at least say maybe.

There is this quiet little war rustling through the internet. The introverts vs the extroverts. There are memes and quizzes and snappy little articles everywhere I look, and while most seem to take shot at the extroverts, I suppose the introverts would tell me the war started in “the real world,” where their nemeses reign supreme.

It is an odd little war to watch. All in good fun, I suppose.

Catch me at most parties, and you will know immediately which team I play for.  I am loud. Really, really loud. My voice is loud, my movements are loud, my clothes are loud. My personality is like Fran Drescher with a bullhorn. I know, because I have been told so with love and amusement. I am fun. “Everyone loves you,” a pal said recently, “You’re just so lively.”

But then, like licorice, I am not for everyone. One of my dearest friends once told me that I was like the sun, blotting her out. Not too long after, she broke my heart, and stopped being my friend. She is an introvert.

It isn’t the sort of war you win.

You’d be wrong of course, that is, if you saw me at a party and knew immediately. I am not an extrovert. I just play one on TV (so to speak). I am timid. Terrified to go. I am afraid of people I don’t know. I am afraid of people I do. It has held me back.

When I was an undergraduate, I was invited to participate in the Disney Internship program. I was thrilled. I am a Disney fangirl. Obsessed. I didn’t just love Disney, I dreamed of working there. It was a hell of an opportunity.

I didn’t go.

My husband, a quiet man, easy in his own skin despite the fact that people mistake his quietness for shyness, has watched me turn down invitation after invitation. He has encouraged me and held me every time I have cried when faced with a social situation that seemed beyond my courage. I am not quite sure how he does it. I even annoy myself with this secret, timid me.

Not that the loud me is a put on. You can be more than one thing.

A few years ago, I was packing to go to my first residency in my low-res MFA program. Flying across the US alone didn’t seem so bad. Arriving, though, scared the crabcakes right out of me.

“I’m not going,” I said at about midnight the evening before my flight.

“You will love it,” the hubster said. “Go. You will be wonderful. It will be wonderful.”

It was. I have since made an effort to say, “yes,” more often.

I just got off another plane from another trip I almost chickened out of. The AWP writers conference in Seattle beckoned me this year. My friends were going, I was invited to read, I even had a sweet convention room. It was hard, but I said, “yes!”

And when I got there and I met all the scary new people, I said, “yes” to drinks and “yes” to chats and “yes” to a dance party and “yes” to my reading and “yes” as much as possible. I even said “yes” to a late night snack of muktuk and caribou in a stranger’s room filled with brand new friends, newly minted at the downstairs bar.

Well, I said, “maybe.”

Muktuk is whale blubber, and I was not sure what rabbit hole I was slipping into. It came out of a plastic bag, or maybe plastic wrap, a two-tone slab of meat right from someone’s kitchen, dark and light and beautiful.

Not a thing to be eaten lightly.

I grew up dreaming of being a marine biologist and dedicating my life to marine mammals. I also grew up eating things the kids at school didn’t. I knew about the importance of food to culture. And I knew I was being offered a great gift by my new Alaskan friends. The way the poet’s eyes lit up when she saw the treat, her fingers dancing, her feet shifting, everything about her happier than I had seen all night, I knew to feel special. “I’ll eat yours if you don’t want it,” she said, those fingers still dancing. She had grown up on muktuk. A childhood treat.

“Are you going to?” the man with the muktuk said. He had told me he was born in an igloo. He was uncomfortable in the crowd downstairs. Did not seem to like new people. It was his room. His muktuk. He held out a sliver of cream flesh over a bit of caribou jerky. “You eat them together.”

And I said, “yes.”

The muktuk was delicious, like nutty olive oil. Like nothing I have ever had.

A few years ago, I would not have talked to the shy Alaskan author uncomfortable in the bustle of the bar. I would not have met the poet or her dancing fingers. I would not have even gotten on the plane to Seattle.

I would not have tried muktuk.

So,  here is the thing. Extrovert or introvert, I’m not sure how much it matters, so long as, as often as possible, you at least say maybe.

That’s where the good adventures start.




7 Responses

  1. Sharon Harrigan
    8 March 2014 at 3:52 pm

    So beautiful. So wise. Yes, I wish I could “play” the extrovert as well as you. And the story about your extrovert friend is so sad. You give me courage. Next time I will seek out the muktuk, too.

  2. Rosi
    8 March 2014 at 12:46 am

    What remarkable insight!!!
    You are an extraordinary writer with what it takes to pull apart and put back together the human traits: extrovert/introvert and how they go hand in hand.
    Wonderful, Leigh!

    • sheleigh
      8 March 2014 at 12:47 am

      Thank you!

  3. 7 March 2014 at 11:58 pm

    This is great. It is so me. I’m not quite as vivacious in a crowd as you, not even when I’m pretending, but I have my moments.

    I think I love this so much because showing up to Pacific was such a frightening, out-of-my-comfort-zone thing, and then you said I should go to Karaoke, and that was really, really out of my comfort zone. And then no one from my cohort was going, but I went anyway. Because you said I should. And you took care of me, and that probably was the singlemost notable thing that changed my experience at Pacific.

    You being brave makes others brave. You taking risks ripple effects in ways you cannot know, beyond even your own experiences. Thank you for being the introvert who, every now and then, is brave enough to play the extrovert.

    • sheleigh
      8 March 2014 at 12:45 am

      One of my favorite nights there 🙂

  4. Damena
    7 March 2014 at 11:36 pm

    As usual, this is a great blog! I can always relate to at least a portion of all your stories.

    • sheleigh
      7 March 2014 at 11:43 pm

      Thank you! That is the best compliment a girl could ask for.

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