Sometimes I view my life in two parts: the one before I read Susan Cain’s Quiet, and the one after.
Quiet transformed the way I saw the world and how I saw myself in it. The book also steered me to Elaine Aron’s book, where I learned about the HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) gene, and that I have it. My pre-historic ancestors were definitely warning everyone about which berries were poisonous. I still do this today.
I read (devoured) these two books in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in the afternoons, after my dishwashing shift in the commercial kitchen of what turned out to be a cult. (I had volunteered to work at a conference that I thought was one thing but turned out to be another.) In the evenings, I returned to an Airbnb with no lock on the door, which turned out OK, but could have not. Between the cult and the no lock and the books, a constant state of hypervigilance caused my heart to pound relentlessly throughout the ten days. I didn’t sleep. I switched between reading the books, reading about the cult, and listening for intruders. And then I went home.
I went to see Susan Cain speak at the 92StY (now rebranded 92NY, sigh) in 2019. We smiled at each other as she walked from the back to take her seat on the stage, and in the movie in my head I imagined we were both whispering, “I get you.”
A few years and a lot of sorrow later, I am 35 pages into her new book, Bittersweet, which is an exploration into the melancholy. The tendency to “states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world.” That “the tragedy of life is linked inescapably with its splendor.” (Cain, xxiii)
As an anti-positive thinker, I was surprised I didn’t score very high on her opening quiz. I may be an off-the-charts HSP, but apparently not someone who lives in a frequent bittersweet state.
I thought about it more as the day went on. What was it that made me long? Minor key music, art, Rumi, sorrowful life events, Leonard Cohen–all of these were mentioned in the book.
And then I did think of a thing. A toy on the side of the road. Specifically, a stuffed animal. My throat closes a little when I think about it. When I see one, I have to look away. Maybe this is a common sentiment. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed it. But it’s not just sadness. Or sorrow. It’s a sharp and keen gut punch with a tinge of sublime that takes my breath away.
Here are some other things I’ve seen on the side of the road.
If you’re not familiar with Susan Cain, her TED talk about introversion is a good introduction. Bill Gates famously called it one of his favorites. I especially like when she screams, “Stop the madness!” I’ve tried this at work as an argument against constant “group work” with little effect. 🙂
I look forward to going slow with the rest of the book.
What puts you in a state of longing?
If you enjoyed this post on longing, you might like this one on ducks quacking.