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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Tested Self

Numbers have always reassured me. Two plus two always equals four. Mathematical problems have a right answer and a wrong answer -- at least at the level of mathematics comprehensible to me. Precise measurements are possible. Tests have answer keys with orderly sequences of black-and-white truths. So I like tests, and grades, and measuring things out. That includes even measuring myself, figuring out what percentage of this or that quality of mind I'm made out of.

Last week I took a version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The types to fall into are straightforward: extroverted or introverted; sensing or intuitive; thinking or feeling; judging and perceiving. This is a catalog of categories after my own heart: spare, smacking of oversimplification, precise, and, at least at first sight, unambiguous.

I counted on being labeled, even though I know, in my better moments, that labels do more harm than good. But I was in need of precision even at the price of oversimplification. For six years I've been swimming through my life in a haphazard way, mostly against the current, constantly in doubt about the purposefulness of my work, but reassuring myself that this was the right way to live: accepting not knowing, not being sure, as part of what it means to be an adult, to grow up. One Buddhist teacher calls this groundlessness. I stand in it -- I do, I practice standing in it every day -- and it burns me. There must be relief from this, I told myself; there must be a limit to not knowing.

So I set out to know. And I began by answering questions on a test and looking up the answer key to give me to myself wrapped in a definition I could understand and use as currency in the world.

Life has a sense of humor. It reminds me in all sorts of small ways that I can't get away with certain things. The results of my test are one instance of that: like all things human, some of them were clear, some nebulous. I'm introverted, I found; that was straightforward enough and something that corresponds to my sense of myself. I'm also intuitive rather than sensing, which is something I knew about myself as well. But my scores on thinking versus feeling were equal; I'm, apparently, both. As for judging versus perceiving, the test says I'm the judging type. The trouble is that my experience of making decisions contradicts that. So again I might be both, a tangle of rationality and irrationality, rigidity and flexibility. In other words, I'm just like everybody else. I fit in some categories and not in others; my mind works in predictable and unpredictable ways.

There's no solution, then, for the problem of myself. Not an easy one, in any case. Perhaps my assumption that the self is a problem to be solved is itself flawed. Right now I'm struggling to understand what work is meaningful for me to do. But the way to go about that isn't to imagine that there is only one type of work that fits that definition and that the definition won't change even though I will. So I must go back to the old-fashioned way of figuring things out: making mistakes and hoping that I make different ones every time I start over again.


Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

Over ten years, my Myers-Briggs personality type completely changed. I went from an INTJ to an ENFP. The book, "Please Understand Me II," devotes much of its space to analyzing the types in terms of archetype. As with fortune cookies, no one gets a particularly bad one, and most people get fairly complimentary ones. But it's possible to see yourself in your exposited type, and not just as a generality. Beth thought ENFP really was a good fit for me.

June 27, 2007  

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