Monday, February 4, 2013

Stimulate, stimulate, stimulate!

If you knew me in college, or in any previous time of my life, you will remember me as a busy person.  Always slightly frazzled, rushing, probably perspiring, and with an obnoxious list of things to do and people to see.  Sports, coffee dates, clubs, papers, studying, shows, obligations, etc, etc.  I may have been the type of person without much time to spare for sitting around, watching TV, or just shootin' the shit.  I was the classic example of the roommate who was never there.  Which is unfortunate because I happen to love all of my old college roommates and my favorite moments from Madison were the nights we stayed in and did strange things. I've been thinking about this a lot, now more than a month out of Uganda, mostly because I've changed quite a bit.  Or perhaps because I have allowed myself to unlearn certain things and strip down a little closer to my onion-core.

Truth is?  I'm a complete introvert and have always been.  Check out Susan Cain's book or TED talk to learn more about what actually an introvert is, but it is definitely NOT someone who is antisocial and/or cranky and reclusive.  Or boring.  Like many introverts, I'm a person who needs and thrives on low levels of stimulation.  Meaning, in order for me to function as a happy human being, I need a lot of time involving quiet, introspection, reading, writing, and peace.  It's how I charge.  I enjoy action and excitement as much as the next person, and will always choose an adventure over the quotidian, but I cannot function or feel comfortable if I am constantly immersed in a social environment with high levels of stimulation.  Think entering a busy bar full of flashing lights and a ton of people I need to make small talk with.  It even makes me lightheaded.  In this same vein, it doesn't take MUCH to excite me or engage me.  I'm learning more than ever that perhaps in the past I was always running, running, running around the next corner to the next event/excitement and this completely exhausted me.  Now, I know that it's not about how many places I go each day, or how many things I do, because it's NOT a competition or a race with the rest of America.  And it feels good to slow down.  I'm not advocating for couch-potatoery, to drop all of your noble missions and drink tea all day, but it wouldn't hurt for our culture to be a bit more accepting of other ways of life.  Or for other personalities.  So often it seems that we are a nation forged from the cheer and bombast of extroverts.  In job interviews, we feel forced to come across as gregarious, we are taught about the merits of leadership, confidence, all of these good things.  And, they are good things.  But, a wallflower can be JUST as confident and strong-willed as a CEO or a lawyer, can bring as much focus to their dreams as any idealist, and hold the same adventurous spirit that leads many along the path of vagabondry and world travel. At the end of the day, it's all about feeling at peace with yourself.  It's not about forcing yourself to go against the basic grain of your personality.  At the most basic building blocks of who I am, I am quiet.  I am also more stubborn and hard-headed than you will ever know.  And, it's not something that I can change or force out of myself.  In a culture where to be loud is to be confident, where to be aggressive is to be independent, where to be a social is to be adventurous, I oftentimes sense the implicit criticism that introverted people receive from others.  It's almost like a condition we would like to see voided from our system.  It's something to worry about.  We worry about people who spend too much time on their own, too much time reading, not enough time mixing with others at bars or events.  At the base of it, this is exactly how many people across the world, including myself, gain their sense of peace and center themselves everyday.  And this concern directed towards introverts, whether it be in the classroom, field, bar, or workplace is close-minded, just as it would be ignorant to make an extrovert feel bad about themselves for spending too much time with others and too little time on their own.

I'm interested in seeing a nation or a culture where it's not seen as 'lazy' to have a quiet day reading by yourself.  I spent much more time in Uganda sitting under mango trees and drinking tea with friends than I did doing anything productive, at least in the way we see it here in the states. And, that was difficult at first.  But, it was okay.  Everything is okay.  I hope that I learned a lot from my neighbors and colleagues towards the simplification of my daily life and concerns.  And although it may not work for everyone, or suit everyone, having a simple daily existence is something that very much eases my anxiety and centers my being.  Anything that you do is okay, even in a nation full of pull-yourself-up-from-the-bootstraps and shoot-for-the-stars and other inspirational locker room posters. I enjoy being busy, because who doesn't like a sense of purpose and to feel part of a dynamic existence? I just don't want to rush around like a batshit crazy beheaded chicken just because I sense vaguely a national pull to be a little too busy.  Works for some, but doesn't work for me. 

This blog post is just as much for me as it is for you, dear internet.  I speak at a time of increased cultural frustration, at a time when I'm really starting to feel the aches and pains of cultural whip-lash.  When I'm trying to find a job, and productive things to do, in the middle of a brutal winter, and when it appears that just about the only thing I am qualified to be is a school lunchlady.  It takes a while for these frustrations and confusions to become evident.  I thought I had skipped it entirely, when I came home and became immersed in Christmas, holidays, travel, friends, and excitement.  But now, surrounded by busy (happily so!) friends and family and neighbors, I can't help but to feel like there is something wrong with me.  Something off.  Even when I know that I'm an intelligent, confident, strong-willed, and curious woman who happens to delight in her own company and the strange and wonderful people and world around her. 

Dear internet, people are different.  At their most basic chemistry to their outermost layers, two human beings can resemble each other in radically few ways.  And, that's okay.  Anything you think or do, is okay.  I'm constantly in awe of my friends and family, in the myriad ways they march, sing, whisper, and dance through this world--- all of them uniquely suited for exactly what they are doing.  There is a reason behind their happiness, because they follow the beats of their hearts, because they feel confidence in what they do.  We are all of us different from each other, but also uniquely suited to love and appreciate the particular quirks and drives that make us our own individuals.  And while I sometimes feel out of place, in my family, my group of friends, I realize that it's also a human trait to feel the burden of your own personality.  There are no good or bad personalities or characteristics, and whether you tend to shout on the phone, or stumble over words in conversation, it's a hope that these quirks be seen as gifts rather than defects.  I don't want to apologize for being myself, especially not TO myself.  And I always wish to quietly admire the characteristics of my friends and family that I will simply NEVER exhibit.  Because they are amazing. 

Everyone, thank you for your work.  Let this ramble of a post be seen as a way for an introverted person to express her love for herself and for the people that compose her life. 

Love and lebansese food,


  1. Ilse, I have just found your blog. I am awaiting invitation, and am reading blogs from different countries, partly to figure out why they asked me how I would feel about riding a bike 10 miles a day on rough road.

    Anyhow, I've been mainly perusing blogs, but yours pulled me in, and I've just been reading about the lead up to your going to Uganda, and the first months. You're such a good writer! And a person of great heart. You have left the Peace Corps now, but I want to follow your blog because I want to keep track of you.

    Thank you so much for enriching me with your writing.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I'm glad those early entries are helping you out in the nail-biting waiting period. I did the same when I heard about the bike riding I would do every day over rough terrain!! I wish you the best of luck in receiving your invitation and whatever choice you may make. It's an exciting but completely unreal time.

      Keep following and let me know where you end up going!! I'd love to check out your blog, too, if you have one.


  2. WOW. So... I wrote this about 6 weeks after moving home:

    It was the last thing I ever wrote on my Colombia blog. Basically I was trying to say what you did in paragraphs 3 & 4...but just less articulately than you did. ;) I love your descriptions! It's not easy moving back to a place you used to call home...a long time ago. It doesn't look, feel or act the same and neither do you. Figuring out where you fit into all of that is one of the most confusing adventures I have been on in life and in a lot of ways, I am still figuring it out everyday. And you will too - because you do FIT here in every way imaginable. You would fit a lot of places, my dear. And as someone who is every bit the extrovert to compliment your introvert, let me just say the admiration goes both ways. :)

    1. Dear Kristin, thanks for your reply. It's an delight (and a relief) to see how well you've found your own space and rhythm in Minnesota after being away SO long. You make me believe it is possible to bring the new Kristin into an old location and still work it.

      See you later today!!