What is the deal with those introverts anyway? Why do they — ahem, why do WE — seem to always be running off into a quiet little corner somewhere?
It might surprise you to find out the real reason why. Because, truth be told, we’re not trying to be evasive. We introverts need other people as much as anyone. But as Susan Cain (of the bestselling “Quiet” book) mentioned in a recent Reader’s Digest interview, many introverts are highly creative individuals, and creativity usually involves being by oneself.
But why? I found Susan’s answer intriguing. In order to access original ideas.
Think about it. How easy is it to access original ideas in the middle of a bustling party? Nearly impossible, right? I’m not saying it can’t be done, and I know some people work best with lots of noise all around. But to be truly creative and go to the depths enough to reach those original thoughts, such as that which might be required to craft a story, a person needs to fall into some kind of hole; they need to insulate themselves somehow.
I’ve been fascinated by a book I stumbled upon recently that offers, in my humble opinion, an extraordinary glimpse of the Holocaust. Now, I know that typically, studying this unfortunate time in our history can be downright depressing. But in the case of Etty Hillesum’s diaries, “An Interrupted Life,” and the followup, “Letters from Westerbork,” the depressive element was constantly tempered, page after page, with incredible insight.
Much of her illuminations were spiritual in nature, but some had to do with more ordinary things — the pursuit of writing, for example. Not that writing can’t be a spiritual exercise — I find it often is. But for Etty and many of us, it also fills a mental need, as well as an almost physical need to get what’s in our heads out and onto paper.
I was transfixed reading about Etty’s departure from Amsterdam, where she enjoyed daily sessions at her beloved writing desk, to the concentration camp where, initially, she worked for the Jewish Council, and then later, became an “inmate.” Through all of that, the quest for a quiet place to write, with some sort of writing tools at hand, became a regular pursuit — almost as much so as finding the next meal.
At one point, Etty describes it this way (p.326):
“In the mornings when I wake up, I lie cocooned in these stories; it is a rich awakening, you know. But then I get twinges of pain; the ideas and images simply demand to be written down, but there is nowhere for me to sit in peace.”
Sometimes, she said, she would “walk around for hours looking for a quiet little corner.”
“Once a stray cat came in during the night,” she continued. “We put a hatbox for it on the WC, and it had kittens inside. I sometimes feel like a stray cat without a hatbox.” (my emphasis)
Did that image ever hit home for me. How often have I searched for a quiet little corner to write, and with not much luck? My life is often about this very thing!
A short time later, just a few paragraphs away in fact, she writes of finding a newly discovered corner in a wing of a hospital canteen, “a place to which I shall be able to withdraw now and then for a little while.”
But then, just a few sentences later: “Well dear Lord, I thought I had found a quiet little spot but it is suddenly full of kitchen staff with clattering pans of stew and hospital staff settling down around the trestle tables to eat.”
How I feel for Etty. And how I would have liked to provide for her a quiet corner where she could have found respite to write even more of her beautiful words.
We all need that at certain times, but Etty needed it as much as food almost. She had a hunger to record her thoughts, even in those circumstances — especially in them — and in order to access her original ideas, she simply had to find a place away from the noisy, crowded barracks.
I have gone on too long about this, I’m afraid, but but Susan Cain and Etty Hillesum converged in my mind tonight, and I thought Etty’s descriptions too beautiful not to include. Reading about her predicament made me appreciate not only the need for those quiet little corners, but also the fact that, despite them being elusive at times, they are necessary to us writers, and introverts in general. Without them, we cannot think, and without the chance to think and process, we can easily find life nearly unbearable.
At some point, Etty lost her quiet little corners altogether as she left with her mother, father and brother on a transport train heading to their final destination of Auschwitz, Poland. I ache to think of it, and yet perhaps I can do something, even now. So, in her honor, I commit to using the corners I have at my disposal as well and wisely as possible from here on out. Won’t you consider the same?
Q4U: Where are your quiet little corners?