About five years ago while relaxing at my family’s cabin in the woods—once my favourite place on the planet with its isolation and quiet so permeating you actually feel deaf a lot of the time—a friend who was accompanying me for a ‘writing retreat’ asked me, “How long could you spend up here completely on your own without any contact from the outside world?” It didn’t take me long to answer. That was like asking me when my birthday was. “About 6 months,” I responded.
She was flabberghasted. “With NO phone calls or visits from anyone at all?” She needed clarification because, while she swung onto the introversion scale, she couldn’t quite believe my complete lack for need of human contact.
“No,” I said, thinking about what that would mean. Six entire months without a phone call. Six months without a visit from anyone at all. Our cabin (at that time) was my idea of bliss: they hadn’t brought a cell tower anywhere near it so texting (or phone calls) were out of the question and the internet was a spotty, hit-and-miss experience which I didn’t care about in the least. My parents hooked it up one summer when they were living at the cabin but it wasn’t something I spent time on because the cabin wasn’t about being connected—for me it was always about disconnecting. My favourite thing in the world is to completely disconnect from everything and everyone and simply take in the quiet in all its magnificent magical marvellousness.
I’d watch the birds flitting between branches, swooping low over the lake, pulling worms from the ground, flapping their wings on the water, hovering around like giant bumblebees searching all the red on the deck for nectar. I’d watch the chipmunks scurrying along the shore in their acrobatic naturalness and even watched them come up on to the deck from the ground below it (which was no small feat for humans let alone chipmunks) and stuff their cheeks with the cotton filling of the armchair until they looked like their cheeks would burst open in a volcano of white lava but chipmunks are clever and know just when they’ve stuffed their cheeks enough. Off they’d scurry to unload their cache into wherever they were making their nest. I’d listen to the squirrels chirping away in the trees and watch them commute along their tree branch highways collecting nuts and maybe even just exercising. Back and forth they’d go like blue collar workers from one job to another. I’d watch the people from other cabins canoe, kayak, rowboat, peddle boat, raft their way from one point to another and back again on the water—at a safe enough distance from me in my solitude to warrant only an occasional wave rather than the banal and uninspiring small talk so many people feel is necessary. Sometimes I’d see deer in the yard eating breakfast and quietly tiptoeing through the green before running off up the driveway when something would inadvertently startle them.
Being at the cabin allowed my writer the freedom it needed. It allowed my introverted self to decompress from the hustle-bustle of city living. It allowed my brain to relax enough to sleep—often 10 hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep every night. It allowed me a kind of liberty I didn’t have otherwise. Demands and expectations from other people: friends, family, co-workers, the world in general all melted away when I was at the cabin. It wasn’t that I didn’t love or even enjoy my friends, family, co-workers; it was that it was more than I could cope with day-in and day-out for months on end. When my friend asked me the ‘how long’ question, six months sounded like the perfect amount of heaven.
At home, I often don’t go out for at least a week at a time. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy the changing colours of the leaves on the trees or the rustle of leaves under my feet (the rustle happens less often than I’d like it to because I live in such a damp climate) but I’m perfectly content in my home. I don’t even bother to open the blinds most days because I like the cosiness of my home and if the blinds are open somehow the cosiness bleeds out. I do like the blinds open when the sun is shining brightly as it floods my cosy den with added warmth and makes building or disassembling my LEGO projects much simpler on my eyes but some days when the sun is banging on the windows begging me to let it come inside with me, I ignore the request. A niggling voice somewhere deep inside me says I should open the blinds. I should go out for a walk in the glorious sunshine…but I rarely do. At the end of the day, if I stay inside, if I putter around doing what feels right for me then I am more content than a narcissist staring longingly at their own reflection in a mirror.
Extroverts (or not-quite-so-introverted-introverts) ask me what on earth I do all day; how do I keep busy; why I’m not out for a walk or off meeting someone for coffee or lunch. This question often surprises me because I’m so busy all day every day—I have more to do than I can even keep on top of—and I wonder what on earth all these people who question me spend their days doing. I have hobbies and interests that take up a lot of my time and I love to read and I love to write and sometimes, despite knowing how much time I’m wasting, I even get stuck playing computer card games after I’ve forced myself to check email when I realise a week or two have gone by since I last looked. I have a Facebook profile but rarely log in to it—I have two friends that I ‘poke’ on Facebook and the last time I went on there to ‘poke’ them it told me I hadn’t done so in two months. I can’t even remember when that was but it was at least two months ago. The internet bores me. I have a couple of pages that I visit frequently as they are informative for one of my hobbies but I know that if I open one page to take a look it often leads to another page and then another page and while I find it all interesting, I don’t want to be stuck there staring at a screen all day. I don’t find it energising. I find it saps my spirit and leaves me a lot less productive physically and mentally—and probably even emotionally.
I love spending time alone and I am sad to know that I don’t have a lot of people in my life who are ‘like me’ so that I don’t have to explain or justify or spell it out. I love spending time with the people I care about in my life. I love being completely alone as well—maybe even more. I need the down time—I need bags and bags of down time. The people in my life either haven’t tapped in to their own introverted tendencies or I am surrounded by extroverts who can’t wrap their heads around the fact that dancing on table tops shouting at the top of my lungs when a good song is playing isn’t something that revs me up nor floats my boat. Give me a room filled with books and an extremely comfortable chair and I can stay there very happily until a decade meanders past me. I’m simply at my best when I’m not trying to meet the expectations of anyone other than myself. It amazes me to think that not everyone would want that for themselves—the complete freedom to be exactly who they are, all the time. To me, that’s heaven on earth.