Sunday, July 01, 2007

Rise and shine

Sunrise, Sunday morning, probably the most sun we'll have all day. Yes, I know I probably shouldn't have been looking straight at it.

I stand on the emergent terrace and take photo after photo, go indoors and do three yoga salutes to it, make a cup of fruit tea, and settle down at the computer. I am alone, save for the dog, and blissfully happy.

The divergence between larks and owls, the keepers of early and late hours, is similar to that between introverts and extroverts, with each side assuming a moral and/or social superiority over the other. I am an introvert lark. Of course there are many shades of personality in between, and I also believe that, while these things hold as general and persistent tendencies, they can vary at different times of one's life, and are more or less valued and encouraged in different cultures.

Extroverts are people-people, party-animals,whom I feel are rather favoured in the world of today. They see introverts as selfish, moody saddos, stay-at-homes and party poopers, who, moreover, shirk their social responsibility by not being willing to be cheerfully available to others at all times.

Introverts, among whom I would count myself, see extroverts as noisy, overbearing, attention-seeking show-offs who take up too much space and feed off other people, and who are pitifully incapable of being self-sufficient. What's more they have more friends than we do, so they are the objects not only of dislike but envy. This does give the extroverts a distinct edge, as they never envy the introverts. It wouldn't occur to them to do so because they don't stop and think or allow any healthy self-questioning into their lives or minds. Now however, I am turning into a bitter, bigotted, morose old misanthrope, which is a perennial danger of being an introvert.

Owls, like extroverts, have more fun, or so they would have us believe. They are awake and in best form at the playful, exciting, after-work, intoxicated times of night which better qualifies them to be party animals too, then lounge in bed all morning like perpetual carefree teenagers whenever they can, or indulge in enjoyable and, as they see it, justifiable grumpiness with anyone who wants anything from them before lunchtime.

There are,indeed, introvert owls. My brother, I think, was, and presumably still is, one. He seemed most comfortable doing his own thing alone, but would mooch about wakefully all night long to do it, then sleep away all of Sunday. An extrovert lark must be a fairly unbearable creature; not only are they up and about bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at an early hour but must needs be bouncing all over other people while they're at it.

But larks have, historically, enjoyed a kind of smug moral superiority; they will catch the worm, grow healthy, wealthy and wise, the hours of sleep they have before midnight are beauty sleep, worth two hours at least of the owl's lie-in. Keeping early hours has traditionally been seen as virtuous, and as such will bring its own reward. I make the most of this officially sanctioned self-congratulation, crowing like my neighbour's cockerel over my slug-a-bed friends who given the choice, would really achieve nothing and get nowhere before afternoon.

As I say, in the world as I see it, extrovert owls, sociable party people, late night carousers, seem to have the advantage. Yet in the world in which I grew up, it wasn't so. In our recent family reminiscences about my father, there has been some amusement about how he would very kindly bring a welcome cup of tea in the morning, then rather offset the kindness by briskly throwing open the curtains so the light was violently thrown into our sleep-fuddled faces. This even in the holidays when there was no immediate need to be up and at it. He was a virtuous morning person! ( My brother's stubborn and exceptional individuality gained him exemption from the rise and shine requirement, at least on Sundays.)

Extroversion was not over-valued either. My mother was an intelligent, sensitive person, with gifts for language and human understanding and a remarkable memory for anything from poetry to the medical and pharmaceutical knowledge from her nurse's training. Sadly her insight into people was not always coupled with tolerance and forgiveness, and her memory also had quite a large capacity for retaining perceived slights and hurts. Much of the hurt, from uneasy relations within her own and unkind treatment from some of my father's family, from fear and uncertainty in the Depression and the War, from opportunity blighted by hardship and simply being female, was real. She was naturally, I would say, quite introvert, loved solitary, quiet pursuits and places, reading, walking, peace and quiet generally, despite having six children. A lot of human contact perhaps grated on her, and she was probably really quite shy, though very socially competent when necessary. In her nursing days too, I think, she had made a few quite deep and worthwhile friendships , forged in shared difficulty, hardship, nitty-gritty, life-and-death, in-it-together times, but which were later dispersed by circumstance. The frothy, lightweight nature of much social intercourse as she saw it later, was unsatisfactory. She peopled her world with her children, and passed on a subliminal message, to me at least, that Out There was rather to be held in little value, mistrusted. This kind of sour grapes misanthropy, that because contact with the outside world is difficult, fraught, sometimes hurtful or disappointing, it is therefore not worth having, is a real danger for some kinds of people, I know. I think my father would have gained more from company, friends, chit-chat, some validation from the wider world, but he was shy and awkward too ( which is not the same as natural introversion; with practice I have learned to be much more socially adept, but am still an introvert at heart), and handicapped by circumstance and upbringing, he deferred to my mother's preferences.

I don't know to what extent these thing are born or made. I wondered if the tendency toward owlishness or larkery might be connected with the hour of one's birth, but very limited and anecdotal research on my part has not borne this out! Of the six of us siblings, we go from the very bouncy upfront extroversion that can't get enough of other people to the downright retiring. I think most of us are fairly adequately well-adjusted, and if not, it's almost certainly the fault of the World Out There!

After an hour or so of solitude, I'll make tea and take it up to Tom, who is larkish but not as much as I am, and probably quite a bit more introvert still. I don't need to throw open the curtains; we have become accustomed to sleeping with curtains or blinds open or absent, and the light joins us in a friendly, gentle way, not as a rude shock. Later, he'll come down for his session of computer-accompanied solitude and meditation, and I, with dog snoring at my feet, will slip into a delectable warm and shallow pool of sleep, a doze which seems patterned with reflected light, sand ripples, and benign, fleeting creatures and personages, but from which the sounds of the ouside world are never quite excluded, and from which I can awake almost immediately alert and ready for breakfast.


Anonymous said...

For an introvert, you are very "talkative" in your writing, as if sitting with a friend and chatting about personal quirks. I'm an introvert and more of a lark too but one of few words usually. Interesting...

Anonymous said...

Ah, Lucy...i can identify with many of the passionate opinions and feelings you have expressed here.

I'm afraid it brings to mind an overused "quote" from Snoopy (Charles Schultz) that i have found myself muttering as i have attempted to use humor to fend of cynicism that can too often grow like kudzu when dreams are long deferred or dashed altogether as a result of the required business we artists must attend to: "I love mankind; it's people I can't stand"

Avus said...

Yup! That's me - introvert. The quote on my blog banner head just about sums it up.

Fire Bird said...

Neither fully-fledged owl nor lark, I fly in the face of your theory! Not great at staying up late, not too pleased to have to get up seriously early. I just like sleep...
The thing about introversion/ extraversion is that it implies a need for balance - to find the other position somewhere in oneself in however small a way. Again I feel I'm not a pure type - introvert with extravert leanings on a good day...

Lucy said...

I hoped no one would take me too seriously; Tom's already told me I'd got it totally over-simple and largely wrong, as I knew he would.
I was partly trying to send up the kind of assumptions and inferences I'm all too guilty of making.

ML - I never said I wasn't verbose! If I could produce visual images like yours I certainly wouldn't need to be blathering on either. I suppose if you are fairly language oriented and spend a lot of time in your own head the chances are you will run off at the mouth and or keyboard given the chance (that's my excuse anyway...) In 'real' company I am often quite talkative these days, though quite guarded about personal matters. I think I've known quite a few quiet extroverts, in fact. Relaxed and basking in the company of others as they are, they don't need to be insecurely blabbing away and fussing, they just enjoy being there!
Dear Zephyr - thank you, it's a classic isn't it? But the lovely, generous, outreaching things you create and share are not the work of someone who really hates her fellow humans!
Avus - you too, you love life! But there's more of us about than might be supposed, and it's nought to be ashamed of.
TG - not only putting me straight on the theory but on the spelling too! (Tho' in fact I checked and the 'o' spelling is OK too). I did say there were lots of people in between. I like sleep too, but it does seem to make a difference when I have it. I know of course that it's all much more complex than this, and really I think the whole extra/intro thing is of limited usefulness, as there are so many variables and other factors which have a bearing on it; for a start, our feelings about other people depend very much on the people! Other models like Myers-Briggs endeavour to extend, qualify and fine tune it, but it seems to me that all are in some danger of becoming unwieldy and complicated while still remaining reductionist, in seeking to contain the uncontainable and ever fluctuating variety of human experience.
However, one thing I do seriously believe is that a far greater value is placed on extroversion than introversion; the adjectives are used clearly positively and perjoratively respectively, in lay speech anyway. If introverts are less well adjusted and do fall into bitterness and insecurity, it is because they and their needs are more rubbished by an increasingly more aggressive, in-your-face, superficial society, and more of them fall into the trap of trying to be something they aren't comfortable with. Of course everyone, however introvert, needs contact with others, support, affirmation, warmth, love, and also, however extravert, most people do need time to themselves, but not everyone is able to claim it or even recognise their need of it.

Anyway, I'll stop teaching my grandmother to suck eggs and stating the bleeding obvious now, thanks all for coming!

Incidentally, I'm quite interested to speculate where these virtual relationships, which have become very dear to me, fall in all this...!

andy said...

Light-hearted perhaps, but thought provoking nonetheless. For myself, I definately count as an introverted lark.

One thing I've noticed: I'm sure that most people who "get on" in the world, at least in the world of conventional business, are largely extroverts, and the reason for their success is in no small part simply that they get noticed more. (Btw, that wasn't a gripe at my own "not getting on"; that's more been a matter or personal choice.)

As to these online relationships, well, this medium is a great leveller; timid and boisterous have precisely the same access to the comments box.

Mmmmm... that reminds me of something; a bit of my own quirky introverted behaviour which rather gives the lie to that last statement. Believe it or not, I've noticed that I'm actually much more comfortable leaving a comment where few have been before, and will shy away from comment threads a dozen posts long. Nowt so queer as folk... (in the traditional Yorkshire sense!!)

Lucy said...

I find that too!
If they've got loads of comments already I quite often think 'oh well they don't need mine then'!

stitchwort said...

Lots of interesting stuff in this posting, and the comments. Is blogging mainly the pastime of the solitary introvert?

Meal-times play a part in energy levels through the day, so owls may simply be those who eat later. Hard to beat being up and about really early, though.

meggie said...

Enjoyed this post, with the ideas about introverts, & extroverts. I think of myself as an introvert, yet I do enjoy company too. Needs to be at my choosing though,so I guess that says something.
And the thought that my posts are so long, because I live a lot inside my head alone... that too could be true.

Lucy said...

Thanks girls! The owl/ lark thing might then just be about metabolic habit, which settles into anestablished pattern... but that in itself might be pre-set
In the end I think the intro/extro thing is to do with what tires you; if your idea of a nice break is peace, quiet and solitude, or warm lively conviviality. But again, that'll depend on what you've been doing up until then; I'm happy, and fortunate, to live in quiet, open rural place, but now and then I need to go and see a town!

christy lee-engel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
christy lee-engel said...

Hi dear Lucy, (I deleted what I wrote and am starting over because when I read it I noticed I didn't quite make sense! Maybe I should be doing this in the morning instead of late at night! ;-))

I agree that it has something to do with what tends to give one more energy and what tends to drain it away -- I find that I swing way towards one end and then have to balance out by swinging way back the other way -- I'll be energized from being around people in small and large groups every day, people people people, and then all of a sudden it's "oh no! too many people people people!" at which point I stop answering the phone, and avoid talking with my coworkers for a while, and stay up late after everyone's asleep.

In fact, I like how quiet it is late at night *and* early in the morning -- though to really enjoy both those times, it's best if I can have an afternoon nap!

Thanks so much for your kind comments recently -- I have fallen again into a recurrent habit of keeping up with favorite blogs like yours by RSS reader, which is not really visiting, and which means I tend not to leave comments...I wonder where on the intro/extro spectrum a habit like that falls? ;-)

Jan said...

Lucy, there is so much food for thought in this piece.
My family, including m'self, appear to be little bits of everything.
I can quite easily "keep to m'self" for a week at a time...but then, suddenly, comes a need to contact, communicate, chatter....almost like a need for a particularly good dinner!

Anonymous said...

i think you're right, Lucy...i don't dislike all people...but i am afraid i too often find myself choosing to "hide" for several days at a time.

as others have said, i'm most often Larky and introverted with occasional moments of enjoyable extroversion peppered throughout a season. But i do rely mostly on others for these moments...for instance, a dear friend has gathered a very nice gaggle of friends and i do enjoy going to his garden parties and Orphan's Thanksgiving day dinners...and, much to my amazement, i enjoy hosting with my sister a monthly dominoes game night with 2-3 other friends...which gives me an opportunity to prepare some of the fun snacky foods i never seem to make just for myself (hmmm, i feel a bite to eat post blossoming!).

But i could never call myself an owl...while i love glowing candles in the garden for a short time following sundown, i'm asleep very early and awake very early.

Granny J said...

Can't one be a night person and still somewhat introverted??? While I love the early morning, especially during our hot times, it is so very difficult to stop reading (or whatever) just to turn in! So I'm just a quiet night owl, I guess!

Unknown said...

I seem to remember Jung, who coined the terms, saying that introverts tried to balance their introversion by assuming extrovert characteristics, and vice versa. That strikes me as being true, but it makes it more difficult to identify the types.

Lucy said...

Yes yes yes!
GJ - I think there are probably lots of self sufficient night owls like you and my brother.
Plutarch - indeed, and as Tall Girl said, this balancing is helathy and necessary. But why does it seem to be part of our condition to struggle against our 'natures'? I'm beginning to think it is just important that we do...

herhimnbryn said...

'Solitude is grand, so long as you can talk to someone about it afterwards!'
Lark in the Summer ( 5am when it's cool). Owl in the Winter ( when I don't know what 5am is and at night the log fire and a good book keep me from my bed)

apprentice said...

I'm neither lark nor owl these days. I sleep poorly, but I'm no bundle of energy in the wee small hours and often catch my best sleep at dawn, as if surviving night confers permission to finally go to sleep.

I think wakefulness and personality changes due to lots of factors, like mood, health, wealth, security, love, age. I used to have deep untroubled sleep, but I actually quite like what my current estrogen-deprived, fractured sleep pattern as it gives me the World Service, cups of tea at first light,and a pile of books by the bed.

Lucy said...

Yes, and of course climate too, as H. confirms; mad dogs and Englishmen, the latter refusing to adapt themselves sensibly to the conditions... H, your patterns sound very pleasant1
A - I haven't always enjoyed early mornings, and used to try to do late nights, but I was never much good at them; and I've become much better at human relationships as my sense of security in love and friendship grows with maturity, which feeds positively back into itself and means that contact is more enjoyable still and less difficult. As ever, I'm impressed and humbled by the strong, creative way you approach things; without denying the difficulties, and perhaps fearfulness that your sleeplessness might bring, you make a picture, the world service and bedside books, that sounds good and inviting!

annie said...

Good thoughts, as much in comment as in post.

When you mentioned being an introvert, I mused at how the internet can be a tool of communication and release in the times of solitude. We are not overly expose or pressured upon by people, but are free to express our thoughts (and introverts do tend to have wordy thoughts) in a not-vacuum, where there are others to commiserate and shed new light.

Interesting to me that you chose owls, who normally hunt and spend time alone, to be the extroverts. Being one myself (and an introvert) I can't say the social aspects of being a winged lark.

On the other hand, I do share the unusual experience of being both lark and owl these days. Owl to the world at large, and lark in my household (in the hours just before noon). Quite a nice arrangement.

Pam said...

As everyone has said, a very thought-provoking piece. I'm definitely more of an introvert by nature, though like being sociable with friends, of course. But as Lucy said, one learns not to be shy - or at least not to appear so - with age.

leslee said...

This reminded me of an article from The Atlantic magazine a few years ago (also see the link to the more recent interview), in which the author attempts to explain to extroverts what introverts are, since as you say they don't "get" us. Also in a spirit of fun:

They say that people tend to move toward the middle between introvert and extrovert as they get older. I like to describe myself as ambiverted, but I think I'm basically an introvert who likes and needs a certain amount of social interaction. I can feel energized by people - to a point. Then I'm overloaded and tired. And it depends a great deal on the people involved. I think it doesn't matter so much to extroverts because they'll just blab on regardless of who the other person is!

As for larks and owls, I used to be more of a night owl but I'm too tired these days. And I wake too early. Hormonal maybe. I was terrible in the morning as a child. We used to say when I was growing up that my brother was a lark because the sun came streaming into his room in early morning while I was on the opposite side of the house, where the sun didn't hit until afternoon. I still need lots of time to get going in the morning - I get up an hour and a half before I have to leave for work.

Lucy said...

Indeed, certainly more matter now in the comments than the post!
I've been thinking quite a lot about the compelling nature of this kind of shared writing and why it appeals, to me and many, but leaves others cold, (the more intolerant of whom are the 'get a life' brigade, as though you could find much stuff to write about or photograph if you didn't have a life...) And about the nature of these relationships which are so satisfying and not draining. Annie's comments are very illuminating, about the element of choice and lack of pressure (also good to have it confirmed that intros. have wordy thoughts), though blogging does bring a certain pressure, not an unwelcome one, but an embarrasment of choice, I guess. I supppose too it's interaction without the 'noise' of actual physical presence and social interaction which is perhaps what tires, (but without some of the pleasures too...)
It's true that the other associations of owls and larks would indicate something quite different; larks like to lark around, often in exaltations and in the clear air, making a lot of joyful noise, whereas owls are certainly representative of solitude, wisdom, shadows; owlish people are studious and rather removed...
Being an owl and a lark must present a challenge to the energies, burning the candle at both ends etc. Having an afternoon nap is the only way I can manage late nights, and that makes me feel so evil for hours afterwards that I try not to have recourse to it. But Leslee's right, it may be hormonal in a very broad sense, to do with brain chemistry etc. Apprentice's experience certainly bears this out.
With regard to shyness, I remember my mum saying that you really stopped caring as much what people thought of you as you get older, which is of course the root of much shyness and self-consciousness. It didn't seem helpful at the time, but I understand now it is quite true! ( I still care too much perhaps but much less.)
Anyway, I've learned a lot more about all of you, and, introvert or not, I'm very interested in other people and what makes them tick, so thank you very much!

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Great post and comment thread -- but you've already got so many that you don't need mine...

Like you,I'm a introvert who's learned to be comfortable with social interaction, and in fact I like it more and more. Lark or owl? A nice typology, and I can fit anywhere in it.

Lucy said...

Richard dear, I will ALWAYS need yours! Much of the volume of the comment thread I wrote anyway, but I think you've certainly helped to bring it to a personal record!