“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions--sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments--both physical and emotional--unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss--another person's shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”
~Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
I am a textbook introvert. For as long as I remember, I favored alone time and small gatherings of close friends to large group activities and over stimulating experiences. I dread small talk and feel anxious at cocktail parties and networking events. I would rather debate the meaning of life with a complete stranger on the subway than talk about the weather with a friend.
At the same time, I am an actor and playwright. It's my task to connect with other people, to be able to get inside a character's head, to understand and explore the dynamics of relationships between people. Realizing I was an introvert was a life changing breakthrough for me. But trying reconcile my private self with my very public theatre self? It's been a thought provoking, sometimes challenging journey. It's taken a lot of trial and error to try to balance the two.
An introverted artist and a documentary play in the making? It's a recipe for an interesting creative process, to say the least. Before my first interview, my palms were sweaty. It took me a few tries to dial the correct phone number of the interviewee because I was so nervous. I could hear my own ragged breathing echoing back to me from my cell phone. I was sure that when the person picked up, the first thing they would hear would not be my shaky "Hello!" but the very loud beating of my heart.
The first few minutes of the interview were a little jerky, like climbing onto a bicycle that I haven't ridden in a few years. I took some deep breaths. I really listened to what the interviewee was saying about their work, about their life. After a couple of minutes, my anxiety lessened, fading into the background. What was left was my authentic, curious self, willing to face my fear of conversation in order to truly witness someone's story. It was as if I had found the perfect gear for my bicycle ride; instead of an effort to converse with the person on the other end of the line, it became a pleasure.
Each time I've conducted an interview, I have felt so honored that these friends and strangers alike have trusted me to share such personal details about their lives, their struggles, their dreams. I've felt grateful to be able to connect so genuinely. When I do an interview, I don't do a lot of small talk to start with. Nervous as I am, each call or meeting is like a cold swimming pool. Rather than delay my anxiety and self-consciousness, I dive right in.
I believe when we face fear, we are rewarded with courage. It is hard to express how much I feel I've gained both artistically and personally as a result of interviewing so many people across the country for this play. This introvert would rather feel all the anxiety and shyness in the world if it means making a connection with another human being. When I asked one interviewee what question she wishes people would ask her, she said "I want them to do like you're doing. Just really get to know me and it be ok with them." To say that this play has already changed me is an understatement.
Susan Cain also says "When you’re focused on a project that you care about, you probably find that your energy is boundless.” I know this to be true. After I end each interview, I can hardly wait to get to the next one, to enter that space where I am really making a connection about something I care so deeply about. When I get to the next interview, and my fear of speaking with someone I don't know inevitably begins to surface, I have the advantage. I know this drill. This happened before, and it will happen again. But for the moment, I begin by taking a deep breath, asking that first question, and trying to be fully present. If I focus on those things to start, I can almost guarantee that I will find myself in that magic moment where both I and the interviewee are vulnerable and trusting. In that space, there's no limit to the connection or insight that can happen.