The 2017 List: 13 things to bring into the new year

With some truly depressing 2017 lists out there, I want to add a couple that might actually come in handy... or at least crack a smile.

Here is the Rebel With a Pen list of what to take with you when leaping into 2017:

  1. Chocolate
  2. A solar panel
  3. A manual for communicating with racists
  4. A Canadian passport or at least least a maple leaf bumper sticker
  5. Your entire library of books
  6. Wool socks
  7. A couple of 1960s protest albums
  8. Food stockpiles
  9. A bomb shelter
  10. Your family and near neighbors
  11. A first aid kit with extra bandages
  12. Your ability to laugh in the face of disaster
  13. Your generosity of spirit when it comes to people you might feel like judging

And with some of the bizarre wish lists out there, I figured that my brand of fantasy wouldn't seem far fetched at all. Here's my wish list for 2017:

  1. I wish Donald Trump would get on TV, laugh really loud and say, "Just kidding!" And then go back to his moocher lifestyle and leave us in peace.
  2. I wish everyone in the media would suddenly realize they should actually listen to scientists. Then science and climate discussions would be at the top of the news cycle all year long.
  3. I wish oil executives would realize the Indians own that land in North Dakota and that squeezing every last drop of oil out of the sand in Texas is not going to prolong their gluttonous lifestyle for very long anyway so they might as well start thinking about long-term survival.
  4. I wish my kids would wake up January 1 and realize that bickering defeats fun.
  5. I wish the next president would declare a new New Deal consisting of building solar panels to go on every roof and a light-rail system serving the entire country.
  6. I wish all the teenage ISIS fighters would get a deep hankering to go live with their mothers and watch TV until they're forty. 
  7. I wish all bombs, missiles and munitions as well as all guns not in a safe under lock and key would mysteriously disappear on January 1.
  8. I wish someone brilliant would invent a way for writers and artists to make a living at their craft.
  9. I wish Microsoft would go bankrupt and have to sell off all of its parts to independent programmers who want to make an honest living.
  10. I wish our society would begin taxing the use of natural resources instead of the labor of the working poor and the funds would be put toward educational opportunity, urban greenspaces, rural public transit and subsidies for high quality cottage industries. 
  11. I wish a benign virus would evolve and spread among humans which deactivates the part of the brain that categorizes according to skin color, speech pattern and the appearance of a person's eyes.

With those sweet and optimistic thoughts in mind, I wish you a very happy (and peaceful) new year!

What kids need during the holidays

I woke up one winter morning in middle childhood to the sound of gunshots on the other side of a thin wooden wall. The light coming through the window was eerie, pale and wavering like a cold candle. 

I jumped out of bed and searched for my parents, who slept in the bed next to mine. Their covers were rumpled and they were gone. I raced to the loft where my brothers slept. My little brother was sitting up in his blankets while my older brother struggled quickly into his shirt.

"What's that noise?" I cried. 

"Pa's shooting his gun," my older brother said.

The front door to our cabin slammed and I could hear Mama coming in below. We scrambled to the railing and demanded to know what was going on. Mama explained with a tone somewhere between resignation and reassurance that all the deep heavy snow we had thought was melting the night before had frozen solid as a rock over night and Pa was shooting clumps of ice out of the giant fir tree next to our house... so that it wouldn't fall and crush our house. 

This memory, one of the clearest I have from childhood, is oddly tinged with brilliant sparkle. There is almost no fear in my memory, as if I thought all this was terribly exciting. Beyond the first shock of waking up alone with the frightening noise outside, I seem to have been in a state of giddy delight. Pa was like Pa in Little House on the Prairie. There was no natural or human threat to big for him in my view. We were clearly safe in his hands.

While we were getting dressed in the loft there was a tremendous crash that shook the whole cabin and the sound of wood grating against metal. Something had clearly fallen onto our tin roof. It was prevented from crushing us only by a few beams, some insulation and a couple of layers of plywood. 

Excited to see a fallen tree and glad that the house had apparently survived, my brothers and I pulled on our snow gear and scrambled up the steps cut into the ice outside the front door to get outside. Pa was still out by the large fir tree to the north of the house and it had clearly not fallen. We told him about the crash on the roof and suggested that it must have been the tree on the south side of the house.

He told us to go check, so we ran around the front of the house... or attempted to. I got to the front yard where the ground sloped gently downhill and my feet flew out from under me. My head struck the sheer sheet of ice under me with a loud "crack!"

My brothers went down a bit more gracefully and scrambled back across the ice to help check on me as I groggily shook the stars out of my eyes. 

We'd had several feet of heavy snow the day before. But in the evening the temperature had climbed and the whole mass had started to melt, water running across the surface and down onto the county road below. But in the night a cold snap had come, so hard and fast that the melting slush had turned to ice, a thick, rock-hard layer covering everything for miles around us. It did not have the crusty appearance of old snow with a frozen top layer. It was slick, shiny and impenetrable. 

It's likely that anyone forty or over from the Pacific Northwest will know what I'm talking about. It is still generally referred to as the Great Ice Storm. Electrical lines were down for days, phones and water pumps didn't work, every branch and twig was coated in a thick layer of clear ice, a snow plow was broken trying to clear our county road and we were completely cut off from the outside world for three days. 

My brothers and I didn't know the extent of the "disaster" yet but we already loved it. We were on an important mission from Pa to check the south side of the house, so despite the ringing in my head and the large knot swelling behind my ear, my big brother helped me up and we staggered the rest of the way around the cabin, joking about how my head was so hard that it cracked the ice. 

As it turned out, it was a disappointingly small branch that had crashed onto our roof and made such an enormous noise. But by midday Pa had finished shooting ice out of the trees and he had time to pull us on our giant toboggan. We slid our way over to our nearest neighbors, to make sure everyone was all right. Then we slid home again. 

It is ironic that while our parents' generation remembers it as a natural disaster, my brothers and I remember those days of candlelight and ice as some of the best moments of our childhood.

Creative Commons image by David Lytle 

Creative Commons image by David Lytle 

We spent our days sliding on the snow or helping our parents with the tasks of daily survival, such as cutting blocks of ice out of the frozen slush to heat on the wood stove. (That was our only source of water with our well 60 feet deep and the pump out of operation.( And we spent the long winter evenings, playing games and telling stories by candlelight. 

Anyone who remembers a night without electricity as a child can probably relate to some degree. Without the TV, computers, oven, food processor or phone working and with the roads closed, the one thing we children had was... our parents' attention.

We often feel that the past must have been simpler and by extension better, because in those times they did not have electricity and all of those things on a regular basis. So, we envision it like an endless snow day. But in reality, the children of the past did not have their parents' attention because their parents' daily routine did not require electricity. 

The truth is that we cannot really give our children an endless snow day. We cannot always give them our full attention. We have to work and cook and keep our lives together and that takes up the majority of our time and energy. Most of the time, what is left for real attention to children is the crumbs. 

But this is still what I think of during the holidays and when facing the week of winter break. Our children can remember the holidays as a magical time of sparkle, even if the reality is that we are stressed out and the extended family is fighting and money is tight and crises loom. The key to it is amazingly simple. Times of comfort and attention. 

We can create it for our children, by declaring our own great ice storm. It doesn't actually take a disaster to make a time that children will remember forever. 

Here is a recipe. It need not be every moment of the holiday season, but as much as possible, as often as possible, allow and if necessary schedule family times with these elements:

  1. Nothing urgent that adults must get done.
  2. Nothing urgent that the kids must get done.
  3. No set schedule or a very simple schedule
  4. Few or no visitors outside immediate family, who are very familiar to children
  5. A pleasant and familiar environment
  6. The attention of adults being at least partly on things of interest to the child
  7. A low level of excitement for something in the future or an understanding of this as a special time
  8. A balance of sugar versus protein in food.
  9. Low use of electronics by children and adults alike
  10. Opportunities for activities like playing games, reading, building things, coloring, crafting, cooking, playing in nature, moving around
  11. Any conflicts that arise expressed and handled with mutual compassion

Number ten--the apparent activity involved--is actually the least important thing on the list. It doesn't really matter what you're doing as much as the environment is good, necessities are taken care of and there is no urgent agenda. It is almost like magic. This really will create the most memorable moments for children without anything special or flashy added.

Certainly we also want to do special, fun and meaningful things with our children but doing them one at a time and allowing for spaces without a schedule in between will matter most. 

Surviving the new reality

Rain drums on the roof as I write. I am on enforced rest. Doctor's orders. I could cry for joy over the rest, except that the eye surgeon has forbidden me to express intense emotions. 

But you get the idea. I don't feel sick but I'm supposed to stay inside, keep warm, not work much and be at peace. I know, I wish I could spread it around a little too.

The only downside of this is a feeling of vulnerability that comes with the isolation.  I hesitate to venture out much, even on-line. I am a bit breakable and the world has suddenly become doubly harsh.

Creative Commons image by Sepp Schimmer

Creative Commons image by Sepp Schimmer

I saw a post from an old work colleague about attacks against people of color in the US. I wrote in a quick reply of support and bittersweet humor. And instead of solidarity, my old office-mate lashed out at me, labeling me an "sheltered white expat." 

I instantly had the urge to fight back. I'm not one who takes things lying down or turns the other cheek. Sure, I'm white and I know better than many white people what privileges and protections that entails. I am highly aware when I meet police officers that I am wearing the backpack of white privilege--then and many other times. I also know that when any country is in the grip of fear that there is an understandable anger toward emigres--those who left, no matter how good their reasons. 

On the other hand, I'm also a person with a significant physical disability. I'm up against the wall in this too. My children are not white and they are newly naturalized citizens. Will we ever be able to go back to visit my home and family again? That is not an idle question in these post-election days. We are also in a country (the Czech Republic) that Donald Trump has pledged to put a military base in. We are isolated for the moment, but far from off the hook. 

Still, I bit my lip and said none of that. I know well the furious emotions raging in my colleague's post. I replied only to express more simple and direct support for her. I told her I am an ally and I understand her words. She and another friend continued to express anger and rejection toward me. There was no reconciliation. 

I am worried.

I'm saddened to lose a connection to someone I enjoy simply due to these terrible times. But I am even more worried by what this negative interaction among allies means for our people--the people of our country, citizens and non-citizens, all cultures and all backgrounds. We're stuck in this together, after all. 

My home county in Oregon reportedly voted 67 percent for Trump. There are people I call friends who did and likely even a few only moderately distant relatives. And if I cannot meet a friend who agrees with me in support and solidarity, if we are so divided that I am the enemy even when I am not across the political divide, how... oh gods, how will we live with those who really do hate and choose a hateful leader? 

Let's take a moment to forget that Trump even exists. 

Sigh. Now doesn't that feel better? 

But wait a minute. There's a problem. We've made Trump disappear but we haven't made the many people who vehemently support him disappear. Sure, we can say they are a minority, as few as 20 percent of the nation and not even most of the voters. But they are enough and we have to live with them, Trump or no Trump.

I have always felt this because of where I grew up, far from the cosmopolitan and high-thinking coasts. I love visiting Portland, Seattle, New York or Francisco for precisely this reason. Our bubble of acceptance and freedom feels so good. 

But we forget that this is not all of the nation at our peril. We ignore rage at our peril. We belittle politically incorrect antagonism at our peril. We've seen that now.

I know it is hard to think about surviving the next four years. But we will... most of us at least. And here is how I propose to do it:

Creative Commons image by Peter Roome

Creative Commons image by Peter Roome

  • If there is a registry for Muslims, get on it. I'll be a Muslim on paper.  If we're all on the list, the list will have no teeth.
  • Talk to Trump supporters. Really talk and listen. Listen to what motivates them, what they are upset about. Share your thoughts with respect and without contempt.  They are people and most people are susceptible to change, even if slow change.
  • Promote facts, everywhere, over and over again. The media will not help, so we have to do it. Talk about facts, post them, remember them, make lists. Don't let up about climate change.
  • Explain white privilege, primarily if you're white. Explain it again and again and again until you're sick of it and then explain it to more people. There is no way we're as sick of explaining it as Black, Hispanic and Native American people are.
  • Talk to the person no one is talking to at a gathering. Invite the disabled colleague or classmate to whatever. Connect. 
  • Make your circle bigger. Whatever it is you can give easily, put it in. Got a neighbor with younger kids who could use some of your nicer used clothes? Got extra veggies from the garden? Got wood or materials or whatever? Buy less, trade more, reuse more. Gain your security from community.
  • Take care of your own basic needs with as little resources as possible. Reduce plastics and fossil fuels in whatever ways you can. And remember you'll do more and better if you're rested, healthy and fed. Don't wait to be taken care of. Stand strong, think ahead, link arms.

My hope is with you. 

Smrak 3: Gender specific toys and media that promote either ditsy

When my daughter was a baby I thought it would be simple. I would scrimp and save and buy her the best and most beautiful dolls on the market--the big ones with all the accessories, the ones made of good quality materials and none of that cheap plastic that releases toxins. Then she would never want Barbies. End of problem.

Creative Commons image by Thomas Hawk

Creative Commons image by Thomas Hawk

Right…

Where I live cheap Barbie knock-offs are the most common gift given to children, after candy with artificial coloring. My daughter was given one by the organizers of a nature walk we joined. She has been given these horrid bits of soft, easily breakable, toxic plastic with extreme body-image issues, by relatives and visitors to our home on a regular basis. 

And of course, her friends have real Barbies, which are slightly less likely to fill the house with carcinogenic clutter, but are no better for girls to play with. And that’s usually all they play with. 

Why do I have such an issue with Barbies? You might ask. My daughter is incredibly slim with a perfect figure. She’s not one of the girls in most danger of poor-body-image problems. She’s the type others will envy after all. 

My issue is only partly to do with ridiculously long, skinny legs and waists that look like a pulled taffy. Those are problematic. But the feet permanently bent into the shape of shoes that are harmful to kids’ feet and require women to tiptoe through the world are worse. The focus on clothes, clothes, clothes, shoes, shoes, shoes, makeup, makeup, makeup, hair, hair, hair is simply nauseating. Girls should have other interests as well. 

I know the company has made some Barbie firefighter outfits and other less impractical garb, but these outfits are invariably extra baggy and ridiculous looking. Face it. Anything that actually fits on that doll well wouldn't allow for much freedom of movement in real life. Little girls don’t actually use the firefighter outfits and the focus remains on clothing that obviously allows for no activities beyond primping and attracting sexual interest.

That’s my problem. I have given in to everything being pink. What I can’t abide is the fact that the girl’s section of any toy store is entirely focused on appearance and primping, as if that is the only thing girls can be interested in. Some girls resist it. But my daughter doesn’t. She has a natural knack for these things and I want her to have fun learning to do her hair and dress up. Who doesn’t? It’s fun. 

Creative Commons image by Fortune Cookie of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Fortune Cookie of Flickr.com

But I also want her to sometimes do other things. 

On top of toy stores, there are the girl-oriented TV shows. Disney has done a relatively good job with some of their princess movies, despite the close resemblance between Disney princesses and Barbie dolls. At least some of them do things other than primp and they usually use fairly normal voices. 

But these are never the videos my daughter and her friends want to watch most. I made the terrible mistake of buying a Lego Friends DVD to take overseas with us because it claimed to support “diversity” and “friendship.”  The videos make me nauseous. The “friendship” promoted is only that within one’s own little clique and is not open to others. The girls in the video are constantly focused on primping and will often dash back home in the middle of an “adventure” to change clothes or make sure they look dazzling. This is all spelled out in detail and presents such an unhealthy message that as far from English-language videos as we are, I’ve had to disappear it.

The worst part of the video and many others I’ve seen are the little vocalizations that the girl characters emit. There are constant “Ooo!” and “Eeeeh!” noises as if someone is making fun of the women of the 1950s. Except that this is done in all seriousness and presented as girls being pretty and attractive. My daughter now imitates these noises for hours on end.  

Of apathy and corn sex

I'm out at dusk every night these days, winding my way through the corn stalks, a small pile of golden dust and husks in my palm. I find the luscious, moist bunches of silk, open to the sky and waiting--smelling of sex and life. And I sprinkle the gold between the glistening strands.

Corn silk - Creative Commons image by Heather Kaiser

Corn silk - Creative Commons image by Heather Kaiser

I am the handmaiden of corn sex. 

Despite the connotations, it is actually disappointingly non-erotic. I do this because my sweet corn patch is to small to rely on wind-born pollination alone. I do it because I believe childhood without sweetcorn is a crime and you can't buy it in the Czech Republic. I do it because I want my kids to grow old and watch their grandchildren playing in the shade of a tree. I want there to be children in a seventy or eighty years... and trees. 

The result of corn sex, whether facilitated by me or by the wind, are little bulges of bright yellow flesh, sweet and heady. They can be left to harden into the seeds of new life, brewed into intoxicating alcohol, ground into flour to sustain life or slurped fresh from the cob in ecstasy. Without corn sex, the cobs come out thin and pale, bare or with just a few lonely kernels to show what might have been.

Those anemic cobs remind me of so many faces I meet in the street, online or in my school room where I teach English as a second language to work-weary adults and school-weary teenagers. Sallow and lost, robbed of the golden bulges of life. And I wonder if that answers some of the questions that keep plopping down in my path these past few weeks.

Corn silk - Creative commons image by Mary Hutchison

Corn silk - Creative commons image by Mary Hutchison

Human beings are missing something? Certainly we're crowded enough for pollination, but the right wind hasn't been blowing.

What can awaken the passion and life in these faces? Even the desire for survival?

Is it that we need more sex?

Pop culture certainly seems to hint that people crave sex. As soon as I dove into the book selling game I encountered an uncomfortable truth. Nothing sells like erotica. I'm not just talking about all the authors who wish they had written Fifty Shades of Gray. One author told me, "I have three different pen names. One of them publishes erotica and it's so much easier to sell. There's no comparison. With anything else you have write technicaly perfect, emotionally gripping, truly life-changing stories and even then you might be buried. With erotica, you can have all the typos you want and plot holes as big as the Grand Canyon and it still sells reasonably well." 

My friends laugh and tell me my career path is clear. Corn sex and word sex. 

But people keep reading the stuff with sex, whether it's erotica or teenage romances with love triangles and sexual tension. And the readers remain pale and flaccid themselves. The sex isn't helping. Possibly it is even draining more of their life force. 

That's what sex is after all. Life force. Something happens between the pollen and the kernel, something called "life" that science has not yet been able to entirely explain. Each kernel has the potential to become a whole new plant, a new life. The bursting, juicy, musky bulges are the expression of passion.

And it's passion that I find is missing in so many faces. My students come fresh from summer break, their heads down and feet dragging.

Creative commons image by Alan Levine

Creative commons image by Alan Levine

"What do you want to do?" I ask.

"I don't know," they mumble.

"Let's just talk awhile," I suggest. "What did you do over the summer?"

"Nothing." 

I don't give up. I press them for details and the answer finally comes.

"We went to the beach in Italy. Good ice cream. Okay pizza. Otherwise boring. "

I am momentarily stunned. If this gets no enthusiasm, what hope is there for these kids?

"What would you rather be doing instead of English class?" I ask.

"Video games," most answer.

"Which computer game would you play?" 

"I don't know." 

That's how it goes day after day. I am charged to get them talking in English and make sure their grades stay up. It's how I keep clothes on my own children. But my goal is really to find some spark of passion in these kids. Anything they care about. A passion can always be nurtured and grown, brought into the lesson, made relevant. Even if it's video games.

Corn tassels - Creative commons image by Nic McPhee

Corn tassels - Creative commons image by Nic McPhee

And these are the children, the ones who should be full of energy and new life. It's even worse with adults. After I wrote about our family struggles in combating climate change, the response was remarkable... in a depressing sort of way. The most common responses mirrored this:

"We're all trying but it's hopeless. The damage has already been done. Our children are doomed." 

or even this:

"We have to keep going, keep working for a better world. I'll take out the recycling today. At least I do my bit."

But most were silent. No one in my vicinity actually doubts climate change is a huge threat or that it is caused by our actions. But there are plenty who are so sapped of life force that they have forcefully put it out of their minds.

In one political and intellectual forum which is usually a hot place for environmental and social justice discussions, the most "liked" comment on my article about climate change was this: "Meh, and if we all stopped enjoying life, staying home with the lights off, think how much energy we might save. But I'll pass, OK?"

Other people commenting on the article approved of this comment more than anything else. (Oh, the wonders of modern opinion polling.) These aren't climate change deniers but those who otherwise are essentially on the same side. They talk about the horrible facts and bemoan the lack of political and corporate action. But when it comes to their own passion and life force, there's, "Meh."  

Creative commons image by Tamara of Flickr.com

Creative commons image by Tamara of Flickr.com

And I know this for a fact, whether I'm striving for a future for my child or fighting climate change or even just growing corn, life force is crucial. Without the passion there are no golden bulges. Results remain pale and wan. 

And this is where my post diverges from your standard inspirational fair. At this point I am supposed to say, "So, find your passion. Go out and make something of your life. Live the ordinary life in an extraordinary way." And so forth. 

But I'm not going to. Because I don't think passion or life force is something we manufacture at will. We can force ourselves to do hard work, even when we don't have the energy. But the drive to push past exhaustion? That comes from life force. Without passion such a message is nothing but a guilt trip.

Instead of forcing or manufacturing passion. I simply want to ask the question. Where does life force come from? Where do we get it? 

I have seen it blossom where there is need. The needs of one's children, the need for food and shelter. Those things spur people to heroic levels of action, coming from life force far beyond what you'd expect from the tired worn-out face. But many people have great passion without urgent need and many of those who do have great need fail most miserably to summon it. So need cannot be the primary key.

Creative commons image by hthrd of flickr.com

Creative commons image by hthrd of flickr.com

There have been years of my life when I felt little passion beyond sadness and frustration. Some of that was true depression, based on difficult circumstances and a harsh social environment. But also based on my own lack of life force. And yet that time of inaction today feels oddly like a well of deep cool water, something I draw on for passionate writing or loving or ecstatic gardening.

Is depression always the enemy? Are we all born with the same level of life force? Can one really go out and find passion? 

What I have seen for myself is that life force is built over time. It is funded like a reservoir of water deep under the ground. And just like a land in drought, that aquifer can nourish life long after the rains have dried up in great need. But by the same token it can be exhausted.

What fills the reservoir? It may be different for each person but things that feed the soul will most likely help. Rest and time to heal, contact with nature, children and elders, animal and plant companions, kindness from another, the acceptance of a friend or even a stranger, creative expression and authentic hope. These things have the potential to ill the reservoir if there is enough time to wait.

Time is not in great supply these days and the life force reservoir of humanity is running at drought levels. May I learn to withhold judgment. 

Do you have any personal ideas about the questions in this post? Where do you find passion? Have you ever felt that times of depression had a use? What can we do to replenish our life force, so we can do things that matter?

How to live as an introvert with joy and success

Ever since the book How to Win Friends and Influence People came out in 1981 and set a slicker standard for social and business relationships, people who are not natural social rock stars have been told that they just need "better socials skills" or "more motivation" or some sort of self-help seminar. There's a book I'm going to write someday and I might just call it How to Live As an Introvert with Joy and Success.  

I was recently part of a discussion where someone asked how he could learn to enjoy being with people, even though he's an introvert. Most people in the discussion either lectured the unfortunate, self-professed introvert on how to be less self-centered and learn some social skills or recommended he read How to Win Friends and Influence People.  And as often happens, I got a little bit of fire under my skin.

And when I get fired up, I either explode or I write. So here it is, the gist of what I may someday write as my own self-help book (hopefully becoming a wildly successful bestseller, right?). 

Image by Kkmd of Wikipedia

Image by Kkmd of Wikipedia

First, let's get the terminology straight. An introvert is NOT a shy person or a person who talks little or even a person with a marginal social life. An introvert is simply a person who gets their energy from being alone. Extroverts get their energy from being with people. It is kind of like being left- or right-handed. You can be one or the other or one of the fortunate flexible few who can do both. But you don't generally get to choose. You're born that way. Like a left-handed person being forced to write with their right hand by backward pedagogues of past centuries, you can train yourself to act like something you're not, but there will be a cost in pain and dexterity. 

People often assume that all shy or awkward people are introverts and nothing could be further from the truth. I know a guy who is an extrovert, who is incredibly fun to be around and who also suffers from social anxiety disorder, so he sees almost no one socially. He's still an extrovert. He gets his energy from being with people. He runs a private preschool and has no trouble interacting socially with parents and kids. He has incredible energy with 20 three-year-olds all day. I'm in awe. He simply panics when he has to meet new people. That's all. Poor guy. "It's a hard life wherever you go." (Good point, Nanci Griffith.)

For years I had essentially the opposite problem. I was always out doing social stuff. I was an activist organizer and worked with community organizations. I talked loud and a lot. And I was exhausted and miserable. I was out doing all that stuff because I thought you had to have lots of friends in order to be "happy" or "worth something." I really didn't like being with people but I was constantly desperate to avoid being alone. I equated being alone with failure. It was miserable. I have changed my foolish ways. Now I enjoy being with people much more, not to mention I have a lot more fun and get more done in general.

So, this is my answer to the push for everyone to "win friends and influence people." These are a few of my hard-won tips for introverts on how to enjoy life and people. 

1. If you're an introvert, admit it An introvert is a person who gets their energy from being alone. Accept that this is not a failing but a blessing. You can be quite happy all by yourself doing things you love to do.

2. Figure out how you can build a life where you get to be alone a lot. Do something you're passionate about either for work or play, so that you'll be full of positive energy when you do end up around people.

3. Make time for social activities ONLY as often as you really enjoy them. Once or twice a week of social interaction outside of close family and roommates is plenty for many introverts. There should be no shame in having less social interaction, as long as it doesn't bother you.

4. Fix it so most of your social activities are with only one, two or three other people. Introverts tend to enjoy smaller groups more and have more to offer friends in small groups. It took me a long time to accept that this is normal and that it's nothing to be ashamed of. Finally accepting that I need to be seriously recharged to go to a big party was a huge step toward being a happier and better party goer. 

5. Cut out the shame. There should be no value judgement in being an introvert or an extrovert. Extroverts are a blessing to the world - able to really enjoy building community and bringing big groups of people together. Introverts are are a blessing too - possibly better at building intimacy and bringing empathy. All this lecturing about social skills makes it sound like being an introvert is an undesirable condition associated with self-centeredness. Not true. Today's business culture wants everyone to be a great networker and build a social empire, but that isn't really a recipe for success. If you think about it, you can see that it's logically impossible for everyone to be a social magnet. As an introvert, you have many other strengths. There is nothing wrong with having a few good friends, rather than many.

6. Nurture close friendships. Be a loyal friend. This isn't hard for most introverts. Help your friends out and be as flexible as you can about when you see them. Make a point of remembering birthdays and showing how much you value close friends. They won't always know unless you tell them.

7. Go to big events if you must or if you want to. If you don't want to and don't have to, just don't.  If you must go for family or work reasons, find a role if at all possible. At gathering of extended family, ask if you can be in charge of table settings or toddler care or the outdoor fire. At a professional conference, set yourself a task, such as collecting a specific type of business cards. 

8. Accept that professional networking is a job and not meant to be entirely pleasant. Do it as part of your job, if you must. And once you've lifted the expectation that you should enjoy it from around your neck, you will probably find it less grueling.

9. Learn how to network well, if you have to network. Consider even reading the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, because it does actually have some solid tips that you can use as business skills. (Yes, I just recommended you read the book I made fun of at the beginning. It's not a bad book. It all depends on your attitude toward it.) It is good to be able to ask the right questions to draw people out at parties or show interest in random strangers. These are good skills to learn, if you are unfortunate enough to be an introvert with a job that requires it. Consider getting a different job if it's really miserable, but either way, don't beat yourself up over it no matter what some self-righteous people say you "should" be.

10. If you're going to be in a large, less formal group with a lot of chatting go going on, such as a house party, bring something non-verbal to do with your hands. I do embroidery or wood carving. It dramatically increases my ability to be social and actually enjoy it. Set yourself up in a less frequented area of the party and do your activity, while watching people and smiling. The more thoughtful (and thus more fun for you) people in the group will most likely gravitate toward your little corner of serenity. 

11. If possible learn to play a musical instrument, particularly guitar. This will allow you to both have a role and do something with your hands at less formal events. It will make you sought after as a guest and yet you won't have to constantly entertain other people verbally and become exhausted.

12. Finally, charge your batteries and know that the world sometimes needs great action. I am an introvert but I have led social justice and peace demonstrations of thousands of people when I had to. Partly, I did it by recharging my energies alone, so that I would have the energy to give. The point here is not that introverts cannot do great social things. It is just that it is an outpouring of energy. As such, there may be something particularly powerful about an introvert whose energy is well built and well directed. Whether your energy is needed in work, community or social events, you will have more to give, if you live your life in a way that your introvert nature enjoys. 

I wish you much joy and success in this--a life of passion and love, free from the pressure to act like someone you are not. Feel free to comment below and share your own experiences and ideas.