Monthly Archives: March 2012

Type Casting: Deep Cuts from the Land of Myers-Briggs Personality Test

My latest column for Industry is hot off the virtual presses. Read it here: Type Casting

I had taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test (MBTI) years before, but as my boyfriend had just done it at work I decided to do a retake. Not too long after that, I became obsessed with it. For an analyzer like me, personality tests offer a kind of cheat sheet for thinking about people, and are an interesting jumping-off place for exploring boundaries in relationships.

You can take the Myers Briggs here. Then come back and tell me your type, how it impacts your relationships, how you choose people, or any other observations.

Equinox Dreams

When the time changed last week, for a few days my sleeping (and waking) habits got fuzzy. I like these liminal periods that come along every once in awhile and disrupt my habitual life. The whole week I struggled with a simultaneous sense of growing ambition and fear for the future, and at night I was confusing waking and dreaming. I fell asleep working on consciously falling asleep, as per my yoga teacher’s instructions the week before. I meditated before bed, quieting my mind. I silently chanted a simple mantra as I went to bed. I slid into sleep, and, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, found myself still awake. Awake, while asleep. I just sat there, surprised, not knowing what to do. Then I passed out of consciousness into a regular slumber. That was it, it hasn’t happened again. Yet.

I woke up one morning very early, at about 4:30 a.m., just a day or two after the time change. It was unusually warm for the past two weeks, so Spring was already starting to appear, but that morning I woke up without a thought and just lay there, aware and meditative. I heard the early bird. I wondered why the early bird sang so early. He just does, I guess. I’ll investigate.

Soon after I heard a heron hunting over the river. That sound reached my ear and made me aware of Spring. Just that. The heron’s call made me think of the trees outside my window dressed in all their finery after the bare winter. I thought of kayaking the (admittedly very dirty) river and how fun it was last year. I think I’ll help with the river cleanup later this month.

And who else might be hearing the heron and remembering last summer as they lay in their bed half-asleep?

I’m so grateful that even though I live on a traffic-filled street, my little apartment looks out over the river. I have such interesting neighbors. Today, two weeks later, there were cardinals, grackels, geese, and all kinds of different birds singing outside. I listened to them as I got ready for work, and dug around for my Birds of North America.

It’s Spring!

Cliché Romance & Exorcism

As a writer, I have fought long and hard to remove cliche’d words and phrases from my writing. It’s an uphill battle, as you will see if you ever take up the challenge. One of my first writing teachers handed out a mimeographed, crooked old piece of paper with a list of a daunting number of phrases and word combinations considered cliché. Besides the tried and true, old stand-bys, the subtler examples (rock hard, steely-eyed, slippery slope) showed me how such ready-made phraseology is a hallmark of lazy thinking.

Writing is hard. There are so many cheats and short cuts, but they all add up to hackneyed writing. Readers can tell. Readers eyes glaze over, and that response is never the reader’s fault.

Today I found these in an essay draft:

silver lining

grass is greener

expand my horizons

pretty theory

time-honored

and the ones included in this blog post I have purposely left in to show you the depths of my cliché problem.

Fearing that perhaps my thinking is hackeyed, I cut most of them. But I confess I love clichés. They are slightly ridiculous and strangely apt. Today I told a friend, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” We both laughed, as it was literally relevant to her situation. This somehow elevated the usage to the meta-comical, provoking a self-satisfied giddiness, like any well-placed pun or other low-brow verbal effect. Sure, I’m a word nerd.

The sociological interest, however, goes deeper. I’m fascinated by these turns of phrase, and what they may reveal about our culture and way of thinking, making connections, and categorizing.

I often deconstruct common concepts in my writing. The cliché is similar to stereotype in that it exists as a kind of shorthand. There is a kernel of truth to it. It’s a good jumping-off place. It takes on the air of symbol, that we know at a glance, and ignore, but that which can show us the contours of our beliefs, our interests and motivations.

Cliché is like found meaning. It has existed in culture long enough to be understood implicitly. It’s part of the human condition. The human condition—another curious concept that is more like a rhetorical tag than a defined thing.

Knowing that clichés help us work as little as possible to understand each other, I suppose that’s why they exist. But taking all the little events, how do they add up to a life? How do our words add up to meaning, or alter it, as a pebble plunked into a pond? How do they affect us? and how can we make our expression of ourselves more original?