My parents really did not understand me as a child. This is not an understatement. My step-father believed my best aspiration would be to marry a lawyer or doctor in order to have a comfortable life. He patronized and insulted my dreams to be a writer every day. He went so far as to question me on all my preferences in life, when he realized I was nothing like him, just to make me feel wrong about myself. We got in an argument over dog breeds one day because I didn’t like his favorite breed of the black lab. He called me stupid for it.
I did my best to avoid him as much as possible.
My mother was open to supporting me, as long as I was happy, because back then I was not a happy teenager. I could barely get through a day without crying over how someone treated me. Unfortunately, after my step-father died of cancer, she took up the artist-bashing torch. There was no real explanation as to why. She just suddenly took on many of his mannerisms in the wake of his death and thought it best that she carry on his ideals. It was strange and heartbreaking to watch. The woman I had grown up with as my best-friend turned into someone I didn’t recognize and made me feel betrayed and lied to. I began to wonder if all that time while battling my step-father, she had always secretly agreed with him but kept quiet about it.
Until one day, I sat down with my mother about a year later, and explained my introversion to her. Myself, I had just recently come to understand it. I had bought the book Quiet in an airport while on my way to visit my father on my traditional (since adulthood) birthweek vacation. By the time I landed in Denver, only a few chapters in, I was awakened to something I had always had within me but never truly seen. I am and always have been an introvert, and there is nothing wrong with that!
I am a solitude seeking, intellect loving, quality collecting introvert with short social tendencies. I am an artist, even if I am not a professional or striving to be, or selling anything at this point.
I sat with her, a bottle of merlot, playing a game of Scrabble. Throughout the game, I compared all of these same characteristics that made me an introvert and a creative person to her love of cross-stitching, and now quilting, macramé while she was young, and other crafts I probably don’t know about. She has a very close group of friends, but loves coming home to a quiet house. She will never sell her quilts, and instead gives them away. This goes against everything my step-father always pushed for me and my writing. But I see no difference between a quilt and a short story. And in that moment, my mother finally understood. She too is an introvert and an artist. Her attitude changed overnight. Even she saw how in his death, she had clung to his memory by trying to act like him, and then understood how much he had hurt me growing up. For over 30 years I had been battling the people who were supposed to be influencing me and supporting me most. I was trapped in a war that I didn’t know was raging, until the enemy had finally died. She loved him. She absolutely adored him and gave all of herself to him. I don’t hold this against her. He was her perfect mate. He just wasn’t my perfect parent. I could have had a lot worse life…WE could have had a lot worse life if she had not married him. (And their little love story is major fodder for another post.)
My real father, an architect, sculptor, and engineer, saw my desire to write, but could only encourage from a distance. Rare phone calls, letters with his own artistic sketches of houses and attempts at watercolor. Occasionally there was a trip to Colorado where I could feel the different energy the moment I stepped foot in his house and studio. It was in my late 20s that his presence in my life became a positive beacon and he helped me claim my artist life. There are still times that his encouraging can get pushy, but it is so much better than being told to quit and find a real job. “Be a productive ant in the hill.”
I never did finish reading Quiet, but at this point I’m okay with that. I’ve lent it to my best friend, who is also struggling to balance work life, creative life, health and happiness. I am hoping she will find something that may give her an ‘aha’ moment, or at least an idea that who she is is perfectly normal and acceptable.
Today, I don’t fight the world and get as angry as I used to as a child and teenager. I can make my own decisions without someone telling me I’m wrong and I need to be more like xyz. (Be that a character trait or specific person.) I don’t let people pressure me to go out when I would rather stay home and knit. I don’t let them make me feel quilty for saying ‘no’. I now understand that I am not the one being selfish if this leads to an argument, as long as I am not hurting anyone in the process. I am a much happier adult now that I understand wanting and needing to be alone to recharge is a good thing. Healthy, normal. Human nature. I am even in an interesting relationship with another introvert and creative. We both respect our time apart, or the sudden need for quiet thinking, busy brainstorming out loud, with the other as simply a sounding board, or just another person in the room. It works. We give each other permission to just BE, and try new things. Fail. Succeed. Get angry. Get manic. Be euphoric. Accept depression for a short while. And always help find our way out when it is time.
For to appreciate the light, one must for a time stand in the darkness.
The world can still get pushy. Jobs get in the way. Co-workers, strangers, family, friends, can all try to get something from me that I am not obligated to give. Occasionally I do say ‘yes’. I am not a complete recluse. But I pick and choose wisely so that I try to be true to myself and my creative energies. It isn’t the struggle that it used to be. And so far, I’m not seeing any new battles on the horizon.