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I stopped at the library on my way to work last week and emerged with a yummy stack of new books. I’ve been a weekly library patron for about 44 years. I read in the bathtub, in bed before I go to sleep and often first thing in the morning, and on my 45 minute bus ride to and from work.
One of the books I got (and am more than halfway through) is one of those rare, self-affirming, possibly life-altering reads. Quiet by Susan Cain. The cover attracted me. Less is more. With its title and minimalist cover,
I expected the book to be thoughtful, well-researched and enlightening.
That’s the sound of your thoughts.
If you are happy with what you hear,
you may be an introvert.
For too long, those who are naturally quiet,
serious or sensitive have been overlooked.
The loudest have taken over – even if they have nothing to say.
It’s time for everyone to listen. It’s time to harness the power of introverts.
It’s time for Quiet.
I’m not necessarily learning anything new from this book. I’ve known that I’m an introvert for much of my life. Although it’s been a painful journey at times, it has been an amazing voyage of self-discovery. I’m familiar with Carl Jung and the Meyers-Briggs and have read Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person. From my undergraduate coursework in Psychology and my graduate studies in Counseling Psychology, I am familiar with many of the research studies that Susan Cain cites. I’ve done several workshops on the Enneagram (I’m a Type 4 – the Artist/Romantic/Individualist) and feel comfortable with my natural tendency towards introversion.
What I am really enjoying is how Cain ties all of these strands together and keeps stating the value and power of introverts. It’s bringing all of my insights and positive feelings about being deep and quiet to the fore. She also writes about blogging and online community/collaboration, how very much it suits us thoughtful, quiet types. Somehow, reading this book at this time in my life is enabling me to proudly carry the banner of ‘I’m an introvert and I’m OK!’
I went to the gym yesterday morning to work out. (I like my Sunday morning weight lifting sessions, as I am usually one of the few people there!). I made sure to take my camera because I noticed on Friday some trees just outside covered with plump red berries being foraged by blackbirds. After my session, I lingered outside and took some photographs. There was a group of blokes shouting and playing some loud game with a ball, football or rugby, on the pitch outside the sports centre. A couple of people came out of the gym and looked at me curiously. I just waved and went back to observing the trees and birds. Sometimes I feel a bit odd, stopping to stare and dream about things. But yesterday I realised the ball players are a bunch of extroverts doing their thing and here I am, an introvert, doing my thing.
I thought about a design I love by William Morris called ‘The Strawberry Thief’
and how the three birds who were squabbling in one of the 5 trees were the brash extroverts of the tribe, whilst the lone bird quietly going back and forth between hedgerow and another tree may well be an introvert blackbird. One of the things I learned in Quiet is that the introversion/extroversion spectrum spans animal groups too.
I was using my little Pentax Optio 40 which slips right into my pocket. Maybe if I had a bigger camera with a zoom lens I’d get a better photo, but I really don’t want the hassle of carrying bulky camera equipment around and the fuss of changing lenses.
What I thought are berries are actually ‘haws’, the autumn fruit of the hawthorn tree. In Irish folklore the Hawthorn is sometimes referred to as the fairy bush, due to the belief that fairy spirits inhabit the tree as guardians, and since early times it has always been considered bad luck to cut or damage the tree in fear of offending them.
Some folks make jelly or wine from them. This recipe for Chili Hawthorn Dipping Sauce looks great, but I’m not really a jelly maker.
I thought about the coming of winter and stocking up the larder. One of my weekend plans is to make pomegranate liqueur which will be ready by the winter solstice. I heard the steady clip-clop of hooves and waited for a horse and rider to pass by before I set off home to have a hot bath, read some more of my book and then turn my attention to pomegranates.
Grey skies are back and I’m down for the count with a cold. I normally resent being sick in the summertime when the skies are blue and the sun shines hot. But when the skies are low and close and rainy, is suits me to stay inside and take long naps and putter gently about the house.
I’ve been watching martens and swallows swoop and wheel above the rooftops and jackdaws taking the morning air.
‘Our’ jackdaws seem to be back. The double chimney just outside our living room window is usually home to two pairs of jackdaws. They’ve been away for the past couple of months, but I’ve spotted one or two over the past several days, so perhaps they’ve returned from their travels.
1920′s and 30′s jazz is among my favourite genres of music. I’ve recently ‘discovered’ Sidney Bichet, an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer. I listened to his version of Summertime yesterday, accompanied by some fantastic photographs of New Orleans. This gives me chills everytime I listen to it.
And I don’t think it’s just me coming down from my fever.
Now, time to curl up with a bowl of orange slices and warm up with a hard-boiled potboiler.
I love my daytime life in which I’ve arranged it so that I don’t need to leave the house until 9:45 am on the days when I need to be somewhere. This means I don’t have to get up until 8:30 am!
The first things I see when I wake in the slowly lightening room are glowing luna moths and the luminous moon on our marriage quilt.
The luna moths we bought at a flea market on our 1st wedding anniversary in Aix-en-Provence, we chose and framed some of our wedding photos and I made the Marc Chagall inspired quilt, Le Mariage du Fleuve et du Ciel, during our first year of marriage.
We bought a DAB clock radio a few weeks ago. I don’t actually use it for an alarm because I generally awaken around 7 o’clock. I do switch it on though and listen to classical music on Radio 3.
Then, I get up and make (or lie in bed and have made for me!) a cup of tea in my favourite mug. I prop myself up and select from the ever-changing pile of books next to my side of the bed.
This morning it was a delectation from ‘Mud’, a book of voluptuous short stories by Michèle Roberts.
At some point, I raise the shade and watch the tree outside. It inhales and exhales; birds dart in and out of it’s branches or trace lazy loops in the sky above it. The maribou stole is from my wedding ensemble.
Whenever I decide to get up, I throw open the window and lean out to see what the cows are up to and what the day is bringing.
And then, I go about my day.
I was thinking about one of my favourite childhood books about a little rapscallion cat named Sneakers (which I’ve just ordered from the US). I can remember my Mom reading it to me and also the fabulous illustrations. When I was quite small, I used to leave a carrot out for the Easter bunny. One year I drew the rabbit from my copy of Sneakers and wrote ‘For the Easter bunny’ beneath it’.
I learned that the illustrator was French-Mexican artist, Jean Charlot. He and his widowed mother moved to Mexico in the early 1920′s. Charlot was muralist Diego Rivera’s assistant and his knowledge of fresco painting influenced the Mexican muralists. He later moved to the US where he worked as an art teacher and produced many lithographs and woodcuts, including children’s book illustrations. A bit of a potted history, but I love his style and intend to delve more. You can see the Mexican influence and Charlot’s style in this drawing.
In celebration of Easter, here are a couple of Charlot’s bunny drawings.
One of my favourite stories is ‘The Secret Garden‘ by Frances Hodgson Burnett. First published in 1911, it is considered a classic of children’s literature. Orphaned Mary Lennox finds a key to a secret garden on her uncle’s estate in Yorkshire. She asks her uncle’s permission for ‘a bit of earth’ to make things grow. Using the garden motif, Burnett explores the healing power inherent in living things.
A few days ago I bought some sprouted hyacinth and Tete-a-tete narcissi bulbs to pot and put in our living room. I love to watch indoor bulbs grow and flower this time of year. It reminds me that, even though I am still in the depths of an English winter, springtime and another cycle of growth lie ahead.
More importantly, it reminds me that when we plant seeds or bulbs beneath the soil, they need to lie and rest and germinate, hidden from view, before starting to grow. Like new ideas and endeavours or old issues and griefs, they may need time before they come to the light of day.
We live in a flat and have a patio out front where I grow a few herbs and flowers in containers, and have some space to mess around with dirt and pots. I went to the hardware store for my bit of earth, explaining that I don’t have the space for a big bag of potting soil. So I came away with a carry bag of soil for £1.
When I plant things and garden, I also feel connected to my mother Nell who loved beautiful things and flowers and was a keen gardener. She died from cancer on January 20th 1980, when I was 16.
At the time, due to my youth and family circumstances, just like a stone or a bulb, I buried my grief away. I have, over the years, “dealt with it”, yet this time of year it can still feel very fresh and close. Sometimes I’m surprised at how it can still split me in two and bring me to my knees.
So on this showery morning, I got my bit of earth and transplanted my bulbs into some pretty pots to bring inside. As I gently separated the roots and sprinkled and patted the earth around the bulbs, I felt close to my Mom. I remembered her elegance and the beauty that she taught me to notice and create in the world around me. As it began to rain, a few of my tears moistened the soil too.