Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Life Half-Lived


Many, many years ago I saw the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. I remember the film because it established for me that Pierce Brosnan had gotten kind of icky since his glory days as Remington Steele. It's a strange kind of ickiness - he is a classically handsome man with symmetrical features and plenty of hair. It has something to do with his smile, the "I'm so sexy" grin he puts on, his jaw jutting out exultantly. The ick-factor seriously interfered with my ability to enjoy the film, since halfway through the movie the art-heist plot is replaced by a prolonged celebration of his relationship with Russo. He's a daredevil! He flies planes! And she gets to join him in his extreme-sport-playing, jet-setting lifestyle! The whole movie is a homage to the idea that living life to the fullest means risking one's neck in death-defying stunts.

In Myers-Briggs terms, these characters are SPs: spontaneous, impulse-driven concrete thinkers who function best when they can live most fully in their bodies, suspending conscious awareness in favour of a pure adrenaline rush. I have never been under the impression that I would be happier if I adopted a similar lifestyle. When I was ten years old a friend of mine got a motor-bike and we all got to try it out on the front lawn. I knew I didn't want to get on that bike, but I feared the social stigma of refusing. Against my better judgment I climbed on, frozen in terror and unable to hear the instructions over the pounding in my ears. I squeezed something (the throttle?) and blasted forward, gripping the handlebars for dear life as I crashed straight into the fence. Afterwards I stumbled home, clutching my scratched knuckles and enjoying the melodrama far more than I had the brief burst of speed that preceded it.

I am risk-averse. I don't like sports. Even the hay-ride at the ranch I took Bub to for a nursery-school field trip was a little too scary to be wholly enjoyable for me. (There were no bars along the side of the wagon, so parents sat around the perimeter. The path was bumpy and sometimes steep.) The things I enjoy mostly take place in my mind. I read books. I write. I imagine.

I don't think you get to have it both ways. One of my students recently remarked that she had never enjoyed imagining things. (This was in response to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a novel she found too imaginative to be enjoyable.) She was a tomboy; she played soccer at an age when I was holed up in my bedroom, building a fort in the closet and writing a soap opera featuring all the kids in my class. That's not to say that bookish people can't be good at sports, just that the main source of pleasure and meaning in one's life is usually either inward or outward. And as humiliating as it was to be picked last in gym class, I always knew which way I'd rather be.

There are two refrains I often hear in blogland that seem to embrace the idea that it would be better if we (and our children) weren't quite so ... bloggy. We want our children to be fearless; we worry about their anxiety, their hesitation and caution. And we want to be parents who live in the moment, who are capable of shutting down the analytical mind long enough simply to experience each day as it comes. There are people who live like that - who jump in feet first, who live each moment fully without analyzing it or mentally composing blog posts about it. But they're not better. They're not happier. The fact that they would be miserable leading my life doesn't mean I'd be happy leading theirs.

39 comments:

Merle said...

What I wondered as I read your post was "What about individuals on the spectrum?". Imagination is an elusive entity to them while at the same time, they tend to be so clumsy and socially awkward that sports (especially extreme sports if they wish to live lol) are blocked for them as well. Where do they fit along the continuum you have painted?

Bea said...

Merle - That's why I always assumed that people with ASD were NTs - for them, rational analysis is what they enjoy most (while for NFs it's imagination and romance, for SJs it's belonging, and for SPs it's excitement). Maybe it's just that NTs with ASD are the most fortunate, since pleasure in analytical reasoning is probably more accessible to them than pleasure in belonging to a group or in extreme sports.

Omaha Mama said...

I am so not a risk-taker! I enjoy adventures if they are "safe". Taking my kids to the harbor in FL to look at boats was almost too much, having to grip them tightly, fearing they would go over the (rail-free) edge. I do enjoy more analytical tasks. Books and movies will forever be an enjoyable escape for me.

I agree with your assessment for sure - neither personality type would be happy in the other's chosen life style.

Pieces said...

I should embroider that last sentence on a cushion and meditate on it every day. I am far to hard on myself--telling myself I should be different and more like other people who get things done instead of being quiet at home.

Mad said...

Hey, this is a lot like that post I wrote almost a full year ago about the way bloggers tend to celebrate risk and fearlessness in their children and why I was fundamentally grouchy about that stance. I call my stance "Celebrating the Longbottom." Now, can you remind me just what Neville was in you MBPT? Is her the same as you and me?

Karen said...

my oldest son is more like me, more bloggy, I suppose, more risk averse even than I am or my husband - also quite bloggy, really - yet we struggle more with the rearing of him in some ways. We can't convince him to ride his bike; it is hard to watch and know that is something he will have to decide for himself - where his own comfort zone exists, what ways he will be stretched for the sake of making life with peer boys livable (it'd be good to ride that bike, for example). It is easier to tell LP & LB "stop, get down, slow down, don't jump!" - easier to say, mean and even to get compliance, but telling Thinker "go ahead, try it, go for it, jump, ride, climb," is much trickier. I might say it, but it is up to him.

Andrea said...

Huh.

See, I'm as N as they come, and waffle between NT and NF depending on the day--but--I am a risk-taker. I love big roller coasters, I like ride motorcycles, I like letting my bike rush full-speed down a hill, I stand on the glass floor in the CN Tower, I like pushing myself. I like risk period, actually, whether it's internal or external. Just don't ask me to speak to strangers at parties. So--I'm not sure this is universal.

niobe said...

My (now ex-)therapist once asked me, "So, Niobe, what do you think you could do to learn to live more fully in the moment?"

"I don't live in the moment," I said "And I don't want to."

It's always been hard for me to understand how I would benefit if I turned off the analytical part of my brain. Which, I suppose, only goes to show I'm about as NT as they come.

Bon said...

see, you fascinate me, Bea, but this comforted me too...the idea that most of us have our wheelhouses and we do not need to (perhaps cannot?) do it all, be it all. i tried for years, but the physical stuff, the risk stuff that didn't offer inherent conversational analysis, always escaped me utterly. the risk stuff that was performance based or drug/alcohol-fueled...now THAT entertained the crap out of me.

btw, i had the same experience with a motorbike at ten...i pulled the throttle straight back and went careening into a large tin garbage can. good times. not so much.

JCK said...

I enjoyed this post. And then I thought...OH MY GOD!! My boy is an SP! Not that I know for sure, but it is pretty obvious.

Pierce Brosnan never did it for me. I like the more R&R -rough and ready types. ;)

Swistle said...

Hello. I love you. I love this post.

Love, Swistle

Alpha DogMa said...

I loved the Thomas Crown Affair. Partially because I love all things Pierce, but also because it was a movie in which the hero (or in this case anti-hero) romanced a woman who was his equal in intellect and AGE!

I've never done the Myers-Brigg test -- is there a version on-line that you can recommend?

But I already know that I am not an SP. I tried to be. I have a thousand dollars of backcountry telemark ski equipment in the basement that gathers dust, because I (unlike my husband) can not get over my complete paranoia of avalanches. Even thinking about them strikes me to the core.

Piece of Work said...

oh, I don't know--your hypothesis doesn't exactly fit me. I was always a tomboy, fiercely independant, good at sports, but loved reading too. The sporty things were the things I was good at, so I could come out of my shell doing them, then go home and go back up to my room and read exhaustively. I've always loved risky activities: waterskiing, climbing trees, staying out in the woods past dark. BUt I am not an outgoing, charming person.
I seem to be more like your previous commenter, Andrea.

nomotherearth said...

I had the same bike experience, only it was a moped in France. Some guy asked me, and I was to aware of social stigma to say no...

Mimi said...

Well, as an NT ... I have to admit to having been jealous of the heedless physicality and pure joy of the other type. But it's not me.

Beck said...

I DROVE A DIRTBIKE INTO THE SIDE OF MY PARENT'S HOUSE! Oh yes I did.

I am perfectly happy not to have risk-taking children, thank you. The fact that my children's idea of Big Fun is a trip to the library fills me with deep satisfaction. And this post was TERRIFIC.

bren j. said...

My cousin once 'convinced' me to try riding his motorbike. I did and it was awful. I felt out of control and though I wasn't hurt, I was sure grumpy afterwards. The next day, he took his bike out for a ride and it died two miles from home so he had to walk it back. Har! THAT served him right!

Whenever I DO take risks, which is rare, I always end up chiding myself later for acting so foolishly - 'Good grief, Bren J.! What were you thinking?! You could've been hurt!'

cinnamon gurl said...

I love this post!

I do a lot of analysis and think ahead and all that. But I don't really enjoy it - it's a lot of anxious analysis, wondering what if. On the one hand, it's productive, but I've had far too many experiences looking back on something and wishing I could have just stopped worrying for a bit and enjoyed the good parts of an experience and let the bad parts just happen.

Mrs. Who said...

This is certainly a description of my personality. Love to read, love to write, had a white-knuckled ride on a jetski because I was too much of a coward to say I was too cowardly to get on the stupid thing. I was literally sick with fear.

Bea said...

Andrea - Fair enough. But you did write very eloquently recently about how essential it is to your happiness and well-being to use that abstract, theorizing part of your mind. Would you ever describe those roller-coaster type activities in the same way? (I like roller-coasters too. But I don't consider them risky, especially the ones with over-the-shoulder bars. The pirate ship, on the other hand - that's just nuts.)

ADM - This is a pretty good test. Some of the questions are misleading, though, so I always like to read a few of the descriptions to see what fits best. There are good descriptions at typelogic.com.

Bon, Nomo, Beck, Bren - Do you suppose dirtbike-trauma is a predictor of future bloggerdom?

ewe are here said...

I have to admit it, I liked that remake. Primarily because they cast Rene Russo opposite Brosnan and not some 'young thing'. I liked the chemistry between them for some reason.

As for risk taking, my boys have it whether I want it for them or not, I'm afraid. Both little adrenalin junkies, keeping me on my toes at all times. shudder

apathy lounge said...

I'm not a risk-taker, but I later regret not having taken that risk. Wonder where self-hatred for being a coward goes on that line?

kittenpie said...

I am not a risk-taker, either, not by a long shot. For my girl? Well, it would sure make it easier to parent her if she were like me, but at the same time, I do think I missed out on some things, so a mid-ground would be nice.

Major Bedhead said...

"The things I enjoy mostly take place in my mind. I read books. I write. I imagine."

I'm going to print that out and give it to my sister, who keeps trying to get me to go on hikes or swimming in deep, swiftly moving rivers or *shudder* downhill skiing. If I can accept that she enjoys doing those things (and many other things that involve being outdoors. With bugs. And weather. And such.) then why can't she accept that I don't.

I love a post that makes me smile in recognition. This was fantastic.

jess said...

Exactly! Except all of the social pressure in the world wouldn't have gotten me on that motorbike. I was a chicken, and proud of it. As an adult, I have realized that I'm brave in my own way, and in situations that might swamp a risk-taker.

Lady M said...

Fascinating. It's a good point about how "living fully" has different meanings. I do love an adrenaline rush, but for me, it has to do with executing something that's been prepared and thought-out. For instance, performing a dance on stage. I love the rush, but it's not at all about facing unknown risks.

Bea said...

Lady M - Exactly. There are some kinds of risk that appeal to me. Performing onstage. Falling in love. What doesn't appeal to me are risks that involve physical danger or rule-breaking.

Cole said...

I loved this post and all the comments. Lots to think about.
I prefer to live in my imagination and always have, but if you can convince me the risk is minimal, I enjoy adrenaline pumping activities too. Though I seem to have lost my taste for most of those as soon as I had children.

Sue said...

I like roller coasters, or rollerblading very fast down a hill, or skiing very fast - but I think the defining thing is that I get MORE satisfaction from imagining I'm doing something risky than from actually doing it. Also, if I'm imagining something WHILE doing the risky thing, it's better.

Andrea said...

It's true, I love theorizing. And yes, oddly, I would--because the thought process is something like: "I could die. But the chances are remote. I'm scared, but that fear doesn't make any rational sense, so I'm going to ignore it and do what I'm afraid of. There! Much better."

I have a theory actually about learned-INTJs vs. innate-INTJs, I might post about that soon.

Amy said...

Well for once in my damn life I have balance. I enjoy competition and like sports. But I LOVED Alice in Wonderland intensly. I bounce between just enjoying the kids and the moments of my days and analyzing, composing posts about it, planning for tomorrow today.

Thanks. This post made me happy.

wheelsonthebus said...

AMEN, sister.

the dragonfly said...

My son already shows signs of being a risk-taker. Me, I'm all about imagination. Except that I'd like to go skydiving someday. But since I probably never will, we can chalk that up to imagination. :)

Velma said...

This is such a great post, because it highlights all the ways in which we think we are deficient but really? We are just who we are.

I actually had an epiphany this week where I went out to edge some grass and came away thinking, "I HATE bugs! I HATE getting dirty! I HATE gardening!"

Despite the fact that I keep trying to set up some vegetable garden or get the yard looking respectable, the truth is that I HATE digging in the dirt!

(I'd rather be blogging, actually.)

Occidental Girl said...

Good topic! I think about this a lot, especially since I've been immersed in math classes and I am more an English class kind of gal. I actually liked math this time around. Not my last instructor, but the math itself.

I think people are quite the mixture, although there is a lot of truth to the categories we've come up with (or, as Myers and Briggs came up with) to quantify the personality traits. Interesting.

Occidental Girl said...

I like what Niobe said, about not living in the moment and furthermore, not wanting to.

Why is that such a terrible thing? I mean, I get that living in the moment especially with kids, means enjoying them and life and blah blah blah. But I also don't think it's so terrible that we accept ourselves as is.

It's really uncomfortable for me to be freewheeling and risktaking, so why the heck should I feel bad about it??

Maybe I could do more to step outside my comfort zone sometimes, but the point is to stop feeling so bad that I'm not different than I am.

AliBlahBlah said...

I wish I could be brave enough to tell that last sentence to my mother in law!!!

Susanne said...

Ah, excellent thoughts! The idea of somebody not enjoying imagining things made my mouth fall open, but then I have met people like that in real life.

Nonetheless I practice being in my body, and enjoy moving it more and more. I won't go bungee jumping though, I prefer I nice quiet walk.

It's nice to find somebody else who utterly enjoys living in his head.

starsgoblue said...

I've always thought it was a sign of intelligence NOT to take unnecessary risks, but that's just me.