As we approach Thanksgiving this pandemic year, I find myself strangely relieved by the new circumstances placed upon us.
Instead of the bustle of extravagant meal preparation which, in years past, included feeble attempts to cook the obligatory turkey for guests (my parents and I are vegetarians), this year feels starkly different.
With much of life canceled because of COVID-19, so too are large holiday gatherings, which for many of us involved traveling, cooking and jostling with friends, family and relatives at the buffet table.
So why the relief? Shouldn’t I be saddened by the disruption of our country’s beloved tradition or embarrassed to admit I’m not?
Honest assessment: No. Why? Because, frankly, it was exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s nostalgia for the times before the pandemic. A remembrance of things past increasingly appreciated in their sheer absence. But as I dig deeper, this feeling of respite expands beyond Thanksgiving and the holidays.
Which brings me to 2020 as a whole.
A year that, with all its negativity, loss and hardship globally and personally, has revealed a surprising silver lining.
Namely, the opportunity to slow down in a world that never stops going.
I’m not saying this year has been easy. On the contrary, I’ve lost my job, I’m going through a divorce, and I’m packing up my entire life to live on a sailboat in Mexico (the latter a welcome recompense for the difficult former).
But in this general unraveling of all things I’ve known and loved, I’ve found a greater sense of self by honoring my tendency toward introversion, focusing on my personal creative projects, well-being and enduring need to be alone.
And for once, I don’t feel the need to apologize for this.
I’ve spent much of my life at war with certain aspects of myself. My instincts and actions at times colliding in a frustrating paradox that’s left me uneasy in my own skin.
While I’m generally a gregarious participant at dinner parties, a singer onstage in front of crowds and an adventurer who loves connecting with people, sometimes this feels like a masquerade, an expectation to always be on in a culture that overwhelmingly favors extroversion.
In her New York Times bestselling book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” Susan Cain discusses the cultural evolution of the “Extrovert Ideal,” which “reached a tipping point around the turn of the twentieth century, changing forever who we are and whom we admire, how we act at job interviews and what we look for in an employee, how we court our mates and raise our children.”
Moving away from the preceding “Culture of Character” (celebrating quiet and dignified introversion à la Abraham Lincoln) to a “Culture of Personality” (extroversion and the rise of the salesman) has “opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover,” writes Cain.
As an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling and judging) on the Myers-Briggs personality test, I admit that parties overwhelm me if I don’t know anyone with whom I can have a comfortable, genuine conversation. I prefer making music in a cozy recording studio with candles and blankets rather than an audience watching my every move. I’m stifled in large crowds; Burning Man takes weeks of mental preparation and even longer to get over. And I’ve always championed one-on-one conversations in frumpy PJs over group settings while suffering in high heels.
As Linus poignantly stated in Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts,” “I love mankind … it’s people I can’t stand!!”
An extremity, sure, but a sentiment I understand.
When it comes to travel, I will always opt for off-the-grid adventures instead of crowded campgrounds and small, quaint villages where no one speaks my language over tourist traps with a Starbucks on every corner.
The more external stimulation that comes my way, whether it’s people, sounds or sights, the more my internal battery seems to waver and needs recharging in a hobbity hole surrounded by cats.
Perhaps that’s the mask I’ve been fighting against, this pressure to brand and sell myself to avoid the dreaded inferiority complex — “a grave liability in an increasingly competitive society,” writes Cain.
Could it be that 2020 has finally allowed introverts like me to get a little edge in? Finally empowered to take ownership of quieter, introspective qualities without feeling like an antisocial hermit too sensitive for this world?
Even acclaimed psychiatrist Carl Jung revered introverts as “educators and promoters of culture,” purveyors of “the interior life which is so painfully wanting in our civilization.”
Many of my extroverted friends have expressed a greater difficulty adjusting to this new normal with so many of the things they thrive on now amiss — a robust social life, events and gatherings, air travel, going to a job, restaurants and bars. I’m not saying I don’t miss any of the above (I’m no Scrooge), but with life slowing down as we hide away from a pandemic, this feeling of always needing to keep up with an extroverted lifestyle has eased, allowing me time to reflect, rebuild and focus on what really matters in life.
Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert or somewhere in between, perhaps one positive takeaway from an otherwise painfully tumultuous year is this: an opportunity to become intimate with our inner self (sage words by my introvert mother).
So, in the spirit of unapologetic introversion, my Thanksgiving will look something like this: my parents, best friend and I clad in our PJs, devouring a sacrilegious, American-British vegetarian smorgasbord complete with a vegetarian Yorkshire pudding (a northern English family tradition), followed by “The Great British Baking Show” over dessert and an aperitif of “Long Way Up” to satisfy our wanderlust.
And perhaps this Thanksgiving, without the pomp and circumstance, the obligatory small talk and hours baking in front of a blazing oven, we can all find a little more space to be ourselves and reflect on what we’re truly thankful for this surreal year.