Monday, January 18, 2016

A reluctant rock star

While taking a sociology course for my Master's Program, the professor assigned the class a lengthy inventory which would reveal four parts of our personalities so that we might learn how to better work together.  He turned to me and said, "Kate...I want you to go to the library by yourself and take at least an hour and a half to answer these questions."  He lifted a brow.  "Don't answer them the way you want people to see you.  Answer them the way you are."
Later that afternoon I holed up at Carlson Library, pencil in hand and opened up the Myers-Briggs Inventory.  The questions were difficult, often repetitive, and challenged me to answer them honestly, as my professor had insisted.  At the time I was a people-pleaser, a workaholic, and a young woman trying to find my place in the adult world.  When I read each question, I knew what the socially appropriate answer might be...but it didn't resonate with who I was at the time.
Or who I am now.
Over the years I've taken the Myers-Briggs test four more times, and each time I end up with the same result:  I'm an INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging), which is the rarest personality type in our world.  Making up only one percent of the population, INFJ's are the most sensitive of the sensitive.  We love helping others.  We're often overly-attuned to our inner worlds.  And yet we're in great company.  Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Goethe, Cate Blanchett, and George Harrison are included in this small percentage.  Even Jesus was said to be an INFJ. 
Still, it's often lonely in a sea of ESTJ's and ISTJ's.  But I don't mind, as I've magically found a small, but mighty circle of other INFJ's who mirror me in ways both loving and thought-provoking.  My friend, Sarah, and I are both INFJ's, but she leads with a "turbulent" aspect, meaning she's more self-conscious and sensitive to stress.  I lead with "assertiveness", which means I'm a little more even-tempered and refuse to worry too much (at least not anymore).
Must be all the yoga and meditation.

Yet, there are times when I feel as if I embody two different, yet oddly analogous people:  one who loves to be seen and appreciated for the creativity I bring into the world and simultaneously a person who wants nothing more than to shrink into myself and do my creating behind closed doors.  Having loved solitary pursuits as a child, I would purposely avoid afternoons at my friends’ houses for hours of silent reading time in my own bedroom.  Ramona Quimby and Harriet the Spy were wonderful company; I delighted in the way their authors held my imagination and created a world that seemed very real indeed. 
But from the time I was seven, I was also encouraged to perform. 
My older sister and I joined a children’s choir at our church and we sang special music at the Easter and Christmas Eve services.  Our director, Mr. Schneider, promised that if we harmonized correctly, “Stille Nacht” would make our parents cry with pure joy.  I relished the thrill of preparation, the weekly rehearsals with our eccentric leader.  Mr. Schneider mischievously told us that if we misbehaved, we would have to sit beneath his podium…a punishment far worse than it sounded, because he said that his nose perpetually dripped and anyone who caused mischief would certainly go home with their hair saturated with snot. 
Mr. Schneider taught me the excitement of anticipation, the satisfaction of “getting it right” after weeks of preparation.  I have a vivid memory of standing in front of the hushed congregation on Christmas Eve, with the lights dimmed and candles gleaming on the altar.  Knees knocking with eagerness, the children’s choir was dressed in itchy polyester robes and shiny black shoes.  Mr. Schneider beamed as we did our best.  And sure enough, we were rewarded with kisses from our mothers and cookies from the Sunday School committee. 
From then on, bitten by the musical bug, I consistently found ways to perform.  I played handbells and sang in a variety of choirs.  I sang solos in school performances and even participated in ensemble competitions, bringing home ribbons of excellence.  In college, I sang in a quartet with my sorority sisters during rush week, and in the decade that followed, eventually found my way back to a variety of church choirs and a swing gospel quartet. 
As I look back, it's curious to realize that even as an adult, I enjoyed the rehearsals much more than the performances.  I loved the camaraderie of learning a new piece of music and its painstaking journey from initial attempt to final execution.  The actual presentation often left me feeling like an organ grinder's monkey, expected to entertain the masses who always wanted more.  Finally, in my early thirties, I left public singing altogether, trading the rehearsal time for writing; exchanging the outer recital for the inner composition.

Perhaps it was in my seventh grade language class that I learned the important lesson of appreciating literature and language for more than its entertainment value.  When we read Call of the Wild, my teacher, Miss Kurtz, enthusiastically described the symbolic representation of Buck and his relationship with John Thorton.  She reminded us that we all have a call deep within that is beyond what human eyes can see, and challenged us to be brave enough to recognize and answer it. 
It was then that I began to connect with my inner world, to gently accept the part of me that needed solace and silence to support that which was churning inside my spirit.  So I bought a large, spiral notebook with a monkey on the cover, its head surrounded by a daisy chain.  I wrote in it nearly every single day:  short stories, lists of words that sounded interesting, books I wanted to read, and song lyrics.  It was in this delicate act of balancing between active performance and quiet seeking that I finally discovered a path of equilibrium and least for a little while. 
Eventually I accepted the fact that I am indeed an introvert, not shy, but someone who seeks a more quiet way of being.  One who is able to publicly share my gifts with the world, but also needs to be alone in order to renew and find my center through peaceful reflection.  It would take decades, but in time, I would find the courage to listen to and comprehend what my inner voice had been whispering since I was a young girl...and then be brave enough to share it with the world.
My friend, Brian, has called me a reluctant rock star, particularly where children are concerned.  He often reminds me that any skillful performer is able to channel people’s energy and send it back to them at a higher level.  For me, it has been an ongoing challenge to accept my love of performing while at the same time recognize my need to be quietly reflective.  In honoring my introverted impulse, I can begin again, refreshed and re-energized.  I am infinitely thankful to have learned how to make the transition from solitude into society and back again. 
As fate would have it, in August of 2012 I was shopping for a new writing desk, when I saw someone I knew in the distance.  Walking closer, I realized it was Miss Kurtz, now Mrs. Joyce Yarnell, and was delighted that she recognized and remembered me.  We caught up on our lives and spent some time talking about the writing process and the book my agent had been pitching to editors.  It seemed only fitting to tell Joyce that her love of words had sparked my desire to become a writer.  Enthusiastic about my memoir, she asked if she could help me edit.  Of course, I eagerly took her up on the offer.    
A few weeks before Thanksgiving we met at a local coffee shop and sat in the corner for hours, talking and editing the foreward and introduction of Open Road: a life worth waiting for.
"You've got a lot to say," Joyce smiled.
"And I'm only going to tell half of it," I replied, lifting an eyebrow.  "The rest of it will be mine...and mine alone."  (Spoken like a true INFJ.)
"Wise woman," Joyce winked.
Throughout the spring and summer of 2013, Joyce sat by my side as we edited every line, every sentence, every paragraph.  I cannot completely articulate the grace I have felt in having a mirror and a witness to this incredible process.  To have someone encourage me to continually strive for the precise word, the best phrase, the most inspirational tone.  To have the person who initially taught me the countless gifts of extraordinary language, gently encourage me as I made the slow and steady transition from novelist to writer.

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