Friday, 17 April 2015

Following a Faint Stain

The title poem of Ted Hughes’ early collection, Wodwo is a poem that has stuck with me ever since I read it. Using a mysterious creature, Hughes examines the questions of being and doing, what it is to exist, and how we see ourselves. I’ve cited this poem many times here on this blog, and wrote my own take on the Wodwo in my sequence An Imaginary Menagerie.

Facebook often throws up those funny questionnaires where, after ticking various boxes you discover, for example, which Shakespeare play you are, or what character in literature represents your personality. I came up as Atticus Finch, which was rather pleasing. There are other more serious character-analyses – in particular the enneagram,  and Myers Brigg. My preference for the former may be the reason I have not, until recently, done a Myers Brigg test.

Recently, however, I did one online, and discovered I am an INFJ. I was not surprised, as an enneagram Number 4, that emotions featured high, and intuition is a key factor in decision-making. I’ve mentioned before the introvert/extrovert dilemma as a writer/ performer, and how creative people tend to live in both states simultaneously. But the last category surprised me, even if I was on the cusp.

Apparently this is a rare type of personality. This fits with the Number 4 on the Enneagram, the ‘Creative’ whose self-ideal is of being ‘special.’ The tendency to want to help others more than self is common to both types, and can often cause problems. I know this to my personal detriment. It seems that the ‘Judging’ element sets these sorts of people apart, and although I was shocked to find that I fell on that side – thinking myself strongly perceptive – I can see how this makes sense.

Yet my inability to make decisions, or see things in black and white, would point to the P (Perceiving) element of this pair of letters, not J. I find shopping, whether for groceries, clothes, or train tickets, challenging because the options are overwhelming. Conversely, as a writer I spend a great deal of time observing people and assessing what makes them tick, which I guess is a J trait. My preference for the Enneagram is based on the idea that we can access all nine character-types, and using the ‘triads’ can travel around the circle.

Many of the Cautionary Tales in Charlotte & The Charlatan follow this idea. Head, heart, and gut appear throughout It may be poor literary practice, but I frequently describe things with triplicate adjectives. In my previous post, ‘Hannah and the Shadows’ describes the Jungian concept of the shadow-self (a feature of Myers Brigg) moving through the enneagram triads of cognition (head) emotion (heart) and instinct (gut) – developing Jung's 'archetypes.'. The next tale is an exploration of all nine character types of the enneagram.

Perhaps I am more like this character Thomas than I care to admit.

Having said all that, I still feel I am closer to the INFP than my 'test' came out. Who we are, and how others perceive us,  may be a critical question in our existence. Keep searching, Wodwo.

from Charlotte & The Charlatan

– and other cautionary tales

Unwatchful Thomas


Thomas was a people-watcher, but not a Peeping Tom. All day long he watched what made people tick; the expressions on their faces, the places they went.  Before he noticed, he’d spent hours engrossed in observations – avoiding conversations.

It was a form of empathy: he lacked a photographic memory and rarely remembered the people he’d clocked. He looked, smiled internally, then quickly forgot. His only recollection was of what each person might have been thinking. This was pure supposition – he couldn’t have an inkling of what was going on inside another person’s head.

His perception was a thumbnail sketch of a person’s personality from which he formed no judgement. “You can tell so much from people’s faces,” he’d say, then carry on looking for clues construed from first-opinions alone.

In the market-squares, streets and shops he never ceased to look at people’s attitude; their posture at the bus-stop; the way they queued at the till or the bar; their gait in the gardens and parks of Charlotteville. He never thought anything ill, whether they dwelled in the office, or work-site, or factory; nor wherever they stood in society’s hierarchy.

In the kitchen, the Head Chef and Chef-de-Party were in charge. Although one was The Boss, while the other relied on perfectionism, both were well-known for culinary schism. The Commis, the also-ran, washing endless pots and pans knew how detergent could foil the hottest temper by pouring soapy water on oil; making a molehill out of a mountain of plates: this was a character-type to which many could relate.

In supermarkets, shopping malls, and boutiques, there were many who wore their hearts on their sleeves. The Creative, who never donned the latest fashion but dressed with a trend that went well-beyond passion. The ever-helpful who, in the supermarket, reached up to the top-shelf for the shorter shopper, and let the pregnant mother get to the till before her. The high-achiever, while determined to finish her wish-list, never missed a chance to engage in conversation that would complete her ultimate mission.

In Libraries, Museums and Galleries the cerebral types could be seen. The avid reader absorbed informative facts with avaricious intent, while the museum-dweller indulged in artefacts, digesting a menu delightful and eclectic. Meanwhile, the loyal sceptic puzzled over pictures in every gallery. In her head, she knew it was ‘good.’ But in her guts and her heart she questioned: but is it ‘art.’

Thomas spotted the same types all the time, and plotted them on a pie-chart divided into nine. The defensive boss, short-tempered perfectionist, and smooth-talking negotiator; the selfless angel, aloof artistic creator, and list-instigator; the well-read wise owl, obedient art-collector and the epicurean curator.

In every visage, expression or face; from every walk or place or ban, Thomas would form an opinion as only a Watcher of People can. He spent his time without harming a soul, never thinking his strange predilection alarming; nor that others would see his acute observations perturbing, or in any way abusive or disturbing.

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