Should I Stay or Should I Go?
When we moved to West Michigan, I envisioned spending the whole stretch of days from December through February cozied up indoors, reading stacks of books, writing, cooking comforting meals, and emerging only to restock the necessary supplies.
I wondered if I'd get bored, but I've found I look forward to winter's inward-focused, slower pace as a time to catch up on projects, both practical and creative. I can go days—a week or more, even—without leaving the house and not feel the least bit restless.
But here's the problem: interesting things keep going on all winter long in the world outside my cocoon. There are concerts, classes, meetings, lectures, card games, art exhibits, hikes (yes, even in winter, if the weather's not too extreme)—a surprising number of goings-on beckoning me to bundle up and get out.
So I weigh the options. Stay put and make progress on the projects I've been itching all summer and fall to get into or go out and enjoy stimulating activities and the company of friends?
There are good reasons to go. Study after study has affirmed the health benefits of social activity—boosting brain health and bolstering immunity, for instance.
Plus, getting out revs creative engines.
As poet Richie Hofmann put it in a 2016 interview, "Sometimes It's important for me to get outside of poetry, or outside of literature altogether. To listen to music, look at a painting or sculpture or installation, see a concert, attend a lecture on something strange but intriguing. These other arts not only provoke new subjects, but they might offer new ways of thinking formally as well."
I remember hearing a radio interview with musician and songwriter Allen Toussaint in which he talked about driving around his home city of New Orleans for inspiration instead of sitting in a room and expecting his muse to find its way to that one place. Made sense!
Author Annie Dillard also is a big believer in pushing away from the desk and venturing into the world. In nonfiction essays, she has written about such experiences as witnessing a total eclipse and watching a skywriter making loops and barrel rolls and then riding with him. No amount of book research, telephone interviewing or imagination could have produced the memorable images and perspectives of those pieces.
Other writers who studied with Dillard learned the same habits. "She encouraged us to get out into the world, which explains at least one afternoon I spent playing video games with the owner of a local baseball-card store, in order to write a profile of him," recalled Maggie Nelson in a 2016 article in Poets & Writers magazine.
Inspiration and verisimilitude weren't Dillard's only motivations. Service was another. She volunteered in a soup kitchen for ten years and thought other writers might do well to follow suit. As she wrote in an email to writer John Freeman, cited in the same Poets & Writers profile, "Working in a soup kitchen is great for a writer or any artist. There are many unproductive days when you might hate yourself otherwise. You are eating the food, using the water, breathing the air—and NOT HELPING. But if you feed the hungry you can't deny you're doing something worth doing."
Author, filmmaker and social activist Toni Cade Bambara had a similar attitude toward community involvement, as poet Nikki Finney recounted in a 2015 article in The Writer's Chronicle. Finney and Bambara were at a bus stop in Atlanta when a bus driver recognized Bambara as "the writer lady" and asked if she would help him and his wife fill out papers they needed to complete to buy a house. Finney expected Bambara to politely decline, but she said "Sure," and told the man when to come over.
"I stepped back and said, 'That's what a writer is,' " Finney recalled. "A writer is somebody who sits at her desk and creates these worlds—beautiful, troubling, tough, real worlds. And then, when she gets up from her desk and she goes to the grocery store or the garden, somebody asks for help in a real way from her. And she says, 'yes.' That's the writer I want to be. I want both those worlds."
So many good reasons to leave home and enlarge one's life. Yet there's another side. Too much go-go-go and social interaction can be wearying, and for introspective types, stressful.
The need for solitude is a hallmark of introversion, I've learned, and I've also come to appreciate that introversion is no better or worse than extroversion. It's simply a trait that deserves to be recognized and respected.
"There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting your alone time to outweigh your social time," writes Elizabeth Enochs in 5 Signs You're Fighting Your Introverted Nature on the website Bustle. "Introverts genuinely need their alone time. Solitude is crucial for us, because while social interactions may energize our extroverted loved ones, they drain us introverts. So don't feel guilty for loving your alone time so much that you occasionally turn down invites to go out. If you're failing to give yourself the solitude you naturally require to re-charge your batteries, know that this is not only unnecessary, it's unhealthy."
As with so many things in life, the key is striking the right balance. Whether you thrive on activity and a swirling social life or cherish seclusion, learn to recognize when you've had too much or too little of what you require, and tailor your activities accordingly. Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, put it this way in a 2013 Huffington Post article: "There’s a recovery point that seems to be correlated with how much interaction you’ve done. We all have our own private cycles."
For me, that feels like the right balance. What feels right for you?
All images on this page are free-use, stock images.
1/11/2017 07:06:05 am
This shook me, made me think hard and conclude that I spend too much time alone, especially on my freelance work from home days, when I'm eight or nine hours at the desk, exercise at home, take care of animals, bed, then same thing next day, all week. My only socializing - outside of breakfast with the girls on Saturday, if that, is with my husband at home. I fear that isn't enough. Thank you for this wonderful post. I'm interested to hear from other introverts.
1/11/2017 07:19:21 am
I had that same realization, Laura, when I was working from home full-time. Many days I didn't even get out for walks; I worked out on the treadmill. Most of my friends lived at least 45 minutes away, so we didn't get together as nearly often as when we were all working/living closer. I realized I was becoming isolated and needed to push myself to get out more. It wasn't easy to do, given my tendency to be perfectly happy alone. That was one reason I ended up taking the part-time job at U-M, just to get out of the house and around people a few days a week.
1/11/2017 09:07:32 am
I'm definitely a "hole up and get the work done" person in the winter months. The cold weather in my neck of the woods makes going out unpleasant on many days, so I tend to schedule work on my books during this time. In the warmer months, I want to go out much more, and usually use that time to hit the conferences and other writer events, market, and to just get out for more walks. Nice post Nan! :O)
1/11/2017 09:16:16 am
Thanks Colleen. And same here -- there are even more distractions in warmer months, so I count on this time for concentrated writing and indoor projects.
1/11/2017 01:46:12 pm
Great thoughts to read, especially since the day is warmer today and the front door is even open, letting our Texas breeze blow through the house.
1/17/2017 08:48:38 am
It's interesting to hear that even in warm Texas, the urge to hibernate can take over!
1/11/2017 04:43:26 pm
Thanks for sharing these thoughts on introversion and balance.
1/17/2017 08:47:42 am
I agree -- having someone at home keeps at-home time from feeling lonely, and exercising with friends is an ideal get-out activity (as is roaming around to take photographs!).
1/11/2017 05:59:29 pm
Once again you have written a wonderful post. I am like you in that I can stay home for days at a time and be very content with projects. I do look forward to our yoga class and breakfast. I used to have a very active social life but since moving to Newaygo I'm very selective with my time commitments outside the home. Living in this beautiful area I enjoy keeping my life more simple and being outside as much as I can in all the seasons.
1/17/2017 08:50:08 am
I feel the same way, Sue. Only the funny thing is, my social life is more active here than it was when we lived in a more populated area. Maybe I felt the need to guard my alone time even more there!
Finding the balance in life is difficult. No matter what decade of life you are in, trying to maintain a balance is at the forefront. Family, friends, work, play....so many needs to meet. At this time in my life, I have found I am selfish and do what is right for ME. That sounds pretty mean, but I have found it's okay to put me first once in awhile. Thank you for a thoughtful post. You come up with the best topics!
1/17/2017 08:52:33 am
It's absolutely OK to do that (but as you say, not always easy). I find that if I take enough time for myself, I'm much more willing to give time and energy to others.
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Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.