Introverts and the Produce Section

So here’s a fun thing I’ve realized this morning:

Introverts seem to take some sort of collective refuge in the produce department.

Let me explain.

I am painfully, radically introverted. There are reasons for it. I won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say that although I inexplicably love my job, where I have to talk to people all day, I don’t love it for the interaction. I love it for the time I can spend writing about the interaction afterward. Being in a newsroom – a room full of other writers – is the most delightfully strange experience. It’s a place where you can be entirely wrapped up in your own work, completely down your own little rabbit hole, with others in similar rabbit holes all around you, but every now and then one of them will pop up and generate a little conversation before all of you head back to your solitary work. And, at the end of it all, everyone turns in a map for their rabbit hole to be published the following morning.

Writing is this weird, entirely solitary act and I can’t think of another place where people of the temperament and inclination to do it would gather together. Not for the actual act of it. Writer’s groups are where people who share a love of writing can get together afterward to discuss what they’ve done. Writing classes are the pregame show. But newsrooms are where everyone works together on entirely individual endeavors before quilting them together and then starting all over again the next day.

Yes, I can interview people. I can even appear mostly comfortable and normal as I do it, the majority of the time. But inwardly I’m clawing the walls waiting for it to end and I have to fight the inclination to avoid interviews hard. If it were up to me I’d interview every single person, ideally, through email or, at the very least, over the phone.

Interaction is very, very draining for me.

Anyhow, this post isn’t about introversion so much as it is about a curious common thread among introverts who write. And that thread is the produce section.

Right after I had the girls I started writing about the dissonance between my experience of new motherhood and the world’s expectation of my experience of new motherhood. Namely, I despised it. And the world had no idea what to do with a woman who did not enjoy having two brand new babies to care for. Because what sort of a woman must that be?

Concerning, to say the least. Downright criminal, unnatural even, in the worst assessments.

I had to write it. I had to write it and show it to people, to legitimize my discontent, to which I was entirely entitled. Joan Didion once wrote that “…In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act.” I felt that I needed to aggressively thrust my lived reality into the face of the world which felt bullying, and overbearing, and judgmental. It empowered me.

Anyhow, that’s not the point here either.

The point is that I came up with one lyric essay, one little prose poem, of which I was particularly proud, which talked about going to the grocery store with twin infants. When you have twins, everyone feels extra emboldened to comment. When you are pregnant with twins, when you look as though you’ve swallowed not a watermelon but an entire watermelon patch, people really, really love to comment. And ask questions. Oh, god the questions. Things you would never, ever ask a mother of a single baby, or a woman with just one lonesome fetus inside her thorax.

I’ve developed an entire forthcoming post just laying out those questions, and how I would answer them honestly if honesty and authenticity were socially sanctioned response methods.

Anyhow, this essay…I’ll have to dig it out. It really is worth pulling out and polishing. I think it could be a good submission somewhere, now that it’s had a chance to age a bit.

Anyhow, in it I talk about being in the produce section. And I don’t know why, but when I think about grocery shopping, which is a huge, huge trigger for me in terms of anxiety and attentional issues, by the way, I think of the produce section. I think it’s because it’s unlike the rest of the store. The lighting is different. The floors are always different. It’s more bodega-ish. Especially in non-Walmart grocery stores. Produce is always this sort of open-air, natural, wood-looking floors, nice ambient lighting, open floor plan, just nicer-feeling area of the store. I don’t know why. I’m sure it has something to do with encouraging you to spend more. But I’ve always hated and loved produce, simultaneously.

Aisles present their own problems for the introverted. The natural chute nature of an aisle makes  avoidance impossible, unless you want to go for the straight up ignore.

I’m in no way above the straight up ignore, by the way. I’ll pretend I don’t even see you because I’ve carefully cultivated my flighty airhead reputation for just that purpose. So when I “didn’t even notice you,” it’s probably more likely that I saw you ten seconds after I got in the door and the only reason we’re meeting at all is because I miscalculated the time it would take for you to travel x number of distance units through the premises, or you decided to double back for something in an aisle I’d already secured visual confirmation of you leaving.

And it’s not to be rude.

No, I know. I know that it is rude. Social protocol states very clearly that this is rude behavior, but if you’ve never had a mild coronary event at the prospect of having to have an interaction with someone, even – especially, even – someone you like, you don’t get to judge.

Anyhow, I remember very clearly as I wrote that piece, so long ago, going straight to produce in my mind.

Fast forward to today, and I’ve gotten some newsletter business from Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution website in my inbox. If you’re introverted on any level, I can’t recommend that you familiarize yourself with Cain and Quiet Revolution strongly enough. It’s made me feel infinitely less alien in a world where I tend not to represent most people or the prevailing temperaments and/or mindsets.

Anyhow, I was reading along through the essay on the front page this morning and I became acutely aware of the connections between this piece and my little essay from so many light years ago. It was a good essay. So I finished it up and went back to the front page, to scroll through and see if there were any other intriguing essays fairly high up in the timeline, and I came across this.

Now, how on earth have I come across two essays independently written that both share my essay’s fixation on the goddamn produce aisle?

I don’t have an answer.

My scientific method brain is positively humming, though, with hypotheses and correlations I can’t begin to design experimental parameters within which to test. I will have to settle, for the time being, at recognition.

It is so, so weird when little things pop up to suggest connections you never, ever would have put together on your own.

Introverts and the produce section. Who the hell would ever have guessed?



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