This Introvert's Circus
photo collage C. Ascher
“Are you an Introvert or Extrovert?” That question came up out of nowhere in a doctor’s waiting room. The person was reading a magazine. I was going to ignore the question. I edged over a little, pretending I hadn’t heard. But I couldn’t help thinking about it. The person looked at me expectantly.
My answer finally: “I am an artist.” I thought that pretty much covered it.
“What does that mean?” was the response. I was stuck. I had to clarify.
‘I mean I guess I’m both,” I said.
“It says here you’re either or. There’s a questionnaire, see?”
My stomach clenched. “No questionnaire.”
“Well, what do you mean?”
I regretted engaging, but now there was no way out. “Well,” how to explain it? “When I’m thinking about, researching, planning, and making my art, I want to be alone, undisturbed. The presence of someone else in my art space is distracting. And,” I added pointedly, “unwelcome.”
“Even if it’s your family?”
“Even love and affection have nothing t do with it. I get irritable. All I want is for the person to go away so that I can get back to work. But then, when the work is finished and I take it out of my studio, I want to experience people’s reactions, get into profound conversations about it. I want people to connect with it.” I hoped that did it.
“So you want privacy and acclaim.”
“Not privacy. It’s not about privacy. It’s about being alone with my material, trying to discover. And then it’s not about acclaim, it’s about seeing the impact the finished work has independently of me.”
“What’s the difference? Being private is an alone thing isn’t it?”
“Big difference. Privacy is when you take a break from being ‘public’, as when you’re with family or friends or at work and want some time to yourself to think, finish some task, rest, clear your mind or re-focus. You want to go back to being with people after you’re done.”
“Yes, of course.”
“But being solitary is different. You need to be alone to focus on the ideas and thoughts so that something may come of them, hopefully something meaningful and important. A break from that can mean you lose the thread, you lose the momentum, the possibility can be irretrievably lost. That is more frustrating than being with people is pleasant. The public or social interaction is then a burden to be avoided at all costs.”
“But you want acclaim.”
“No. Once the thinking comes to fruition, I want response. For what I’ve achieved to have any meaning, it has to have a life beyond me. Acclaim is about me; the attention is on me, in the end it’s a superficial response that makes me basically exploit the achievement, or in which the achievement is secondary. That’s useless to me, because what distinguishes me is my realizing something that has meaning beyond me. It can live on, be social or public in my stead while I go focus on the next possibility.”
“Don’t you take a break?”
“Well, sort of. Not really. It’s always going on in my head. It’s because my work isn’t based on tasks or independent units. It’s a continuum. Do you see?” Surely.
“You don’t want to be admired or loved? Don’t you want fame and fortune? Isn’t that what artists want?”
“Of course, but not like that, not like you mean it.”
“How I mean it?”
“Because of me, not as a result of my achievement.”
“What’s the difference?”
My upper lip had begun twitching. This was torture … what was holding the doctor up?
“What is the difference?” repeated as if I hadn’t heard.
There was no out. “What I am is only partly genetic, only partly determined by biology. Who I am is a result of how I’ve tried to understand my life, what I’ve noticed about life. What I make of and with it is what defines me, not my notoriety or success. It’s a process, see, a life’s work.” Why did I open my mouth? The look I was getting was skeptical, like I was trying to pull one over, or like I was some kind of alien spouting strange sounds.
There was a long pause. Then: “Well, you should try this questionnaire,” was the reaction.
OMG! I thought, and changed my mind about giving out an invitation to my exhibition.
“The doctor will see you now,” called the receptionist, and I bounded out of my chair like a Jack-in-the-Box. “Goodbye!” I said. I was free!