Seeking the sounds of silence

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 15:13 07/02/2014

If you know me at all, you know how much I love my space and that I closely guard my alone time like a fire-breathing dragon.

 I am a real sweetheart most of the time. But like other massive introverts, my secret superpower is that I can cast a vibe of doom and darkness that consumes everything my territory if I feel you are threatening me, by say, speaking to me in the morning before I have had at least a forth of the cup of coffee I am holding in my hand right now, capisce?

Right now I am living with seven girls in very tight quarters in a snow-bound house in the woods. And there is a lot of loveliness around us.

So it is safe to say that I struggle with balancing two very different parts of myself that are torn by opposing impulses: breathe fire to protect my den or jump in a truck and head for ice skating and whiskey sours.

One impulse doesn't want to miss a second of my time in Montana. It is beautiful. I want to say yes to every adventure. And this place is a paradise of adventuring.

 I want to take cups of coffee handed to me and invitations to sit in armchairs and talk without looking at the clock. I want to jump into vehicles that are warming up in the driveway (every time you go anywhere in this part of Montana you have to turn your car on about 20 minutes before you plan on leaving, which leads to a sort of dramatic build up of exhaust pipes blowing smoke into the darkness and lots of time to deliberate if you should stay or go or what).

I want to say yes to fly-fishing in the freezing Gallatin River (more fun than it sounds, actually) and ski the trails around this ranch when the skies gift us fresh powder. I want to say yes to heading out to hear a band, any band play live.  I want to say yes to line dancing and playing pool.

I want to go on road trips and throw snow shoes into the back of a car and head to a hot springs and then go find some strange bar with lots of bad taxidermy and awesome, greasy burgers in an area that only gets reception to country music stations and Sunday morning sermons from the 80s.

And then the other part of me wants to send everyone else out to do this, while I collapse on the couch and savour the sweet, sweet sound of silence.

Because right now I'd like an hour, just an hour, when I don't hear a human voice.

I want to enjoy this cup of coffee in my hands without having to speak. Or respond with appropriate facial expressions and murmurs, to someone who is speaking to me.

Which sounds horrible, doesn't it? It does.  I do sound like a fire-breathing dragon.

But sadly, this is the tension that most of us introverts live in. We have a certain amount of social energy. And once that energy source is depleted, we are like angry, wilting flowers.

Alone time is our oxygen; it is how we refuel ourselves so we can shine like the sun at weekend parties.

My friend Kathleen sent me this cartoon ''How to interact with the introverted'' if you need a crash course in introverts vs. extroverts.

I think I need to start passing this cartoon out to people I am getting to know. I just want to take their hand and say 'look, I need to spend a certain amount of my day living in my head.  It's not you, it's me.'

And then hope they can forgive me for withdrawing every once and awhile.

I used to feel guilty for doing this. I used to feel unsociable. Weird. A loser.

Then a couple of years ago, I had a turning point. This happened, of all places, in Queenstown: an introvert's hell.

Non-stop social interaction. Crowded streets. Lots of activities (skydiving, paragliding, parasailing) that require you to be tied to a stranger, thus having to make conversation for a horrifyingly unknown amount of time. Queenstown is paradise for people who need constant stimuli. For those of us who are overwhelmed by all the x-treme shrieking and jostling, the town is a nightmare.

Years ago when I worked for guiding company that circled the South Island, we would have two days off in Queenstown during a 14-day trip. As much as I would try and summon up the energy to be social and get out and do things in Queenstown, I found that it only exhausted and annoyed me. The two days on the road were heavy on interaction with guests and by the time we hit our days off, all I wanted was to not have to respond to anyone.

Our guides' flat was on the edge of town, with a backyard that faced the Remarkables. One of my favourite activities after cleaning out our food trailer and doing laundry was dragging one of the mattresses out to the back porch, making myself a cup of tea and curling up in my sleeping bag with a book.

I'd arrange myself out there - book here, cup of tea there, sleeping bag arrange around me just so - and read for a little while. Then I'd stop and stare at the sun hitting the Remarks. Then go back to my book, then look up again and let my mind go wherever it needed to. I would be there for hours doing nothing else.

And I'd forget that this mattress was leaning up against a sliding glass door and that the other guides coming in and out of the house could watch me.

It kind of became my spot.

And then one afternoon - probably late afternoon; I had been there much of that day - I remember one of the other guides coming out with a book and asking if there was room on the mattress.

I looked up, alarmed. Then kind of resentfully, I scooted over. We read side by side for awhile. Then another guide came out with a bowl of soup. The two of us scooted over and made room for the third person.

I think there ended up being four of us on that mattress that late afternoon that turned to early evening. I don't think many words were exchanged. Each of us was in our own little worlds.

But I remember looking up from my book and feeling glad that my space had been invaded.

It felt good to be surrounded by people and just be silent and still.

Yet silent and still together.

I also remember thinking that maybe there are a lot of people just like me, who feel like they need permission to go inward for awhile.

Maybe doing this around others feels safe. Less like we are weird. Less like we are losers.

And more like we are recharging.

Since that summer day on a porch in Queenstown, I've felt less guilty about drifting off from people to be quiet, because I know that others need a break from being the life of the party as well (not that I've ever been the life of the party - I just seem to chose jobs that require me to be insanely outgoing).

And here in Montana, I am in many ways, having to scoot over on my mattress to others invade my territory.

I am re-learning how to be alone, with people.

(It is something that every fire-breathing introvert needs to remember)

Just let me finish this cup of coffee before speaking to me, capisce?

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