aqua fortis

Sunday, March 31, 2013

I Am Not Alone

I love it when I'm reading something and I have one of those "oh my god" moments, a moment where I recognize or identify with what I'm reading so strongly that I have to go back and read that sentence or paragraph again, and then again and maybe even yet again. I've been having a lot of those moments with my current read, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.

I've been meaning to read this one for a while--ever since I heard the author in a radio interview--but now that I've finally gotten to it, I keep wishing I'd read it sooner. So much of what she writes about resonates with me in an incredibly deep way. I read her stories of real-life introverted individuals and feel like perhaps the way I am isn't weird or unusual or abnormal or pathological, and I feel amazed that there are other people out there who are like me.

Today's real oh-my-god moment came in the form of an almost toss-off, brief mention, but it hit me really hard. The author was talking about a respected professor who would get constantly get invited to speaking engagements, and sometimes they'd ask him to have lunch with bigwigs afterward. But in some of those instances, he also had an afternoon lecture, and he really, really needed the down time during lunch. One of the locations where this would happen did not offer any opportunities for escape, and so "After each lecture he would race to the restroom and hide inside a stall." A few lines later was a parenthetical aside: "(Taking shelter in bathrooms is a surprisingly common phenomenon, as you probably know if you're an introvert.)"

As a matter of fact, NO, I did NOT know it was "surprisingly common"--I actually thought I was sort of a freak for doing that, even though it's something I've done since I was a kid. Starting when I was about 9 or 10, I used to hide in the bathroom at parties my dad brought me to. These were usually vast South Asian weddings in giant hotel halls, or crowded parties at the house of some distant relative or friend or community member. Only sometimes would I even know the person who was getting married or who was throwing the event. I usually only really knew my dad, my stepmom, and my stepsister, and sometimes my uncle's family, if they happened to be there (and that usually helped A LOT). There were usually at least a dozen people I kinda-sorta-knew or had met before or was supposed to know but didn't remember--assorted step-relatives, family friends, people from the mosque community.

I found these events excruciatingly long and tedious, and had no desire to try to talk to random people--some of whom spoke very little English and so would address me in the Urdu they wrongly assumed I knew. The events were loud, and full of brightly-colored clothing and sparkling jewelry (admittedly, quite lovely), and there always seemed to be little kids screaming and running rampant everywhere. Sometimes my stepsister would be bugging me. (Sorry, Mimi...)

I had almost always been encouraged from a very young age to take a book with me whenever I had to wait around somewhere or thought I might get bored--it was a guaranteed way to keep me quiet, docile, and reasonably content. And so at these parties I would often have a paperback book stashed in my purse, or if I didn't have a bag, in my dad's car. From time to time, when I got overwhelmed, I would rush off to the bathroom with my book and hang out in there reading until some time passed and I could face the hubbub again, but hopefully not so long that people wondered where I was and what the heck I was doing. This was a particularly fun activity in hotel or event-facility bathrooms because they were often huge and cushy, and sometimes they had a front room with a chair or bench to sit on. I tried not to hang out in the stall. People wonder what you're doing in there. And at times, I still go hide in the bathroom if I'm feeling overwhelmed, and if I don't have somewhere else to conveniently escape to.

So when I read that sentence in the book, it really brought home the point that the way I am is not wrong, and it's not really even that unusual--and perhaps I should be more charitable and compassionate with myself when I think back on those times, instead of assuming I was the abnormal one at the party, the only one who didn't really want to be there or who preferred less chaotic types of get-togethers.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Munch's The Scream

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
I absolutely love this. This is Norwegian artist Edvard Munch on his painting The Scream:

I was tired and ill--I stood looking out across the fjord--the sun was setting--the clouds were coloured red--like blood--I felt as though a scream went through nature--I thought I heard a scream--I painted this picture--painted the clouds like real blood. The colours were screaming.
(in The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes)

Amazing stuff. I also learned that the figure in The Scream bears a non-coincidental resemblance to an Incan mummy on display at the Parisian Expo of 1889.