Living while introverted

I am an introvert. Surprise, I know, being part of that half of the population. It’s like being a woman. Flip a coin, and you could probably guess my gender and particular social inclination. The most common reactions to being an introvert are “You’re not shy!” or “But you go out a lot!” Well, yes, but here’s the thing: I require ridiculous amounts of me time. I need large chunks of space and time to myself to be creative and to just think. I’m not a ‘group work’ person. It’s not because I don’t like other people, but it’s usually because, if I work in a group or with a group, I still need swaths of time to go off and work on my own. Introversion has little to do with being shy and all to do with enjoying silence and a sense of open space in the world.

And this is why I hate “how to fix your life, you shy introvert!” type help articles. I read them because I’m a masochist. This is the latest piece I came across. The article should have been about ways to make sure you get out of your house more because it’s about how to get out of your house in the age of extreme creature comforts. It’s more about being lazy than about being introverted.

I hear you! I’m a total introvert and the creature comforts of home are usually a lot more enticing than a social outing. The amount of awesome that you can stuff into a small house makes it incredibly hard to get out and leave. The fact most people have a big flat screen TV, can stream just about any movie or TV show on demand, and can automate the delivery of pretty much everything makes it easier than ever to stay cooped up inside. Still, social interaction is good for you, so let’s take a look at some ways you can motivate yourself to get out of the house every now and again.

There’s the assumption introversion never means leaving your house. Wrong and wrong. I go outside a lot, work a job, go for walks, travel, and all kinds of other things, but I’m still an introvert. I can do a lot of these things without interacting closely with other people. I guess the reason I like my little apartment is because I crave my own space. Even when growing up, I craved my own spaces, little places where I could go, think as long as I needed, and feel completely comfortable. It’s about me time, not about vegging in front of the couch. There are out door places, places away from my apartment, that qualify as ‘me’ spaces. I had this seat in the library I always tried to sit in because I loved its location. I felt completely comfortable in that corner, tucked away from loud groups of people, and I did a lot of solid work there. At home, I loved my swing set. I had my swing, which was different from my sister’s swing, and I would go out there and swing for hours. Seriously, I was obsessed with swing sets. If my sister came out, we would play, but I liked to get out there alone and just swing.

This is introversion. This is not being shy but an in your bones need for solitude.

That being said, being an introvert doesn’t make you better. It really doesn’t. Being a women doesn’t give me magical estrogen powers. It’s a 50:50 population split. Flip a coin, it’s just like that. As a society, we put a lot of value on extroversion because it’s essential for community building. In case you were wondering, as social animals, humans are all about community building, so this is why we do prize extroverts, but once again, flip the coin. You’re not better, just different.

That being said, what if you’re an introvert who wants to interact better with people? What if you want to learn how to socialize in a way that makes sense for you? “Must I fake it?” on the ‘Since You Asked’ blog by Cary Tennis is the best advice I’ve ever read about how to be an introvert in a world that values extroversion. Here is the question and the best part of the answer, but read the entire thing.

Question :

I was wondering if you could give me some meta-advice. See, I’m quite shy and introverted socially, so I have difficulty in making friends or moving beyond a superficial level of acquaintance. I read self-help books and the like — I’ve even had a little counseling — for advice in how to amend this, but I’m seeing this apparent dichotomy in such advice that I don’t know how to resolve. On the one hand, they say that to make connections with people you should turn your attention to the other person, ask them questions about themselves and their lives, and so on. On the other hand, they say you should always try to “be yourself,” don’t try too hard, act as comes naturally to you. But with my personality, I have to “try hard” to generate conversation, to think of questions to ask people, and to not revert to going on about my own inane opinions if nothing immediately springs to mind (to say nothing of ignoring the feeling of artificiality produced by this strategy). If I acted as came naturally to me I would not be talking much (except to people I already know).

Answer:

The uneasiness of the introvert in a social situation has to do with the signals you are getting from the rest of the people that you do not exist. So assert your existence. You needn’t do this in any obvious way. Just feel your toes. Feel your hips. As you stand in a circle of people, feel your breath. Look at the other people. Allow yourself to look at them and think about them. Notice how their mouths move, how their eyes change, what kind of hair they have, what their skin is like, what they are wearing and where it came from. Regard them. Hold your space. Do not worry that you will be called upon, or that you must be ready with shallow patter. Just calm down and observe. Be a million miles away.

This holding of your own space is a form of quiet aggression that can redress the imbalance between the extroverts and the introverts. Yes, the extroverts command airspace. They say phrases. Their faces move. But you have the right to your own thoughts. If what they are saying is ludicrous, you do not have to laugh and pretend. If you make them uncomfortable, they will find some other guacamole.

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In which American politics feels like a Greek myth

The Ouroboros is a famous symbol, even though you’ve probably never heard the name. I’m going to do you a favor and just show you the picture.

"Isn't that the ring Aragorn wore?"

Now that you see it, the wordy, Greek name takes on meaning. The Ouroboros devours itself; the snake symbolizing fertility and eternity. The Ouroboros isn’t necessary a Greek-only idea; it’s present in other cultures as well. Jung latched onto it, attributing our ‘primitive ego’ as the ultimate symbolism of the Ouroboros. I wanted to smash my head into a wall listening about the contraception debate. When it morphed into the Limbaugh vs. women-as-caterpillars, who get vaginally probed after being stripped of health-care, debate, I reached a whole new level of astounded. I found my shock morph into indifference as one asinine story about women morphed into another equally moronic response. Then I knew what was happening. American politics, at least on women’s issues, morphed into an Ouroboros; we are literally devouring ourselves, retreading the same group. Nothing is too extreme any more; we are numb to the insane, but amid head line after headline, I try to let go of my own tail because I do need to care. If I don’t care, I know I’m at risk of repeating mistakes in my own life, but as a culture, if we don’t care, we will remain stuck in this political environment until we consume ourselves.

And now, I end this depressing post with an adorable, underground mammal!

Pictured: fuzzy incarnate

Body image comparisions that should go away: skinny vs. curvy

Presented without meaningful comment. It speaks for itself.

I’ve seen this picture pop up several times on my facebook feed. It’s been followed by a lot of likes and comments such as ‘Right?!’ or ‘Completely agree!!!’ At first, as someone who doesn’t fall into the ‘when did this’ category, my first reaction was a bit of the same. But you know what? My next reaction was disappointment at myself and all the women going ‘hell yeah!’ when they see this image.

Because you know, these women? They’re all paid to be beautiful. They’re all impossibly beautiful to begin with, and their livelihoods rest or rested upon them keeping up that appearance and perfecting it to the best of their abilities. The women in the ‘become hotter than this?’ category? If they were alive today and in their ‘prime’, maybe they would look like the women on top. Just maybe it says more about us than about them. And by saying ‘you, curvy lady, are better than these skinny ladies’, we’re setting up a paradigm in which no one wins. No one wins the oppression Olympics. At the end, you get a big fat ‘You lose!’ ribbon. There is nothing wrong with either set of women. They all share that they’re very beautiful women who are in an industry that requires perfect beauty, and they’re delivering it.

Here is a list of crazy diets. All are used by women, and some go back to the 1920s and 1950s. And you should try none of these. They’re all garbage terrible and unrealistic for normal people. However, if your job is to be thin and impossibly beautiful, you might see appeal in these diets and extreme measures. It’s a good bet that these ‘natural’ women in the bottom row were on some of these diets. It’s known that MGM put Judy Garland on a chicken broth diet and appetite suppressants to play Dorthy in the Wizard of Oz. I’m sure the lasting memory you took away from the Wizard of Oz was how attractive or fat Judy Garland was in her role.

Yeah, they put this woman on a broth diet.

What I’m saying is that these terrible standards have existed in Hollywood and entertainment forever. If you want to go into that field, this is what to expect. Is it going to change? Not if the public doesn’t change, and even then, executives might just ignore the public anyway. But to take these women, compare them, and pit their body types against each other? That’s ridiculous, and even if you feel bad about your curvy body, there’s an anorexic girl somewhere not eating who feels just as bad about her body. And by saying there is only one way to be sexy, or that one type of (impossibly beautiful and maintained to look like that) body is better than another, you’re not helping your cause. You’re making other women feel bad, and I would like that to stop.

Note: for those of you not familiar with the term “Oppression Olympics” here is urban dictionary. And here is Melissa Harris Perry, saying the words on the big TV (or internet screen) with Colbert:

The story is in the retelling

As a writer, I am obsessed with being original; this thorn in my brain to have new ideas, better ideas. To be unique. Just like everyone else.

No one else has a pair of these, right?

This is why it’s a kindness that I read this article. I’m going to quote it because this is an post about unoriginal ideas.

Yes, the muggles are just like the terrible adults of Roald Dahl fiction; the foul-tasting magical candies come right out of a Monty Python skit; and wearing a horcrux that must be destroyed while worrying about its own corrupting influence on your soul sounds a lot like Tolkien’s one ring to rule them all. But those elements are not why people like Harry Potter. Instead, the Harry Potter universe is filled with rules that are constantly broken in the interest of equity. Time and time again, Harry and all the likable characters of Hogwarts break the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law. The best kind of wish fulfillment made all the better by the intensity of the defeated evil.

Indeed, compare Frodo’s trip to Mordor while wearing a corrupting ring with Harry Potter’s wearing of the horcrux. Frodo knows that carrying the ring is his burden. That it cannot be passed to another. Although Harry is facing an evil as great as Frodo’s, he shares the burden by altering the wearing of the horcrux between his two companions. Yes, the similarities are apparent, but it’s the distinction that holds Harry Potter’s specific charm.

J.K. Rowling taught me that using influences in a novel is a lot like using sampling in music. It’s absolutely fine to lift riffs and hooks from other songs as long as they are referential building blocks of your work instead of being the appeal of your work. For example, the “When Doves Cry” sample is the only good part of MC Hammer’s “Pray.” The “Under Pressure” riff is the only good part of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby.” But take a song like “Jackass” by Beck, built around a sampled loop from Them’s “It’s All Over, Baby Blue.” It stands completely on its own terms.

Rowling liberated me so much that when I wrote my serialized novella Notes from the Internet Apocalypse, I had great fun incorporating elements from Douglas Adams, Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Dennis Lehane, Chuck Palahniuk, George Orwell, David Bowie, George Romero and Scott Kosar, confident they were only cultural shortcuts enriching the story instead of stealing its individuality. So yeah, sorry, J.K. I was wrong.

There is no original idea, only memorable expressions of an idea. When I think of the most memorable books I’ve read, they all play by these rules. Even the books we consider original draw on ancient mythology and cultural tropes. You have to use them because they are in your head. They are literally part of you. This is why tvtropes exists! You can never get away from them unless you live in a hut in the Canadian wilderness after wiping your brain clean in an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but with all of society instead of one person.

This obsession with originality gives me headaches, quite literally. It stunts my writing productivity, and maybe it’s at the center of the bundle of fear all of us carry around inside. But that fear? All it needs is to take a breath, and the knots that keep me tied and unproductive untangle. I can breath. I can explore and find influences. I can begin to push barriers and find my style, my voice. This is why I made a concerted effort to try and write more ‘reactionary’ pieces in my blog. I want to focus on analysis and understanding and not throwing out grand, wild ideas. I need to understand before I can use those ideas. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever write anything with some original posturing, and I tie up ideas and themes with my own conclusions.

The cliche goes that the story is in the telling. What you mean is what you say, just as you’re defined by what you do. It’s how you work ideas together, mold plot, and live your life. What we take for originality might be the ability to push past the wad of fears and all consuming duties and distractions of daily life. The people we remember are those who have shouted long and hard enough for their ideas to break into our minds. There is no original idea, only memorable expressions of an idea.

And because I love this video, here is J.K. Rowling’s commencement speech from Harvard circa 2008.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Evolution is culture

Evolutionary strategies are fighting battles in our culture right now. That is how evolution has transitioned to functioning in our big-brained animal world. We’re social animals, and our culture is an outstretched, warped version of biology. I’ve been struggling with how to digest a variety of news that has hit me over the break. I keep coming back to biology, evolution, and ultimately how survival of the fittest is going on in our culture. Humans have designed our culture, but at the same time, we’re still mammals. Our brains give us the ability to imagine scenarios, extending reality into this meta-simulation in our heads. We can take the basic struggles of biology and change them, theorize about them, and then create new ways in which to fight them out. We take the basic struggles of the African savanna and imagine new ways to fight these battles.

P.Z. Meyers wrote a piece about why women menstruate. It’s a question that you don’t think about all the time. I know how the biology of menstruation works. During the second half of the menstrual cycle, in the Luteal phase, the uterine wall thickens to get ready for a fertilized egg to implant. Menstruation happens when, at the end of the Luteal cycle (about 14 days), no egg implants, and the wall is shed in preparation for next months. The biology of how menstruation happens, however, is different from why it happens. It’s a wasteful process and not all mammals menstruate. When you think of the why in terms of evolutionary strategy, here is the anthropomorphized reasoning of why menstruation might occur.

So the question is, why do humans have spontaneous decidualization?

The answer that Emera suggests is entirely evolutionary, and involves maternal-fetal conflict. The mother and fetus have an adversarial relationship: mom’s best interest is to survive pregnancy to bear children again, and so her body tries to conserve resources for the long haul. The fetus, on the other hand, benefits from wresting as much from mom as it can, sometimes to the mother’s detriment. The fetus, for instance, manipulates the mother’s hormones to weaken the insulin response, so less sugar is taken up by mom’s cells, making more available for the fetus.

The larger aspect of this struggle is the male-female strategies of reproduction. Males want to spread their seed and come away with a pregnancy from every sexual encounter. Females want to get pregnant when they’re the healthiest, can carry the fetus to term, and then can live to reproduce again. These strategies are in competition, and I don’t think there is a winner. These strategies exist to propel human evolution forward, and they’ve created the species we have now. This female-fetal struggle is only one example of a evolutionary struggle in culture.

I don’t think it ends here. We’ve used technology to extend our animal abilities to extremes. We can now kill millions of people that we don’t like, for arbitrary reasons like skin color and ethnicity. There is nothing stopping rapid attacks against people considered to be outside of our group. It’s a psychology principle called in group bias, and it’s well documented. Most of the time, this bias is created by arbitrary standards, but it’s based in biology. We are conditioned not to trust people on the outside of our social groups. It’s a primal instinct, and with our frontal cortex, we’ve out-sized this in-group bias into every area of our culture. Politics is fueled by in-group, out-group bias. We’re conditioned to attack those who don’t think like we think, who don’t fall in line with our ideals.

This is why, when people ask, ‘why isn’t there more diversity in our group?’ I have to look at how they define themselves. Who is your in group? You have one, I promise you that it exists. Every movement, every culture has an in group. This brings me to the flood of news pieces I’ve read this week. There’s the rabid Ron Paul followers, the on-going atheist misogyny, the constant culture wars, and the countless spats that occur in the celebrity tabloids. What do these things have in common? We’re trying to fight what we consider the out group. No one is immune to it. In group bias is the antithesis of diversity. It’s us shutting ourselves down to others, creating barriers, and imposing a dominant culture on others. When you wonder where the diversity it, look at the in group. Understand what they’re doing, and understand evolution is driving us onward.

It’s okay to be different: maybe all of us need to go back to kindergarten

Talking about gender can be difficult because of how we view the word ‘different.’ Saying ‘men and women are different’ isn’t an innocuous statement because of how we approached different. Different is not simply ‘not the same.’ In our culture, different comes with a value judgment. Different means ‘not the same and one of these is less than.’ Different means ‘one of these is not the default.’ This is why I define sexism as ‘the idea that male/masculinity is the default (or preferred) gender, and female/femininity is less than.’ Our cultural sexism comes from this belief that there is a default gender, even though it’s a 50/50 toss up what gender you will be born. Nature has no preference. It flips a coin. When people start to talk about the differences between the sexes, this argument and our cultural idea of different rises to the surface. There is a preferred option, the Default. Then there is the Other, which is less preferable, and if you can find ways not to be associated with it, that’s great! (Not really.) That’s why I’m wary when I read about the innate differences between males and females. I’m not saying these differences aren’t real (some are), but many differences are cultural or exaggerated by our need to make one set of traits preferable to the other.

We make value judgments about everything, gender included. There is a default, make no mistake. This is why it’s difficult for me to get a grasp on how to deal with gender problems. How do you teach gender and address real gender differences without further exacerbating the idea that one gender quality is preferable over another? One way to not talk about gender is to coin ridiculous terms such as ‘reverse sexism.‘ Sexism works one way, the Default over the Other, and it affects BOTH genders. There could be an argument female qualities are being more valued in society now, but that still doesn’t make female qualities the Default.

Jessica Mack sums up how I feel about the idea of ‘reverse sexism.’

This is why we should drop-kick the term “reverse gender gap.” It’s alarmist, annoying, and sexist in its very syntax. It conjures up some kind of endless gender pendulum that will swing endlessly to extremes. Also, it’s disempowering to men. I know quite a few men and women partnered up with members of this new gender-norm-upending, breadwinning gaggle of femme fatales. I don’t think they see themselves as losers on the short end of the stick.

Ah, the endless gender pendulum. How do we break that bi-polar need for the Default and the Other? It’s a question that is larger than gender and might go to the very core of most of the problems in America. We swing between extremes. Obese vs. anorexic, men vs. women, black vs. white, Left vs. Right, nerd vs. jock, and the list just goes on and on. It’s endless, it’s tiring, and it’s not productive. We can’t correct real problems, like sexism, if we keep trying to swing the gender pendulum between extremes. That’s why crying ‘WHAT ABOUT THE MEN!!??!!!?!?!’ doesn’t do any good. Well, yes, men have problems, but they’re caused by this bi-polar extreme we stumbled into creating. We define each other on characteristics we may have had no control over picking. Did you decide to be born in a particular city? Did you pick your race? We can pick our gender with a bit more freedom, but we can’t do this at birth. I think this bi-polarism comes from the need for Americans to believe we are all born with innate, unchangeable characteristics. Maybe it’s easier that way. The world is simpler if we can say, ‘Oh, they were just BORN that way.’ (Side note: the ‘born this way’ argument has been used to great affect at getting people to accept LGTB rights, and I’m not arguing with that progress.)

I’m now going to end with happiness! And most of all, I’m going to suggest a solution. This post by Ms. Melissa (as she is referred to in the article), is about how she realized the need for gender education in the classroom. She found students, by the ages of six and seven, confirming and enforcing the rigid, bi-polar gender roles of American culture. I’m going to quote the part about how gender conformity starts, literally, when we’re born.

Gender is not a subject that I would have broached in primary grades a few years ago. In fact, I remember scoffing with colleagues when we heard about a young kindergarten teacher who taught gender-related curriculum. We thought her lessons were a waste of instructional time and laughed at her “girl and boy” lessons.

My own thoughts about gender curriculum shifted when I became a mother. As I shopped for infant clothes for my first daughter, I was disgusted that almost everything was pink and there was no mistaking the boys’ section of the store from the girls’. I refused to make my baby daughter fit in the box that society had created for her. “What if she doesn’t like pink?” I thought. “What if she likes tigers and dinosaurs?”

As my two daughters grew, I talked with them about gender stereotypes. I let them choose “boys’” clothes if they wanted to (and often encouraged them because they are more practical). The first week of kindergarten, my younger daughter’s teacher told me that she had a heated argument with a boy while they played dress up. “She insisted that boys can wear dresses if they want to,” the teacher told me. I beamed with pride.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I had a child dealing with gender variance (defined as “behavior or gender expression that does not conform to dominant gender norms of male and female”) in my classroom that I realized how important it is to teach about gender and break down gender stereotypes. Why did I wait so long? I should have taken a hint from that kindergarten teacher years ago. As I thought about how to approach the topic, I realized that the lessons I was developing weren’t just for Allie. She had sparked my thinking, but all the children in my class needed to learn to think critically about gender stereotypes and gender nonconformity.

I read this and was blown away by how young we teach children to enforce gender norms. I did notice there wasn’t an explicate a judgment made about whether male or female was considered better. The children were just supposed to follow one set or stereotypes or the other. I suspect that later in life they’re taught to value one set of stereotypes over the other. To value one end of the bi-polar pendulum, you have to confirm and enforce these rigid standards. There has to be the ‘us or them’ mentality to get this sexism thing in motion. The entire piece is a wonderful point-by-point of the different ways Ms. Melissa taught her children about gender. Here, however, is the part I really liked:

Toward the end of the discussion I explained: “People make all kinds of different decisions about gender. Sometimes, as we grow, we might not want to pick one or the other, and that’s OK; we don’t have to.” I wanted them to begin to see that our lessons were not only about expanding the gender boxes that we’ve been put into, but also questioning or eliminating them altogether.

Afterward, I had the students do a simple write-and-respond exercise. I asked them to pick one activity that they associated with girls and one associated with boys to write about and illustrate. Monica drew two brides in beautiful wedding gowns. Miguel drew a man with a purse slung over his shoulder. I showed off the pictures on the hallway bulletin board around the words “It’s OK to Be Different.”

Only when ‘It’s OK to Be Different’ can we talk honestly about differences and how they affect our lives. Living in the world of Default and Other bars honest conversation. Living in a world of honest differences could be a place where problems get solved. It could be a place where more people are safe and happy.

Update: The Moon colony is now part of the Republican debate!

I woke up today to realize that Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney fought over the existence of a lunar colony on the December 10th debate. This is the best policy issue, and by far the weirdest thing I have seen in national politics. In the midst of real economic issues, we are talking about lunar colonies. I can’t find a video about it (yet), but here is the article where Gingrich and Romney’s sparring is highlighted.

Let’s look at the highlights:

Romney: We could start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon. I’m not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that.

Newt: I’m happy to defend the idea that America should be in space and should be there in an aggressive, entrepreneurial way.

Mr. Gingrich, there is already a private initiative to go into space. This is CMU’s rover lander, which was rated one of the top ten innovations by Popular Science in 2011. While “Moon 2: Republican Space Race” is just a weird concept with very catchy name, entrepreneurial efforts to continue the space program is very real. I would like to see Republicans actually support one area of science. If they’re going to deny global warming and evolution, they can’t hate the moon. The moon is like America’s only colony, right?