I’ve been writing these reflections for a year and a half now, and I have to admit I quite like doing it. When we hold ourselves up to a mirror, we see an image of ourselves that most of the time we cannot see, and the result is usually very helpful. It’s how my hair ends up looking so good, for example.
Reflecting in writing also seems to be good for me: it gives me the time and space to find a different view of things, one that I otherwise might not have had. As Virginia Woolf would say, I am enjoying “taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light.”
I’ve spent the last few weeks with some old friends on vacation from England, who brought their two daughters, Sian, aged nearly-5, and Lily, aged nearly-9, to California for the first time. We had a lovely time at the beaches and theme parks of LA, and then at home and in the garden in Half Moon Bay. When I lived in England I spent a lot of time hanging out with them all, and I got to know Lily quite well. Lily likes to plan things: she has an assembled cast of Lego people, Harry Potter action figures and Barbie dolls for whom she organizes imaginary banquets, vacations, and other activities. I help with the engineering side of things when we are together, but she will play like this on her own quite happily. She often thinks carefully before she acts, and it’s fun to see where her reflections have taken her before her question or suggestion comes out. Her younger sister seems quite different: as her father put it, “it’s all out there with Sian.” She emits a constant stream of delightful nonsense, dancing around, babbling in her own made-up language, rushing over to hug you, expressing her love for the world, and crumpling into tears whenever she thinks something has gone wrong.
Where Lily is a theorist, Sian seems to be an experimentalist. She tends to act first, sees what happens, and then thinks (and sometimes regrets) later. Being an extrovert myself I recognize Sian’s approach, but I know a great many introverts like Lily, and so have become quite interested in the social interaction between the two types. For example, I know that, for introverts, spending time with me can be pretty exhausting, so I try to keep a lid on my own hyperactivity. Still, there are times when I feel more introverted. When I am feeling down, I tend to retreat from people - but because naturally I gain so much energy from being with people, that retreat can make the trough deeper. Until I started thinking about the balance between action and reflection, I would describe my life in terms of “ups and downs” like these, and in my low patches I would wonder if I was depressed. Now I am trying to think more in terms of traveling through periods of action and reflection. For a while I will be confident and outgoing and I’ll seem to get a lot done, but this will be followed by a quieter time, when I feel less able to contribute but perhaps take more time to think and reflect - before something lights a fire and I return to action.
Trying to get my interactions with other people right is something of a source of anxiety for me. Sometimes I feel as though I am on a tightrope, trying to find the balance between action and reflection. Stepping off the tightrope, though, I remember that my friends would have caught me, and forgiven me my wobblings. Perhaps they are my safety net.