In Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson writes several poems about her best friend, Maria. A poem called “what if …?” asks what if Woodson and Maria had never met?
What if Maria hadn’t walked out of her building
one day and said,
My name is Maria but my mom calls me Googoo.
What if I had laughed instead of saying,
You’re lucky. I wish I had a nickname, too.
You want to go to the park sometime?
Many friendships, even BFFs, begin that randomly. Mine happened my freshman year of college, when I was mailing a letter at the campus post office. Another student was there, and despite my introversion, we chatted because there were only the two of us there that day and to not chit-chat is rude in Texas. We discovered we were both mailing letters to the same apartment complex in Waco because we each had a boyfriend living there. I said if she ever wanted a ride, she could come along. Thus began a friendship.
Jenn and I are alike in some ways — we both love books — but she is more extroverted than I am. (Note: It’s not hard to be more extroverted than I am. Just because I know how to make small talk in a campus post office doesn’t mean I like it.)
A couple of years ago Jenn and I took our friendship to a new level. Each week we read one chapter at a time along with the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text and have a phone call to discuss the chapter and the podcast. Hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile take take a simple approach: “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts?”
The format is perfect for my introverted tendencies: a set call with a set friend about a set topic. The podcast reads each chapter through a theme, so Jenn and I usually discuss the theme in our call. We also mark a sentence from the chapter that sparkled at us and do our own version of floralegium, reading our sentences next to each other to see if we gain any deeper insight. Lately we’ve been exploring the practice of marginalia, taking notes in the margins and sharing them.
We do a surprisingly good job of sticking to the chapter as a lens for anything else we talk about. That’s another benefit for me, as an introvert. I don’t feel like I have to talk about everything. But our weekly chats do allow us to talk about our lives in unexpected ways. If one of us says how much she identified with Hermione in the week’s chapter, the other friend can comment about that in the broader context of either Hermione’s development as a character or the knowledge we have of each other that comes from a twenty-nine year friendship.
There have been times when one of us needed the phone call more than we realized. Sometimes we don’t recognize we’re having a hard time until we discuss book 5, chapter 2 through the theme of frustration, and see ourselves in — shudder — Petunia Dursley. In that particular chapter, Jenn noticed something about Dudley’s reaction to the dementor attack that had never occurred to me, and I later used that insight to help me navigate a relationship with a difficult person.
Some weeks both of us are prepared, and some weeks only one of us is truly ready. We have grace for each other. In April, when I was helping my dad move, I didn’t read the chapter for a month, but I did listen to the podcast. Likewise, Jenn has had weeks when life pushed literature to the margin. Since we’ve both read the books multiple times, we’re never coming in cold.
Maybe two extroverts would feel stifled by a regular phone meeting. But for an introvert like me, it’s paradise. I think Luna Lovegood, the character with whom I most identify in the series, would agree. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, she says, “I enjoyed the meetings, too. It was like having friends.”
Photo by Joel Olives, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Megan Willome, author of The Joy of Poetry.
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“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro
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Will Willingham says
Megan, I love this. It’s interesting to this introvert, because while a set meeting so often sounds like a good idea at the time, I find myself trying to angle a way out of it when the time comes, preferring to have some alone time. Of course, assuming I don’t find my way out of it, I do usually have quite a nice time.
But I do like this approach, the focus of it and the sense of ease that this kind of structure can give us. And I’m absolutely going to check out this podcast. 🙂
L.L. Barkat says
Oh! Me too. It’s as if the imagining of it has been good enough for me, and now the thought of actually “get-thee-there” is almost too much to bear (okay, being a little dramatic there, but, really, I have a hard time conjuring the energy to go).
But then, as you say, once there, the world opens. I do have a good time. More than a good time. Because, on the social side, I’m more extroverted, expressive. So what it turns out I need is someone else to help me get in motion, most often by simply offering some kind of outside momentum (“I’ll call you at 8,” “I’ll drive us there,” “We can take it easy and turn back if we feel tired,” “It’s only an hour, and it’ll be over before you know it,” “I’ll pick up some chocolates as a gift for them,” “I’ll come to you.”)
(So, um, what do two introvert friends do? Stay home. Read a book together-apart, like I did with my eldest all last evening. Make a cup of tea and let that be the silent conversation, “I love you, I’m glad you’re here.”)
Megan, I loved this piece and how it gives a way forward for those who are socially introverted (just one of the pieces of the introversion puzzle, which is not really mine but is *totally* my youngest daughter’s, and she’s been trying to find a way forward towards making (and keeping) friends, because she actually deeply loves friendships but is soooooo shy). Okay, so. The Harry Potter Podcast method. 🙂
Megan Willome says
I feel sure Vanessa and Casper would be so happy to know they are ministering in a whole new way–to introverts.
LW, there are weeks when I think, “No, I just can’t.” But then I do, and I’m so grateful. When we really do have to miss, that’s when I know how much I rely on our weekly chats.
And L.L., I am very shy. I can work around it now because I have so many examples in my life of having done so. (Kinda like how Harry knew he could cast a patronus because he saw himself do it before he actually did it, sorta).
Sandra Heska King says
Me, three! And you are so lucky to have a friend like that. I promised Lillee (who, by the way, memorized The Purple Cow this weekend, and I recorded it) that I’d read a couple of her favorite books with her. I think we’ll try to discuss them over FaceTime. And though I forget about podcasts (and often get distracted), I’m running right behind LW and LL.
Megan Willome says
Sandy, I think that’s a great way to connect with your granddaughter, especially if you are reading *her* favorite books. That shows you take her seriously and are open to reading things that you might not pick up otherwise.
Laura Lynn Brown says
Having a purpose and a structure — great idea. Because the lack of either can drive an introvert nuts. And it’s good that the conversations aren’t focused on, but can allow, real-life discussion when it’s relevant. (That reminds me a little of those months we spent poetry buddying.)
Andother great thing about this: friends who live too far apart to see each other can do this, either as a one-time or quarterly or monthly.
To think you might not have met if not for that post office meeting and the Texan social pressure to chat. I wonder whether the friendship is the best result of having dated that guy in the Waco apartment. (Or is the answer “Reader, I married him”?)
L.L. Barkat says
I’m interested in the idea of the lack of purpose and structure driving an introvert nuts. 🙂 Which part of introvert? (Of the parts mentioned in the quiz at Scientific American.) I’m thinking that’s not the part I have, because somehow purpose and structure get me wanting to do something else altogether. Well, at least if it feels imposed. (Maybe this is where the “thought introvert” comes in… in other words, not wanting to go with someone else’s program, because it feels too much like you’re not alone in your thoughts, pursuing what’s most fascinating to you? I was approaching off the charts in that part of introversion, with a 47 out of 50.)
Anyway, could you say more about how this works for you (if that’s how it works for you)? 🙂
Megan Willome says
Sure, I’ll try.
I think of conversations much like I think about the need to eat—how much energy am I going to expend? If I do a 30-mile bike ride on a new route, I’ll need to up my caloric intake to compensate for the newness of it all. Likewise, if I’m in a conversation that is unfamiliar, it takes more energy, and I’ll some quiet time to recharge.
Megan Willome says
Oops, sorry. My bad.
There are just a lot of things I’d rather do than delve into the mysteries of me. Like put another poem in my heart. 🙂
Laura Lynn Brown says
Thanks for asking. I’m not sure I can say what part of introvert. (I also tested high on the thinking part, though not as high as you.)
Yes, too much purpose and structure can also drive an introvert nuts. 🙂 I think what makes the difference here is something ongoing. If I’m going to commit to something like that, I want to have some agreement of what it will be, what we want out of it, what we *don’t* want out of it. This is more true in groups of more than two, I suppose; it’s true of writing groups. Possibly the link to introversion is that if a group or recurring thing is going in an uncomfortable direction, a social introvert may have a hard time speaking up or suggesting a course correction.
I think it comes from the same introvert place as being impatient with small talk. And I think that can come from a place of childlike hope, and a sense of possibility; too much small talk fails to achieve the liftoff that’s possible in the best conversations and gatherings.
This might also be specific to those whose introversion includes not liking to talk on the phone.
Megan Willome says
I married mine; she did not. We both made the right choice.
And yes, there were definite echoes of our poetry buddying time. The discussion in both cases was focused on a particular thing, and yet there is freedom to branch out, should the mood strike.