Introverts seem to be having a moment lately.
We are posting memes about introversion, where showing us talking to a cat at a party will help the world to better understand how weird we are. Since so many writers are introverts, and introverts love the internet, we are writing listicles about introverts for Buzzfeed, and going into depth about our special introverted ways on Medium, and generally feeling misunderstood and special.
I think we’d probably better get over ourselves.
My coworker heard a quick phone call between me and my daughter today. In it, I figured out how many people are coming over for Easter, so my daughter can appropriately size the Family Mac-n-Cheese® she’s bringing to dinner. My coworker sounded so sweetly excited when she called over the wall. “Karen! You’re having a big gathering! Are you excited?”
“No.” I said to her. “I’m never excited.”
I never want to go to anything. Ever. It all sounds terrible. Book group? Oh god no. Hosting my family for the holidays? Too many people. Dinner at a restaurant? Jesus Christ, you have to be kidding. A cruise to Bermuda? Just kill me now.
What do you do when your knee jerk reaction is to hide from all social contact? You do what I do. Which is, I dread everything, but I go to everything. Because I know I’m going to have a wonderful time. We are going to have the best discussion about the book I loved (or hated, sometimes the best discussions are about books I hate), and the food is going to be amazing and the company is going to be sparkling and Bermuda is going to be everything I ever dreamed of and more; pink sand, turquoise water, sunshine and mild ocean air. But my baseline expectation remains that I will hate ALL of it, even though experience should lead me to believe the exact opposite.
When I was younger, I would listen to my inner misanthrope. She was a grump. She insisted I keep clear of all merrymaking. She convinced me that no one wanted me there anyway, not really, so I’d just spare everyone the horror of my attendance. I stayed home a lot. Then I sat around and wondered why everyone was having a better life than I was.
I didn’t make the connection until I was in my thirties, at which point I learned to get up and go places, where I would have fun because I’m actually great at parties. As long as I can leave whenever I want to. I must be able to do the Irish Good-Bye in order to have fun. As long as I can bounce without a word at leave-taking, I tend to stay and have fun.
There are other strategies for dealing with the self-imposed isolation of introversion. One is to marry an extrovert. I have had relationships with extroverts, and survived them. I understand that some people find this marriage-of-opposites to be helpful because the extrovert (some guy) is always dragging the introvert (me) out and about. The rallying cry is always the same. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” This mindless insistence on activity paired with my mulish social withdrawal doesn’t sound fun at all to me. It reminds me of a cheerful child wearing a huge lead boot.
I am the lead boot.
I’m happiest with another introvert, like the man I’m with now. He might even be more introverted than I am. We always make plans, but we often have things we need to do first. Like, pay a bill online. Or take an antacid. Or move the laundry around. Or let the dogs out. If we are lucky, we can aggregate enough small, easily postpone-able activities to avoid the going-out plan altogether, in favor of just staying home and watching something on Netflix.
I wonder, sometimes, how we avoid spending our entire lives slumped on the couch, making fun of Flip or Flop VEGAS. But we don’t. We get out, and go to parties and plays and dinners with friends and a lot of movies. We go talk with people and smile, even if it kills us. We plan getaways and live (for the most part) like normal people. And then we come home and decompress, quietly recharging until we have to go out and do it again.
Because we’re introverts, don’t you know. And we’re special.
I’m busy as hell with preparations for the second Orcas book, getting ready for a literary festival in April, and working on another huge project that’s devouring hours of my time. But here’s a piece based on something “from the trunk”. It’s about grotesquerie; the worst part of any book.
I’ve been handed some grotesque things to read in my life. A writer gave me a story about a couple who mutilated each other as part of their sex lives. He had the good sense to say, ”You might not want anything to do with me after you read this.” After forty pages of necrophilia, torture, self-mutilation, incest, matricide and so forth, I understood why he was worried. I believe he’d scared himself. That one was eventually published.
Years ago, someone I met in a writer’s group sent out 76 copies of his manuscript to various members, hoping for response. And I after I started reading it, I knew I’d never give him a response he’d enjoy hearing. The writing was endless ”telling” from a great height, the narrator looking down and pontificating madly on the chaos of the story. There wasn’t a shred of likeability or humanity in most of the characters, and the rare few who displayed any humanity were punished in one sadistic twist after another. After a point I set aside the red pencil, realizing that since no publisher in the world would ever want to publish this, there was no need to offer editorial advice.
The author wrote me, saying he was disappointed that only three or four people seemed to have finished it. I didn’t tell him that a mutual friend had told me she’d ”set it aside and gone to throw up and take a shower.” I decided stunned silence was a merciful thing. If people had told him what they really thought, he might have gone on a homicidal rampage and acted out some of the more vicious tableaux in this book.
There are plenty of published books that contain cannibalism, which is where I draw the line. I can’t read about it. A few books that contain it have made it past my censors–John Dollar by Wiggins, Shallows by Tim Winton, and Ahab’s Wife by…somebody, which was an incredible disappointment because the first third of the book, before they stepped on that whaling ship, was so damn good. Actually, these were all good books that I wish I’d never read. I’m sure these writers are making a big fat metaphorical point, I just can’t stomach their metaphor, so the point is always lost on me. I wish all books that contain cannibalism had a big red warning ”C” on the cover.
The same thing with animal abuse. A friend loaned me two books that contained animal abuse. Like, just handed them to me casually with a “You’ll like these,” no warning, nothing. Thanks, Friend! The books were The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, and Wide Open by Nicola Barker. The first title is disturbing and extremely well-written. I had a glimpse of the hidden shocker, but only a glimpse. I’m good at figuring out the mysteries in the Gothic, but this time, the ending did surprise me. It all fit together beautifully. Wide Open was next. I liked it and wished I’d had the opportunity to discuss it, because beneath the plot shocks, sick humor and odd characters, there is a metaphysical twist that I haven’t quite figured out.
Because of the grotesque subject matter, I would never just hand these books off to a friend without a warning. Can you easily recommend a book that’s strength is its ability to illuminate the mindset of a character committing unthinkable, unforgivable acts, and to stir you to a horrified sympathy with that character? You have to loan these books carefully, but I have given Under the Skin, by Michel Faber, to more than one friend, and it’s one of the most disturbing novels I have ever read. I think it’s completely worth it.
This all brings me to my own experience with writing something unforgivably grotesque. Apparently, when describing some of the itchy ailments suffered by Asa Strug in Love and Mayhem at the Francie June Memorial Trailer Park, I use the phrase “butt rust.” And my friend Alex was horrified by this. She said, “I can’t believe you made me read the words butt rust, Karen!” She was upset and disgusted. I didn’t even remember putting that in the book, to be honest. So I had to go find it.
IT WAS THURSDAY morning, and the most contented man in the Francie June Memorial Trailer Park was no longer content. He itched from head to toe. His hands rummaged through his locks as if they were sorting snakes, as if his torment could be shaken free like the louse that fell by the cracked nail of his largest toe.
“Lord, send relief.”
His hands moved to scratch at his bitten, scabby neck. He tore at the skin, tears in his eyes, his teeth grinding with frustration.
“I am bedeviled.”
He stood and reached for his back, his privates, his stomach. It was more than bugs. Years of not bathing had left him with crotch rot, butt rust, and between-the-toe fungus that made his toes appear webbed. His body was nothing more than a collection of maddening itches. He dug and writhed and came dangerously close to taking the name of the Lord in vain.
“Lord! I need vinegar!”
Look, that is really gross. I wrote it, and I own it. I had no choice but to submit to Alex’s disgust, because upon rereading, that passage is sick. Sick, but necessary, as Asa is trapped in a body as tormented as his mind.
So after Alex chastised me for a bit more, she asked me to read a book she loved. It was Cruddy, by Lynda Barry. I love Lynda Barry, I’ve met her and I’m a fan of her person and her work; but have you read this book? It’s good and tragic and funny, and it contains so much gross stuff, scabs and flakes and itches that are exponentially worse than the phrase “butt rust.” Cruddy even needs to have that big reg “C” on the cover, for cannibalism.
Alex had no trouble with anything in Cruddy. But she couldn’t handle “butt rust.”
Consider this a pledge: You will never read a book that contains cannibalism written by me. But I just might break out “butt rust” again. So be prepared.
The sequel to Orcas Intrigue is here, with ORCAS INTRUDER.
AVAILABLE FOR YOUR KINDLE AND IN PAPERBACK , ORCAS INTRUDER continues the Chameleon Chronicles.
CAMILLE TATE always tells herself to calm down, but her instincts always warn her to disappear.
After the fright of her first weeks on Orcas Island, Cam wants a quiet Thanksgiving with her family and a few friends. She’s hoping that time with her foster parents will help her recover from the horror of witnessing a shooting and being kidnapped.
But her employers, the Brixtons, are arriving, along with a few unexpected visitors from Cam’s past. Her peaceful holiday is nowhere to be found. When her neighbor’s home is burglarized and ransacked, Cam’s world is threatened, too. As mysterious intruders haunt her island life, Cam realizes that the intrigue is far from over.
Here’s the link for preorder:
This is another fun one, taking place over the long holiday weekend. Go get it!