ADVICE ON WRITING

As Anne Lamott turns 61, she published a reflective post on Facebook. The whole post is worth a read, but I found this bit to be especially poignant:

Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.

A SENSE OF SELFIE: IN DEFENSE OF THE SELF-PORTRAIT

A selfie I took this morning.

A selfie I took this morning. No shame!

Go on, admit it: you’re guilty of at least one selfie, aren’t you? Recently named word of the year, the selfie (photos taken by the photo subject him/herself, typically uploaded to a social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) is a polarizing topic these days, yet so many of us have uploaded them, including the Pope.

While certainly not a new phenomenon (I remember taking “selfies” back in the day of film cameras… crap, did I just admit to being old?), the self-portrait has come under scrutiny for being a self-absorbed, narcissistic form of communication–a vehicle by which the selfie-ee seeks approval and praise.

On the surface, that may be what’s going on. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll likely find the principles of identity management theory* at work.

Our identities are comprised of our own view of ourselves with a mash up of others’ views. During our formative years (often the teens and early 20s), our identities can shake and shift, perhaps causing an even greater need for checks and balances in figuring out who we are–and thus who we are not. But even beyond that, identity management never stops. It’s not like you suss out “This is me! This is who I am!” and the journey ends when you turn 26, 27, or even 30. Humans are ever-changing beings over the course of a lifetime, and so managing our identities becomes a lifelong process.

Selfies have become an acceptable way to communicate,” suggests psychologist Diana Parkinson. “Humans have always done this, whether it’s with cave paintings or self-portraiture – it reaffirms our identity. It’s a natural evolution.

Maybe the art of the selfie is about control, brand management, or a need to be loved. Or perhaps it’s about living out in the open, transparently, and out of context, for mass consumption. Or maybe selfies are a plea to be seen–by someone, anyone.

Some friends have noticed a change in me over the past few months. Where I didn’t post hardly any photos of myself (maybe 5 a year?), there is suddenly a flurry of selfies. “What’s going on with Ashley? She’s… different,” they ponder. At some point in my late 20s, I lost a part of myself. She retreated into the shadows, little by little, until I forgot she even existed. She had been missing for the better part of four years before some folks helped me realize she was gone. This epiphany occurred in October, and I’ve been a shameless selfie machine ever since. #SorryNotSorry

Why? Because I’m trying to regain a sense of my identity. It’s so bizarre to look at a photograph you took of yourself and think, “I don’t even know that girl.” (No, really, this happens pretty much every time.) That’s what the selfie is for me: a healing tool–a way to embrace my me-ness. And while that sounds entirely self-absorbed, think about that for a second. Imagine if the opposite were true–if you felt so incongruent in your own skin, like a stranger looking at yourself in the mirror as if your body had been switched or something. Imagine waking up one day, realizing that somewhere along the way, you lost that crucial sense of value in yourself. Imagine trying to see the qualities others say they see in you without even trying.

There’s that old adage about how the camera doesn’t lie. Sure, lighting tricks, positioning, and filters make everything better, but on the whole, the selfie is an attempt to see through an unbiased eye–to see ourselves for who we really are, reinforcing our sense of identity. The selfie is a way to explore that identity and express it to others. It facilitates understanding and allows us to control our own narratives. They’re a safe place to do all of this, too: if you don’t like a selfie you took, delete it. Zero pressure.

As Casey N. Cep eloquently points out, “Rarely a documentary genre, self-portraits have always allowed us to craft an argument about who we are, convincing not only others, but also ourselves.” So the next time you find yourself rolling your eyes at someone’s selfie, step back and realize that it may have nothing to do with showing off or accumulating praise. Instead, the person perfectly posed in that self-portrait might be engaged in an argument with him or herself, fighting for a sense of identity.

*Pardon my Wikipedia link. There are ample scholarly journals on the topic on Google Scholar, but I didn’t want to link to PDFs that readers may or may not have access to anyway. The Wikipedia article is a good starting point for the basics of IMT.

GIVING CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: BE PROUD OF YOUR FORT WAYNE ROOTS

Anita and Chris Homco were kind enough to lend me this photo of Fort Wayne's flag (yes, the Fort has a flag) hanging outside their home.

Anita and Chris Homco were kind enough to lend me this photo of Fort Wayne’s flag (yes, the Fort has a flag) hanging outside their home.

Preface: It’s no secret that I love Fort Wayne. I grew up in a tiny town full of the same type of people with the same background. When I moved here in 2008, Fort Dub instantly felt like home: somewhere that finally fit, somewhere I could stretch my legs, and somewhere I could love that might show me a little love in return. That’s why I don’t understand people who don’t appreciate and respect the city as much as I do. And so here’s the thing…

I’ve interviewed scads of people who went to school in Fort Wayne, grew up here, or lived here at some point in their lives. A disturbing number of these folks act like they’re ashamed of their roots, downplaying them or preferring not to mention them at all. When they tell their life stories to others, they’ll say they grew up in California or graduated from IU or Purdue (as opposed to IPFW).

How sad that must be to feel as if you have to construct an identity instead of embracing the one you built over the course of a lifetime. Rather than feeling as if you have the power to influence the perception of a place, the place is given the power to influence the perception of you.

But you, my friend, are not powerless. All it takes is a little bit of honesty–with yourself and the world–and respect for your own history.  “[C]hange your leaves, keep intact your roots,” urged Victor Hugo. The leaves cannot prosper without a healthy root system.

That analogy works for the city of Fort Wayne, as well. All of you who have moved away to different cities, states, and even countries–you are part of the city’s root system, part of its history. Acting like that’s something to be ashamed of makes you a blight on the tree. And maybe you don’t care about that… but then, I ask, why are you still reading this post?

How can we foster a sense of pride in Fort Wayne if people aren’t willing to go to bat for it? What happened to leading by example? And who says you can’t make a name for yourself in the world while being proud of your Fort Wayne roots?

The city is going through a rebrand of sorts. We’re investing in our downtown, communities, and citizens. We have more people than ever trying to make this a damn good place to live, work, and play. We’re working hard to change things from the inside; how about a little help from the outside? Imagine the boost these efforts would receive if former residents dropped this act of shame and instead adopted the attitude of brand ambassadors–not only for Fort Wayne but also for their own identities and histories. Give credit where it’s due. Anything else is a sham.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

ENOUGH WITH THE -VERTS ALREADY

Love all the -verts!

Love all the -verts!

“Introvert” is one of the top buzzwords of 2013. The introvert/extrovert sensation rages across Buzzfeed, Forbes, Inc., etc. It sells books and moves magazines. It creates a divide of us vs. them, with accusations like “Well, of course you don’t get it. You’re an extrovert!” being thrown around carelessly.

The media has pushed us into thinking we are polarized as introverts or extroverts, forsaking middle ground. People across the globe had a “Ohhhhh, THAT’S what introverted really means?” moment when they discovered that it has nothing to do with being shy or disliking people. And maybe that’s where the trouble began: a deeply rooted misunderstanding (and sometimes mistreatment) of introverts. Introverts threw their fists into the air and shouted, “We will not go quietly into the night! We are not broken! Now leave us alone!” And thus the introvert reclamation was born.

Recently, the “ambivert” movement has been gaining traction as the key to life’s social interaction mysteries, some even claiming most of us are ambiverts. While I agree that many of us are “somewhere in the middle” of the -vert spectrum, the idea that we’re all so closely aligned to the middle of it that we can’t identify with either type doesn’t hold. Most of us, given the proper questions, scenarios, and testing, would show a preference for one mode of function over the other. Oh, and apparently ambiverts do it better.

Enough with the -verts, people.

Whatever your preferred -vert function, it’s only a fraction of your personality. One fourth, to be exact, according to Myers-Briggs. Your -vert is your energy locus. Introverts gain energy through alone/downtime; extroverts refuel their energy supplies through being around others; and ambiverts are somewhere in between. While our energy locus can color our personalities (some more than others), the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) points us to further distinguishing characteristics.

The MBTI is made up of four parts (or letters) creating a total of 16 different combinations (or types):

1) I/E: preference for introversion/extroversion – where we get energy
2) N/S: preference for iNtuition/sensing – how we gather information
3) F/T: preference for feeling/thinking – how we make decisions
4) J/P: preference for judging/perceiving – how we deal with and give structure to the world around us

Which of these seems more likely to influence the way we behave, if we understand each other, or even if we like one another? I’m betting you’re thinking of a number between 2 and 4 right now. Here’s a breakdown of keywords associated with each MBTI preference. (See bottom of post for more info on figuring out which type you are.)

MBTI preferences at a glance.

Your type is defined by which function you prefer the most–the one in the left column or the one on the right. For example, I am an Introvert who tends to trust iNtuition, value Feeling, and organizes through Judging. This makes INFJ my MBTI.

Personally, the MBTI marker that I get hung up on the most is the third one–the feeling/thinking preference. I have a difficult time understanding where a “T” is coming from, being that I strongly lean “F.” And while someone who is a strong extrovert will wear this (mostly) introvert down with prolonged interaction, I understand and get along quite well with my “E” counterparts. I’d even argue that the relationship between introverts and extroverts can be symbiotic, balancing each other out. I love going to parties with extroverts because they tend to enjoy doing all the talking, which frees me up to listen and process on the periphery.

As with any spectrum, there are varying degrees of polarity. Nothing will be one-size-fits-all, but that’s why I like the MBTI so much: rather than dividing people into two, three, or four categories like other personality inventories, the MBTI offers more flexibility and accuracy with 16 different types. It better accounts for the richness in our nature rather than pigeonholing us into narrow, diametrical terms.

So can we move on from the hype over introvert vs. extrovert vs. oh, by the way, what about ambiverts? Can we stop talking about them in terms of difference and focus instead on understanding one another? Further, can we celebrate each type–wherever it may fall on the -vert spectrum–for exactly what it is as opposed to suggesting how it can improve? That is, after all, the very basis of the MBTI: a tool for understanding others–not segregating them.

Whatever -vert you are, know that you are awesome in all your -verty glory. You “T” folks, however, I’ve got my doubts about you… ;)

P.S. This article from Scientific American puts forth an interesting question: is it sensitive introversion or narcissism? There’s a Likert-style inventory at the end to help you suss it out.


If you don’t already know your MBTI, the folks at SimilarMinds.com have a few good, easy, and free inventories to help you discover it. Here’s their quick and dirty test. There are several others under the “Jung” heading if that one does not satisfy you. And I prefer TypeLogic’s website for in-depth descriptions of each type if you’re curious about your MBTI as well as the other 15.