The Value of Solitude

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I’ve overturned a log in the forest and out scurried colorful little creatures that were hiding in the crevices. Not really, no. But it’s been a little like this, over the past 48 hours. Just the other day a friend of mine posted this infographic, about living with introverts.

Putting it on my own wall, I wasn’t expecting the flurry of responses. From other friends and their friends (strangers to me) came a collective sigh of relief after holding one’s breath for too long. The nervous laugh of recognition continues to ripple across my little cyber-community. I love how we’ve all come out of the woodwork, I wrote in a comment.

I am an introvert.

I’ve never announced it before, and doing so now feels strangely counter-intuitive, a paradox. But I felt such a warm sense of approval from my fellow silent observers, over the sudden claiming of a voice (usually we keep our stories to ourselves; this is why many of us are writers). It appears that I am not the only one left to drift to the edge of a crowded room in an extrovert-dominated world.

As the hours passed more friends came out to confess they too were introverts. One of them reposted my original post, which generated another round of confessions on her wall. Another (her friend, a stranger to me) then shared this, a list of common misconceptions about people like us.

So now I thought to share it here, and my amazement over how much of it rings true. Such as how we need solitude like we need air; how we are often mistaken for rude or weird.

I value my solitude and need it. When I turn down an invitation to hang out, it does not mean I’ve stopped being your friend. Believe me when I say I value you, more than I can express.

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Sometimes I disappear, as those closest to me can attest. I don’t mean to be rude, I am just desperate to recharge. Most times, I am exhausted; sometimes I’m just lost in my own head. And other times, being around too many people means I’m in danger of losing myself.

What I have also lost are a few friends, who probably took my withdrawing ways as an affront. This pains me but I have no clue how to fix it. Others (who I now suspect to be introverts too) respectfully and quietly hover just out of my periphery. I feel their warmth even though I don’t see them, and am grateful and comforted.

To those who haven’t quite figured me out, know you are one of a handful of carefully selected friends. You’re important to me so please stick around. Know that I always come back and may even invite you out for coffee, so we can talk. Thanks for waiting, and for understanding.

How To Choose A Place To Live

The El, Chicago
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1. Open the newspaper and find the Classifieds.

Feel overwhelmed, as you usually are when faced with too many choices. Temper passions with an eye on practical considerations, such as food preferences and limitations based upon budget. Once you find the Classifieds, pore over the many categories. Be distracted by ads selling antique typewriters, Labrador puppies, raw farmland. Make a mental note that the farmland you really want someday is the kind with soil to grow coffee in. Indonesia?

2. Find ample storage: an attic, basement, or walk-in closet the size of a small warehouse.

Lose sleep over what to do with the ceramic zebra’s head sculpted by a daughter (now a junior at art school), another daughter’s complete Chronicles of Narnia. Wool coats put away because where you live now has only two seasons, wet and dry. Boxes of photo albums (2001-2006). Consider the long-term value of memories.

3. Go online to apartmentherapy.com and stalk the interiors of other people’s houses.

Here is where you begin to understand what drives your choices. Not envy, but where you came from, stirred by jpegs of shag carpets or mid-Century aesthetic:  glass tile for your kitchen backsplash, the mahogany desk and leather chair that remind you of your granduncle, the one who served as cultural attaché to Burma in 1958. That extra bedroom to serve as a writer’s garret, because sloped ceilings and natural light will help you write better. Hardwood floors to showcase your mother’s collection of Tibetan prayer rugs, the only thing she left behind, apart from the empty seat at your daughter’s high school graduation dinner.  

4. Consider the proximity to public transportation.

Walk to El, steps to Starbucks and minutes to the Loop! Short drive to beaches and Ocean Road; easy access to Tanah Merah Terminal Ferry. Dream of someday having a personal driver, a necessity and safety precaution in cities where roads are dusty, worn, or imaginary. Rik drove up in a white car after breakfast everyday, to take you to Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm, wherever you wanted to go until he suggested less touristy places. “You must visit the Killing Fields,” he said. You aren’t ready, you told him. Look into a house’s history, especially if it’s very old, and make certain it isn’t haunted.

5. Expand your search. Is climate a consideration?

Realize you miss snow at Christmas; not so much the rising ragweed count in April. But do exclude regions with extreme weather, such as neighborhoods located along the path of monsoons or around the Ring of Fire. Volcanos are fine as long as they are extinct. Reconsider retiring to a small coffee plantation in Danau Toba, Sumatra.

Out for Lunch

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Open up a can of chickpeas. See in your head a bowl of creamy hummus. Remember E’s picture from Jordan? It was taken around a campfire at dusk. A Bedouin man brewed a pot of tea and E had tea like that, in the desert, amidst sand dunes. E ate a lot of hummus while she was there. Won’t touch the restaurant variety today.

Slice a lemon. A fridge must always contain lemons. Imagine if you reduced the contents of your fridge to just those things found in very old valleys: chickpeas (how did they grow those?), olives, goat cheese, and hello, wine.

Hummus was probably a staple for any strapping young shepherd. Who knew that people living a thousand years ago ate better than we do today? Grinding seeds against a stone, leaving dates and figs out to dry until they were strips tough as leather. Organic then wasn’t expensive. It was the only way one could make lunch.

Day 310: Shinjuku

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My friend Hiromi made me a list of cafes to visit on my first trip to Tokyo in 2010. Two doors past the Calico Cafe (a cat cafe, I was to find out) is Ejinbara Coffee. The menu was in Japanese, so I just pointed to the first item. I wasn’t disappointed.

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Every cup that isn’t an espresso-based drink is prepared in a siphon. The result is an exceptionally “clean” taste, and a mouthfeel I can only describe as light-as-air. I wish I knew enough Japanese to tell you where these beans originated from, but the cup was worth the $10 price tag.

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