The Introvert Bias and Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’

In our boisterous Western culture, a quiet temperament is generally disfavored, like an undesirable recessive gene that society tries its best to repress. As an introvert, I’ve experienced this bias against quiet people my whole life. When every member of the high school swim team received a descriptive award at the end of each season, my award was always given sarcastically as ‘The Most Talkative’ or some other variation on that theme. I smiled when I went up to accept these awards–which, after all, were meant to be all in jest–but it started to bother me. It also wasn’t uncommon for someone to approach me (often someone I didn’t know) and inquire, “Why are you so quiet?” as if it wasn’t a rude thing to say, although those people would have considered it rude of me to inquire back, “Why are you so loud?” It wasn’t considered rude to try to seek out the source of my introversion and subvert my personality because society tells us that there is something inherently wrong with being an introvert, as if it’s the job of extroverts to find this undesirable quality and weed it out in people. No wonder I was so self-conscious and had low self-esteem in high school when most people treated me as if I were deficient in some vital characteristic that makes up the essence of who society tells us we all should be as people.

images-3

Listening to the audiobook of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is a self-confidence building exercise for me. It is a morning routine that I thoroughly enjoy. Cain explores the values of introverts that are all too often overlooked in a society that upholds a bubbly, outgoing personality as the ideal. I wanted to tell those people who continually insisted on pigeonholing me as simply ‘quiet’ that there is far more to me than that. I wanted to tell them that as a quiet person, I am also highly introspective, creative, and imaginative–so why not classify me that way? Their biases limited their perspective, so they equated quietness with being aloof and standoffish. Of course, personality traits are far more complicated than that. There are often both benefits and drawbacks of having a certain personality trait, but society has established and continually reinforced the negative association that most people (including myself for some time when I internalized the negative comments and reactions I received–and still do receive–as a quiet person) have toward quiet people.

I am sure that there are countless quiet children who are made to feel ashamed of themselves for this one, inborn trait. I am sure that there are a number of people who have had similar experiences to mine, people who–like I was–are afraid to stand up for themselves and try to communicate that there is more to their identity than the number of words they utter in a minute. There is value in being quiet, for introverts see the world differently in their vivid imaginings (that often lead them to pursue creative activities such as writing, playing music, inventing, etc.) than extroverts do. I think Susan Crain’s Quiet is already exposing cracks in the foundation of the extrovert ideal, and hopefully her work will continue to encourage readers to question the introvert bias and encourage introverted readers specifically to assert some pride in being quiet.

Advertisements

The Misconception of ‘Health’: How Media Defines ‘Healthy’

A few years ago as a college sophomore, I remember making a confession to a therapist that seemed to confuse her. I had undergone a period during my final years of high school wherein I succumbed to disordered eating, and I confessed to her that in the aftermath of that experience when I was doing my best to get healthy again, I was never really taught what getting ‘healthy’ meant. The truth is, eating disorder sufferers need to first relearn what it means to be healthy in order to take the steps to becoming healthy again, and contemporary culture is certainly not conducive to such learning. I myself took “becoming healthy” to be synonymous simply with gaining weight, and I took to eating sweets and fats–foods that I had previously cut out altogether in my period of disordered eating–almost in excess in order to achieve this goal. That method of becoming healthy again certainly wasn’t the healthiest method, but no one had told me otherwise.

The portrait of ‘health’ and ‘beauty’ that is portrayed in the media is so utterly skewed that it is understandable why eating disorders are so pervasive in our society. Of course, that is not to say that media is entirely to blame; it is, however, undeniably a factor. The popular reality T.V. show ‘The Biggest Loser’ emphasizes weight loss as the greatest indicator of returning to a healthy state, and so do dieting and self-help books. However, Rachel Frederickson–the most recent winner of ‘The Biggest Loser’–went from 260 pounds to 105 pounds just to claim that title. This is what society tells us is healthy: dramatic weight loss. It gives us no indication on how to reclaim health after becoming too thin because the too thin ideal is what is lauded as healthy.

This ideal poisons our minds at an early age with the popularity of Barbie dolls and Disney movies (to use the most prominent and well-known examples). I think that the therapist I talked to was confused because she didn’t understand why I would have to be taught how to become healthy again. After all, that seems like such a common sense thing–something we all should just inherently know. But when we are all bombarded with an inaccurate portrayal of health, and especially when we buy into that portrait, there is a need to relearn what ‘health’ really means. It’s unfortunate that this is the case, but it’s our reality.

I decided to write a post on this particular topic not to inundate you with my past problems (given that my previous post covered the same topic) but because this upcoming week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and I think that we need to work toward understanding eating disorders in all of their complexities (even if you haven’t ever had an eating disorder) in order to effectively combat them. This next week, I urge you to take part in spreading the facts about eating disorders and raising awareness about resources to help those who are struggling. Use social media, word of mouth, etc.–whatever resources are in your power. Also, you can participate in a live conversation hosted by The Representation Project and the National Eating Disorders Association‘s Proud2BMe campaign this Wednesday (Feb. 26th) afternoon from 12pm-1pm PT. The discussion will be regarding the media’s obsession with critiquing celebrity bodies and its impact on youth. You can use #StopSnark to participate in the conversation and ask questions of the panel. Remember, even if you haven’t been personally affected by an eating disorder, chances are that you know someone–unwittingly or not–who is/has suffered from an eating disorder. Please participate in National Eating Disorder Awareness Week in support of those people. Eating disorders are nasty and potentially fatal, so these are serious psychological illnesses.

Thank you for reading this blog entry. I have used my own personal experiences to introduce this topic into my blog, but I am certainly not immune to the fact that countless others have stories of their own. I support you in your journey towards health. If you ever are in need of a friend or someone to tell your story to but are not comfortable sharing your story as a comment on this blog, feel free to shoot me an email at literarymindedmaddie@gmail.com.

All the best,

Miscellaneous Maddie

Caution: Now Approaching the Boundaries of ‘Normalcy’

I’ve admittedly taken a bit (actually, more than “a bit”; lots of bits) of a hiatus from my blog, but I can explain. Of all of the miscellaneous topics I could reasonably cover (given that my blog is called “Miscellaneous Musings”), one topic in particular has been closest to my heart and most constant in my head since my last blog post. I knew I needed to get this off of my chest before I could tackle any other topic/issue. However, this topic is exceedingly difficult for me to write about, given how personal it is to me. What is this mysterious, difficult topic am I building up to? Eating disorders and body image.

A little over a week ago, I had the privilege of seeing author Laurie Halse Anderson speak in St. Paul, Minnesota. She bravely broaches the subject of eating disorders in her book ‘Wintergirls.’ She does not romanticize eating disorders in any way, shape or form; the reader is submersed in the illogical, tortured mind of an eating disorder sufferer. If you are hesitant to call an eating disorder a disease, reading ‘Wintergirls’ will convince you otherwise. It is a disease of the mind, and food (or rather the controlled intake of food) is the sufferer’s drug.

When I was in middle school and high school, anti-drug programs (D.A.R.E. in middle school and T.A.R.G.E.T.–Teens Achieving Recognizable Goals Through Education and Teamwork–in high school) were prevalent. We would have assemblies about the dangers of drugs; watch skits that demonstrated “The Power of Saying ‘No'”; and stage car crashes before Homecoming as a visual reminder of the dangers of drinking and driving. However, a powerful form of addiction that was by and large overlooked was the issue of eating disorders. I call eating disorders “addictions” because that’s what they are–I know firsthand that is exactly what they are.

My own body dysmorphia and cycle of body abuse began when I was in my last years of high school, but I didn’t consider my thoughts and actions to be anything but normal. After all, no one had ever really talked to me about eating disorders. I had constructed my own definition of ‘normalcy.’ Based on what I observed and absorbed from the majority of my cultural/peer influences, I concluded that it would be abnormal to admit that you were happy with your body. I knew I certainly wasn’t ‘normal’ in other ways (I was by no means bubbly and outgoing), but I never thought that how I treated my own body was anything but normal. I did not spiral into the danger-zone that Lia, the protagonist of Anderson’s ‘Wintergirls’ (Lia’s own disordered thoughts being the antagonist of the novel), found herself in. Still, I will admit that remnants of my past disordered thinking plague me even now, in my present. Those little cling-on criticisms, the dust bunnies in my brain, make me question whether it is even possible to completely ‘heal’ oneself after an eating disorder (not just physically, but mentally). I know how all-encompassing the addiction can be. I know how easy it is to convince yourself that your body dysmorphic thoughts are normal when it seems like the entire world is preoccupied with bodily faults: stick-thin women (and men, for that matter) whom are dubbed ‘models’ and meant to present the ideal body image; relatives and peers who cringe at pictures of themselves and only see their supposed flaws; billboards and advertisements bombarding us with ways to ‘improve’ ourselves. Not to mention, there is such a thing as having a genetic predisposition for an eating disorder(s), meaning that the tendency to develop a disordered relationship with food is encoded in your DNA.

                                                                    images-1

Then there is this difficult question: Can someone who has suffered from an eating disorder ever be ‘normal’? What does ‘normal’ even mean, anyway? It’s not like humans are born with an internal GPS that can spazz at them when they stray from the norm: “Caution: Now approaching the borders of Normalcy! Find a different route or else risk crossing the border into Abnormal!” Not to mention that we all have different definitions of normalcy that are fluid and typically evolve over time. I myself don’t feel like I can answer this question because I personally don’t know anyone who is, by my own definition, ‘normal.’ Human beings wouldn’t be human beings if they didn’t have quirks and abnormalities. For myself, I don’t aspire to ‘normal.’ I simply aspire to be the sort of person I would like to be, and that is someone who does not let food dictate my life. That is something that I am working on, day by day.

All the best,

Miscellaneous Maddie

My Minute Miscellaneous Musing of the day

We talk about love in variants, the ultimate, Disney-sponsored kind being ‘true love.’ That concept has such cheesy connotations, but I wonder if that’s mostly because of the idea of romance as depicted in the media.
Maybe I’m defective, but I don’t equate roses, diamonds, or chocolate with true love. (Although anyone wanting to give me chocolate is welcome to for any reason, don’t take it personally if I swoon–I might just be swooning over the chocolate, not you.) I associate true love with the person who makes you more comfortable in your own skin; the person whose presence restores you to an organic whole when all the inevitable pressures in life have a way of making you feel fractured; the person who makes you delineate your life into BH ( Before Him/Her) years and AH (After Him/Her) years because meeting that person has reinvigorated you–has made life feel more vibrant and full of beauty. All that to me encompasses a type of love that is true and pure. For that kind of love, roses or diamonds or chocolate are not prerequisites.

NaNoWriMo: A Writer’s Month of Choas and Camaraderie

It’s often the month of the first winter snowfall (certainly if you live in Minnesota) and a month of frenzied holiday preparations. For some people, this month even involves preparations for a one-day 4 a.m. shopping binge. For the world’s wordsmiths, however, November is The Month of 50,000 Words. You won’t find us NaNoWriMo freaks out at 4 a.m. on Black Friday; more likely, we’ll be up attacking our keyboards, making up for the words we had to sacrifice for human interaction the day prior. On Thanksgiving day, we won’t complain that the turkey takes hours to bake, so long as we can surreptitiously sneak off to an empty room with our laptops. (I would venture to say that not many people would be able to accomplish such a feat; if your relatives let you sneak off and if you miraculously find an empty room of the house to write in, kudos to you, Sir or Madam Writer.)

I am not counting myself among the knowledgeable wordsmiths who have a diligent plan for this year’s NaNoWriMo. This is my first time participating in this mental marathon. I know the basics: 50,000 words divided by 30 days yields 1,667 words per day. I think that the Rent song ‘Seasons of Love’ should be rewritten to apply to us crazy writers in November: “One thousand one hundred sixty-seven words in a day . . . ” Never mind. Too many syllables. Still, during the month of November, us word counters certainly do measure time in midnights and cups of coffee. That part of the song’s lyrics applies.

Anyway, we are now fourteen days into this crazy month, and I’m already in the place I’ve predicted: I have fallen behind. Before you, Blog Reader, say “Oh, poor you” (if you’re the kind of person who talks to his/her computer screen), let me just inform you that I am perfectly fine with my tardiness. I am not stressing. I am not pulling out my hair, literally or in my mind (I admit that I sometimes imagine pulling out my hair in times of terrible stress because it’s healthier than actually doing it). My sanity is still completely intact. Why?? Because I haven’t fallen victim to the Deadline Demon. I do not orchestrate my day around word count. If I manage to fit in a full 1,667 words in a day, that’s brilliant (although that is very rare for me), but I won’t stay up into the wee hours of the night assaulting my keyboard just to make the day’s word count.

I’m not good with numbers, and I never have been. I have always associated word and/or page count with school essays. I rarely measure my progress for my creative and more personal writing by counting words. Word count always seemed to me like a base requirement. What I consider the most important requirement is that I feel a visceral connection to the text as I write–to the protagonist, to the setting, and to the situation. After all, if I myself as the writer feel that visceral connection, the reader most likely will feel it, also. If I make a word count goal but I don’t feel like I’ve managed to hook the reader, then those words do not count.

One thing that bothers me about NaNoWriMo is the emphasis of quantity over quality. Maybe it’s just because I’m a slow writer, but it’s unnatural for me to be able to write 1,667 quality words a day. I could certainly write 1,667 shitty words in a day. Still, I enjoy participating in NaNoWriMo for the solidarity it creates amongst the literary community. I love how it makes me feel connected to and encouraged by other writers. This atmosphere alone more than the word count requirements itself has thus far motivated me to write more during this month than I normally would any other month. It’s this sense of camaraderie and fellowship that eggs me on most.

My own primary source of camaraderie this month is a NaNoWriMo group that gathers in a massage studio. I know that sounds strange, but it is actually the perfect writing space. It’s a small group, so each of us gets a room to ourselves. It’s a nice, quiet, relaxing atmosphere incomparable to any other space I’ve ever written in. Plus, periodic breaks where we all come together and report on our progress give us the human interaction and companionship myself and the others might lack if we were all writing in separate spaces and in isolation. It’s the perfect set up.

What I think I will remember most from this November will not be the sanity I lost (because I’m hoping I won’t lose any). I have made a promise to myself not to succumb to the chaos and to always remind myself that I write more for my own enjoyment, not for a deadline. What I’m saying is that I don’t think I will be among the 4 a.m. Black Friday writers (or shoppers, for that matter). Still, kudos to those writers for their dogged perseverance; I just would hope that their desire to meet a deadline doesn’t undermine their intrinsic desire to write. Don’t let nagging thoughts about a deadline make you forget why you love to write in the first place.

What I will remember most from this year’s NaNoWriMo is the camaraderie–the way a shared passion for storytelling brings all of us crazy writer folks together this month more than any other month of the year. So allow me to raise a metaphorical glass of champagne (because I’m classy like that) to all of my fellow NaNoWriMo participants. May your cup of creativity be ever overflowing, and may your sanity remain ever intact!

All the best,

-Miscellaneous Maddie