Thursday, May 24, 2012

Aren't you lonely?

When I talk with folks about becoming a full time farmer - alone - I am met with a lot of different reactions. My favorite was last weekend when we bought a third-hand chicken plucker (yay!!) from another small farmer who said "congratulations" like, eight times, and I think he meant it. But there were other reactions as well. Some professional women seemed skeptical. Folks who tend toward safe, well-proven and socially acceptable paths didn't seem to care for my weirdo choice. But most often I was asked if I was going to be lonely...if I would miss interacting with people all day.

I expect that this question was asked by extroverts - people who are energized by being around other people. If I were an extrovert, I could imagine that working alone for 9 hours a day would be daunting. Extroverts, I am told, do get bored when they are alone and it makes sense that their primary thought about my new job is that there aren't a lot of other people involved, therefore it must be lonely and boring.

Fortunately for me, I am in introvert! I am completely energized by sitting quietly in my field watching the chickens, plucking weeds and thinking about how blue the sky is (do you know how many shades there are of Indiana Sky Blue? Millions!). I really can do that for 9 hours a day, 5 days a week for many, many years not only without getting bored, but actually feeling really, really great about it.  It doesn't mean that I don't like being around people (I really do), it just means that I'm ok with (and need) the alone time too.

It is likely that many or even most of you don't really believe me or can't actually imagine this. That's ok. We live in an extroverted world. Atlantic Monthly published an article in 2003 to explain the quiet introverted space to extroverts. As an introvert, I recommend reading the whole article - it's not long and the author is delightfully cheeky. But if you are short of time because you're running out to a social gathering, here are my two favorite parts:

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.

Introversion = totally normal thing. We don't need to be fixed.

Are introverts misunderstood? Wildly. That, it appears, is our lot in life. "It is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert," write the education experts Jill D. Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig.  Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.

I get it. I get why I was so often asked if I would be lonely. (I still prefer the heartfelt congratulatory reactions, but I don't begrudge the concern of extroverts).

I will admit here, though, that I went to Tractor Supply (in my standard transmission pick up truck, bitches) this week - less than a month into my isolation - and was startled when the cashier greeted me as I walked in the door. I jumped a little and was slightly confused at what I was supposed to do. So, the next time we see each other, please be patient if it seems as if it takes me a minute to recall how to talk.

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