I see myself as a closet introvert, someone who would rather stay home and read a good book and not go to a party with strangers. Still, as I get older I find it a little easier to pretend I’m an extrovert, even in situations where I feel uncomfortable doing so.
Last week provided me with a wonderful opportunity to confirm that it is important to continue to try extroversion when it is appropriate. For readers who also are closet introverts, take this as a sign that the benefits of pretending you’re more outgoing than you feel can outweigh the possibility of momentary discomfort.
My story begins with the drafting of the first chapter of my new novel, which takes place in the Andes and involves a tale inspired by ancestors who lived there around 1900. The biggest challenge is describing a setting I’ve never been to. I’ve figured out ways to get around this, but still feel a bit like a cheater. Friends tell me I have to travel to the Andes, but when I think of places I’d like to visit before I die, the Andes hasn’t surfaced near the top of my list.
A few minutes after shutting down my computer and feeling satisfied with my first few pages, I drove to meet a friend for lunch at a shopping mall. I arrived early and decided to continue walking until our meeting time. I hadn’t gone far before I stopped, my mouth gaping, in front of a store called Andean Essence. Was this fate or what?
I walked in and saw the proprietor sitting in an alcove behind the main part of the store completely absorbed in painting a picture. He didn’t look up. I stood and stared. Now what? If I’d been there to shop, I’d have no problem interrupting his concentration, but I wanted to ask him for help. Finally I spoke. I told him a little about my story and asked if I could interview him. “I want to know what Andes mountain air feels like, and the sounds, the smells, and the landscape of the region,” I said.
“You want to interview me?” He almost blushed. “I would be honored.”
The interview took place a few days later. He was most interested in talking about the cosmic world, while I was aiming my questions at ground level. In exchange for listening to his views on the connections between all beings, the causes of racism, and environmental issues, I learned a little about his home town, and Andean trees, birds, musical instruments, grains, medicinal herbs, as well as guinea pigs as items on a family’s dinner menu, and local wild animals. All in all, a fair trade. He taught me a few words in a language I didn’t recognize, after which I asked, “Are you Quechua?”
When he said, “Yes,” I was thrilled. I had met someone from the same indigenous group my ancestors lived with. He spoke the same language that ultimately thwarted their efforts to achieve their goals, since — like me — they only knew Spanish. Equally thrilling was meeting someone a few miles from home, who could give me a first-hand view of the setting for my novel and maybe even become a model for one of its characters. And all because for one moment I’d decided to step out of my shell.