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Kentucky by Heart: Quiet solitude helps this introvert recharge; some Kentucky-centric introverted activites

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

I realized that I was probably an introvert in my mid-teens, though I didn’t call it that at the time.

While attending Plum Creek Christian Church’s summer camp at Camp Northward, in Falmouth, I recall enjoying the daily games and activities, Bible lessons, the food, and the camp swimming pool. But when the vespers at the campfire ended each day as summer darkness fell, I was ready for sleep, but mostly for peace and quietness.

I’d been around sizeable groups of people all day during the activities, and it was mostly fun. But after vespers, I was tired, both physically and mentally. I badly needed a recharge, and I sensed that it would come from withdrawing for a while to my own self and thoughts. That was supposed to happen after we entered the boys’ dormitory, but things didn’t always work out that way.

Steve Flairty introverting on a visit to the Abbey of Gethsemani, in Nelson County. (Photo by Suzanne Isaacs)

Why? Typically, perhaps half of the boys saw the post-vespers time as the beginning of revelry — and yes, maybe their real drawing power of camp attendance rather than spiritual growth (forgive, lest I judge). Loud talking and laughter, fake farting noises, playful but hurtful towel flipping near the shower room, and untold other boisterous behaviors. It happened in full force until the lights were turned off by the attending counselor, who usually was a staff member of one of the participating churches.

But often, lights off didn’t mean the disturbances to my solitude were over. Most campers were in bed in the darkness, but the talking, sometimes loud, continued. I always wished for a counselor with confidence and a strong voice to say, “Go to sleep, boys!” Often, though, a counselor didn’t command the respect needed, and the noise continued until finally, the perpetrators fell to sleep.

Like a true introvert, I began to use portions of the free periods during the day to head to the dorm for some quiet moments. It refreshed me and gave me energy to engage in social activities the rest of the day. Being around a steady barrage of people-oriented actions was, and is, hard work.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

Now five decades later and after much study of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, I know that the rowdy boys in the dorm probably weren’t bad people, though maybe a bit inconsiderate. They were likely a bunch of extroverted personalities who got energy from interaction, and they simply wanted the long day to continue with vim and vigor.

Me, I found myself drained after continued social activities, and still do to this day. And though I read an article in Psychology Today saying most people are ambiverts, close to the middle of the spectrum, I can tell you I lean strongly to the introvert side.

I taught school full-time for twenty-eight years, mostly fourth graders. Probably many students considered me extroverted, as I made it a point to have fun and keep an upbeat rapport with the kids. Doing a limited amount of substitute teaching today, I continue on the path of active engagement with the students. I’ve always recognized that providing plentiful affirmation for young people is crucial to producing a good learning environment, plus my giving affirmation feels gratifying for me also.

That said, the moment I walk out of the school, I take my drained body and psyche to a place of solitude, where I seek to be renewed. As a side note, that renewal time was a bit more complicated in the days when I was helping raise three stepchildren. Priorities, you see. I often waited until later in the evening after they’d gone to bed.

To explode a myth that some might have, being introverted need not mean the person is shy or socially awkward, though they can be. I’m not. And for a short while, I can hold court, laugh, and back slap with the best of ‘em. But it’s not my natural disposition — and I tire easily. Sweet solitude is my default position, and I often enjoy sharing that quiet time with my wife.

Sooo… how can this be applied to Kentucky by Heart sensibilities?

Allow me to suggest some Kentucky-centric activities that can be conducive to the introvert nature (though, of course, can be adapted to extroverts also):

• A long hike in one of the state’s great trails. I once did an all-day solo hike at Cumberland Gap (though seeing several bears along the way brought some anxious moments).

• A literary immersion into the works of Wendell Berry, James Lane Allen or, alas, Thomas Merton, who lived the contemplative life. A visit to Merton’s former residence at Abbey of Gethsemani, near Bardstown, seems to be ideal for introverts.

• An undistracted, move-at-your-own speed visit by yourself to the Kentucky History Center, in Frankfort. There is much to read, see, and ponder about the state’s storied past.

• A slow, east-west drive across our 380-mile-long state. There is varied terrain and culture along the way, and I’d recommend stopping at some of the county libraries to get a feel for communities and to find quiet places that won’t cost you a cent.

These suggested activities for introverts are just a few to get you thinking. How about sending me some of your ideas for the passionate introvert seeking to indulge his love of Kentucky? Email me at sflairty2001@yahoo.com

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