A Hundred Years To Arras

By Jason Cobley

From a Somerset farm to the trenches of France: one man's coming of age through land, love and blood

Friday, 30 August 2019

Down the Rabbit Hole

I fell down a rabbit hole today. Fellow Unbound author posted a link on social media to a TED Talk by the musician Amanda Palmer (more on that some other time maybe), which led to a bit of a click chain. I watched a number of TED talks on the now-ubiquitous YouTube whilst I was typing away on something else – it’s the advantage of having a large enough PC screen to be able to have two things open without having to squint really hard. That’s really important, especially since I got varifocals. One thing that these talks had in common was discussion around the topic of extroversion as opposed to introversion and how the impulse to solitude can (not always) lead to greater creativity.

My teenage daughter might say that’s why I have no friends. But then she also calls me Janis (yes, she specified that spelling). Teenagers. Tsk. I’ve been spending six weeks in her company, along with our new dog Cassie, and it’s gone relatively quickly. The new term begins on Monday. Will I finish the patio furniture, half built from wooden pallets, in time? Will I actually finish any of the three books I started reading this summer holiday? The weekend holds the answers.

Brian Little, a psychologist on one of these TED talks, describes personality as being made of a person’s three natures: biogenic; sociogenic; and idiogenic. What that amounts to, and it’s not new science, is that who we are is partly determined by our biology, partly by the society in which we live, and partly by something a little more difficult to pin down that is individual to each of us. That’s where I come back to the extroversion thing. Extroverts need stimulation, drawn towards each other magnetically at parties. Introverts are more likely to seek out a quiet space to reduce stimulation. Thing is, that doesn’t mean you’re anti-social if that’s you. It just means you do better when you can lower the level of stimulation around you. Extroverts and introverts, according to Brian, react to caffeine differently. That explains a lot if I think of the people I see at work each day.

I think I’m safe in describing myself as an introvert and, according to Brian, I communicate differently from an extrovert. Extroverts like physical closeness when talking in a group, they like eye contact and so on. Brian (by now I like him quite a lot in this video) says that we introverts prefer “contextually complex, contingent sentences” when communicating, “more or less, as it were”. We might gently allude to things that an extrovert may be more direct about. But, he says, we’re not just a “bunch of traits”. Brian’s talking now about not putting anyone in pigeonholes.

So I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and trying to avoid a pigeon hole. But it’s got me thinking. Brian talks about everyone having a ‘personal project’ going on all the time, which affects our extroversion or introversion. We can’t see each other’s project. Your mother may be in the hospital. You may have had a row with your husband. You may have money worries. These projects are inside us. They’re part of our introversion, and everyone has it. And, to do something about these things, we have to enact “free traits”: be disagreeable when you’re normally agreeable in order to settle the row or get your mother better help in hospital.

What it comes down to is what your ‘core project’ is. I’m an introvert, but my ‘core project’ is to teach. And, of course (and that’s why you’re reading this), my ‘core project’ is to write. The late Christopher Hitchens said, “To be a writer, all you need to do is talk… but how many of can really talk?” And that’s when we introverts need to take on pseudo-extrovert behaviour. And that’s tiring. And it’s difficult. And you need to retire from the over-stimulation afterwards.

One of those other TED talks, by Susan Cain (you can search for all of these on YouTube) is about the power of introverts. Yep, we introverts are powerful. In our solitude, we’re very creative. But we’re not that great at selling it. But everyone is a mix of extrovert and introvert qualities I suppose, and everyone can slip on the extrovert mask when they have to. Crowdfunding has been just like that. But it’s tiring. And difficult. And we need a rest. Still, I’ve at least managed to sell my writing to you because you’re here reading this update.

‘A Hundred Years to Arras’, despite the action of young soldiers in the trenches, is an interior novel in lots of ways. Our hero is an introvert who has to wear that pseudo-extrovert behaviour because… well, you’ll see. That introversion, that journey of the mind, is as much a part of the novel as the historical retelling of war. I’m dying to get redrafting and get it out into the world.

All of you who have signed up as followers have pre-ordered the book, so you’ll be the first to read it when we get there. As of writing today, we’re at 30% of the target. In many ways, this is the book I’ve been waiting all of my life to write, so we will get to 100% no matter what – it’s just a matter of time.

Tell all your friends. Send them this way. Tell them there’s rabbits in the holes.

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