference until you mentioned it.
And yes, while I have not met most of my blogging friends, Aaron had to listen to me ramble on well before blogs were created! I finally made the leap to blogging myself after reading his for a while.

At 6:43 PM, January 22, 2006, Blogger Carolyn said...

All these comments were very interesting, and I could relate to most of them in some way (even Aaron, although I could NEVER get in a locker without having a breakdown).

I think it's completely normal to seek solitude (but then I've also spent a lot of time isolating). My parents actually facilitated it when we were kids. I had a special corner in our living room where my parents shoved an old cabinet TV. There was enough room for me to go back there, sometimes behind the couch, and play with my Barbies. If I felt like interacting with someone, I'd set up a little desk on top of the TV and play office with my sister.

Seeking alone time has always been necessary for me to stay sane. I've always been told I come across very extroverted and confidant...but I viewed myself as shy and with low self-esteem (that's changed a lot in the last 5 years).

I've always felt like I was alone, and that I didn't fit in...not with my friends, family, everyone. But like you and Mary P., I found my soulmate in "The Boyfriend" and we share a lot of the same feelings. We live in the same house, but we still have our private spots in the house where we go, and the other knows to give us our space.

Thanks for the post.

At 7:54 PM, January 22, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I would interpret your remarks to mean that you are, in fact, an introvert.

I identify as introverts those folks who need alone time in order to restore themselves emotionally. Whereas extroverts get energy from social activity — being in a crowd — an introvert gets energy from being alone and diving into his or her own mind and heart.

Thus it sounds like you're an introvert, even though you can go to an event like Burning Man and indulge your wilder side publicly. This goes back to what I said to Lory, that we ought not to confuse introversion with shyness. It's quite possible for an introvert to be a public figure, it's just that they will find it exhausting and need to get out of the public eye at regular intervals to re-energize.

I'm glad you have so much comfort with the boyfriend. It makes such a difference to find that one person you can connect with on (almost) all levels and allow all the way into your world.

At 11:50 PM, January 22, 2006, Blogger Carolyn said...


I think that's a very accurate way of decribing introverts vs. extroverts. I think introverts are often confused with shyness and socially uncomfortable. Speaking in terms of re-charging is a very appropriate way of assessing those two personality types. Most people see me as extremely outgoing and socially comfortable...sometimes the "life of the party". But to say that I always choose those types of interactions would be far from the truth. I OCCASIONALLY desire that atmosphere. I find crowds to be exhausting, and the holidays are difficult because most nights of the week I have holiday parties, etc. to go to. I can be that social butterfly ONLY because I allow myself enough solitude.

And yes, it's amazing to find that special person to spend my life with...after 30 years of not connecting with anyone in a relationship (sad since I was engaged to someone I was with for 6 years...good the wedding was called off or I'd have been divorced by 25!).

At 11:53 PM, January 22, 2006, Blogger LoryKC said...

How about a functional introvert, then?
I don't avoid social situations but they wear me out unless I have some time alone to regroup!
(Now the hubbie would actively avoid almost all social situations so he thinks I'm extroverted but it's just in comparison to him...)

At 11:54 PM, January 22, 2006, Blogger Carolyn said...

One more thing...I was able to make it through Burning Man because I spent time by myself. I'd go to bed early to read when everyone else went out, took naps during the day in strange camps where I didn't know anyone (and they wouldn't bother me), rode my bike into the desert alone...I would have never made it out alive otherwise. Thankfully, the boyfriend needed to do the same thing. I'd run into him randomly while we were out on our was always such a nice surprise to run into familiarity and break the isolation.


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