December 17, 2014

Introversion Series: Technoverts?

This is the way we introverts roll.

The other night, I had an hour to kill while waiting for my boys to finish their piano-lesson session. My "to do" list growing by the day, I knew the most efficient use of my time from the outsider's perspective would have been to head to the supermarket nearby and check a few more items off my Christmas list. And I was tempted.

The last couple times I've been in said supermarket, however, it has taken me far too long to get out of there. The check-out aisles are narrow, and there never seems to be enough help, so the lines are long. You think you're done and out of there, but you end up standing in line...and waiting...and waiting...and before you know it, the hour's up.

And what's more, I'd had a really emotional day, so my tank was, well, about to tank out. That hour might well have gotten me further down on my list in the short haul, but I knew I'd pay the price later. So I did what would seem unwise from the exterior.

Instead of turning right, into the supermarket parking lot, I hung a left in search of a quiet little coffee shop where I could stop...and sit...and have a little something warm to drink...and open my Christmas cards, which I'd been saving for such a moment. I needed that pause like nothing else.

One of my quiet places...

That hour in a corner of a coffee shop saved me. I could feel myself coming back to life. One hour spent decompressing bought me several more of productivity on a jam-packed night. If I'd gone right instead of left, I never would have made it through.

So what about the technovert? Thanks for your patience. I'm almost there!

According to Susan Cain, author of the best-selling book on introversion, "Quiet" and highlighted interviewee of the Readers Digest article I've been referencing the last several weeks, introverts prefer communicating electronically rather than by phone, for the same reason I went left instead of right.

It's because, as she noted, "sending a text is far less stimulating than having a conversation with someone. It allows us to connect without having to be so 'on.'"

Introvert alert: you get it don't you? Yep, I thought so.

A corner in the coffee shop reading Christmas cards was like a text. It allowed me to deal with life at my own pace. The busy supermarket with few hiding places would have been like a phone conversation. And it would have taken from me what I did not have left to give.

In the same interview, the questioner also noted that texting and emailing allow communication on one's own time frame, which seems to fit the introverted among us. "I'm an introvert," she said "and when email was invented, it was the best day of my life."

To which Cain responded, "I felt that way, too. Introverts want to process things before they articulate them, and when you're having a (phone or in-person) conversation, you can't do that."

Bingo! I could share so many examples to illustrate this very point. But if you're an introvert, you don't really need me to. You just know.

So what about you? Do you tend to screen phone calls, and fall on texts and email as your main modes of communication? If so, it's likely you're an introvert.

Given all this, it's plain to see we introverts live in a time that suits us well. With technology at our disposal, and our preferred method of communication, we're set. As usual, we just need to make sure we balance that out with real-life interactions.

Fellow introverts, I know I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I just want to remind you that you're not alone.

Q4U: Email or phone call? 

December 10, 2014

Introversion Series: Holidays Pacing

As a sprinter who eventually found her happy place in middle distance, I was forced to learn the fine art of pacing as a runner. My inclination was to go all out in the first 100 yards (as it was when I first began), but I soon learned better. Each leg needed to have my best, not just the first.

The need for this is no less important for the introvert during the holidays. I was just sharing with my Bible study today how many community offerings woo me this time of year; everything from my kids' Advent and Christmas programs to college presentations of the Nutcracker and other annual delights.

"If we wanted to, we could be busy with holiday events every single night," a friend said, and it's true.

But is that a good idea? In a recent Reader's Digest interview, Susan Cain, author of the best-selling book on introversion, "Quiet," said that introverts shouldn't accept all the invitations they may receive during this time of year. "Give yourself a social quota; decide how many functions to attend, and offer your regrets with regard to the others."

For the ones you do accept, she said, if needed, you can plan an early exit. "You don't have to stay for the whole thing," she said. "I have a friend who always leaves after an hour and 35 minutes."

And that's okay. It really is. Because, after all, this time of year is all about what I call the "white spaces." Without them, we can easily drown. Filling up the blank slates of our lives each day with only black marks of busy will bring us introverts to the brink. It's tempting, but resist the urge to say yes to every star-light invitation that comes your way.

I've had to say no to a few things already this season, and while I do admit to feeling a tinge of guilt, in the end, it felt so right to prioritize holiday events. One way that helped narrow it down was realizing that our children right now keep us plenty busy with holiday events that bring precious warmth to my heart. So as long as I have children who are involved in these productions, I'm going to focus on their events for now. Soon enough, they'll be out of the nest, and I'll be yearning for a Christmas play or concert somewhere, but focusing on our small circle really works quite well at this phase, and makes logical sense, too.

Q4U: Are you strong enough to say "No" to some of the holiday invitations the might come your way so you can say "Yes" to the ones that matter most?

December 3, 2014

Introversion Series: 'Quiet Little Corners'

What is the deal with those introverts anyway? Why do they -- ahem, why do WE -- seem to always be running off into a quiet little corner somewhere?

It might surprise you to find out the real reason why. Because, truth be told, we're not trying to be evasive. We introverts need other people as much as anyone. But as Susan Cain (of the bestselling "Quiet" book) mentioned in a recent Reader's Digest interview, many introverts are highly creative individuals, and creativity usually involves being by oneself.

But why? I found Susan's answer intriguing. In order to access original ideas.

Think about it. How easy is it to access original ideas in the middle of a bustling party? Nearly impossible, right? I'm not saying it can't be done, and I know some people work best with lots of noise all around. But to be truly creative and go to the depths enough to reach those original thoughts, such as that which might be required to craft a story, a person needs to fall into some kind of hole; they need to insulate themselves somehow.

I've been fascinated by a book I stumbled upon recently that offers, in my humble opinion, an extraordinary glimpse of the Holocaust. Now, I know that typically, studying this unfortunate time in our history can be downright depressing. But in the case of Etty Hillesum's diaries, "An Interrupted Life," and the followup, "Letters from Westerbork," the depressive element was constantly tempered, page after page, with incredible insight.

Much of her illuminations were spiritual in nature, but some had to do with more ordinary things -- the pursuit of writing, for example. Not that writing can't be a spiritual exercise -- I find it often is. But for Etty and many of us, it also fills a mental need, as well as an almost physical need to get what's in our heads out and onto paper.

I was transfixed reading about Etty's departure from Amsterdam, where she enjoyed daily sessions at her beloved writing desk, to the concentration camp where, initially, she worked for the Jewish Council, and then later, became an "inmate." Through all of that, the quest for a quiet place to write, with some sort of writing tools at hand, became a regular pursuit -- almost as much so as finding the next meal.

At one point, Etty describes it this way (p.326):

"In the mornings when I wake up, I lie cocooned in these stories; it is a rich awakening, you know. But then I get twinges of pain; the ideas and images simply demand to be written down, but there is nowhere for me to sit in peace."

Sometimes, she said, she would "walk around for hours looking for a quiet little corner."

"Once a stray cat came in during the night," she continued. "We put a hatbox for it on the WC, and it had kittens inside. I sometimes feel like a  stray cat without a hatbox." (my emphasis)

Did that image ever hit home for me. How often have I searched for a quiet little corner to write, and with not much luck? My life is often about this very thing!

A short time later, just a few paragraphs away in fact, she writes of finding a newly discovered corner in a wing of a hospital canteen, "a place to which I shall be able to withdraw now and then for a little while."

But then, just a few sentences later: "Well dear Lord, I thought I had found a quiet little spot but it is suddenly full of kitchen staff with clattering pans of stew and hospital staff settling down around the trestle tables to eat."

How I feel for Etty. And how I would have liked to provide for her a quiet corner where she could have found respite to write even more of her beautiful words.

We all need that at certain times, but Etty needed it as much as food almost. She had a hunger to record her thoughts, even in those circumstances -- especially in them -- and in order to access her original ideas, she simply had to find a place away from the noisy, crowded barracks.

I have gone on too long about this, I'm afraid, but but Susan Cain and Etty Hillesum converged in my mind tonight, and I thought Etty's descriptions too beautiful not to include. Reading about her predicament made me appreciate not only the need for those quiet little corners, but also the fact that, despite them being elusive at times, they are necessary to us writers, and introverts in general. Without them, we cannot think, and without the chance to think and process, we can easily find life nearly unbearable.

At some point, Etty lost her quiet little corners altogether as she left with her mother, father and brother on a transport train heading to their final destination of Auschwitz, Poland. I ache to think of it, and yet perhaps I can do something, even now. So, in her honor, I commit to using the corners I have at my disposal as well and wisely as possible from here on out. Won't you consider the same?

Q4U: Where are your quiet little corners?

November 26, 2014

Introversion Series: It's Biological

Fifty bucks says the person flopped over at the desk in the middle is an introvert.

Okay, well there are other possibilities too, but given a typical work week day, I'd hedge my bets on that.

A while back I started a series on introversion. My compulsion to write on introversion stemmed, in large part, from reading Susan Cain's wildly popular book, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking."

Some of my best blog and Facebook conversions in the past year have surrounded my ruminations on the topic based on Cain's findings, and gratefully, I just received a fresh infusion of introversion, thanks to my mother. Mom knows about the introversion stuff and, loving me as she does, she sent me an article she ripped out of her Reader's Digest titled, "The Patron Saint of Introverts." (Dec. 14/Jan. 15 issue)

Funny, based on the title alone I thought it was going to be a Catholic piece, but it wasn't at all. Rather, the article was based on an interview with Cain on her Quiet Revolution, a business she co-founded following the success of her book.

Cain and I are the same age, 46, so it makes even more sense to me why her work has resonated so "loudly" (in a quiet sort of way) with me. We came into the world at the same time, so we've been living this introversion stuff for exactly the same duration. In that way, we are very much in sync.

With the holiday season upon us, we introverts face a few more challenges than usual, so I think the timing is perfect to break apart this little interview piece by piece. I hope it will bring some sense of solace to all my introverted friends out there. And to the extroverts, as before, I hope it will bring helpful insight. After all, even though we introverts are in the minority, there are enough of us out there bumping elbows with extroverts that it makes sense for us to understand one another.

Since I'm not an extrovert, I can't write about the extroversion experience, only the introversion, so let's begin with the first bit (with future Q/As to come in subsequent posts):

Q (Reader's Digest): How do you describe an introvert?

A (Susan Cain): An introvert feels drained after a party; an extrovert feels invigorated. In other  words, an introvert recharges by being on his or her own, and an extrovert is energized by being around others. 

But we already knew that, right? Wait now, let's listen to the rest of Cain's answer. This intrigued me.

It's a metaphor for what's happening biologically - an introvert's nervous system is more sensitive to stimulation.

You want to make another bet? I'll bet there are a lot of introverts who were colicky babies. I was among them. But it makes sense, doesn't it? If introverts are sensitive to stimulation, they likely had this "condition" since the beginning.

Case in point. Our oldest son is the most staunchly introverted of our kids, and he was colicky too as an infant. It's jiving so far.

If you didn't see the connection between the introvert and the upcoming holidays before, hopefully by now you're all caught up:

Holidays + introverts = potential disaster.

If you're an introvert, you're going to have to pace yourself. And it's okay. You're likely to be drained by all the gatherings upcoming. That means in order to find your balance, you're going to have to make the time to go off by yourself somewhere.

That can be a tall order, especially if you have young children or other confines that make getting away difficult. But do what you can, even if it just means shutting down earlier, or taking some nice, cozy naps.

If you do that, you have to promise me that those little spans away from the commotion will be guilt free, okay? You are who you are. You don't need to apologize to anyone for that.

Discovering my introversion has empowered me to politely arrange my life during such times in a way that I can make the best use of my energy, enjoy the people around me, and have something left for later. Yes, there might be a bit of having to plan ahead to make it work, or adjustments to make along the way, but if you respect and honor your introverted nature, life is going to be a lot more manageable -- for you and all the wonderful people in your life.

Just remember, if you feel inclined to get down on yourself about all this, it's a biological thing. The same reason you are drained at gatherings is the same thing that makes you such a creative, dynamic individual when your "battery pack" is charged up once again.

Go easy on yourself. Enjoy the gatherings while you can. And when it gets too much, go find a quiet corner, shut down, and let yourself recharge.

Q4U: When did you first realize you're an introvert (if you are one)? If you're an extrovert, how has understanding the introverts that surround you helped your life go more smoothly?

November 19, 2014

#GraceOfYes North Dakota Style

It didn't take me long to get hooked, to find something that seemed so rich I had to run over to Facebook and post it, like I do when I happen upon a truth I think will resonate with and/or encourage others:

"At the core of each of us lies the conviction that by encountering us, others ought to know at least some tiny measure of God's enduring love."

Beautifully put and so true!

These words come from the heart of my friend, Lisa Hendey, who has just launched her book, "The Grace of Yes." In writing this book, Lisa wants us to take her hand and travel with her through the yeses in her life so that we might be encouraged to say yes more often, and more exuberantly, too.

Because she so completely believes in the message, Lisa asked her friends over at, the website she founded and to which I contribute regularly, to help spread the news of "The Grace of Yes." Here's the #GraceOfYes North Dakota style:

Even before yesterday's Grace of Yes Day, which had Lisa's friends and fans posting photos of themselves all over social media to shine light on her book...


She was nudging us into the excitement by asking us to help name the goldfish on the book's cover.

"Fiat" turned out to be the winning entry! I love it. And from early indications, the book and its resident fish seem to be doing swimmingly.

The subtitle of Lisa's book, "Eight Virtues for Generous Living," indicates the direction Lisa wants to take us; guiding us through how she came to say "yes" to the graces of belief, generativity, creativity, integrity, humility, vulnerability, saying no, and rebirth.

It's a perfect time of year to ponder the "yeses" in our life. As we approach Advent, we are getting ready to recall God's "yes" to us when he sent his only son into the world to teach us how to live and love, and even die. We will be pondering in our hearts, as Mary did, the yes that came from her heart, allowing the miracle to be.

Blogger Elizabeth Scalia wrote an article on Patheos, "In the Land of No, 'Yes' is a most dangerous word."

In it, Elizabeth says: "Everything grows in 'Yes.'" Aint it true? Yes is a living, growing, expanding word, whereas No seems restrictive, dying, anti-climactic.

Sometimes, we have to say No, but I want to live a life like Lisa proposes; a life full of a propensity toward Yes, especially when it brings with it the potential to expand goodness and love.

All of this talk of "yes" has made me think on some of my own yeses. The most obvious seems my yes to our kids...#1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Our #3 is a perpetual guiding light to us, though no longer here. As for the rest? Sometimes, the daily yeses to them come with a forced smile. Other times, with an easy grin. But just today, I was thinking of our kids and how much less my life would have been if even one had been a "No."

Help me be a "Yes" girl, Lord. It's always the better way.

I'm thinking, too, about the movie my husband and I saw on our date night this weekend, "Fury," the powerful World War II film starring Brad Pitt. In it, one of the characters, played by Shia LaBeouf, is trying to psyche himself up for doing what needs doing -- facing the enemy head on. He pulls out a verse from Scripture, Isaiah 6:8: "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send?'...And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'"

Now there's a Yes that inspires -- sacrificing it all for the Lord, even though you know it means heading out to the front lines.

How far are you willing to go with your yes? Part way or all the way?

By the way, since Lisa sent me a gift, a signed copy of her book...


I have an extra that I'm going to give to the first person to comment today!

Q4U: What does your "Yes" entail? 

November 5, 2014

Election Hangover of Hope

By the time this posts, it will all be over. The votes will have been tallied, and winners and losers decided. The victory parties will be in full motion while the defeated will, post-concession, rightly retreat and rest until the next round.

All will be oldish news already by the time you read these words, and yet the pride I am feeling just fresh from the voting booth and over this election will remain well after the last political sign is pulled from the front lawn.

Maybe it's because I'm old enough to truly and fully appreciate the chance to vote. My 46 years of life mean that I've been able to take part in this process for 28 years now. That's a whole lot of little oval circles waiting to be filled in, and a whole lot of "chads" that have claimed their place in my history, for better or worse.

This one, I know, will stand out. What I've witnessed here in North Dakota has been incredible; so much so that if the measures I support and the candidates I tout are among the casualties, I still will have the satisfaction of knowing I was part of something amazing. Truly, I stand in awe -- over the process but most of all the people who took part.

People like Katie, who mightily promoted a measure that meant the world to her due to personal experiences, then took a verbal beating for it by some of her blog readers. She stood proud anyway, despite the lashings. That takes courage.

Or like Sarah, a friend  in her 20s who, having recently re-embraced the Catholic faith of her rearing, decided she wasn't going to be just a pray-er but needed to jump into the thick of things as a do-er. Sarah bravely volunteered to help create a video to support a measure to uphold life, knowing she could well lose a big chunk of her old friends over it. She walked into the spotlight boldly and did not relent, even when the rotten tomatoes started coming. Sadly, she did lose some friends, but happily, gained many more.

Or like Betty, a friend who, though now a United States citizen, is originally from Ethiopia. She inspires me every election since she's become an official member of our land, but reminded me this election just how spectacular voting is when, on her Facebook page, she admitted she gets as giddy as a kid in a candy store every election.

To exemplify her excitement, she shared this quote from a famous children's author:

These are just a few of the people that made me feel proud to be part of this process; a process that gives us all a voice and vote, should we take up the task -- and we should.

On Monday, I was invited to be a guest on a local radio program to talk about assisted suicide. The host, in talking of the now well-known Brittany Maynard death by lethal drugs, said that when it comes down to it, it really was Brittany's choice.

But I have a slightly different thought about it, and culpability. I told her that every action we take has an effect on others. When we make a choice, it reverberates outward beyond ourselves, and the people touched by it touch others, and those others touch others, etc., until this ripple effect reaches far and wide. "We never act in isolation," I said.

And it's true here, too. Even though we might go into a little cubicle to cast our ballots, our vote ripples outward and has an effect.

Here's something more. Even if no one else ever sees your vote, God sees it. Even if no one else ever sees what's in your heart, God does. All those hidden things you do everyday -- gestures of kindness so small they might well belong in "Who-ville" (speaking of Dr. Seuss), they count, big.

Your little stroke of the pen counts. Your small act of mercy counts. And your decision to sacrifice for another in that teeny tiny way? It counts, too.

Those of you who gave it your all in a way that might seem masked right now in the aftermath of an election, know that whatever it was that you did, that you believed in, if it was good and true, God saw it, and even if you can't see the effect now, you will someday. You truly will.

A Bible passage in my Magnificat devotional on Voting Day reads thus: "Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. (Rom 12:11)

That's all God asks of us -- to take up our pens and fill in the little ovals; to do what we know is right. He'll take care of all the rest of it.

To those of you who gave it your all, no matter the outcome, I am so very proud of you! Thank you, and may God bless America! (Yes, even those who voted differently than I.)

Q4U: What election do you most remember, and why?

October 29, 2014

Books, Planes and Father Leo

You can tell a lot about a person by what they read, no? And you can tell a lot about a person by what they wear.

Before I get to my main point, though, let me share a little background. This week, we've had a special guest at our parish. Fr. Leo Patalinghug has been giving a parish mission or retreat, you might say. Some might know Fr. Leo from his weekly cooking show on the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), or the books he's authored, or his regular radio program. He's also a black belt in karate, and as I learned last night, a beautiful singer.

Fr. Leo and Me Oct. 2013 when he was in Fargo for another event

Beyond all that, though, Fr. Leo is a great story teller, and on Monday night, he shared a story about a nine-hour plane ride, whereby he ended up sitting down with a gal who was reading Dan Brown's novel, "The Da Vinci Code."

When you sit down with someone you don't know on a plane, you can't help but be curious about what they're reading, right? I've had more than one conversation when traveling by air surrounding the subject or title of the book either my seat buddy or I had in hand. Reading material is revealing, and can be good fodder for a conversation.

Fr. Leo noticed right away that the stranger he'd be traveling next to for nine hours was reading a book that deeply criticizes the Catholic faith and is, incidentally, fiction, in case anyone was wondering.

As much as he wanted to take a nap, he realized early on that clearly that was not going to happen; not when the woman caught sight of Fr. Leo's garb. He was, after all, wearing his Roman collar, which meant...there was no getting out of it. The nap was nixed.

"Are you a priest?" the woman asked, closing her book.

"Why yes, I am," Fr. Leo responded.

And so it began, and continued, for nine hours. At first, he said, the woman was furious and full of anger. As he listened, he could feel his blood pressure rising. But then something happened. He felt a sense of the Holy Spirit, with a little nudge from Our Blessed Mother, Mary. He was, at that moment, put in his place, and he realized that an articulate defense of the faith was not what this woman needed. More than anything, she just needed someone to listen.

And so he did. He listened, and listened some more, and more beyond that. I'm sure at some point, he answered some of her questions, and offered consolation. Fr. Leo didn't share the details of what that conversation beheld, but he did tell us that the nine-hour journey ended with the woman insisting on giving him a big old hug.

Is that not beautiful? I mean, really. Think of the tension that began the plane ride, and how each of them was looking at the other as the enemy, and how God used that opportunity -- a priest seeing a book, a woman seeing his priestly collar -- to encourage a discussion; a discussion that turned fruitful and full of love.

God can use anything to reach His people. Even a book on a plane. You never know when the opportunities will come. They can come anytime, including just when you're just about to nod off into dreamland and take that long-awaited luxury nap.

God bless Fr. Leo, and God bless the woman whose heart was listened to, then softened. That we all would see such opportunity as it presents itself.

Q4U: Do you have a book-on-plane story? What fruitful conversations have you had on an airplane, if any?