|Who Do You Think You Are? - Page 16|
Both Carl Jung and Jerome Kagan might call this my "persona," a term that I'm willing to embrace as long as it encompasses the quality of genuineness I experience when I enter this mode. My convivial self isn't a mask; it feels as authentic, and as necessary to me as my solitude-seeking core. Still, my gregarious side shows up only now and then, resisting any schedule. Sometimes I think I have the social equivalent of inhibited sexual desire: I don't often yearn to be with other people, but once I'm with them, I'm readily energized and engaged—and often joyful.
Jung wrote even the most introverted or extroverted of us harbors the contrasting predisposition within us, a submerged self that's always yearning for expression. But he was a realist about temperament. He wrote that in each individual, extroversion and introversion "ought, in their harmonious alteration, to give life a rhythm, but it seems to require a high degree of art to achieve such a rhythm." In short, we tend to revert to type. He concluded that for an individual to express his or her wholeness, "there remains only the more strenuous way forward into higher consciousness."
So, that's the task. Now that I know that I'm temperamentally inclined to solitude tipping toward isolation, I try to be more awake to how I actually conduct my social life. On one recent evening, for example, Dan was out of town and I was sitting alone on the couch in the living room, sipping tea and reading an amazing Richard Price novel. The phone rang. Rather than just ignoring it—my default response—I engaged in a miniconversation in my head, a kind of speed-dating dialogue between two parts of myself. Don't answer. No, get the phone. Alone, so comfy! Together, laughter . . . That last image propelled me to the phone and the music of a friend's voice, which, in turn, pushed me out of my cozy nest to do something fun.
I surprise myself, still, by how much I savor the communal silliness and serious talk that bounces around a shared table. Yet, I know in my soul that no amount of rewarding, even vital, human connection will ever silence the siren song of my temperament. Solitude, it beckons. Calm, warmth, square of light. Inside me still lives the 2-year-old who sits contentedly alone in the light-bathed backyard, her Peter Rabbit book open in her hands. That's why, even now, when the phone rings and I'm deep in a novel, I may not even look up. The persistent jangle seems far off, like street noise. What feels real right now is the velvety warmth of this old couch, the tea breathing steam at my elbow, and a story that absorbs and transports. In these moments, I have everything I need. I'm smiling into the sunshine.
Marian Sandmaier is a Networker features editor and the author of four books, as well as articles published in The Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review, O: The Oprah Magazine, and other publications. She's also a freelance book editor specializing in psychology and behavior. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to the Editor about this article may be e-mailed to email@example.com.