Thursday, 12 September 2013

Shadows and Shades of Blue

Someone I know recently had to do one of those tedious staff team-building days that businesses, corporations and church-groups are so fond of. Having been supposedly psycho-analysed (or rather, psycho-assessed) by colleagues, he discovered something he already knew: that he is an extrovert.

I suspect the methodology used was similar to the Myers Briggs system of character-analysis, in which you discover where you are placed in four categories of personality trait. There are two options in each category, and through various tests, discussions, and self-discovery, a person not only gets to understand themself but also, in a rather Jungian sense, is able to access their ‘shadow.’

For years I have struggled to work out where I sit on the second of these categories: introvert/extrovert.  The general understanding of these terms is based on behaviour: he/she is such an extrovert (ie, showy) or an introvert (ie, shy.) But in Jungian typology, it is about where a person finds ‘energy.’ Are you energised by having other people around, or do you re-charge your batteries when alone? There has been quite a lot said lately about ‘quiet types,’ and an attempt to re-assess the notion that there are, indeed, perks of being a wallflower. (An aside: what a great film!)

For a creative person – a writer, an artist, performer or whatever – the need to shut oneself in a room and create stuff may be at odds with the desire to ‘get out there.’ Conversely, the prospect of having to ‘strut one’s stuff’ in public is daunting for an artist who would rather hide in his or her turret.  As a performer in one field of the arts (ie, singing), I am glad to share my voice in public. But performing my writing is a terrifying experience that deeply challenges my extrovert nature since, as a writer, I would describe myself as an introvert.

Last week I was relieved to find an article that has finally resolved this issue, at least in terms of being pigeonholed. It seems that artists, or ‘creative types’ as we tend to get called, can be both introvert and extrovert. Simultaneously! We are smart and na├»ve, humble and proud, rebellious iconoclasts and somehow traditional and conservative. It may sound (or feel) schizophrenic or paradoxical, but how else can we be passionate about our work yet at the same time, objective?

The article also said that creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.How true. What’s more, it said creative people's openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.Not every artist buys into the ‘no pain, no gain’ idea, but I fail to see how anyone can create or perform a work of art without giving something of their soul away in the process.

No two people are the same, and artists hate being put into boxes. For this reason, I prefer to use the nine-fold system of character-analysis which I have alluded to before. (see Monday, 12 August 2013 – Canto VIII)  The ‘Enneagram’ comes from the Sufi religion, and divides the character into three groups of three: three body-centred types who tend towards gut-instinct; three heart-centred, with a developed emotive response, and three head-centred who rely more on cognitive processes.

People discover for themselves (rather than being told) which of the nine types fits their personality best. Being plotted on a circle, they are then able to access the other eight points, or travel around the circumference to understand and empathise with those who may seem distant from their own way of thinking, behaving, or feeling. The film, The Wizard of Oz, advocates a clockwise walk around the circle in order to come to terms with one’s buried function – for example, the Tin Man, who sings, ‘If I only had a heart,’ must also reflect on his thoughts and behaviour to control his emotions.

This is a long-winded way of introducing the ninth of my Twelve Tones of Blue sequence. Having spent many years trying to write novels that explore this nine-fold typology, I can only present here a nine-line poem that attempts to summarise the points of the enneagram. Were life, and people, so simple as to sum up the complexities of character in a mere poem, we wouldn’t need creative people, with all their foibles, to try and make sense of it. This is why we all, naturally, fail. And thrive.

Twelve Tones of Blue

Canto IX

The arbiter, who'll gently, gently persuade;

The governor, who'll quickly come to your aid;

The stickler, who beats himself with his own tirade.

The lust for life who lives to give and gives of Self;

The trust who strives to achieve and stays alive by stealth;

The gust of creative beauty, who survives by Art, not wealth.

Picasso painted violins and grapes: the ultimate epicurist;

Rodin sculpted a figure whose thought was masked by avarice;

Joni constructed a palette of indigo: governed by loyal cowardice.