People are always telling me I’m an extrovert, and I’m not. This happened again the other day, and my response, as usual, was: NOOOOO! I’m not! I swear! I only seem like an extrovert!
OKAY, all right, so I write and blab in public about all of my deepest thoughts and my most horrifically painful tragedies; I’ve written two, you know, books devoted to said tragedies; I did a TEDx talk and a “Moth” story on them; and I am ready and willing to discuss them with any total stranger who approaches me in almost any context. Almost. I also happen to talk a lot. A shitload, really. Total windbag. I am more than capable of being stupidly loud, even when I shouldn’t. I like meeting new people, I enjoy parties, I’m forceful in an argument, and I don’t slink away quietly from crowds.
But none of this means I’m an extrovert, because I also savor long stretches alone to recharge my batteries, though the realities of my life mean this only rarely happens. But when I’m able, I am perfectly happy to spend time in my own head, whether I’m reading contentedly on the porch or spacing out, my unfocused eyeballs twirling like gaudy carnival rides while my body blobs bonelessly in a slump. I do that a shitload, too. Just ask my offspring, who’ve been known to jump out and down while waving their hands maniacally in front of my face, shouting MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM or saying outrageous untruths just to test me, most of them involving the construction HEY GUESS WHAT MOM I’M _____ (fill in the blank).
Maybe I’m an extrovert who feels like an introvert, or an introvert passing as extroverted. Or it could be I’m an introvert turned outward: someone who popped out of the birth canal with her head stuck up her moist little newborn tuckus only to have the hands of God and fate slowly, if not always gently, yank it free. As a kid I was profoundly, agonizingly shy — quiet, klutzy, pigeon-toed, unsure, never one to speak out in class, only ever at ease around my parents and older sister or my few close friends. I perceived the world and its confident occupants from within a chubby bubble of insecurity and confusion. I sometime spent hours — whole days — alone in the yard or the woods behind my Connecticut house, making little forts inside hedges and stands of bendy saplings, hoarding leaves and rocks and knick-knacks in holes dug in the ground, talking to myself, daydreaming constantly, lying on brittle grass or swinging on branches and snuggling the roots of my favorite tree. It was a Norway maple, and its name was Sweetheart.
But then I enrolled at the teensy all-girls school where my mother taught music, and I began to play sports — soccer especially. I found that my klutziness did not preclude athleticism, my pigeon-toed-ness did not prevent me from disco-dancing (with imported boys), and my shyness did not prohibit me from speaking up in classes so small that I was, on occasion, the only student. By the time I got to college I’d figured out how to talk in larger groups. I took a public-speaking class. I went to frat parties and acted drunk, even though I wasn’t.
Then, in 1992, my childhood family started dying, and I started talking and writing about it. I kept talking and writing after my husband died in 2011. None of this was my idea. I didn’t set out for a side-career in gut-spewing grief confessionals. It just happened. Life happened. But I didn’t change inside; I only learned how to live on the outside, how to face it rather than fear it, navigate it, find joy in it, fill myself with a new kind of energy from its stores.
So, no, I’m not an extrovert, but I suppose I’m not an introvert any longer, either. Better to call me an extroverted introvert, an introverted extrovert — an “ambivert,” as one personality test labeled me. “The Chameleon,” pronounced another, although that makes me feel like a slimy and shiftless master (matron?) of disguise. No test so far has called me a “bivert,” “panvert,” “omnivert,” “megavert,” “supravert,” “super-de-duper-vert,” “hermaphrovert,” “wowza-vert” or “who-gives-a-vert,” but believe you me, I’m waiting for it.
Or, hold on! I know! Here’s an idea: Maybe I’m just a human being who’s had one heck of an eventful life, and maybe it’s had some lingering effect on me and my approach to the world. It may also be that labels are USELESS AND SIMPLISTIC CRAP, and I should ignore them, slinking timidly away into my fort made of saplings. But only after I’ve blogged about it.