I used to think I was just shy. Back in school, I dreaded having to stand up and talk in front of the class; I once missed an entire week of school just so I wouldn’t have to give an oral book report. [Note: it didn’t work.] Then, in adulthood, when I discovered I love standing up and talking to a group of people, I thought, well, gee, maybe I’d overcome my shyness (yes) and become an extrovert (no). It wasn’t until I understood that introversion isn’t about being shy; it’s about where you get your energy. The very short simplistic version is that introverts get energy from time spent alone, and extroverts get theirs from being with other people. (There’s much more to it, of course, and there are lots of books and blog posts and articles worth checking into if it interests you.)
Once I realized this, my reaction to art retreats made perfect sense. I love art retreats and have been to rather a lot of them, but I used to find them completely exhausting. When I was teaching, I’d come home from a retreat just completely wiped out, and I’d have no idea why. My husband, a true extrovert, would be energized from the same things that left me staggering and bleary-eyed.
Once I understood what it was all about, I could figure out ways to make art retreats more manageable, and I realized that there are probably lots of other people who would love to attend a retreat and take workshops and meet kindred souls but who are maybe just the tiniest bit unnerved by the idea of spending a week in the company of a couple hundred other people. It’s worth it, I promise, and here are some things to think about that can help make it a more pleasant and less-draining experience for people like us.
~~If you have housing options and can afford it, book early and get a room by yourself. I have stayed in group housing, with a shared bathroom, and I would truly rather stay home than ever do that again. People like us need to have a place to which to retreat and recharge, and if you’re never, ever alone, not even for a moment, it’s impossible. If you can’t afford a private room, try to room with someone like you who will be happy to work out an arrangement so you both have some space. There’s nothing worse than finding yourself rooming with an extrovert who takes it upon herself to “bring you out of your shell” when all you want to do is recharge by reading and writing in your journal until dinner time.
~~If you freeze up in workshops and hate the idea of having someone looking over your shoulder, contact the instructor and talk about it. While there may be a few instructors who are kind of inflexible, most will be happy to help you. Maybe there’s a table in the corner or the back of the room. Maybe you can skip the part where you have to do the public critique. If you think you may have to take a break in the middle of the day just to go off by yourself, explain that ahead of time. The more we talk about these things, the more everyone will understand what they’re all about.
~~Find a quiet place to eat some of your meals. Although mealtime can be fabulous for schmoozing with other attendees, people will understand if you just need a little downtime before you head back to class.
~~work in some short breaks during the time you’re not in class. What I’ve found helpful for me is going up to the room and working on my laptop for an hour or so in between doing interviews or videos. Take off your shoes, get some water, sit in a sunny window.
I’ve learned a lot about this in the years I’ve been living and traveling with my extrovert husband. He’s one of those people who falls asleep the second his head hits the pillow and sleeps soundly until the alarm goes off. All the rest of the time, when he’s awake? He’s perfectly happy being right in the middle of everything, talking to people he knows, meeting new people, taking photographs of workshops. That doesn’t work for me, but now that I’ve learned what *does* work for me, I can enjoy the retreat just as much, but in my own way. With a little bit of planning, you can, too.
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