Know Thyself

In the past few months, my best friend and I have become inadvertent personality scholars.

I don’t quite remember how it started. We bought the same book, Better than Before, about temperament and habit formation. Then we hit a streak where, ironically, we got competitive about reading Quiet, the book on introverts (which we both are). Then during the semester, she read a Myers-Briggs textbook, and we figured out each of our personalities and those of our respective husbands, and read each feature of each personality to oblivion.

(In case you were wondering, I’m a shy introvert, an obliger with a rebel streak, an INFP with a turbulent nature, and a highly-sensitive person. On the Pinterest chart of introverted types as pets, I’m a cute cuddly mouse. According to Buzzfeed, which is even more scientific than Pinterest, I’m a meerkat.)

At some point Jenny asked me whether I thought our newfound knowledge of personality types made us almost too knowledgeable. “Do you think it might make us not rely on God enough?” she wondered. In our shared spiritual tradition, there’s a principle of recognizing, with humility, that we as human beings don’t know everything. And we certainly didn’t want to know so much we became smug, unable to relate to people without first asking the four letters of their Myers-Briggs personality type.

“I find it’s making me rely on him more,” I answered. For one thing, I need guidance outside of myself for putting my newfound knowledge to good use. Also, knowing a lot makes me that smug asshole. So I need help with that too.

But in all seriousness, figuring out how to use one’s knowledge of oneself is incredibly important. Learning so much about myself has taught me that I’m not always as impervious to cultural peer pressure as I think I am. Sometimes I adopt the values of my environment because everyone else thinks those values are common sense, when in reality they often squelch the very strengths I have. And then instead of being thoughtful about my nature, I’ve often been the hardest squelcher of them all, thinking I must fix myself in some way.

I’ve worked fast-paced jobs, but I’m a more quiet, deliberate person. I’ve worked in environments that encourage making sales, but I value authenticity and good causes. I’ve put myself in situations where I am expected to be chatty and engaging and to connect with a ton of people in any given day, but to me connection is something you can’t force. It must be deep and intentional and take a lot of time.

All of this pushing against my own nature has left me frustrated and even more disappointed with who I am. But when Jenny and I started studying personalities, (admittedly) becoming greater nerds on the subject, something clicked. It’s no longer a matter of changing myself to fit a mold, but rather of finding a mold that I can fit into already, a mold with a shape I fit and room I can grow in.

The catch, of course, is that we all have to spend our lives figuring out the tension between who we are and what life is, between who we should be and what life should be. We have to figure out when it’s okay to change and when it’s okay to stick to our nature, when it’s appropriate to build on our strengths, and when it’s better to strengthen our weaknesses. This goes along with that spiritual principle of realizing that no matter how much I know, I don’t know everything. I need guidance and strength outside myself to make big decisions and little decisions, moment by moment, that will polish me more and more into the person I truly am.

So that’s step two.

A Cautionary Tale

I don’t get road rage. I really don’t. Every once in a while I have a bad day and I might grumble at a slow person, and whenever I drive in Pittsburgh I will let out a string of Pittsburgheze. But these aren’t common occurrences. I’m a pretty placid driver.

No, I don’t get road rage. Unless… unless someone else is exhibiting road rage. And then I’m mad as hell. I get road rage at the people who get road rage.

I don’t know if it’s some righteous anger business. Maybe it is. (It probably is not.) I think it’s probably the result of mixed panic, overstimulation, and a compassionate sense of justice. I mean, come on, where’s the justice in tailgating someone who’s going five over the speed limit? Where’s the compassion in flipping someone off? And what the hell are you honking for? It’s taking me a while to lift my foot off the brake!

Yesterday I was on my way to Pittsburgh, and to be honest, I was in a sour mood. Something had ruffled me before I left the house, and then the previously sunny day had gone all gray, and then it started raining, and I can never seem to get the windshield wiper speed right. It’s either molasses-slow or ADHD-fast. I stopped at a light, and when it turned green, I took my foot off the brake, and suddenly heard six indignant horn blasts to my left.

Sluggishly and sullenly, like a toddler woken too soon from a nap*, I looked over. The lady in the huge brown SUV in the left lane hadn’t been honking at me; she was angry with the guy in the beat-up Toyota pickup in front of her, who was taking his (reasonable) time turning left. The sheer injustice of it all overwhelmed me. I was suddenly seized with road-rage road rage. My own horn looked incredibly inviting. I made a decision. I honked six little indignant horn blasts of my own, with a smug staccato that mirrored SUV lady’s. I felt a thrill of power and righteousness.

And then, terrified at my own strength, I scanned the area for police cars.

And then, by the time I’d gotten another mile down the road, I felt terrible.

And then I repented.

And then I kept myself from crying.

And then I wondered if SUV lady felt as bad as I did.

Road rage does no body good.

 

It’s Friday, which means I’ve released another chapter of my newest novel! Check out my Patreon page, where all my lovely sponsors can view an exclusive look at my first draft. Fiction is better than road rage. Read a story; save a life.

 

*Though, let’s be honest: anyone waking up from a nap is like this.

Rising Above the Oooh

I’ve always considered myself someone who likes to travel. I mean, it makes you sound so accomplished.

“What do you like to do?”
“I’m a writer, and a big reader. I also love to travel.”
“Really! Where have you been?”
“I’ve been to Europe,” *shrug*.
“Oooh.”

I live for the Admiring Oooh.

In all seriousness, I really do enjoy travel, not just for the Admiring Oooh. Visiting new places and seeing life done in different ways has always fascinated me. It’s wonderful to think that while you’re at home doing whatever you do, all these people are here, miles and miles away, doing what they do. It doesn’t stop and start when you arrive, it happens simultaneously with your own timeline. And for a moment, you get to step into a story not your own, and watch it, and sometimes even write some of it.

However, as I’ve gotten older (and this is really sad because I’m not even that old), I’ve found that I have to remind myself how much I love traveling, because more often than not it really stresses me out. New places are unfamiliar, full of a million unknowns, and I hate unknowns. Also I have a sensitive stomach that gets ill easily. Also I need to have enough sleep, and who knows if this will happen? Also I sunburn, literally, like hell. Also I am easily dehydrated. Where’s the closest water fountain? I pull away from my house, my place, with all my things in it, and see it looking so forlorn and abandoned, and I want to run back and cancel everything.

(And this is just going to visit my parents.)

I’ve learned that some things are worth hacking through a slew of fears for. I’ve done it before, and I regret it when I don’t. I want to cling to home, to peace, to the familiar, but not always for noble reasons. Often, very often, I cling to these things out of fear, thinking that without them I will no longer be myself. I forget that I am becoming evermore myself because of the times I travel, the times I encounter unknowns, the times I uproot myself now for better roots later. I would rather be that sort of person than to spare my house’s feelings.

I really do want to be the sort of person who travels, and not just for the Admiring Oooh.

 

Don’t forget to visit my Patreon Page for this week’s Workshop Wednesday! Answer my writing questions and I’ll answer yours!

A Tourist

 

Yesterday the Russian and I were tourists.

We had breakfast at a random-but-delicious Greek diner in Nashville, then we went to the Parthenon. I’ve been there before, back when I lived in Tennessee for a few months. So for me, it felt less like touristing than it did being a local and showing a newbie the local sights. This, of course, in inaccurate, but it was nice to pretend.

The Russian isn’t really one for the arts, but he did marry a woman with an English degree, so he’s good at dipping his toes in. We milled around the art gallery under the Parthenon, looked at the collection of paintings based on Tennessee state symbols, and pondered how much of a hole buying two $7500 paintings would put us in. His favorite was a closeup of a ladybug on a leaf. Mine was a detail of juniper berries. Neither of us would compromise, so $15000 in debt it is.

It was a gorgeous warm, sunny day, the kind we probably won’t get in Pennsylvania until our annual February thaw. The place was full of people from everywhere, a mix of languages and dialects.

Hearing the Southern accent still makes me do a double take; I’m so unused to it, and I was even when I lived here. It reminds me that even though I consider Nashville an adopted city, even though I can get around without directions and show my husband the local sights, I still prefer a rugged Pittsburgh accent to a Southern one, a mess of damp hills to a dry plain of flatness, pierogis and sauerkraut to barbecue.

Despite everything, I’m still a tourist.

Workshop Wednesday 11.22.17

Happy Day-Before-Thanksgiving!

The Russian and I are on our way to Nashville for the festivities, but I couldn’t resist sharing my newest idea: Workshop Wednesday (I’m so good at alliteration)!!!

I’m planning to put together a virtual writer’s workshop through my Patreon page, where supporters can view the new fiction I share each week, give me feedback, and share links to their own work, which I’ll give comments on as I can. I’m excited to form a sort of community where we can grow into better writers together.

Interested? Head over to today’s post, and then take a look at my novel-in-progress, which I release chapter-by-chapter each Friday. Let me know what you think, and feel free to share some of your own work! I’d love to see what my readers are working on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Big Announcement and A Little Help

 

I came to a realization a month or so ago. I realized that I want to be a writer.

This wasn’t really an epiphany; I mean, I have a degree in writing. Clearly I had some inkling. But in the post-graduate bonanza that is job hunting, I got distracted by the mad need to get a job now, which led me to some frustrating places and an all-around bad mental state.

And then I realized it: I just, really, want to be a writer. I want to be home most of the time, and sit at my desk, and light a candle, and write. Whenever I get frustrated with my career, when all seems futile and I think I’ve just been deceiving myself this whole time, I sit down, light a candle, and write. And everything just pops into place, like when a chiropractor gives you a good crack (also, BTW, never been crazy about that phrase. It sounds like a drug reference). I write, and I start to gain hope that, yes, this is exactly what I’m supposed to do.

So I’ve more consciously thrown myself into writing, because I realized that I need to commit to it. It’s a learning curve and a challenge, but it’s one I’m prepared to take on, because, like I told my best friend, I need the pressure of failure to make me commit. It’s freeing, and also terrifying. I like to focus on the freeing part.

Long story long, as part of my resolution to commit, I started a Patreon page to get my writing out there and to get ever closer to my goal of being supported by writing work. It would mean so much to me if you would check it out and consider supporting me. I’ll be sharing weekly installments of my newest novel, and, I’ll be integrating my followers’ thoughts and comments into my ongoing drafting, almost like a real-time writing workshop. I’m super excited to see how this improves my work.

Stay posted while I keep writing. Thanks for reading, and please never stop.

(And Happy Thanksgiving!)

Quiet Weather

I’ve always liked the gloomy days, because the gloomy days force everyone to be quiet. In the riot of sunshine and cloudless sky, everything screams and sings and shouts. The sky is too big; it yawns over the earth like an echo chamber.

But in the gloomy days, a hush falls over the world. The sky is like a heavy damper on the strings of a piano. The screaming and singing and shouting is muffled with fog and sullenness. But that which is quiet, and has always been, doesn’t get muffled. That which is quiet hums softly as it always does. The gloom forces us all to listen. The gloom makes the quiet loud.

And for once, I’m louder than the weather.