Cats and deep friendships

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A while back I referred to a post on IntrovertZone that compared introverts to cats and extroverts to golden retrievers. This was in the context of meeting new people: introverts are like cats because they are less instantly familiar and trusting. Another cat-like attribute is that introverts tend to be more independent, more comfortable going around by themselves than in a “pack” (LOL). But it is also acknowledged that introverts’ long-term friendships tend to be very close and deep. How do these two observations square up?

I think it’s just because we are deep people who are constantly – and mostly unconsciously – processing immense input; compared to extroverts we perceive all sorts of extra subtle nuanced information from other people, and we care about these things. There’s a subtlety to our interactions because of this. We can’t just chat away to anyone, we need to feel there’s a connection there. And it’s only when that connection is well-established and can be relied upon unconsciously that we can spend less mental bandwidth on the connection itself and more on whatever it is we want to chat about. That takes time! The investment is huge and the rewards are great – there is nothing better than nattering away to a long-time friend about the deep and personal stuff that interests you both. This is why those friendships are so special to us.

Independence is maybe more of a learned thing because of how exhausting we find the cliques. I reckon it’s not that we don’t enjoy company just as much as others; it’s just that being with people we aren’t especially close to for long periods takes it out of us, and perhaps doesn’t give us as much back as it does for extroverts. (Living with a partner or going on holiday with a close friend, on the other hand, is lovely, and not exhausting.) So we get to like our own company. And we are never bored on our own because of how much stuff is going on in our minds to keep us entertained. πŸ™‚

I think this is how I am, anyway. Maybe others are different.

New year, taking stock

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It’s hard to sum up what 2010 was about for me. I suppose if 2009 was about stretching to breaking point, 2010 was about rebounding. Seeing what shape I’m left in after throwing off the tensions; seeing what has stuck, which influences remain etched in my personality, and how I fit into my life now. Feeling a mixture of euphoric highs and depressive lows, but overall, satisfied with myself: I can trust myself to make bloody good decisions, even if they are hard ones.

I am learning to judge less; to take a less idealistic, more organic, flexible and open-minded approach to everything – without making this into another ideal! The questions that consume me now are questions of change vs acceptance. In a sense it is about defining myself. Not “fixing” myself by someone else’s definition of “normal”, but to a large extent throwing normal – such an oppressive concept – out the window, and seeing the multi-dimensional beauty in all people. I believe self-transformation is possible like I never did before, but it’s a question of picking the battles to fight: which changes would be worth the effort?

Perhaps it’s a question that can only be answered through experience. And what better place to start than with the challenges that are smacking me in the face right now.

I’ve already had one little victory this year: passed my driving test. πŸ˜€ What’s interesting is that in the last few lessons, driving quite suddenly started to feel more natural and easy; as if the looming test actually forced me to overcome the fears. The first mock test had a similar effect. In fact all along I have been firmly pushed out of my comfort zone by a supportive instructor and it has worked wonders for me.

I think the difficulty with a PhD is that you don’t necessarily have that supportive pressure. For long periods, it’s possible to hide in your comfort zone. Maybe I am not good at putting the right kind of pressure on myself, and maybe one possible answer is that I should try to find someone who can hold me to account. Someone I would have to be fully honest with about it in a way that I’m not even fully honest with myself right now… which would be risky in itself.

So what I hope 2011 will be about for me is defining myself, not through armchair philosophising as much as through harnessing all possible ways of forcing myself out of comfort zones and seeing what happens… πŸ˜‰

Happy New Year!

Lucia Day

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… was yesterday, and after attending a talk by Daniel Dennett (which perhaps deserves its own post), I went and saw this lovely procession come in and out at a Swedish bar:

Sorry the video is not the best, but I made it myself! πŸ˜† Here’s a much more professional one that gives a clearer idea of what it’s about:

Maybe it was the blissful mood I was in, but I really loved this singing. I love absorbing myself in beautiful cultural traditions from different places, it just makes me feel like the world is a wide and wonderful place πŸ˜€ It’s all the more special when it’s the culture of someone close to you (I have a close friend who’s Swedish).

Happy Lucia Day! πŸ˜€

The quiet ones ;o)

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Last weekend I randomly came across a blog called Introvert Zone. It was one of those that I got so hooked reading I ended up going through the whole archive. What can I say… it was just like music to my ears.

Here are a few of the things the writers say about themselves as introverts that stood out to me personally:

  • There is a conflict between enjoying people’s company and needing a certain amount of solitude just to recharge.
  • Facial muscles get exhausted from too much socialising!!
  • Disliking small talk. That’s why I love the blog world… we can dive straight into the substantive conversations!
  • Thinking a lot all the time; processing a lot more stuff than other people which is probably what leads to over-stimulation and exhaustion.
  • Preferring written communication; needing time to think before speaking (see this post and this one) – WOW, I didn’t know others were like this too. It is very difficult being like this when you work with someone who needs to talk to think, and responds to your lengthy emails with “shall we have a chat about this?” πŸ˜€ To be honest, I hate being crap at speaking spontaneously about a detailed matter or thinking on my feet. I always feel as if somehow communicating in writing is a cop-out. Now I’m really questioning that negative judgment, although obviously to fit in with other people’s way of working, compromises are needed.
  • Having fewer but deeper friendships. (“Friendship with an introvert is an honor“; “we love our special person fiercely“) Yes! I don’t make or break meaningful connections easily and this is another thing that I suddenly realised I don’t need to feel bad about. Yes, it makes you more vulnerable to loss… but on the other hand, people who don’t mind their own company can cope better with the time it takes to make new special friends. It’s all good.
  • Not very open to quick familiarity from others; more like a cat than a golden retriever. I’m actually quite happy with familiarity and openness, but I don’t much like people conversationally steamrolling me and not listening. πŸ˜€

I think what made me feel so good reading all this is that it opened my mind to notice more – and question – the negative judgments that are embedded in our cultures (US & UK that is, maybe others too) about some of the qualities that might just be a part of my nature. Much of the blog takes a defensive tone. We live in cultures where pressure is put on us, because these characteristics are not widely understood, liked, or considered normal. Maybe this needs to change. Every personality type has its own issues but some of these things are not even issues, seriously! I threw off some more of those pressures as I read it, and instantly felt so much better.

I also found this article, which says:

β€œthey’d rather find meaning than bliss”

Wow. 😯 Those words could have been hand-picked just for me!

A couple more special songs

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The slide guitar at the beginning of this song is so beautiful it almost hurts. The arrangement is breathtaking.

This one is raw and powerful. Even before I worked out all the Spanish lyrics I still bawled my eyes out!

There are some much more upbeat ones too (they’re from Shakira’s 1998 MTV Unplugged concert/album), but these are my two favourites of the moment.

A (very small) break at the beach

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One day a couple of weeks ago, when I was struggling to concentrate on work and feeling a little bit low, it suddenly occurred to me that the number 42 bus goes from right by the campus to a beachside “village” (within the city limits) in around 20 minutes, and that it might do me some good to get some wintry sea air into my lungs and take a little break with a change of scene. I don’t know why I never thought of that before. It was such a lovely thing. Taking a couple of hours out in the middle of the day was more than compensated for by the increased productivity it caused… even just in the half hour before I went, I probably achieved more than I had during the rest of the morning.

I recorded the sand blowing across the beach in pretty waves of its own:

Had lunch in the swimming pool cafe where all the other customers were old ladies nattering away in large groups. Sometimes I love just quietly watching people carrying on their daily lives around me.
That salad is quite impressive for Scotland

I thought I would have a good think through what was making me feel so yucky, but all my mind wanted to do was switch off and I let it. A brisk walk across the swirly sand and I felt warm inside and my energy was back.

I may make a habit of this…

Driving, earthquakes, and science communication

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Finally, a quiet moment to catch up on the endless stream of things I want to write about!

This week, at my instructor’s suggestion, I did a mock driving test. I wasn’t sure about doing it, but it really helped me in a way I didn’t expect. In the absence of instruction and continual feedback, I was forced to recognise that I am actually doing the driving, and I felt a kind of confident sensation of presence, of really fully being in the driving seat and deserving to be there. And it struck me that this is a process that is happening in lots of areas of my life simultaneously. I’m finally starting to find my courage, starting to fully inhabit my own life… starting. About time! (BTW, I failed the test, of course πŸ˜† – only a couple of serious errors though!! I still have a couple of months until the real one.)

A pattern I found in earthquake data has been found in human communications too. I find that so cool… Basically quite a lot of phenomena that come in discrete events – like earthquakes, messages, and quite possibly blog posts(!) – have an element of random initiation and also an element of clustering in time (aftershocks), so they can show some similar statistical properties which you wouldn’t necessarily think they would share. I love that!

Last week I was fortunate enough to go on a 3-day course called “Research, Researchers and the Media” about communicating science to the public. It culminated in recording a 20-minute radio programme in the BBC studios in Glasgow – not to be broadcast, of course, but very exciting to do! The whole course was excellent and to be honest it took me well out of my comfort zone. No sooner had we arrived (almost) than we were given recording equipment and told to create both a TV and a radio news piece on a given subject, in groups of 9. The writing and recording was to be done in the morning and editing done in the afternoon with the help of the expert facilitators. Well, I nearly had kittens! By a process of elimination I was assigned to be the TV presenter; didn’t have time to write a script and had to basically wing it… but it’s AMAZING what you can do when you are put on the spot. Not that my performance was amazing – it really wasn’t πŸ˜‰ – but it definitely wasn’t the total failure I would have imagined. In a way that is the biggest thing I took away from it – the realisation that there are far too many things that I’ve been telling myself I “can’t” do, or hesitating, waiting to be sure, when I should really just go and do them.

Here are some pictures from the final day in Glasgow.

The mixing room:

The green (well, more like pink :P) room:

A recording room kitted out for doing radio dramas. The door leads to a kitchen and there is a bedroom at the top of the stairs – all for sound effects, not for actual use!

The multi-textured stairs:

In the recording booth: