I am an introvert. It feels strange to admit that, as though it’s a shameful secret.
One-third of us, supposedly, are introverts, so why has this not unusual personality type been considered a disorder by some?
I’ve seen advice (mostly in self-help books) that boils down to, “It’s OK to be an introvert, but here are ten things you can do to make yourself look like an extrovert, because you need to do that to succeed.”
To me, this is exactly analogous to telling a gay or lesbian person that all they need to do is find the right person of the opposite sex. This advice is, essentially, “Be a hypocrite. Forever.”
I’ve spent too much of my life considering myself to be socially broken and in need of repair, regularly facing dilemmas such as, “Go to the party and feel like a misfit or stay home and feel like a failure?” With age comes wisdom, and in the last few years I’ve given up any intentions to fix myself, at first with resignation, recently with delight. It really is OK to be what I am, and don’t bother offering me tools to break out of my shell. I like my shell; it has windows and a door and I look out and come out when I please.
Other introverts have begun to speak out, notably Susan Cain, with her book Quiet : the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Amazing — introverts credited with power, rather than diagnosed with a disorder! I admit I haven’t read it yet, but this item makes me hopeful. Almost all of the 23 things apply to me, and the most surprising one is #8: “Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards.” Labelled “shy” as a child, I’ve wondered why I can, in fact, speak to groups when I have something to say and know what I’m talking about. While speaking, my role is defined — I talk, the others listen. But to me, a free-floating crowd where everyone is yakkng away is an alien, energy-sucking environment.
And then there’s #22 in the list: “You’re a writer.” Need I say more?
This morning I did something I haven’t bothered with for several years — I prepared a couple of containers of seed-starting mix and added seeds, with the intention of someday seeing sprouts of Asphodeline lutea and Eryngium alpinum. The seeds came from plants in my garden. My single plant of A. lutea had struggled along in an unfavourable spot for years. When it became obvious that it was on the way out, I moved it to to a better spot and it survived to bloom last summer. I collected a few of its angular seeds (that look like very coarsely ground coffee beans). The Eryngium did succumb a couple of years ago after doing quite well, but fortunately it produced a good quantity of seeds before expiring. With luck I’ll be able to reintroduce this elegant, drought-tolerant plant to the garden.
That’s the thing about growing plants from seed — it’s a bit of a gamble. My copy of Thompson & Morgan’s little booklet called Successful Seed Raising (which accompanied orders from that eminent seed house years ago) says that both of the plants I seeded this morning have slow and irregular germination. From experience I can say that includes no germination at all, but many of the plants in my garden began in just this way — seeds shaken out of a paper envelope, introduced into a soil-like mixture and left in a favourable spot (top of the hot water tank or a south-facing window, depending on whether light is needed for germination). Seeing the first tiny sprouts is always a delight, hope transformed into reality. With luck and care, a number of them grow into healthy plants and take their place in the garden.
That’s when the ever-present ironies of gardening manifest themselves. Sometimes a gardener experiences beginner’s luck, as I did years ago with the annual Nicotiana langsdorffii, a small relative of tobacco whose small green flowers have navy blue anthers, a feature I found totally charming. For a couple of years they were so numerous in one of the beds I feared they would become a weed. Then they all disappeared. I suspect an extra-thick layer of spring compost one year prevented the previous year’s seeds from germinating (the T&M booklet tells me they need light).
Gaura lindheimeri has a similar history here. I grew my first batch of plants from seed. They settled in well, so well I thought I would have to exercise firm control on their tendency to self-seed. Then most of them died after a February cold snap. I still don’t know why, because they are supposed to survive in Zone 6. Poor drainage could not have been the problem either; the soil here is a very sandy loam. I think it’s the Curse of the Naive Gardener — fate permits easy success followed by harsh reality, perhaps to test one’s mettle.
Other seed-grown plants have developed weed-like tendencies. It’s hard to believe I brooded anxiously over seed pots of Linaria purpurea, Lychnis coronaria or Corydalis lutea. Now I exert myself to control their multiple progeny from taking over the garden. But then, that’s the essence of gardening — trying to maintain the tenuous balance between natural forces and one’s vision of perfection.
Growing plants from seed is something every gardener must do at some point, whether to maintain a prized heritage tomato variety or to acquire plants not available at the local garden centre. For example, I couldn’t find Gaura lindheimeri for sale anywhere last year, neither the common white variety nor any of the delightful pink types. I hope my solitary plant of the white has survived, because there is nothing quite like its cloud of dainty white flowers dancing in the late summer breeze. Moreover, it’s totally drought-tolerant and blooms well into the fall. I think I’ll check my collection of saved seeds and grow a few plants, just in case.
From September 2012 until last week, the first book of my Herbert West Series, The Friendship of Mortals, was available as a free download. When I re-launched the series with new cover images, I changed its price from $0 to $0.99.
During the 18 months that it was free, The Friendship of Mortals was downloaded 2 to 3 times a day. I suspect that many readers make “free” their primary search criterion when trolling for ebooks on the internet. Giveaways on Goodreads and Amazon’s KDP Select program are touted as good ways to create interest in a series and encourage purchases of its other books. On the other hand, some say that most free ebooks languish unread because having no value they are not valued by those who acquire them.
I braced myself for uptake of The Friendship of Mortals to slow to a trickle, but was pleasantly surprised to find that 8 copies have been purchased since the price change, more than I expected. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next six months, especially after I make the series available for purchase on Amazon in March.
In the meantime, readers of this blog who missed acquiring The Friendship of Mortals while it was free may do so for another two weeks, until February 28. I participated in a program on self-publishing at my local public library last week, at which I distributed handouts with a coupon code for a 100% discount on that book: SWS50. Just go to the book’s page at Smashwords and enter that code when you check out.
All right, so in January and the first part of February I was too preoccupied with the writing side of my life, re-launching the Herbert West Series, to pay attention to the garden. Moreover, for the past week we have been in the deep freeze here (that’s -5 C or 23 F) and I didn’t want to look at the sad, collapsed mess that many of my “winter interest” plants have become. The bergenias flopped, the hellebores and their emerging flower buds looked like someone had let the air out of them. Today, finally, the cold snap has ended (8 C or 47 F this afternoon) and the plants seem to have recovered.
Just before the cold episode began, I managed to do this year’s quota of magnolia pruning. This magnolia (whose name I am too lazy to look up) is a lily-flowered variety with dark pink, rather floppy flowers. It does look quite impressive in full bloom and exudes a rose-like perfume, but it’s a huge shrub with a tendency to grow sideways. Therefore, I have been judiciously removing two or three major branches every year to reduce the bulk and heaviness that result when the plant is carrying its full load of leaves in late summer. Having read that magnolias are susceptible to diseases that enter through large pruning wounds, I paint any cut larger than 1/2 inch with green wound paint.
Another thing I managed to do just before the descent into minus temperatures was prepare a small pot with seed-starter mix and scatter seeds of Meconopsis, produced last summer, over the dampened medium. I left it on the hot water tank for three days, then put it outside to experience freeze/thaw cycles for the next couple of months. This has resulted in good germination in past years. It has certainly gone through one such cycle now.
Otherwise, my observations have been pretty skimpy. One night I noticed the wonderful, deceptively spring-like perfume of winter honeysuckle, and possibly that of the little green flowers of the spurge laurel (Daphne laureola). Neither plant is much to look at, and the spurge laurel is an invasive alien here, but they certainly add a hint of glamour to winter nights, triggering feelings of longing and nostalgia (at least in this gardener).
Goodbye, Trilogy in Four Volumes, hello Herbert West Series! The new look may be seen on my Smashwords page and at the Herbert West Series page on this blog.
The most visible difference is the new cover images. This is what they look like:
In addition, I have rewritten the brief descriptions and added longer descriptions. Within the books themselves, I corrected typos and other errors and added afterwords and a preview of the next book (to Books 1-3).
Book 1, The Friendship of Mortals, was available as a free download from September 1, 2012 until February 6, 2014. Now it costs $0.99. Despite that trivial price, the change from free to not-free is huge. I feel that it’s an appropriate change, given the value-added features.
It will be interesting to see the effect of these changes.
It’s coming on to four years since I published the first book of the Herbert West Series. Two years after that, in 2012, I published the other three. Now I am planning to upload revised texts with added content and professionally designed cover images to replace my homemade and, to be truthful, rather lame creations. As I write, I am awaiting what I hope will be the final draft of the cover images. It’s been a thrill to see what a graphic designer has created from my descriptions of the works.
And the trilogy is now a series. I decided the whole “trilogy in four volumes” thing didn’t work. The middle two books of the series are still Islands of the Gulf Volume 1 and Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, but Volume 1 is now The Journey and Volume 2 is The Treasure. You wouldn’t believe the amount of brooding and fretting I did before deciding on those words, but I’m satisfied with them.
And only cataloguer-librarians would be able to appreciate my reservations about introducing all this complexity. Instead of simple titles and a series, those two books now have volume numbers, series numbers and part-titles. Once all this is done I will have to create catalogue records for them, coded in MARC format, just for fun. Then there’s the whole question of edition. If I were reissuing these books in print, they would be new editions. But ebooks are different. I think. Sort of. (Non-cataloguers may safely ignore this paragraph).
I have also rewritten the descriptions of the books — brief ones of fewer than 400 characters (60 words), and longer ones in the neighbourhood of 2,000 characters (about 400 words). The short descriptions are the sort of thing you see in a publisher’s catalogue; the longer ones are more like jacket blurbs (interesting word, “blurb;” check Wikipedia for its origin). For the blurbs, I started with texts of short synopses I’ve written over the years, but swiftly realized the fundamental difference between a synopsis, which is intended to encapsulate a novel for presentation to a publisher, and the tantalizing jacket blurb that tells the potential reader just enough to make them want to buy the book. You definitely don’t want to create “spoilers” for your own books!
Right now I am working with my Word documents, adding extras such as Afterwords and excerpts from the sequels to each book, as well as creating hyperlinked tables of contents. Once all that’s done and my new cover images are ready, I will re-launch all four books. That may happen as early as next weekend if all goes well.
What with work and all this activity, I have neither time nor mental capacity for other blog topics. The garden (which isn’t doing much) and further thoughts on hypocrisy (which is everywhere) will just have to wait.
I’ve pretty much given up reviewing books here, preferring to do that on Goodreads. But this book is such a special case, I thought I would dump out my thoughts about it here.
This is what it looks like.
First of all, in the ubiquitous 5-star rating system, I would give this book three stars. Maybe 3.5 — mostly for a clever and intriguing package. It really does celebrate (and, some would say, desecrate) the book as physical object. The book, entitled Ship of Theseus, supposedly published in 1949, really does look like an old library book, complete with return dates stamped inside the back cover. (The latest date is from 2000, which suggests that good old Pollard State U is really behind the times, because rubber date stamps disappeared from college libraries long before the end of the last century. But never mind that). The grey buckram binding, the slightly discoloured paper, even a typewritten spine label — having worked in libraries for more than 30 years I found all that totally charming, especially a stamped note inside the back cover, exhorting the borrower to “Keep This Book Clean.”
That’s ironic, because of the marginal notes.
Reprehensible in a library book, some would say, although I believe that thoughtful marginal notes add value to a book. The thing about these voluminous notes is that they represent a second storyline, one more recent than that of Ship of Theseus, incorporating a good deal of debate about that book and its fictional author, V.M. Straka. (See how intriguing this sounds? Sucked me right in).
As I write this, I haven’t nearly finished the book. I’m only on page 28 of 456. So what am I doing writing a review? That’s just it — the very things that make this book such an attractive package also make it very difficult to read. The 22 inserts — loose pages of various sizes, a photograph, paper napkin with a map drawn on it, postcards and mysterious decoder wheel — are, to put it bluntly, a pain in the ass. It’s impossible to keep them from falling out of the book or to keep them in order. Because of them, you really need to read this book at a table or desk, not on the couch or in bed, and certainly not on public transit or in the bathtub.
Then there’s the legibility issue. The all-important footnotes (because they contain clues as to the true identity of the mysterious Straka) are in a near-microscopic font. Add a magnifying glass to your reading equipment. The intriguing annotations become annoying in short order, especially the earliest lot, written in faint pencil by the disgraced grad student character. They are almost impossible to make out in the dim light of the bedside lamp. Add a good reading lamp, preferably one with a green glass shade such as those found in some library reading rooms.
What this book needs, in my opinion, is an electronic version along with the physical one. The purchaser could admire the physical features of the faked-up old book and all the extras, but in order actually to read it, they could go to the e-version and highlight either the text of Ship of Theseus or the marginal notes. Text enlargement would certainly help with the footnotes, and clickable icons would bring up images of the inserts. The reader could experience the book almost anywhere — bed and bus if not bath — while the physical version is way too awkward in any of those settings.
These issues aside, so far I haven’t had too much trouble following the two story lines, but it’s slow going. There is no way I’m going to finish this book by the time it’s due back at the library. Which is why I’m writing all this down while I still have it in hand.
Finally, I have to comment on that title — S. That’s it. How silly is that? “What are you reading these days?”"S.” “What?” “S. That’s the title.” “Huh. Sounds dumb to me. So what’s it about?” I’m betting most people will end up calling it Ship of Theseus, or, as the two marginalists do, SOT.
This book, by the way, presented unique problems when it came to preparing it for library circulation. (I work in the department responsible for the library’s catalogue and preparation of materials). We put a good deal of work and creativity into devising a way to package all the loose inserts so they wouldn’t get lost. Sadly, we covered up the genuine-looking spine label with our own.
Addendum: by the time I had to return the book, I had read only to page 65 or so. Too bad, it was starting to get interesting. I might just revise my rating to 4 stars, if I ever get a chance to finish reading it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about hypocrisy lately. I’m not sure why, but it has certainly proved to be a blog-worthy topic. In fact, it’s going to be a two-parter.
First, however, the definition and origin of the word. The Oxford English Dictionary (online version) defines hypocrisy as “the assuming of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, with dissimulation of real character or inclinations … pretence, sham.” As for the etymology, it appears the word in Greek referred to “the acting of a part on the stage, feigning, pretence.”
Part I: Everyday Hypocrisy.
Who among us isn’t a hypocrite at some time? We are all guilty. Social events, workplace etiquette, even simple daily interactions with others demand that we act in a way or say something at variance with our true beliefs. A certain amount of this is necessary, as in the “little white lies” that smooth the bumps and jags of social interaction. But it doesn’t stop there.
“That outfit looks great on you!” “I’m really excited about the reorganization.” The thoughts behind the words may very well be something like “The outfit makes her look like a clown, but I know she spent a bundle on it and expects me to say it looks great, so I really have no choice,” and, “The reorganization is a major pain that won’t accomplish anything, but I want to look like a proactive team player who embraces change, so I’d better act excited.”
“Political correctness” equals hypocrisy. As soon as a chunk of humanity is designated as a special group, any mention of it invites hypocrisy. Truth! Who ever really thought “chairperson” was anything but an awkward and laughable word? “Handicap” is now a bad word; “disability” is preferable, but some now advocate for “diversability,” which I find offensive because it’s meaningless. Who doesn’t have diverse abilities? How does this word distinguish anything?
The thing that really bugs me about these semantic machinations is that they actually create barriers. If you don’t buy into something, but only say you do because you don’t feel you have a choice, resentment is inevitable. Not wanting to admit your hypocrisy, you start to feel isolated from the rest of your team or group, one who harbours a shameful secret. Wouldn’t the truly inclusive thing be to allow everyone to voice their true thoughts and discuss them? A real exchange of ideas would create long-term genuine change, rather than the childish expedient of drawing a line and declaring that everyone on this side is good and those on the other side are bad.
To bring about a change in thinking is better (but far more difficult) than changing the words applied to groups, situations or ideas. Simply changing a word is creating a milieu for hypocrisy.
Everyday hypocrisy. It’s indispensable in human society. Which is why I often prefer the society of plants and animals.
Part II next time: The Introvert’s Dilemma.