Archive for the Essays Category

The Secret Life of Introverts

Posted in Essays, Uncategorized with tags , , on November 3, 2007 by barbararuth

A friend pointed me to Jonathon Rauch’s article, “Caring for Your Introvert.”

I sighed a heartfelt Amen! One additional thought on being an introvert:

Career counseling books often suggest that introverts make good therapists and counselors because we enjoy substantive, one-to-one conversations. In my experience, this was not the case. As Rauch describes, I absolutely need time alone to think (worth noting, writing is a form of engaged thinking for me, to an even greater degree than it is a form of communicating.) I can give a presentation without anxiety. There is nothing I love more than an opportunity to share ideas with an interesting person, friend or stranger. Counseling didn’t quite fit the bill.

In some ways, working as a counselor felt like engaging in small talk. The job involved taking in the raw content of someone else’s head and helping that person piece it together.  My impulse for helping people who are working something out isn’t to listen to them or talk to them — or even to write to them. It’s to hand them something to read, that is, provide them with some refined thoughts they can use to process their raw ones! I benefitted from therapy myself — largely thanks to one therapist who assigned me reading materials (usually theoretical and academic essays on the issues I was struggling with) and another who gave me inquiries that I could go home and process by myself. The latter therapist even let me hand her pages of writing, the contents of which she would read and work into our discussions.

Psychotherapy today, I think, is an extrovert’s game; the conventions are firmly based on the cultural expectation that “talking things out” is the healthy, normal approach.


I Miss Jerry

Posted in Essays, Random Thoughts on August 1, 2007 by barbararuth

A few months ago on a melancholic evening, I typed “I miss Jerry” into Google and came upon this post on a blog called Viki Babbles. It captured much of the sentiment I was feeling at the moment when I did the search. In the current episode of the lifework crisis that never ends, I’m finding I miss Jerry more and more. The Grateful Dead amplified the centripetal forces of my life; not having found a replacement, my sense of struggle to stay centered is more acute than it was pre-1995.

My values have not changed since I can remember having any, perhaps age seven or eight. The way I have expected to manifest those values shifts over time — I suspect it continue to do so as long as I’m alive. It was in that great Rorschach test I took with the Dead that I came to solid understanding of what they are.

Herewith, the values of my life and work — so plentiful in the community that Jerry’s self-expression spawned:

Adventure — I feel most alive in the midst of journeys whose ultimate outcome is a mystery. 

Learning — As long as I live I hope to continually encounter new people, experiences, and ideas that change my understanding of life.

Fellowship — I crave contact with other human beings where intimacy is possible and defined roles are secondary or absent.

Beauty. Beauty ain’t always pretty. The word can take adjectives like “terrible” and “fierce,” too.  Grateful Dead tour was often that. I think Robert Hunter said it best when he remarked that during the best shows, “blood drips from the ceiling.”

Movement — I want to keep travelling from place to place and enjoy freedom of my body to relax and flow.

Happy Birthday, Jerry — wherever you are!

Fear of Change?

Posted in Essays on July 12, 2007 by barbararuth

I read it all the time in both consulting and self-help literature, “People fear change.” Friends and colleagues have remarked on what they call my “fearlessness” in the face of change.  I have difficulty believing that change is what people really fear. I think it’s loss.

Many change situations, whether positive or negative, involve loss. Getting married or having a baby? Say goodbye to your old life; even some cherished personal relationships may be destined to end. The same thing is true when you leave a job, whether you are promoted, get fired, or quit.

The difference between me and those change-fearing people who find me puzzling is, I believe, a difference in our experience of routine. I find routine very aversive; many people seem to find it comforting. There comes a time, after I have been in a situation for a while, that my actual sensory experience of the place seems to set. When that happens, I can conjure visual and kinesthetic images of something original, dynamic, and alive, but the current experience feels ossified. That is the time when I am ready to leave.

 I have noticed over the years that even in people who fear change, the fondest memories are of life episodes that were brief and temporary in their essence, time-capped and changing in a salient way, not indefinite. Senior year of high school. College. “When my kids were little.” Being a newlywed. Times full of future are the happiest times. They are certainly worth the price of dropping the habit of the 10:22 coffee break and recap of last night’s TV.

Are You a Pioneer?

Posted in Essays on April 17, 2007 by barbararuth

What distinguishes pioneers from more conventional leaders, creative artists, and ordinary nonconformists? I have a theory. Pioneers may also fall into any of the above categories, and tend to share some characteristic traits with people who fit those labels more accurately. Pioneers often find themselves advocating change, I believe, because they hold these traits in unusual combinations.

Inner motivation combined with outward focus

Like creative artists, pioneers hold visions that differ from those of other people in the environment. They can’t resolve the anxiety the dissonance causes by expressing the vision symbolically in any medium. The drive is to change the actual events and circumstances in the environment.

Powerful but uninterested in power

I do mean “uninterested” rather than “disinterested.” The pioneer often projects an aura of power through high energy and intensity, strong opinions, confidence, and a tendency to question authority. In fact, pioneers often come late to leadership roles because they don’t really crave being “in charge.” Many will say that they took charge of something only as a last resort, as the only way to get sufficient freedom to pursue their own goals or as the means to correcting a percieved injustice.

An “old soul” and “young at heart”

This may be the signature mark of the pioneer, the thing parents and teachers might notice long before any pattern of accomplishment emerges. Pioneers are concerned with timeless and existential questions; they enjoy the company of much older people and are continuously at work on articulating a personal philosophy of life. They are also open to new technologies, experiences, and people, when those novelties can be pressed into service of important goals.