predicting my disappearance

I’m a stress shopper, but perhaps not the kind that you imagine. I don’t usually feel compelled to go shopping for clothes. The crowds, the handing over of a credit card, and the pressure of trying to figure out how to look remotely stylish make the very thought of clothes shopping stressful for this frugal, plain Jane introvert. What I do feel compelled to shop for is books. In times of stress, you’ll find me on Amazon, reading reviews, teasing myself with snippets of writing samples, reveling in the deals.  My blood pressure comes down just from browsing books. I could tell you right now, if I ever moved to Portland and went missing, chances are you’d eventually find me tucked away in some corner of Powell’s City of Books. (For that reason alone, it’s probably a good thing I don’t live in Portland.) I love getting immersed in a story, learning about a new culture, gaining perspectives different from my own, all from the quiet comfort of my own sofa.

Maybe it’s because it’s an easy way to get my mind off of my own worries, with the freedom to either pull away from or push through the characters’ drama at my own leisure. Maybe it’s the ability a well-written story has to focus my overstretched mind on just one thing for a prolonged period of time. Maybe it’s because the power of story always helps me appreciate the role that trials play in my own life, when I see them working out their purposes in another’s. Maybe it’s the comfort that comes with identifying with characters working out their fears, complex relationships, joys, hopes and identities – the comfort of knowing that this is the human experience, that I’m not alone in this. Maybe it’s the catharsis that comes with letting someone else put to words what I have been trying to sort out in my head up until this point. Maybe it’s the sense of personal growth that I gain without always having to try. so. hard.

Maybe it’s all of this, wrapped up in the sheer beauty of a really well-told story.

I’m always looking for recommendations, so if any of you have some to offer, I welcome them.

I’m (not) sexy and I (don’t) know it

I heard the word used in a couple of different contexts today and I couldn’t help but feel curious. Sexy. What is that? Someone’s original topic for a book proposal was initially rejected because it wasn’t sexy enough. And of course, the more common context. Girl, you are sexy. (Please note, not said to me. I’m not sexy and I know it.)

It’s a curious word. Let’s take the context of getting a book published, in this case, non-fiction. The topic has got to be beyond interesting. It’s got to be beyond important. Even really important. It’s got to be sexy. I’m disappointed to say that the first comparison that comes to mind is Super Bowl Sunday when everyone is scrutinizing the commercials to pick out the most memorable. Meh, we’ve seen the typical Toyota commercial showing a spotless new car gliding along the shoreline, a happy family laughing, a dog grinning in the back, and 0% interest for 12 months. But it’s the commercial where the car door opens and out emerges the very long-legged woman in very high heels in a very tight dress that causes even the most ambivalent football fan to stop mid-conversation to gaze at the screen for a few extra moments. This, I suppose, is the desired effect with book topics among publishers. Sexy. The bookworm will be perusing the bookstand in the “newly released” section. We really do judge a book by its cover. Some, you look at and you just don’t take seriously at all, ever. But there are those books, with just the right play on words in the title and subtitle, just the right delivery of visual interest in the cover design, that lure you. They make promises and you want to know if they will deliver. They draw you in on a deeply personal level, in ways that you have not been drawn in, or drawn out, before. Sexy.

And of course there’s the more common context for the word sexy: people, usually female.  I am not sexy. I don’t know how to be. I’m way too practical for high heels and I shave on the minimal end of minimal. I look at magazine covers and they confuse me. Who makes those kinds of facial expressions in everyday life? The ‘come hither’ look. Am I supposed to learn how to make that kind of facial expression with my husband? I think he’d just laugh. I’d laugh. Who are you and what have you done with my wife? I like that he thinks I’m pretty when I wear a nice dress, do my hair a bit, add a touch of blush and light perfume. But I like that he loves me when my matted hair tells him that I’ve clearly slept on my left side all night, when I don’t feel like getting myself out of my pajamas and bedhead until 10AM on my days off, and when I’ve come in from an evening run with hair pinned back, my face red and dripping with sweat. Truth be told, I like being demure. A lot. I love that my husband wanted to get to know me for demure me. I know he’s not immune to visual temptation but I love that he makes a concerted effort to turn his eyes away when those commercials come on, looks at me and tells me I am beautiful. Who knows, maybe I am sexy. If being demure means that I can draw my husband in on a deeply personal level, like a sexy book where all you want is to spend time getting to know more of what is going on in this amazing life that a well-written book takes on, then maybe I do want to be sexy, maybe I am sexy and I just don’t know it.

Guest Blog Post: The Collision of Introversion, Culture, and Confrontation

They say that it is in our relationships with other people where we see our true selves come to light. This is especially true when we are faced with situations in which we must decide whether to confront another person. If not, why not? If so, why and how?

Personality type and culture are obvious factors influencing how we approach (or shy away from) confrontation. I wrote this recent guest post on Adam McHugh’s blog, addressing some of these issues after a very uncomfortable encounter at a local farmer’s market which left me wrestling with a big moral dilemma and a whole lot of soul-searching. Adam is the author of a most wonderful book, Introverts in the Church, which I’ve alluded to in previous posts.

Here is the link to the guest blog post:

A Quiet Peace: guest blog post

Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church, has been posting a blog series on ‘A Quiet Advent.’ Each week, his blog series has covered a quiet hope, a quiet love, a quiet joy, and in this final week of advent, a quiet peace. I was given the opportunity to write a guest blog post for this week, which I find somewhat ironic given that my external circumstances have felt anything but peaceful. Which, I suppose, is the point of my blog post.

You can find the blog post here. Thanks for reading!

a search for a sort of life

I recently started reading a most curious book titled Working by Studs Terkel, a Pulitzer-prize winning author. Written in the 70s, the book is a collection of interviews with an unpredictable variety of people about the work that they do, day in and day out. Interviewees include a heavy equipment operator, airline reservationist, hooker, sanitation truck driver, film critic, cabdriver, bar pianist, gas meter reader, piano tuner, hospital aide, gravedigger, and many more. I’m only a few interviews into the book, but already my perspective is changing, widening. That’s one of the things I love about reading, the way certain authors are able to cultivate affection and deep concern in your heart towards the characters they present. Some fantastic reads this past year that have had this effect on me have included Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.

Anyhow, I digress.  This book by Terkel is brilliant, and it’s gotten me thinking about the work we do. It’s a curious thing, how work can be such a huge part of our lives and yet be so far sometimes from who we really are. I love my job as a nurse, I feel very much called to it and shaped for it, and yet I have plenty of insecurities in my capabilities. Even after very wonderfully rewarding days at work, I am always happy to be going home because… well, home is home. Despite my very personal sense of calling and belonging in this profession, I also experience these other moments when it’s so clear that while this is my work, it is not me. After all, things like writing or photography express and bring out parts of me that most people at work will probably never see. And yet somehow I think that if I were to ever become a professional writer or a professional photographer, my feelings about these activities would change once those became my work. It’s funny how that is.

A lot of times, when I see custodians in the hospital or in hotels where I happen to be vacationing, I wonder a lot about how they feel about their work. I don’t mean to be patronizing. But I think it is safe to say that the majority of people who work in these positions would most likely prefer to have other occupations, if they had the opportunity. I remember attending a conference at a lovely hotel in Chicago many years ago, and I saw an older custodian in a hallway as I was headed to the ladies’ room. It had obviously been a very long, busy day for him. I stopped and said to him, “Thank you so much for serving us.” I didn’t say it because I’m so noble or virtuous, I just really meant it. He had done a lot for us and I just felt like I ought to thank him. I remember the startled but most sincerely grateful expression on his face. “Oh…!  …You’re welcome.” A number of people in Terkel’s book talk about how they feel like robots, animals, anything but human in their work. Less than human.  And so Terkel says,

It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.

How do you feel about your work? Do you find it life-giving, or the opposite? Or both?

more introverted than you know, more social than I realize

Not too long ago, I read this book by Adam McHugh called Introverts in the Church. As soon as I heard the title, I knew it was something I had needed to read for a long time. When I reached the last page, I let out a long exhale of relief as I felt for the first time that someone had helped put words to some fundamental aspects of who I am and why I operate in the ways that I do as an introvert. Not only does McHugh help articulate these things that I until now only vaguely recognized in myself, but he validates the strengths and giftings in introverts which often can go unrecognized or even be looked down upon in a society that truly does seem to be much more strongly geared towards extroverts. The guilt that I have experienced in feeling like I somehow had less of a “heart for people” because of my fairly strong need for solitude is slowly dissipating, and I find this both healing and liberating.

McHugh provides a wonderful summary of common attributes of introverts. I identified unhesitatingly with each one – some more than others, but definitely saw each of these in me to a fairly significant degree:

–       Prefer to relax alone or with a few close friends

–       Consider only deep relationships as friends

–       Need rest after outside activities, even ones we enjoy

–       Often listen but talk a lot about topics of importance to us

–       Appear calm, self-contained and like to observe

–       Tend to think before we speak or act

–       May prefer a quiet atmosphere

–       Experience our minds going blank in groups or under pressure

–       Don’t like feeling rushed

–       Have great powers of concentration

–       Dislike small talk

–       Are territorial – desire private space and time

–       May treat their homes as their sanctuaries

–       Prefer to work on own rather than with a group

–       May prefer written communication

–       Do not share private thoughts with many people

I am learning now to not only embrace but also cultivate my strengths as an introvert, and it has been wonderfully life-giving. I would even dare to call it exhilarating. I am more comfortable with silence, particularly with my patients and their family members. I used to feel as though I needed to always be able to talk it up with them to put them at ease. But I am finding that sometimes, they appreciate the space to think and rest after being inundated with so many people and so much information, not to mention the inner emotional and mental battles that come with being in an intensive care unit. I also feel that McHugh’s book sparked a new fire in me to write, take photographs, and write some more. McHugh talks about how introverts often appear calm on the exterior but our inner worlds are always “noisy.” Writing has given me a place to filter and share a bit of that noisy inner world in a way that comes more naturally for me. It has been encouraging to find that some people have been edified by my photography and writing, and I am grateful for those of you who visit and dialogue with me in this space.

A good number of people have expressed surprise when I tell them that I am an introvert, and a strong one at that. Some have told me that I am the most social introvert they know. What I have concluded is that I am more introverted than people know, and more social than I realize. It is both a good and hard tension to live in.

I have appreciated McHugh’s website a great deal, and I am excited that he accepted a guest blog post that I submitted about the introverted worship leader. I feel that he is reaching a significant number of people, and I feel very honored and humbled to participate in his dialogue in this small way. Please check out the post and his site, and I strongly encourage you to check out his book, for yourself and/or for the introverts around you.