“Introverts” walk between two worlds — not “wild,” but not quite tame, either.
The mountains above Topanga Canyon are usually deserted at night, but the evening of the “super blood moon,” they were, of course, strobe lit with flashlights as eclipse viewers searched for the best vantage point.
Not surprisingly, most people stayed home and “watched” the eclipse on Facebook or Instagram. Those who wanted to watch in real life mostly did so from the sides of the road, safely tucked in their cars, some with the headlights on, the glow of their smartphones lighting up their faces behind the tempered glass. They gathered in clumps on the roadsides — the edges of civilization — out of fear of the dark or the desire for social interaction or a bit of both — talk in voices that would have been too loud at a cocktail party, much less at night where the slightest sound carried for miles.
River (my dog) and I could have joined them, but didn’t, and instead continued down the trail until the voices were no longer audible. Far below in the canyon, I could see two flickers of light, evenly spaced and moving further apart. I smiled, recognizing them — fellow members of my tribe, seeking a place to be alone with the blood moon and the night.
Prior generations might have labeled those of us who chose the darkness and silence over the chatter of the watchers on the side of the road as “loners.” These days, we’re more likely to be called “introverts.” It’s the fashionable term, as evidenced by the recent surge of books on the topic — how introverts can be great corporate CEOs, how to work with introverts, how to be in a relationship with an introvert, how to be an introvert in a relationship, and so on.
I’m grateful that introversion is finally becoming recognized as a valid lifestyle choice (or at least a profitable self-help niche). It’s a step up from “loner” or, worse, “shy,” neither of which really describes our tribe anyway — most of us aren’t afraid of people, we just don’t have the desire or need to interact with them on a regular basis.
But for all the popularization of the positive aspects of introversion, there’s still an underlying current of judgement, of needing to rationalize why someone would prefer the company of their own thoughts, a good book, and maybe the quiet presence of a dog or a cat (or a horse or…) to the cosmic background hum of social interaction. Introversion, for all its current trendiness, still suggests pathology, or at the very least, an accommodation for “special needs.” The word itself doesn’t help — other “vert” words include pervert, convert and subvert, none of which are exactly motivational poster material. “Introvert” just doesn’t sound, onomatopoetically speaking, like a particularly fun thing to be.
As the chatter faded behind us, I thought about a photo essay I’d browsed earlier that evening about a wolf sanctuary in Colorado. One photo particularly caught my eye — Shadow, a 5-year old wolf/dog hybrid who’d come to the sanctuary after being the housepet of a security guard. The photo is striking — Shadow’s yellow eyes stare directly into the camera lens, the arc of her body suggesting she’s been photographed mid-prowl and isn’t particularly happy about it. Alone in the woods — or at least in the photo — she’s a creature as deep and dark as they are.
The caption beneath the photo describes Shadow as “neither tame nor wild,” and goes on to say that most wolves at the sanctuary, “cannot find a balance” between their tameness and their wildness. Caught forever between the two worlds, they are often drawn to the comforts of the human campfire flickering in the night, but there’s a part of them that won’t (or can’t) ever completely surrender to the constraints of domesticity.
I thought about Shadow as I sat on the rock watching the eclipse in the silent company of my dog. As an “introvert,” I feel, bone-deep, what it means to be a sanctuary wolf, caught between two worlds, not fully “wild,” but not quite tame, either. Like those few of us who quietly sought out the solitude of the dark canyon on the night of a blood moon, I understand being Not Quite Tame. It might be a more accurate and more ennobling description of “introverts.”
Like Shadow, those of us who are Not-Quite-Tame are, of course, not completely wild — we’re perfectly capable of behaving ourselves at a dinner party without stabbing someone with a salad fork or peeing on the rug. But like Shadow, we’re more than a bit ill at ease in a roomful of cocktail party chatter, and might pace restlessly among the guests (thus making them nervous as well), seeking an exit to a quieter and more reflective space.
Not-Quite-Tame people are often startled and, yes, a bit dangerous when we’re interrupted in the middle of a necessary period of solitude, and we’re likely to vanish into the underbrush in response to too much social interaction. Unlike a domestic dog, we will not come happily bounding to you if you interrupt our solitary wolf-ish stroll through the forest.
We are, of course, lonely sometimes. Perhaps more so than more domesticated people, because, like the sanctuary wolves, we have trouble trusting enough to make connections — not because we don’t want to, but because our need for solitude and our wariness around others makes us uneasy companions for most people. In the same way that there are people who are afraid of wolves, Not-Quite-Tame People are often viewed with suspicion.
Probably not surprisingly because they’re the only ones who’ll put up with a wolf in the parlor, most of my friends are also Not-Quite-Tame. The understanding between us about what that means is implied without overt explanation — we don’t show up unannounced on each other’s doorsteps, we make liberal use of email and voicemail rather than phone calls, and we don’t take it personally if messages go unanswered for longer than is strictly socially kosher.
But I have one friend who believes that introversion (good lord, that word sounds like something my insurance company would cover treatment for) is dysfunctional and another who believes it’s a choice that I could (and should) change. Being an introvert is, I suspect, a bit like being gay was 20 years ago — we make
straight people extroverts uncomfortable, so they think we should change “for our own good.”
But for those of us who are Not-Quite-Tame, the need for solitude, the aversion to crowds and small talk, is woven into the fabric of our souls. Sitting in the darkness of the woods watching the blood moon with my wolf dog, I wasn’t thinking, oh too bad I’m Not-Quite-Tame, because I’d really rather be watching the eclipse with a whole bunch of people if only I wasn’t so
dysfunctional “introverted.” I was thinking about how happy I was to be there, in the silence, with my dog, and how I wouldn’t wish it any other way.
What I do wish is that instead of wishing that I would be more like them, my extroverted friends might come to appreciate the benefits of sharing their lives with a Not-Quite-Tame person. Like sanctuary wolves, when we’re in our natural habitat, we can be easy on the soul.
Let a Not Quite Tame friend into your life and, if you take it slow and don’t startle us back into the woods, we’ll gift you with treasures that only reveal themselves on dark nights and stillness. Spend time with someone who is Not Quite Tame and discover the unexpected — an out of the way bookstore or coffee shop, the pleasure of silent companionship with another soul, the wisdom only found in silence, the un-tethered freedom of spending an afternoon without social media or calls on your smartphone. Not-Quite-Tame people understand the transcendent magic of poetry. We know the perfect place to go to see the Milky Way and what it feels like to have a hummingbird hover inches from your hand.
In another photo, a black wolf named Cadeus looks into the camera through the grid of a wire enclosure, one paw pressed against the fence and reaching towards the photographer. I recognize the gesture as achingly familiar — equal parts a tentative offer of trust and affection, a plea for connection and understanding, and a longing for freedom from constraints, be they physical or cultural.
As the shadow of the earth turns the full moon a blood red, I let the thoughts drift away. My dog returns from exploring the bushes and stretches out on the rock beside me. We sit together, she and I, two creatures struggling to balance the twin calls of wildness and domesticity, alone in the night, together.
More beautiful wolf photos from this series: http://www.anniemusselman.com/
Visit the sanctuary and learn more about protecting these extraordinary creatures: Wolf Haven International http://wolfhaven.org/
introvert Not Quite Tame stuff:
Carolyn Knapp’s brilliant essay on the virtues and challenges of solitude: http://www.salon.com/1998/07/27/cov_27feature_2/