Blogging: The Introvert’s Ultimate Yop!

July 26, 2009 at 6:19 pm (Art, Childhood, God, Writing)

hillroadstoryI recently finished reading Patrick O’Keeffe’s collection The Hill Road, named after the first of the four novellas it contains. I was entranced. O’Keeffe is a professor of Creative Writing at Colgate and was the instructor for the short fiction workshop at the Colgate Writers’ Conference I attended. I had the good fortune of hearing him read from a new work and then meeting him afterwards on the last full day of the conference.

I bought his book after the reading, partly because I loved the cover painting called Cottages of Connemara.Two years ago, when I workshopped my novel Wonderful Plans of Old, my group’s favorite chapter was one in which I had imagined an evening in the life of my Irish great-grandparents, and I had set it outside Connemara in Ireland. I have never been to Ireland, nor while I was growing up did I ever hear stories of life in Ireland before my ancestors emigrated. For that matter, I never heard stories of my father’s childhood here in New York. He NEVER spoke about it, leaving me to conjure what I could out of references, imagination, questions, pictures.

What struck me so about O’Keeffe’s collection was how each of the four novellas dealt with this very issue: the task of trying to piece together a story which had never been told, or was only told in snatches under influence of drink or grave illness, leaving me wondering if this trait of Not Talking is endemic in the Irish people. Think of Alice McDermott’s novel Charming Billy, the twisting, winding story of a lie and its truth which had been kept long secret.

Is this tendency Irish? Is it a defense mechanism for any group that has withstood great hardship and dire acts taken out of necessity or despair? Is the same true of Holocaust survivors? former soldiers? Are there certain experiences that are simply too painful for the psyche to bear telling?

Dad meditate

My dad after my wedding, Zeke in the background

Or perhaps the common link, one which ties me to my father, is the Irish tendency toward contemplation. My father’s most characteristic pose was standing with weight on one foot, the other resting in front at an angle or up on something, one hand in pocket, the other leaning on a counter or windowsill, gazing. He would spend long periods of time this way. He did not speak much, but I learned to listen very intently when he did speak, for what he had to say was well worth listening to, forged as it was out of these long periods of contemplation.

My dad was an introvert, which is probably why he wanted to become a writer. He had plenty to say, he just didn’t like to talk. I am the same way. In seventh grade, my Home Economics teacher was Mrs. Williams, a.k.a. “Wimp Williams” because she was so soft-spoken. The most upset she ever got was when we were sewing and students would slam down the presser foot on the sewing machines. She would close her eyes, hold out one raised hand in gentle protest, and say with valiantly restrained anger, “Don’t. Slam. the Presser Foot.” And then we would all keep doing it. (I am really sorry, Mrs. Williams).

She told my parents at a parent/teacher conference that she could see I was “keeping my light under a bushel.” When I heard this, I thought to myself, No, I am just not about to cast my pearls before swine. The problem was that if I actually verbalized what I was thinking, my classmates would have thought me even stranger than they already did. It’s not that the teenaged swine would snout my pearls around in the muck but that it would be ME – my deepest self – that they were knocking through the crap. More emotional pain? Nein, danke.

Also, I truly do not like to talk. The physical act of getting my thoughts to slow down enough to verbalize them, of pushing these ethereal things out through the thick clay of my tongue and lips, and not being able to edit words that have floated out into the air, makes talking one of the last things I like to do. I’d rather write.

Thus my gratitude for the tremendous gift of blogging, and I am guessing this is the case for many introverted bloggers. We’ve got things to say. We’ve got thoughts worth sharing. And we are not afraid to cast them out over the wide waters of the internet. But let it be just my WORDS, in print, no sign of me, my face, my squeaky weird voice.

And not only that, but blogging is also ART. You create a visual product with colors and pictures and even MOVIES. It is like my thoughts – both word and image – incarnated digitally.

Seuss_fLike the little Who whose “Yop!” finally stops those awful monkeys from boiling that dust speck, introverts need a lot of effort to make noise, but we will do it. And in our long periods of thoughtfulness, we sometimes come up with ideas from which other people can benefit. So, what do I write when I write? I tell my thoughts. I tell the secrets of my childhood. I tell the secrets of my marriage. This is beyond Yop! This is doing what I was raised not to do.

Any child of an alcoholic grows up with the unstated but implicit rule “Don’t tell.” Don’t tell what happens at home. Don’t say how you really feel because no one is really there to hear you. But I have learned, against my familial tendencies, to “tell tales.” Why? First, because I have experienced how silence harms: how not speaking, not communicating your shame or fear or anxiety can cause real damage.

Perhaps I read so much as a kid because in authors I found the words to describe what I was not allowed to say out loud, what I never heard anyone one else say out loud, what was difficult for me to say out loud. And hearing from someone else, in another place, thoughts that I had had, made me see I was not alone, I was not so strange, that there were others out there with similar thoughts and problems and ideas.

Last week I was thinking about this in church and we sang this song:

bread painting

A lovely painting by blogging artist Jennifer Katheiser

I myself am the bread of life.

You and I are the bread of life.

Taken and blessed,

broken and shared by Christ

that the world might live.

Lives broken open,

stories shared aloud,

becomes a banquet,

a shelter for the world:

a living sign of God in Christ.

This is the second reason I tell my tales. If this is what we are to be – broken and shared that others might live – then the introvert is obligated to share what she is and what she has: her thoughts, her life, her stories, not as recrimination but as a banquet, an offering of those thoughts and experiences in order to console others by letting them see in print their own deepest and perhaps un-worded thoughts. At least that is what I hope to do, give voice to all those weird and profound and silly thoughts that too many people keep under a bushel.

So thanks, all you blogging introverts out there who are letting your voices be heard, and thanks, WordPress, for letting me Yop! Reader, if you find any pearls here, please help yourself, and feel free to cast your own pearls as comments.

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6 Comments

  1. Liz in Virginia said,

    Why, hello! Fancy meeting you here!

    I asked you once before on another blog, but I repeat — who ARE you?!? Because once again you’re voicing my life.

  2. Maureen said,

    Hiya Liz!!!
    I believe that you and I (and a bunch of other people I have recently met on line) were in the same celestial nursery school class where we were archetyped into a certain type of soul. Then we passed through Lethe and here we are on earth. BUT when you run into a person whose very thoughts you recognize as vibrating like your own, it’s the best class reunion ever!

    So, are those pictures of YOU at the massive beach reunion? Blond hair, holding the baby?

  3. Liz in Virginia said,

    Hey!

    No, that was a picture of the baby’s grandma. I’m in the big group shot but I’m hard to see because I’m in the back — in a sleeveless blue top . . . .

    Have you read a novel called “The Years of Rice and Salt?” The author talks about the celestial nursery (he calls it “the Pavilion”), coming at it from a Hindu perspective. I think you would like it. It spans the centuries so you meet the same souls over and over again, while each soul continues the path toward enlightenment. It asks a lot of interesting questions about fate — not just individual fate but global fate — like, for example, were the world wars of the twentieth century destined? It’s not the most well-crafted thing, but I think about it a lot, which for me is the sign of a successful reading experience.

    Love you, Mo!
    — Liz

  4. Linda said,

    Ah, what a relief to find another post! I never thought about the Irish part of my father’s history contributing to his silence and drinking. Oh, and not wanting to talk about feelings and really not wanting us to have feelings, mostly issues or problems…well, I guess we could have them we just could not talk about them because if we did not talk about them they magically disappeared. I think I told you my father is from Schnectady, didn’t I? I think the Irish family, his mother’s grandparents, the Lindsays, came to Massachusetts from Ireland. Sorry, rambling.

    I love your writing, Maureen.

  5. sher said,

    what a blessing to come off of my internet-less vacation to find a new posting from you! I am lax in my blogging, I believe I am actually pouting.

    In any event, is not miraculous, the balming and paliative effect that our bumps in cyberspace have created? I cannot imagine my life without you. I am so proud of you for cracking open that shell and bursting forth in all your glory. To me you are a beautiful peacock of a soul and I cannot wait to see what you ‘unfurl’ when you spread your feathers and show all the colors you have to offer.

    I’m usually to busy flapping to pay attention to what is going on outside the barnyard . . . this makes me feel as if I need to sit quietly and gaze.

    Thank for such a wonderful ‘welcome home’ . . . I love and miss you tremendously.

  6. andrea said,

    Love it all–the yop, the banquet, the picture of your dad. I love blogging for the same reasons! And a line from Julie & Julia cracks me up every time I recall it, “I could write a blog. I have thoughts!”

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