Traveling home from California last week, I picked up a book at the airport newsstand—Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The title was intriguing for two reasons. First, I had just been the outreach person for my employer at a busy stakeholder conference and found myself feeling withdrawn, day dreaming about sitting alone somewhere without all these people. Secondly, according to my freshly printed Myers-Briggs results, on the spectrum of extrovert and introvert, I clearly lean towards “introvert.”
With years of schooling in Business and Leadership, the need to be an extrovert has been thrust upon me. Cain talks extensively about Harvard Business School practices and the fact that there are no obvious introverts there. I can relate. In the realm of business, you don’t want to be the one sitting on your hands. You want to be the team member to have the answer, quickly (even if its not the best answer). Taking time, pulling away from the group to gather one’s thoughts and put together a thorough and detailed plan is the way an introvert would function. Team cultures and cultures of personality dominate workplaces and universities and the slow thoughtful scenario does not fly.
It doesn’t take long to understand the contrast between extroverts and introverts in social situations either. The extrovert looks forward to a party or social event and the introvert may not. The extrovert wants to stay all night and talk. The introvert will enjoy it for a while and then feel the need to go home and have quiet time. Luckily, I am married to an thoughtful introvert, and we have two children who also lean towards those same tendencies so we all get along fine with our social needs. This is not to say we can’t be social. We just like social interaction in smaller quantities and value (crave) the solitary times.
Relating my drinking habits to this book, it became evident to me pretty quickly that drinking helps me to be more gregarious and relaxed in social situations. Give me a Ketel One martini or two and I’ll chat all night. Wine at dinner suppresses the need to retreat and helps me to engage with others without feeling self-conscious. Since the vow of abstinence, small dinner parties can feel uncomfortable and a self-critical voice will at times surface. The lack of ease is something that I am learning to manage. Giving myself permission to be silent is a start. Reading Susan Cain’s book is helpful in understanding that the issue is not that introverts lack social skills (something that I have feared). The core of the introvert is quiet and learning to value that is a new step in this experiment.
I arrived in the heart of Napa Valley feeling fully committed to the pledge that I have made to my dry year. My destination, Yountville, is an absolute paradise. Really, it is perfection. The streets are full beautiful and seemingly happy people. (Literally every person I talked to was pleasant.) The natural beauty rivals anything I have seen: mountains, gardens and flowering trees everywhere. The homes are meticulously well kept and I had no sense of any sprawl or McMansion within the city limits. Oh yes, and then there is the ultimate dining experience that one can achieve at Bouchon, Ad hoc or The French Laundry.
Upon arrival, I parked the car and headed straight down Washington Street to find the French Laundry. Walking past shops and restaurants, there was at least one wine-tasting room on every block. By the time I reached the gardens at the French Laundry, I felt myself starting to vacillate. Refocusing my energies on the beauty of perfectly groomed rows of leeks and baby arugula amid the back drop of mountainous vineyards enabled me to get grounded and temporarily drop the inner struggle.
After a long visit with the chickens and a satisfying meditative rest on a garden bench, I set out to visit more of the town. I felt as if I had been set down in the middle of some strange and wonderful land. Being completely on my own (traveling solo) and feeling so far removed from any familiar surroundings, what came next surprised me. I began to indulge myself in considerations of drinking wine with dinner. I supposed, “I could have a drink here, in the middle of nowhere and no one would know except me—and God.”(And believe me God is definitely hanging out in Yountville.)
I must have pondered this indiscretion for a couple of minutes—long enough for me to develop a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. That is when I brokered a deal with myself making a promise to return after December 1st with Philip to indulge in the full wine and food experience. I began to feel right with myself again.
The passing notion of breaking the declaration of a year of sobriety and the subsequent vow to stick with the plan brought up an interesting question. If no one would know then what is it that really stopped me? Why did my gut feel so sick at the thought of this transgression? The answer is simple and yet at the moment it felt somewhat profound. It boils down to being truthful with the people who believe in me and truthful with myself. Looking back at this year, I would know that I failed in my mission and for the first time; I would have lied to my husband.
Lately, I have been obsessed—totally obsessed with Chef Thomas Keller. It is not just the man alone that sparks this passion in me. It is the whole world that he has created and what he stands for: the culinary garden, the finest proprietors, sustainability, precision and doing something that you love really, really well. I have devoured every e-magazine that he has published to date and even made a road trip last week to New York City to experience first-hand one of his restaurants, The Bouchon Bakery and Café at the Time Warner Center. While there, I took this picture (above). It is the door for one of Keller’s finest restaurants–and one of THE finest restaurants on the planet—Per Se. I have been planning my 50th birthday celebration at Per Se for a couple of years now, and I still have two years left to wait. Next week, I will be attending a conference about 70 miles from another Thomas Keller establishment, Bouchon in Yountville, California. I have made a reservation at the restaurant with the hopes of getting a feel for the whole environment. I plan to visit the French Laundry culinary garden and the Bouchon Bakery (west), too.
As posted multiple times over the last few months, I have been trying to find my next career adventure. What has been revealed to me through the writing of Thomas Keller is a passion that has been hiding behind thoughts of what I think I want. Gardening, farms, healthy food, the best ingredients for cooking and using creativity to produce something with one’s hands are the things that feed my interests. When I am not working in an office, this is what fuels me. Actually, I could take that thought one step further and state that these are the things that make up for working in an office all week—a balm to my psyche. The realization and awakening of this passion feels somewhat miraculous. I am not a person that came out of the womb knowing my purpose. Mapping out a career has been a journey and a struggle. Now, acknowledging these interests helps me to see what was in front of me all along.
Yesterday was the three month mark in this experiment. As I was driving to work, tired and frustrated from a bad night’s sleep, I heard the following poem read by Garrison Keller on the Writer’s Almanac. It melted the tension and the need to have answers and I continued through the day on a much happier note.
Report from the West
by Tom Hennen
Snow is falling west of here. The mountains have more than a
foot of it. I see the early morning sky dark as night. I won’t lis-
ten to the weather report. I’ll let the question of snow hang.
Answers only dull the senses. Even answers that are right often
make what they explain uninteresting. In nature the answers
are always changing. Rain to snow, for instance. Nature can
let the mysterious things alone—wet leaves plastered to tree
trunks, the intricate design of fish guts. The way we don’t fall
off the earth at night when we look up at the North Star. The
way we know this may not always be so. The way our dizziness
makes us grab the long grass, hanging by our fingertips on the
edge of infinity.
“Report from the West” by Tom Hennen, from Darkness Sticks to Everything.
© Copper Canyon Press, 2013.
Stopped by Mrs. London’s bakery today for coffee and I could not resist one of my favorite treats—hot crossed buns. Not being a regular churchgoer, I was reminded by these delicious little pastries that it is Lent. The idea of giving up something you desire for a bigger reason is a concept with which I have become familiar. I can’t pretend to have a higher calling like my friends who are practicing the rituals of Lent, but I can at least empathize with their sacrifice, willpower and watching of desire as it comes and goes.
This is also a time of year for waiting in anticipation of an answer, redemption and looking deeply into one’s self. It is the time of re-birth and my actual birth. I was born on Easter Sunday, 1965. Every year, I am drawn to thoughts of what will pop up from beneath the ground and what is waiting to be born—sheep at Shelburne Farms? Cows over at King’s Dairy? Snowdrops in my neighbor’s yard? It is a source of great happiness to witness all of these things.
This year, I am not sleeping much as I watch and wait to see what will emerge from my own inner dialogue and the external opportunities—the forces at work in my existence. I am a bundle of confusion and feel constantly stirred up while trying to make a career decision. I am struggling with choices and looking for the right answer. My job counselor said to me, “When you stop drinking you really have to deal with life on life’s terms.” I understand this completely right now, as I lie awake soberly waiting for a resolution to become clear to me.
I know that this is not a matter of actual life and death (for me). I know that I will come to a decision about the next phase of my career. It is just a time of challenge and unrest before the seedling of truth pushes its way to the surface and show it’s delicate green leaf. For now, I look for ways to quiet my mind and wait. As sure as Easter is coming, so is an answer. When it does, I will rejoice and be glad.