In an effort to unify a fragmented nation, the President decreed that each town and borough (in densely populated regions, every block or apartment building) must maintain at least one public introvert. The role of this civil servant was to project in the quietest manner. One of the most memorable public introverts (perhaps the model on which the decree was cast) I met and interviewed recently in Hebron, NJ.
This public introvert only referred to himself as “I.” However, when I jotted this name, or pronoun, down in my notebook, he peered over it, looking directly beneath my pen, shaking his head. I asked him what was the matter. The public introvert is known for caprice and outburst, for it must be difficult to meditate and brood, alighting upon marvelous understandings regarding the within and without, maintaining a consistently furrowed brow, wrapping (I imagine) layer upon layer of thought and aspiration around an obscure foundation, until a breaking point is reached – think of a balloon filled by a water hose. I asked if he was opposed to my notebook. For I have heard it is not uncommon for such public introverts to take offense, citing the most incomprehensible grounds. Apparently I was guilty of a crime they call plagiarism. Although someone only writes down the most superficial observation -- “rotting T-shirt, misarranged elbows, torn once and poorly sewn jeans, fashionable shoes” -- often the public introvert will suddenly confront the jotter, tearing the notebook from his or her hands, sending the pages soaring. Such written observations are akin to the soul-stealing photograph. Yet public introverts have no objection to photographs. In fact, many will uncross their legs for a moment, even stand, some will perform acrobatic maneuvers, as long as a photo is on the verge of snapping.
Why this aversion to scribbled, scrawled, nearly illegible observations written by absolute strangers? Most public introverts are not clear on this point. Now in the days since the decree, this abhorrence of jotted notes is something of a guideline followed by all. Most claim that the written word is sacred, la la la, and most observatational notes are merely misquotations and misperceptions. It also is an economical stance, somewhat like a self-protective union regulation. Many believe that if everyone were outlining their behavior in words than there would be no need for public introverts since everyone would already carry the public introvert’s work around in their own notebooks. The native’s fear of the soul-stealing photograph is believable. The public introvert’s fear, however, that his soul, his essence, the glue between his content and form, can be burgled by a civilian’s jotting of a few descriptive words is mind-boggling. It is a mystery to us; a reality to the public introvert, however. What is apparent is the structured complexity of these men and women – their faith and will, their explosive humility, the simultaneous detachment from and commitment to the community.
When I asked my interview subject if he objected to my jottings, he said that mine were permissible since they "attempted to frame rather than photograph." He said I misspelled his name, however. “I” was spelled with the lowercase “i.” For some reason, he then told me that the public introvert’s conception of self seems to hinge on the notion of the waterbearer. They are the ones who go on long walks to the well within, carrying buckets of water, pure sustenance – they then sit, exhausted, worn-out, seemingly dejected, until they are nudged, brought into conversation, in which they will reveal to strangers and friends their latest discoveries. They will often break out a book of aphorisms concerning the heart. They will read slowly, dramatically, showing their words the respect they deserve: “If the heart were round, it would be another earth;” or with regard to matters less romantic: “Is the smoke from my cigarette rotating the fan?” The public introvert’s books are often bound in vellum and sheaved with blank paper (all government subsidies) which the public introverts set to covering in the “arabesque tracks of our private train-tongue,” as one famous public introvert named “U” (pronounced frown) called it long ago.
The public introvert often stresses and repeats words emphasizing the self. In their company you will often hear: “private” and “personal” to describe emotions; other actions might be described as “beneath the skin” or “within my sphere.” Yet these expressions are spoken to another and are therefore immediately outside the skin, beyond a sphere, shared, public. The paradox defines the public introvert.
Many American towns sent out public-introvert acquisition forms after the presidential decree. Smaller hard-working communities were at a loss. They had none of the infrastructure typically catering to the public introvert. Therefore, when a shipment of public introverts arrived in such communities, they gravitated toward the centers of town squares. A gazebo often served as the base of public introverts sent from a city to quietly sketch the elms or read. Such situations were often ripe for drama. Imported public introverts often created scenes to stir the townspeople. One such public introvert, protesting a public smoking ban, nailed one hand to a beam of a gazebo, intending to self-crucify. After nailing one hand down, he couldn’t figure out how to finish the job. It is apparent that despite much time spent brooding, the public introvert rarely achieves proper execution.
Some towns have few public introverts; yet, of course, in some towns, the converse is true. The President’s decree stated that “at least one” public introvert was necessary in each segment of society. In some towns the majority of its inhabitants were, and have always been, public introverts before the decree, and would always be public introverts beyond its eventual repeal. These towns often have built up quite a service industry catering to the public introverts – sidewalks lined with outdoor cafes, benches, public parks, bars, movie theatres, etc. Upon entering one of these towns one is immediately struck by the sweet smell of cloves. Inevitably one out of twenty public introverts smoke Indonesian clove cigarettes while the others go on smoking just about everything you can burn. I should say, when in such towns, I often find myself giggling to myself (a trait that characterizes a number of public introverts). I giggle because I’m thinking that in such towns overpopulated with the same ilk, the government should issue a contrary decree demanding private extroverts. These private extroverts would stay home, watch television, make phone calls, enjoy the latest communications technology, look at old photo albums of their family; perhaps they’d be required to acquire memorabilia from other peoples lives – old photos, letters, ledgers in which they’d find addresses to write notes but never send the heart-wrenching details of other people’s relationships: this catastrophe, that struggle, this marriage, that divorce.
As a matter of fact, in these last few years tracking the President, documenting the effects of his various decrees, I have become more of a private extrovert than a public introvert. The private extrovert gathers and processes whereas the public introvert ejects and expresses.
Nevertheless, this program, the Public Introvert
Program, has perhaps been the President’s most successful. The nation is
practically at full employment, and most importantly, the working man –
the business people, blue and white collar, the people who our nation depends
on to get the papers to doorsteps, planes in air, bread in baskets, investments
in stocks – these people are no longer expected to brood or express. They
are now free to go about their business. The community’s burden to expand
a thought is now the duty of the public introvert. To some, the public
introvert seems the model of listlessness, leisure, and privilege. It is
the opinion of this reporter, however, that the public introvert is an
invaluable resource, a minor thread in our national fabric without which
we would unravel.
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