We’re delighted to welcome Guest Author Jacqueline Kolosov to the ball today. She wrote the young adult novels A SWEET DISORDER (2009) and THE RED QUEEN’S DAUGHTER (2007), both from Hyperion. A native of Chicago, Jacqueline now teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University. She blogs at poppiesbloom.blogspot.com.
I would have to call myself an introvert with extrovert tendencies. I’ll explain. The etymology of the word ‘introvert ’ is helpful here. It comes from the Latin: intro for “inward” + vertere “to turn.” (In contrast, extrovert comes from the Germanic extra or “outside” and the Latin vertere, again “to turn.”) I need periods of solitude—periods in which I do turn inward–or else I get totally out of balance. This has not been that difficult for me for most of my life. I’m married to another introvert writer. I teach at a university where the hours are quite flexible, so I have traditionally had long periods of time to myself, time I have spent writing and reading (an equal necessity), but also painting, running, swimming, or practicing yoga—all rather solitary activities. Even when I practice yoga in a class, the focus is on turning inward.
The challenge—the real kick in the head and in the stomach—occurred when I gave birth to my daughter, Sophie, in January 2007. My first novel from Hyperion, The Red Queen’s Daughter, was coming out that October. In March of 2007, Hyperion bought a second novel (what became the just released A Sweet Disorder). So I had to write a second novel with a new baby and a 2/3 time teaching position. I did not take a semester-long maternity leave. Looking back on that crazy-intense time, I realize the contract was a huge gift. It forced me to write the novel. More than that, it validated the time I needed to write which meant climbing the attic stairs to my study most days for 2-4 hours a good 4 days a week for more than half the year.
I narrate this story because this summer, while finishing a fourth novel, I began suffering from panic attacks that typically found me in the middle of the night, or at four a.m., a ridiculous hour to wake up, but so it goes. The panic started in late June after I finished several projects, including the award of tenure at my university and moving into a new home. Typically, when I finish something huge, my body gives way. I get sick, etc. This time, it was my spirit. I went to the doctor who told me, within twenty minutes of my appointment, “You’re out of balance.” Well, yes, I thought, why else would I be here? What I realize now is that I have not been giving the introvert part of myself what I need. I have been so disciplined for the last two and a half years, so compartmentalized, to use that silly word.
I went on a retreat on July 14—a sort of self-designed rest cure—to the mountains for a week. It sounds like a luxury, but it was my first trip without my daughter, my first vacation, really, since her birth. It was a difficult trip, but it was also incredibly rewarding. I stayed in a small house outside of Santa Fe with my dog and the birds as companions. I had time to work through a lot, including the panic. The etymology of rest is illuminating here because it comes from the Germanic rasto and its original sense was as a measure of distance. The Old Norse rost is “league, distance after which one rests.” In the late 16th century, rest also came to mean “support.” I consider the last two and a half years a journey, hence the need for rest, and the need to find a support in myself.
Yet no introvert is an island. And I have extrovert needs. I thrive in the classroom, for example, and tend to have strong relationships with my students. What I haven’t done enough of, however, is connect with other women who are also mothers and professionals. I have a close friend here who teaches at the university and has a daughter Sophie’s age. We support each other, but in the past month I have reached out further—or through serendipity, other women have come into my life. At my book signing last month, a woman I’ve long wanted to get to know, but haven’t taken the time to, came in after the crowd had dispersed. We talked for an hour about our shared experiences: the ridiculous arguments with our husbands, the challenges of temper tantrums and toddlers who refuse to go to sleep. It was incredibly helpful, incredibly reassuring, a huge gift. And then, an older woman, a massage therapist and a grandmother who helps her own daughter out a lot, has provided me with some outstanding counsel. These experiences have taught me a lot about the disadvantages, or potential disadvantages, of our society. We aren’t necessarily rooted in communities in the generations-old way (though we can connect through technology in a remarkable way). I’m realizing the importance, now, of building a strong network of support—of reaching out to people—while keeping a part of myself in reserve.