The Enneagram

I was listening to the radio and happened upon a show that I follow when I can. It’s hosted by a psychotherapist who is smart, practical, engaging, and not seemingly insane. I’ve found that psychiatrists, and there have been a couple in my family, are just as nutty as the rest of us. The host was explaining in a clear and compelling way all nine personality types of the Enneagram model, what they mean, and what sort of childhood or family dynamic engenders each type. He also used as examples certain celebrities.

The psychiatrist and two of his acolytes started going through the types, not in order, or at least not in any order I could anticipate. I’m listening to the description of each personality, and how that personality emerges through early experience. I learn too that one can have sub-types. Maybe that’s like declaring a major and a minor in college. The odd thing is every type, I mean every type they describe, I exclaim (maybe some with more enthusiasm and assurance than others) That’s me! I’m like that! How can I be so many of them? And, the root causes — none of them are good. Well that’s not entirely correct, the Ego Fixation and the Basic Fear, these are not great, but the Holy Idea and the Virtue — those are attributes one could embrace. Am I a 3, a 6, a 7 or a 9? Help! Mommy! Wait…maybe not Mommy, did she having something to do with this?

Later that day I Googled the Enneagram test. Now this was also too much for me. I think depending on the day, or what is going at that moment, quite a few of these answers would change. Or maybe I’m missing the whole point. So in my noncommittal way I answer in the middle – a lot. The test comes with a proviso that more neutral answers will render a less accurate assessment. Some of the questions I found amusing like, “I am too relaxed for my own good” — maybe. Or, “I maintain my spaces in an orderly way” – not by a long shot. And, “I have been called or described as dopey” – I can’t remember that ever happening, but who knows what goes on behind my back? Do I want to know? No. Who would?

So considering I probably didn’t take the test properly, it turns out that I am a 6, 3 & 9: the Loyalist, the Achiever, and the Peacemaker. I can’t remember which was the main one and which were the sub-types. Apparently Jennifer Aniston and Alec Baldwin are 6, Madonna and Bill Clinton are 3, and Barak Obama and Beyoncé are 9. I’m good with that – all of them are fine company. There’s seems to be some controversy over what type Steve Jobs was – he will be enigmatic always, I guess.

The Enneagram is considered by some schools of thought to be “psychobabble” and not an accurate professional appraisal of an individual. To be sure, all generalizations are just that – general. In any event it was an entertaining exercise, listening to the analysis, taking the test, learning the origins of behavior. It’s both gratifying and self-affirming, and simultaneously alarming, upsetting and nightmare inducing. Good times!

Have fun finding yourself.

Clare Irwin

Josh Brolin, a Volvo Commerical & Walt Whitman

Okay, by now everyone knows what I am referring to – the Volvo commercial that is on all the time. My first exposure, which was a month or so ago, was while I was at my laptop and my back was to the TV, so I only heard the voice over. I immediately recognized the voice of Josh Brolin (what does that say of my intellectual life!), and the lyrical words sounded familiar. I thought initially that it was Jack Kerouac, but I knew that couldn’t be right – they were too good, too exultant. I’m not putting Kerouac down, I read On the Road and some of his other works, but Kerouac is sort of niche and before my time. The allure of heading west in a car with Dean Moriarty is a little passé.

My second guess was Walt Whitman. I checked online and also pulled out my copy of Leaves of Grass, and indeed it is he. “Song of the Open Road” is the poem. The words are captivating and memorable. I find it interesting that Whitman, who preceded Kerouac by almost 100 years, holds up — more than holds up — he has a gravitational pull. What also delights me is that my millennials – my 15-17 year olds — who watch television and movies and shows in entirely different nontraditional ways know this commercial, love it and love the words and want to know more about Whitman. Isn’t it marvelous that he is being discovered by a new generation? I think it is. I also like the fact that a car commercial is the delivery system for a poet’s discovery. Why not?

To be sure, Whitman has never been lost, he’s been popular and in print consistently – but what I hope is this new embrace is an indication of the temper of the time, or a rejection of it. I mean the free verse, the appreciation of self, the inclusivity, the reaching for transcendence is attractive to millennials — it dovetails with their sensibility. For the non-millennials he is a balm for the over-concentration on what is harsh and angry — fearful. Whitman completely turns us around, away from “ugly”, away from the status quo, and tells us to look over there — to what is beautiful, eternal, luminous.

Clare Irwin

NB, As I write this I remember that Whitman also makes a significant appearance in the extraordinary TV series, Breaking Bad. It is Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” that draws in Walter White, and it also leads to his and his family’s unraveling.