Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Careful, Sensitive Temperament

“The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement.” – science journalist Winifred Gallagher

I’m a sitter, not a rover.
I found this out last year reading Susan Cain’s essay about introversion in the New York Times (“Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?” June 26, 2011). Her essay made me very happy even if it did not put me at ease.

As someone born with a “sitter-like” temperament, I am predisposed to shyness and introversion; 15-20% of humans are also born with this disposition. Sitters notice things; we are careful, astute and, apparently, learn by observation rather than acting. So we notice the nuances of human interaction – the kindnesses, but also the slights, the rewards, but more so the risks in every social situation. The noticing makes us watchful; the watchfulness makes us take heed; we would prefer to take heed in quiet, minimally stimulating environments wherein we can really, really focus on noticing. Does the last sentence make you claustrophobic? Then welcome to the 80%! Likely, you would rather be hanging out with friends than sitting by yourself thinking about why so many people like to hang out with their friends. I’m sick!

Actually, I am not sick. I am sensitive and empathetic. I listen well and I am good at photographing people. Oh, and I truly KNOW I should come out of my shell and enjoy society. I’ve thought about it a lot and work every day on accepting opportunities to relax, explore, make friends and have fun. I am introverted, not stupid.

Susan Cain’s point in writing about shyness and introversion is to emphasize what is right about my personality type as counterpoint to the medical community’s pathologizing my fundamental nature. “Social Anxiety Disorder” did not exist until 1980 when it appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the bible of mental disorders. Characterized as a “social phobia,” social anxiety disorder was not widely known until pharmaceutical companies received F.D.A. approval to treat it. I am highly valued as a customer of big pharm even if I’m undervalued in a culture that prizes extroversion.

Not to worry! Within my small group of friends, the conversation about my abilities or disabilities has never come up. So, I almost wept with the shock of recognition to discover Susan Cain’s essay and to read that 15-20% are like me! And we don’t need Zoloft!

Here is a link to the article:

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The Artists’ Sublime Sailboat

From ARTFORUM, Oct.29, 2009

Tacita Dean: “SOME TIME AFTER we worked together on Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS, Merce asked me to collaborate with him on an Event. Through CalArts, Merce and Trevor Carlson, the executive director of his company, had found this huge space in Richmond—a former Ford factory. My interest was more in Merce at that point than it was in the dancers—my history with old men! I wanted to film him, which is why I chose to film the rehearsal because during the performance he recedes a bit. It was a shock when he died. I really believed he would go on for another few years.”


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