Franckly speaking: Here’s a minority group to which many of us belong

By From page A4 | May 30, 2012

This week Ive been reading a book that — whenever I mention it — people respond to and start talking. Its called “The Introvert Advantage” by Marti Olsen Laney. The subtitle is ”How to thrive in an extrovert world.”

According to Laney, one in four Americans is an introvert. It’s interesting to think about whether you belong in this group. I do, although Im not an extreme case.

Laney says that introverts spend their lives being misunderstood by extroverts. I would add that introverts also misunderstand each other because introversion comes in many flavors.

According to Laney, introverts tend to:

• Feel most energized after spending time quietly, especially alone
• Need to rest after outside activities, even ones they enjoy
• Like to celebrate with only a small number of people
• Need to think before responding or speaking
• Prefer listening to talking, especially in groups
• Feel that they cant share an idea until it is fully formulated

Extroversion and introversion exist on a continuum: some people are highly introverted, and others, like me, walk a more center line. I don’t need a lot of rest, for example, but those last three items are dead on. I write because I can’t think fast out loud.

Laneys book is full (too full) of lists, but if you’d prefer a more experiential description of introverted behavior, I offer a recent example.

I have joined an acoustic jam group in Coloma, and last weekend was my first time to host.

When you host, people come to your house with instruments. They sit down and play. They get up for 45 minutes to eat a snack and then they sit down and play again. Not a lot of small talk is required, nor a lot of preparation because the guests always bring food, lots of food. All they want in exchange is a chair and a place to put their guitar case. If there’s no chair, they stand.

An extrovert would view this as an easy event to host, since there’s little to do. But I plan for a month. In an effort to keep my marriage intact, I share only 1/8 of my ruminations with my husband.

Here I am an hour before the event.

I sit in a chair reading. This is a charade designed to fool my husband into thinking Im doing better than usual. Even though I’m reading about introversion, not a single word sticks in my head. I visit the bathroom.

I check my watch. Is it too early to put out the food? I’ve bought chips and dip in case — for the first time people show up with no food whatsoever. If it’s OK to put out food, is it too early for ice?

My husband, who has seen the food and ice and thinks I’m ready, is working on making wontons. I like it when he has his own project, because he moves much faster than I. For the second time, I walk into the guest bathroom to check the roll of toilet paper. Is one-third full enough?

I’ve set up the chairs on our deck. The shade moves, so I rearrange them. The shade moves again. Hearing in my head that metaphor about rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship, I move them again. Wait, no, bad metaphor.

Then my daughter phones and I confess that I’m nervous. She reminds me what I used to say to her: Once you’ve set up everything for a party, it’s up to the guests to have fun. I respond by saying I have to hang up. A guest might call with a question.

Then I await the first arrival. I want to hide in the cabin and emerge only when I see someone, but I decide that sitting on the deck is more friendly. I rearrange the chairs.

Finally, the guests arrive bringing food and music to share, and the jam is great fun. At break, I chat with three of the musicians about “The Introvert Advantage.” All four of us describe ourselves as introverted.

Yet weve come to play music and sing together. Does music, especially music in groups, offer something special to introverts? For the first time, I wonder. If so, Laney doesnt mention it.

Laney mostly dispenses advice, some of it obvious, on recognizing your own introversion and dealing with it. Her book encourages acceptance of traits such as preferring the familiar or needing lots of time to make decisions, but she never convinces me that introversion is an advantage.

Nevertheless, every now and then I recognize something in the book that tells my story. I finally know myself well enough to realize that for my travel energy to work, I need to get to the airport early, and for my grandchild-care energy to be present, I need some quiet time with his parents, too. I also need to disappear into the bathroom at least once during every party, no matter how good a time I am having, just to have a few moments alone.

This need to recharge is normal and necessary for me, as it is for a lot of other people. And even though most introverts are not big on public speaking, it’s probably good every now and then to say it out loud.

Or to take the easier alternative: Type it into a column.

Marion Franck is a columnist for the Davis Enterprise. She is a part-time resident of El Dorado County.

Marion Franck

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