Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Reformer.

My Uncle works at a community center that serves the homeless. He's a retired minister (as was his father and my father) and is given the opportunity to teach classes on various interests. The past few times I've seen him he's talked most about his class on The Enneagram. The what? The Enneagram. (, check it.) It's a personality test that assesses a dominant personality-type that describes how we see the world, or really, react to the world. The test is accompanied by a logo that resembles a sweet-super-hero-emblem-looking-pentagram with 9 points on its star; The 9 points represent these dominant personality types: The Helper, The Achiever, The Individualist, The Investigator, The Loyalist, The Enthusiast, The Peacemaker, The Reformer, and The Challenger.

The Enneagram system believes that we are born with a dominant personality type which is determined by "inborn temperament" and "pre-natal factors." As the system explains, we all have various pieces of each of the 9 types, but one is always dominant, and this dominant type does not change. If it's determined I'm a Helper I cannot suddenly be a Challenger, even though I may start feeling more like the description of The Challenger.

As my Aunt and Uncle were discussing their types my Uncle said: "I generally feel like I'm doing things the best way and want everyone else to do them my way too." I can't remember positively, but based on the description below, I think he's The Reformer.

The Reformer: Reformers are conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change: always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience. At their Best: wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. Can be morally heroic.

Something clicked: This is exactly the way I think!

Fatherhood has been a strange journey toward finding methods that work for me when Candice is not around. Our household is Mommy-centric by design. Candy bravely accepted the havoc that pregnancy wreaked upon her body and spent 30 hours in the labyrinth of labor as Franny begrudgingly required us to surgically-extract her. She's willingly given her time and body, since day one, so Franny can eat, sleep, and cuddle as she needs to. I do my best to hold her hand and support her so she can do these things and still keep her sanity. I take an immense amount of pride in the times when I'm able to keep Franny engaged enough that she forgets Candy is gone. But when Mommy returns and does something differently than I have, or think I would-have, that pride turns me into a scum-bag who creates the air of "I told you so." Really supportive Aaron, really supportive. And how easily I forget the incalculable amounts of times when my wonderful wife saves the day by doing exactly what our baby needs at the exact time she needs it, evading all complications.

A question weaseling its way into my mind: What are the potential reasons that influence why people make the decisions they make?

If there is one thing that my folks are good at complaining about, it's other drivers. Without her being in the car I still hear my mom's classic "Get it rollin' Duuuude!" every time someone is unaware that the light turned green. It's become a household favorite for us as I imitate it with a vibrato-warble in the "Duuuude!" Makes me laugh every time! A buddy of mine once told me he read a study where a survey concluded that something like 93% of drivers think they're better at driving than everyone else. Nowadays, I think righteous-road-rage is a little more understandable as the youngsters text and Facebook their ways to-and-fro while their knees hold the wheel. But I'm guessing, for as mad as we get at those obvious hazards, most of the time people are probably just distracted for the moment: lost in thought, or conversation, or a story on NPR. Innocent reasons.

A few months ago I had a run-in with a coworker, whom I actually love dearly, about something that was left in his way. He had a decently narrow path to traverse and someone placed something in the way, preventing him to get by. Rather than move it to wherever he'd deem a better spot and carry on, he proceeded to berate the theoretical "moron" who made the decision to leave the obstacle where they did. I was having a short-on-patience kind of day, and this was the straw that broke me. I tore into him for what I saw as his sheer arrogance at thinking someone intentionally tried to screw him over. With vitriol, I sarcastically spewed forth: "Yeah, of course, if everyone did everything the way you do it everything would run perfectly!" There's no way anyone could have had any other reason to put that there than to fuck-you-up right?!?" After I was done raging, I explained why I got so riled up, and asked his forgiveness. He obliged.

Really, the source of this explosion was the mirror my buddy was pointing at me. He was saying things that I hate, but I used to be right there, damning "culprits" for being "morons who are doing everything wrong." In the past couple years I've worked hard to embrace what should be obvious: people think and do things differently than I do. This inclination towards judgement is a demon I wrestle with regularly.

The grace within the Enneagram system is that it explains no personality type is inherently positive or negative, and none of them are better than others, they just are. They have strengths and weaknesses, room for growth, and each hopes to present opportunities for introspection about how we think and react. I've not taken the test, who knows, maybe The Reformer wouldn't encapsulate me after all. But the mere title of it, The Reformer, struck a cord, for good and for bad.

If I am to be a reformer, let it be me who is the subject of the reformation.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Red is red.

In college I learned about Jurgen Habermas' concept of the lifeworld. As I remember it, the lifeworld is the sum of everything we've learned in life, from birth to the present, about how the world works. It is a universe which encompasses what can be deemed objective-truth, mostly things we understand but do not have to think about, because they are just given. It is the overarching context that all of us draw from as conscious human beings. While it's acknowledged there are universal aspects of the lifeworld, Habermas was interested in how personal lifeworlds could be infiltrated by information which would set them apart from other cultures. The more I read the more complicated the concept seems to get, and Wikipedia is weaving a web that is trying to entangle me beyond my scope. So we have this knowledge-universe, which, upon preliminary examination, may seem obvious; things like red is red, or food is necessary to live, or everyone eventually dies. Children tend to ask about these in the 'Why?' stage and we do our best to explain, realizing that until that moment, we hadn't really thought about it for a while either...they're just truths that we've come to accept.

I've opened a larger box than I intended to, but what I'm trying to wrap my mind around is that, for as much effort as I put into trying to understand why I am who I am, and what my lifeworld has determined as given, I'm baffled by the possibility that I also have an unconscious existence that could be influencing me in ways I'm unaware of, or at least locking away some of the answers I seek. The aspects of our shared lifeworld can be analyzed and theorized up and down by those who find that to be their passion, but my unconscious mind is a mystery even to me.

Though it didn't originate with him, Freud popularized the idea of the the unconscious mind. By his estimation it is a repository of collected experiences and memories, specific to individuals, that manifest themselves in dreams, thoughts which seem to have no origin, and skills that take no thought to perform, i.e. riding a bike (once learned that is.) He might assert that Jason Bourne was able to kick-so-much-ass-without-knowing-why because of his unconscious retention. His ability to act, after the name of my old Karate Dojo, was "Mushin," Japanese for "no mind." But, obvious, super-hero-like abilities (and analogies) aside, what in the heck role does my unconscious mind play in my daily life?

From the browsing I've done re-familiarizing myself with it, researchers widely agree that we cannot access unconsciousness through introspection. And because of this, I find the possibility that memories and experiences could be locked away, without an obvious key, disconcerting. In my darkest days, when I'm feeling the most doubtful that I'm doing things right in life, it'd be nice to take a stroll through fields of forgotten memories that might impart new opportunities for insight. But for now, as I've been, I will keep trying to see things as clearly as I can...then ask why I see them that way, then I'll go to sleep, because that shit is tiring.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Adventure Time.

Candice, Franny, and I recently went to Florida to visit my snow-birding parents. They tow a trailer down with a giant conversion van, which Dad and I affectionately refer to as "The Red Ram of Death," and stay in a park a mile from the beach in Melbourne. As all of us Michiganders know, they avoided one hell of a pummeling winter this year. The moment we walked out of the Sanford-Orlando airport the humidity healed our dry-cracked hands and coiled Franny's curls into a majestic pasty-white-girl afro. My folks graciously stayed with friends and gave us their trailer so we wouldn't have to get a hotel. In this humble abode we both got caught up in day-dreaming about living in smaller scale and having a more fluid arrangement that would allow us to move as the winds of inspiration whisper suggestions to us. Like we do when we play out the "what would you do if you won the lotto?" scenario we started thinking about how we could live without the sandbags of adulthood responsibility feeling so crushingly heavy and how we can live...with more adventure!

I've always reveled in little adventures: tornado warnings, power-outages, snow storms, heat waves, you know...things outside our control that people generally like to complain about. To this day I'm totally bummed I lived in St. Louis during the Great North-Eastern Black Out of 2003. My buddy tells me he never felt closer to his neighbors than in that little 3 day stretch when everyone was outside grilling food together and living in the sun. This probably explains why I moved around so much too.

In 2006 Candice's mom and her boyfriend sold their house, bought an RV, and drove out to the sunny West to live off the land a bit and sell their hand-made jewelry and other home-made goods at any market that would have them. After time in Arizona, they settled in several spots in California, and eventually ended up as Camp Hosts at Lime Kiln State Park within Big Sur on the Coast of central Cali where we were able to visit them. The park was closed to the public at the time because of forest fires nearby so they had the grounds mostly to themselves. We got to stay with them in their camper while they tended to things and shoo'd away people trying to enter the closed park. I'll never forget the views from the cliff overlooking the ocean-side or the romantic afternoon picnic Candy and I had on it. I'll never forget the sea-sickening, spaghetti-noodle-winding Highway-1 and its giant rock-stabilizing nets covering the mountainside, protecting us from being smashed. Or the cold nights when the space-heater wasn't enough to keep the windows in the camper from dripping their condensation on we stowaways in the loft. Or the GIANT cheddar cheese block we ate leftover from a conference on the grounds. They were living their dream, but it wasn't easy. More often than not, they were living day to day as well, the same way we are, just in smaller confines with fresher air and crashing waves nearby.

Last week as we mentally mapped out what we could change to find more adventure, a question dawned on me: Is adventure simply glorified adversity?

I live a pretty comfortable life now. The hunting aspect of my early 20s is long gone. Though I'm not sure I could put it into words succinctly, I've found who I am. I've found the person I want to live beside and grow old with. Together we've created the most adorable darling daughter the world has ever seen (wink, wink). We have a piece of clay we're molding into home. The two of us have secure avenues for work and a whole host of friends and family whom we love and love us. By most peoples' standards we're "living the dream." But there's a lingering feeling that we could be doing and experiencing more.

Surrounded by retirees down south I wondered what it must be like to spend 30+ years building a life filled with all the things mentioned above just to bid all of it adieu and coast into those golden years building a new sense of home. Why does our culture that tell us to keep our noses to the grind-stone so we can prepare for adventures in the future? Why not adventure here, why not now!?!? Cue various punk songs!

But instead of smashing the system or fighting the man I'm considering donating more to my 401K, like a big boy, for the future. In the meantime we'll keep dreaming about taking-this-show-on-the-road and making-a-go-of-it, and other nice phrases that imply adventure. I think we have the goods to do it, but do we have the courage? Time will tell.