17 March 2020

When Extroverts Must Stay Home

Sometimes current events coincide with stories you've already written. This is one of those times.

A friend asked me this morning how I was dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. I said that since I work from home, I don't go out much anyway. Consequently, self-quarantining so that I don't inadvertently catch this newest strain of the virus and pass it on to someone with a compromised immune system is not a big problem for me. As the joke goes, I'm an introvert, so I've been preparing for this moment my whole life.

I've seen increased focus in the media and social media over the past decade on us introverts. How we do better working solo than in groups, how we need alone time to recharge, how the world is often so oriented toward extroverts that we introverts sometimes are penalized for not excelling at activities geared toward extroverts. I'm grateful for this focus on introverts, which hopefully has helped open some people's eyes.

We don't usually see people worried about extroverts because much of society is geared toward them. Until now, that is, now that people are being asked to self-quarantine the best they can to slow the spread of the coronavirus. I've seen people post on social media that they don't want to self-quarantine because spending more than a day or two at home makes them anxious, that they need to go out and be among people. If not, they get depressed.

Depression is no little thing. It can affect your emotional and physical health. As someone who understands how the need to be alone can suddenly feel urgent and overwhelming, I get how being cooped up might affect someone who needs to regularly be among people, especially someone who doesn't have family or roommates to spend time with at home. It's something I was thinking about last year as I wrote a story called "Man to Man," whose main character is an extrovert who becomes socially isolated.

This story is coming out in a new anthology, The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, which will be published on April 7th by Untreed Reads. The anthology, edited by Josh Pachter, has all of Joni Mitchell's albums represented. My "Man to Man" story is inspired by the song of the same title from her 1982 album, Wild Things Run Fast.

In my story, my main character, Cecelia, ends up effectively self-quarantined at home. She's not physically ill, and there's no virus at play, but Cecelia is cut off from her social network. So she starts staying home, which makes her depressed. Her lack of connection with others makes her depression grow, and her negative feelings spiral, especially regarding her husband, the only person she sees anymore. It doesn't help that Cecelia is spoiled and self-centered. Here she is, thinking about her situation:

"I had nothing happening in my life. No social groups. No events. No trips I was planning. I could barely pay attention to what was on television. No one ever called me, and I had no one to call.

"It felt like I was in solitary confinement. Sure, I was in an upscale high-rise, but the isolation was overwhelming. And things didn't get better when David came home at night. He made me so angry sometimes, I wanted to scream."

Before I wrote the story I'd been thinking that the world is largely geared to extroverts, so I could understand that if an introvert couldn't get alone time, it might make her feel edgy and unhappy and might result in her acting out. (Not excusing bad behavior, just understanding what might prompt it.) Then I started thinking about the other side of the coin. What if an extrovert lost all her outings and interactions, the things that energized her and made her who she is? How might she react? I thought this would be an interesting approach to a character. That's how Cecelia came to be.

I never imagined that my scenario might be playing out all over the world around the time the story was being published. I hope all the Cecelias out there can safely resume their regular lives soon. In the meanwhile, for all of you looking for something to do while stuck inside, you can pre-order The Beat of Black Wings. It will be coming out April 7th in e-book, trade paperback, and hardcover. Pre-ordering of the paper versions is only available from the publisher. You can do it by clicking here. Pre-order of the e-book version is available in the usual places. One-third of the royalties will be donated to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation in Joni Mitchell's name, which means you can get a fine book of short stories for you and help a good cause at the same time.

So are you under self-quarantine? If so, how are you spending your time? And to my fellow authors with stories in the book, please tell us about your stories.


  1. Like you, Barb, I work at home. So no big deal to have to "shelter in place." And now my wife is also working from home, at least for the near future. Luckily we get along :-) . And your story sounds really interesting. Good luck with it!

  2. Thanks for promoting The Beat of Black Wings here, Barb — and for making the 100% topical connection between your contribution and the current state of affairs. I'm incredibly busy, and not just preparing for the book's April 7 (not April 8) launch: I teach five courses at Northern Virginia Community College, and effective tomorrow all of our instruction will be happening online. So I'm taking five classes that weren't designed for online delivery and hurriedly redesigning them to get them ready for student engagement tomorrow morning. Which reminds me ... gotta get back to it!

  3. Congratulations on the new story publication, Barb. I'm basically an introvert who learned to be an extrovert out of necessity.

    I loved teaching and interacting with my students, and I used to do lots of theater, but now I write from home. My wife, who is/was a tour guide for the Mark Twain House and was in rehearsal for two plays, has just seen all of those things cancelled.

    Fortunately, we're both readers. And I'm still writing. And I play guitar and am learning to play piano. Now I have an excuse to practice, not that it will help much...and now the open mics are close so I can't show off, anyway.

    We live in a large condo complex so we can go outside and walk without encountering lots of other people. We'll be doing a lot of that now that the health club has closed, too. If we sit around too much, we both feel sluggish and act weird.

    It's for really bad reasons, but sometimes an extreme change forces you to learn new things. Now I'm actually posting a huge BSP on Facebook about all my books available as eBooks for people who can no longer go to sports events or plays...

  4. Congratulations, Barb!
    I've always called myself a sociable hermit. Being an only child in an alcoholic household made me extremely good at self-entertainment. I love being with my friends, both in person and on-line and on the telephone; but I also need significant amounts of alone time. And I'm terrible at doing cold calls - my idea of hell is walking into a room full of strangers and being told to go and mingle!

  5. Thanks, Paul. A friend commenting recently that some of the big winners from all this self-quarantining are our pets, who now have us home all the time. I hope you and your wife continue to enjoy so much togetherness too!

    Looking forward to the launch, Josh. And I fixed those dates.

    All this change is difficult, Steve. I've been working hard on my exercise/physical therapy regime, and now I can't go to the pool. I hope it's not for more than a few weeks. The pool work really does help with my pain. Sigh.

    Thanks, Eve! I am horrible at mingling with strangers too. I always feel like I have nothing to say. Good thing we're both good at self-entertainment.

  6. What timing, Barb! I'm listening to the song - one I wasn't familiar with - as I write this.

    I'm an extrovert who loves time alone. Go figure! I think I'll be okay in isolation as long s I have social media, plus phone calls with my sons. I hope I don't get tired of the one person I actually live with, LOL. He's with you in the introvert camp, so he'll be fine.

    My story in the anthology, "Blue Motel Room," was fun to write, but it's far removed from the pandemic. Whew! Joni Mitchell was the soundtrack of my young adulthood and I am beyond thrilled to be included in this collection.

  7. Very interesting post, Barb. I lean toward introversion, but I love to be around people, too. As long as I have a good book to read and can do some writing, I'm fine being alone. That's wonderful about the new UnTreed Reads anthology. I hope it sells buckets!

  8. We've been homebodies since I have been less than strong and The Husband retired. Not going to bookstores and general shopping is going to be rough, but we're hunkering down. The biggest problem is not seeing my brother in the nursing home for an extended visit once a week and hitting the REAL shopping in a city.
    We have an extensive (!) book library, video library, Netflix, Amazon Prime and a surprising number of great old movies are on YouTube, btw.(I get them through the TV via the grandkids' Xbox). Many shows are available online.
    I do most of my socialization online.
    The hard part; not getting to see the grandkids as much, no visits from the ones out-of-town.Thank God for modern communications. I would lose my mind.

  9. It's already hell. I think the difference people don't get is if you are married with a spouse still living, you have company. That is a totally different world from being all alone by yourself. When Dave died last year two decades too soon, I was so lonely and sad. Now, I am isolated as well as that. Thank goodness for good friends and kids who call and keep track of us. But you are right. Depression is likely.

  10. I'm an introvert who got home two months ago after losing six months of my life in hospitals & rehab centers due to serious illnesses (plural is correct). Even so, I don't always get as much alone time as I want. I've known a few extroverts & I really don't understand them.

  11. I quit my day job to write a few months ago! My husband nd I don't really go out anyway; we're happy at home watching TV or DVDs! Plus, we had enough toilet paper already!

  12. Thanks for stopping by, Edith. I'm looking forward to reading your story and everyone else's too.

    Jan, I'm the same. I can make do happily with books and writing. Though I do enjoy my social media too!

    Tonette, yes, social media (and the phone--I still talk on the phone) is a godsend. I'd feel so cut off from my friends and family without it.

    I'm still so sorry, Mel. I'm sending love and hugs.

    I'm glad you're doing better, Elizabeth. Six months of recovery sounds brutal.

    Congrats on being able to write full time, Jeff! I'm envious. Enjoy your time at home.

  13. I'm definitely an introvert and have been enjoying the idea of not having to go anywhere. I love being with my close friends, but I don't enjoy being in a large crowd. When I was working and writing in the evening, I had to learn to be an extrovert but it was always a relief to get home to my computer and WIP. Waving to other dog walkers in the morning and afternoon is enough socialization for me right now. That and social media will carry me through. I do sympathize with people who feel trapped inside--not a pleasant feeling--and hope for all of us this self-isolating doesn't last too long. Congratulations on your new story--such great timing.

  14. Thanks, Susan. Enjoy your time at home. My dog says hi to your dog--from six virtual feet apart!

  15. My adult career was as a freelance writer, and I've written fiction most of my life, so "sheltering in place" is not a big deal for me. Yet I have an extrovert side. I do enjoy human company. It's a rather valuable source of material for a writer. Currently, I'm missing out on getting together with writer friends, including our local chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I find such networking immeasurably beneficial and emotionally stimulating. I'm also missing out on some long-planned domestic and international trips, which is a bummer. So yeah, I enjoy being holed up in my office creating death and mayhem, but I miss the world.


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