Packing Light and Yearning Wild

I was sitting in my cabin off senator highway at around sunset, thinking through my options, which I felt were two: the first, the more reasonable option, was to cook some rice and vegetables, drink some milk and water, and relax, write down a few tips for packing light. I was going to give a lesson on packing light for a backpacking trip early the next morning, a skill I had never given a conscious thought to. The second, the unreasonable option, was to pour some cereal, brew a pot of coffee, and head down for a Friday night on the town, where there would be music and dancing. After using all the reason and logic I possessed, I chose the latter.

I drove down to The Raven and sat outside, listening to a solo guitarist play the blues. Like Audria, friend and classmate, I also enjoy playing the observer role at times. I thought about how there’s so much music written out of a feeling of great sadness that gives its listeners such joy. I thought about what separates joy and sadness and whether they are separate at all. Sadness is often seen as a heavy, burdensome feeling, like a 50 pound pack, while joy is thought of as a light feeling, like a 10 pound pack. Where joy is burdens are not. Sitting there, I couldn’t help feeling that deep, heavy sadness and light joy are closer than they often appear.

A man I assumed to be homeless stood next to his bike beside me outside The Raven. Perhaps all he owned was on the back of that bike. He was carrying his burden, riding his way through. I could see that what he felt was much more than the sadness in his eyes. I could perceive that the discernible sadness included a less obvious joy that just needed an outlet. It was the suppression of the joy that led to the expression of the sadness. Maybe what kills us in the end, I thought, is not being without any joy in our hearts but keeping the joy down for too long within until it get too deep to express.

Part of going to the wilderness is to feel, not solely joy, not solely melancholy, but the full range of human emotion. Feel deeply, authentically. To feel and be human again. Carrying a heavy pack may numb us of what we could feel, may lead us into dwelling so much on our physical burdens that we do not feel that full spectrum. Packing light does not mean that we will not be free of all our burdens, but maybe it will help us to express that heavy burden as well as the light joy.

The guitarist in The Raven started playing a song originally written by Bob Dylan, Girl From the North Country. The first verse of the song goes:

When you travel to the north country fair

When the wind hits heavy on the borderline

Remember me to one lives there

For she once was a true friend of mine

This yearning for something, someone, once here, now gone away.

Once a part of your life, still a part of your life, but you not a part of her life. Though out of reach, out of touch, she is still kept in mind.

And maybe that yearning for the woman who left is a yearning for more than the woman. Maybe that woman is a symbol of all that is lost or almost lost, more than a lost love, but a lost opportunity, possibility, a lost home. Maybe the yearning for the woman from up north is also the yearning for the wilderness, that vast wilderness up north in the Gates of the Arctic, the wilderness where we can find direction, not towards north or south or east or west, but in a way that transcends the human practical definition of direction. Here we walk not east towards Mecca or west towards California or north to the Last Frontier or south to some Eldorado. Here we walk not towards some Utopia, where we can build the perfect form of civilization, but in a present reality that we will not allow to become a past glory, where we can stop for a second in the stillness and say: here, I feel something that I do not feel in any technological paradise, in any urban dream. Here is no dream, no unreal paradise. Here is the real, what has been here before us and what must remain after us. Here we can find a meaning to all our endless wanderings and yearnings. Though we may have searched for a long time in the wrong places and found only disillusionment, here is the right place, which validates the yearning and redeems it. And maybe that’s why the desire to preserve it is so strong.

The wilderness, what used to be our home. Once here, now almost gone.

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A Letter of Resignation to Papa Johns

To Whom It May Concern,

 

Yesterday I and the acting manager had an argument over a particular company policy. For the confrontational nature of that argument, it might be right to apologize. For the difference of opinion itself, to apologize would be to admit that I was wrong and the company was right. I cannot admit that. The argument dealt with some pizzas that a costumer had wanted left uncut. They had been mistakenly cut and the manager told me to throw them out. I refused and the manager sent me home.

Why did I refuse? I would think that would be clear and would not call for an explanation, but since it may not be clear let me make it so. First off, why throw away perfectly good food? It is outside the bounds of all human reason as well as all human feeling. There were four extra large pizzas that the manager told me to throw out. That comes to forty extra large slices. Let’s say there are twenty homeless men and women on the streets of Prescott on that night, though I daresay there were probably more. Instead of wasting that food, those twenty men and women could be fed and go to sleep feeling less hungry than they were in the morning. But it may be that the homeless men and women will reject the food. Having an intuitive grasp of the extent of Papa John’s unjust policies, they may refuse to eat food from a company to whom profit is God and the homeless without the means to procure food are less than nothing. Rather than be given by those who would rather take, they preserve their independence and self-respect, they stay hungry rather than be force-fed. They have long ago chosen the ragged freedom of poverty rather than the straight-laced and disgraceful servitude that often comes with the weekly check.

Let us, or rather let me, define that over-used word: freedom. Freedom does not mean doing whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it. It has nothing to do with making money; money is not a part of that word is any sense. The homeless man without food or money has infinitely more freedom than the gainfully employed man who throws out food because that is the company policy. Are there not more important values? I am not talking about Christian values, or moral values, or the values of the Democratic or Republican Party, or American or Russian values. I am speaking of internal values that are unable to be suppressed by external regulation and are not conditioned by any established group outside oneself, some group that is often mistakenly supposed to be higher and greater than oneself, beyond any mere individual because shared amongst many individuals.

There is tension when the internal is opposed to the external. To go against the latter, to disobey some external command, is to honor the former, to be in conformity with the only type of conformity that makes any sense. To go against the former, to place an external regulation over and above an internal principle, is to be disloyal to oneself, to conform outwardly and so diminish one’s worth in one’s own eyes. Why should the policy of the company be more important than my own values? How is the party line greater than the line that I draw in the sand, saying up until this point: yes, and after this point: no. If my belief is strong, why should I cross that line?

On that side there may be the constitution, the policies of a pizza joint, the edict of the president of the United States; on this side, though it be miles away from any human habitation, there is a man who walks alone. He has gone against himself before; he will not do so again. He is free: that is, he acts in accordance with internal values. Instead of indiscriminately adhering to some authority, some guru, some ancient book, some company policy, some written document stamped with ink, he creates a personal philosophy. There are times when he feels a sense of kinship with his fellow beings, the sense of oneness that is often spoken of but rarely felt. He feels it in accordance with the distance between himself and others. The further away he is, the more he feels it. He knows there is truth in that kinship, that oneness, though it has become a catch phrase and bumper sticker. But that truth refers to how it was and should be, not to how it is. When he comes into actual contact with human beings as they are, he more often finds himself opposed and so must go it alone.

If a fellow co-worker and I were to disagree, perhaps we could do so respectfully. We are both human beings, and ideally as human beings we act from a set of internal values. What we do is based on how we feel and think. We might not always know where we stand, until the line we stand on is crossed. Then we know. Though I may not agree with his internal values, I can respect the fact that they come from within and are not forced upon him from without. This is interpersonal relationship between a man and a man. Unfortunately, when it comes to my relationship with this company as an employee, I cannot be so respectful. For one, who is the man I am dealing with? Who is the man who stands behind these policies? Is it Papa John himself? Can a mere delivery driver stand up to that man? But where is that man? What man? There is an impersonal nature and thus a sense of unreality to the whole conflict. There are these policies. But where do they come from? What values do they presuppose? I cannot perceive that they are based on any values at all. They seem less than arbitrary.

The manager told me he was just following orders. Orders from where, from whom? In a moment of anger, I said that Hitler’s followers were doing the same. This is where it begins. If you do not act from a strong sense of your own values when it comes to wasting good food, a matter some might think small and insignificant, why should you do so when it comes to the most significant matter of all, when it comes to decisions of life and death? How can you make the right decision there when you cannot do so here? The manager asked what orders I was following. Let me answer that here so you can understand my premises. Whether you agree or disagree with those premises does not concern me.

I follow my own orders; I track the footsteps of the leader who walks within me. Above all, I am loyal to the imperative issued from below. I cannot be loyal to any other.

 

Your Former Employee,

Brian Leibold

Notes from The Lookout Tower on Spruce Mountain

A quiet morning at the lookout tower on Spruce Mountain. The woman who womans the fire lookout is apparently named Suzie. She isn’t here today. Regardless of her age, she is attractive to me, purely because of her choice of occupation. And even though I haven’t gone up to the actual tower to meet her, I did sit below for a time one day reading. That day I had been considering whether or not I wanted to intrude on her solitude for a good fifteen minutes when an older man started walking up the stairs. I hadn’t even noticed he was close by. You enter the tower from below; the door opens in. When Suzie heard someone coming up, she opened the door and the man walked on in. I headed back down the trail, back towards the trailhead. It was good that I hadn’t gone up to the tower, I thought. It wouldn’t be right if I had gone up on a day when another person had gone up. This was the thought that came to me on the way down.

A clear morning today, clear and quiet and not too warm. I’ve hiked this trail for the 5 days prior to this, twice doing the 9 mile loop, the other three times going down the same steep, 3.5 mile section I had come up. The first day was when the rest of my family was here, the other 5 times including today I’ve done it alone. Although I don’t usually like to go the same way on the return hike, I like the 3.5 mile part on the way up because it’s steeper and on the way down because it’s shorter. Short and steep is my ideal hike.

Just the birds, the flies, and me up here today. So far I haven’t woken up early enough to get up here by sunrise. That’ll be my daily goal once school starts. Even if the rest of the day gives you nothing to celebrate, to be up at 8,000 feet at sunrise is an achievement, something to give the day some value, to redeem it before it needs redeeming, liberate you before you need to be liberated. The rest of the day can go as it goes, can leave you unfulfilled, wanting, yearning, lonely, hungry, exhausted. Just let this moment be, up at the top of the mountain, having risen with the sun, fulfilled by forgetting what does not need to be remembered and remembering what cannot be forgotten. Not lonely, wanting no more than this, revitalized by physical exertion and natural beauty.

I hear someone hiking and quickly get dressed. I had been indulging in some simple animal pleasure, sitting naked on the granite in the sun. I thought I’d have the tower all to myself this morning. Ah well, a selfish desire, no doubt. The hiker doesn’t come all the way up; he sits on a rock a little ways down and takes out his binocs to watch birds. He must want some solitude as well. Not everyone wants it, perhaps not everyone needs it. Some need it more than they want it, some want more of it than they need, sometimes I want it too much, seek it too often and don’t like it as much when I get it as I thought I would.

Those are the times I seek it to distance myself from others rather than to connect with my true essence and thus bridge the gap between others and myself. The times when I need it to get away and evade rather than to meet and come towards; when I need it to avoid pain, ignore conflict and division, forget, rather than to face the pain, understand the division, remember; when I need it to escape feelings of alienation and separateness, rather than to feel more intensely the inalienable aloneness which, when felt fully, does not separate but rather connects me to all who go alone by free choice, who know no other way to truly rejoice, who find joy in the most complete, undeniable sense when by themselves, joy which does not do away with sorrow, joy which includes a sweet melancholy because of the awareness of its passing.

The knowledge that it will fade, far from detracting from the joy, adds to it, lets the man or woman more completely enjoy the solitude. Like the truth of sadness lying beyond and beneath the pleasure of lover above lover, the melancholy attaches to without detracting from the joy of the hour of solitude. Somewhere there is the knowledge that you will feel the alienation again, that your head will again be filled with unnecessary burdens you wish you could forget while somewhere below a vague intimation of your essential essence floats unseen, sinks unconscious.

I let the flies land on my legs, my feet, my thighs. I discourage them from going further, as the other hiker has gone down and I am now back to my natural state. When that essence starts to become a dim memory rather than a daily experienced reality, it becomes more difficult to let the flies land, let other people near. Unlike the flies who are harmless, other people, I think to myself, suck my energy, drain me of me until I am not sure of anything least of all that indistinct thing I call my self. Is it they who drain me, though, or I who do not have the power to resist being drained, maimed? Why among others can I not be the man I am alone? The more the essence is forgotten, the more the questions refer back, centering on its search, dismissing what does not lead directly to its rediscovery. Now the thought is: Instead of being drained, passive, better to go on the offensive, get active. So you try and prove to others your worth instead of acting from an internal sense of self-worth. In trying to prove that you have more than nibbling worth, you start to feel a gnawing sense of worthlessness. Looking for some external reward, some sign you’ve made it in the world, you resign yourself to feeling inwardly empty, unable to stand the sight of yourself alone. You work harder for recognition. Others must recognize your greatness. You are special, unique, unlike them.

Ah, how quickly is the fall from individual essence to societal menace! There is a fence around you now, but you have grown blind to it, it is visible only to others; there is condescension in your eyes, a defiant willfulness in your furrowed brow. Perhaps it is better never to realize any depth in yourself than to grasp it only for a moment while the rest of your life you feel both worse than and superior to everyone else. You can’t reach for the heights without sinking to the depths, can’t have the one without the other.

Well now, let’s try a different tactic. Instead of trying to force others into a recognition of your unique brilliance, instead of filling your hours with useless thoughts of how you are hopelessly misunderstood, couldn’t you spare a few hopeful thoughts in trying to understand others, understanding yourself through relationship with others? A novel idea. Realizing that your uniqueness, though not an illusion, not a terminal uniqueness, realizing that this life-giving, self-creating uniqueness, since true in yourself must be no less true in others, couldn’t you try, instead of feeling drained by piercing and insensitive eyes, pierce through to the sensitive, unique soul of another? Seeing the one, can’t you see there is no other?

spruce mt

Li-Young Lee’s Search for God in The City in Which I Love You

This is a paper I wrote for a Poetry class about the poet Li-Young Lee and the second collection of poems he published, The City in Which I Love You. Here is the link to the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/City-Which-American-Poets-Continuum/dp/0918526833.

To closely read The City In Which I Love You, by Li-Young Lee, is to admit, at times, to a blissful incomprehension, to come to realize that beauty does not always need to be understood to be appreciated. It is enough to read the book over slowly, the way Zen Buddhists drink their tea, savoring it like you savor the sun rising over the sea, one of the few awake, walking alone on the beach in the cool of summer, before the sun’s heat brings the crowds. To read it over, and then go back, looking for connections, direction, and links between poems. Sometimes I found those connections and links, other times I was left a little lost, but not necessarily in a bad way. More like when you are lost somewhere in the Grand Canyon, but you don’t mind it; you have food, water, maps. You’ll find you’re way back, sometime. I would rather be lost and wandering in the wilderness than secure and static in a penthouse apartment in the city. In the former, there is mobility in all directions, there is the freedom to be lost and enjoy the lostness. In the latter, the only mobility is downward, in a listless fall from societal grace.

So what ties the book together? What are the themes present throughout the book, whether explicitly stated or not? One theme is the father-son relationship, both between Li-Young Lee and his father, and between Li-Young Lee and his son. Sometimes it is difficult to know which of the relationships Lee is writing about. Often, perhaps, it is both. Lee is fatherless, and in understanding the relationship he has with his dead father, he can be a better father to his young son. Other far-reaching themes are love and death, and oftentimes the two are connected in some way, occasionally with references to the Song of Songs, the book in the bible that Lee quotes in his epigraph to the title poem. There is a quote from an interview Lee has with Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler where he says, “If I looked at everything as myself, that would be complete enlightenment” (Towler and Kaminsky 5). I would argue that a theme of this book is Lee attempting to do that, to find God somewhere deep in the silence of his soul, and to then to look for God outside himself, in the city, in the world.

The City in Which I Love You came out in 1990 and was the author’s second published book. The first was called Rose. The speaker in that book also focused on his relationship with his father. There are a few poems in the first collection whose specific details the speaker returns to in poems of the second collection. An example is the detail of the falling apples in “Falling: The Code” from Rose. Here, the speaker is in his house, listening to apples fall from a tree outside. He writes,

“Through the night

the apples

outside my window

one by one let go

their branches and

drop to the lawn.” (1-6)

In “Goodnight,” from The City in Which I Love You, Lee returns to the apples falling.

You’ve stopped whispering

and are asleep. I go on listening

to apples drop in the grass

beyond the window. (1-4)

In the poem from his first collection, Lee’s speaker searches for meaning in the falling of the apples and finds “the earth / falling to earth / once and forever / over and over” (28-31). In the poem from his second collection, there is another character, Lee’s son. At the end of this poem, the speaker writes, “I no longer hear the apples fall” (40). But the apples still fall ‘over and over,’ although he doesn’t hear them. He relates this back to himself and his son. For them, “there is no bottom to the night,” (45) or end to their descent, but this does not stop them from lying together, suffering “each other to have each other a while” (47). Accepting mortality can mean bearing discomfort, which is the meaning the speaker intends by ‘suffer,’ so that you can be close to another you love.

Four years separate the two collections. A certain ethos comes from the fact that these two poems begin with the speaker listening to the apples falling. The apples fell down sometime in the past, but as the speaker writes in “Furious Version,” the opening poem in The City, “the past / doesn’t fall away, the past / joins the greater / telling, and is” (352-354). The past poems Lee writes in Rose are not forgotten in The City; they join his greater telling. Although Lee returns to the same themes and images from his first collection in his second collection, there is ethos because the images are not stale, the themes are not rehashed in a dry manner, but expanded on, made new. The search goes on. It is more difficult to go back to the same themes and approach them with an equal sense of purpose than to go on to new themes altogether. But for Lee to go on to completely different themes in his second collection would seem to me like a defeat, a surrender. Lee makes his goals clear in one interview: his purpose is none other than to have “a dialogue with his highest nature, his true self” (Marshall 132). In that same interview Lee later says, “my true self is God. I assume that I am God, in my true nature” (134). For Lee then, there can be no other ultimate goal than to find that true nature, to find God. So as to what ‘kind’ of poet Lee is, I would say that he harks back to the Transcendentalists, those poets looking for a sort of higher self within, much more than the objectivists or the modernists or post-modernists. Lee even uses the word ‘transcend’ in an interview with James Lee. Li-Young Lee wrote a memoir called The Winged Seed five years after publishing The City. James Lee asks Li-Young Lee if it was more difficult to write prose than it was to write poetry, and Li-Young Lee answers that he “wanted to transcend craft” (Lee 1).

The City is divided into 5 sections, which together have symmetry. The first and last sections both consist of only one poem, but these two poems are the longest two in the book. This is an obvious similarity. The second and fourth sections both consist of six shorter poems, while the middle and third section has two poems including the title poem, and one of my favorites in the collection, “This Room and Everything in It.” Later, I will try to compare the first poem, “Furious Versions,” and the last poem, “The Cleaving.”

The title binds the poems together because it is the central poem of the collection, in actual location as well as in themes and overall importance. It is highly unlikely that Lee would have placed the poem in the middle section, and made it the title poem, if it did not present and express the central questions and themes and yearnings of the collection as a whole. In this poem, the speaker struggles to see himself in everything, in everyone. He wanders the streets and perceives with sorrow the lack of freedom in this country supposed to be a land of liberty: “the guarded schoolyards, the boarded-up churches…the prosecuted citizenry” (11, 14). He calls the city home, only because it is where the woman he loves lives, but he cannot see himself in the other people who live in the city: “the woman who is slapped, the man who is kicked / the ones who don’t survive, / whose names I do not know; / they are not me forever” (106-109). If finding God is Lee’s central purpose as a writer, this poem binds the collection together because here the speaker is struggling mightily to do that, to find God in the punished population of this unnamed controlled city, and to find God in the woman he loves, whose “otherness is as perfect” as his death (124). Again, there is the theme of death intricately linked to love in this ode to a lover, and of finding that true self in the alien unloved otherness of the city and in the loved otherness of his lover.

In “This Room and Everything in It,” a close reading reveals how the speaker uses figurative language to show his failure to remember things in “the way his father tried to teach” him (7) to remember, but how he has taken memory and made it an art: his imperfect memory, the imperfect beauty of love. The speaker writes:

“I am letting this room

and everything in it

stand for my ideas about love

and its difficulties” (9-12).

The scent of the woman he loves he lets “stand for mystery,” (20), her belly is “the daily cup / of milk I drank / as a boy before morning prayer,” (22-24), and “the sun on the face / of the wall / is God, the face / I can’t see, my soul” (25-28). In the middle line of the second to last stanza, the speaker writes, “I have forgotten my / idea” (41, 42). Each thing in the room stands for an idea, the idea he forgets is the “greater idea” (32) formed by all the smaller ones. One of the most meaning-packed stanzas in the collection comes in lines 25-28: “the sun on the face…” In this metaphor, the sun shining on the wall is God; God, who is the face the speaker cannot see, is also the speaker’s soul. He cannot see his soul, he cannot see God, but he sees the sun shining on the wall, which he takes to be God. He reveals what he cannot see, his soul, in his poetry, when he expresses his unique vision of the invisible within himself, and within us all. In the rest of the poem, the speaker uses ellipses to show his forgetfulness. The poem ends with the speaker saying that his idea “had something to do with death…it had something to do with love” (53-55). Death and love are linked here, connected by some thread too ineffable to name precisely, a thread that slips through the fingers as a memory slips from the brain, the details of a room forgotten. Perhaps death is the perfect culmination of a life filled with imperfect love.

The two poems “Furious Versions” and “The Cleaving” differ in form, as the former is split up into sections while the latter is one long poem; the splitting up of the former works because each new section takes a thought from the previous section and pulls the poem in another direction. The latter poem revolves around the cleaving of the meat, and never moves away from that cleaving in any significant way. The cleaving remains central to the poem, as does the eating done after the cleaving. Both words and the images provided by the words serve the speaker in multiple capacities. “Furious Versions” is a difficult poem to analyze, but the same could be said for the collection as a whole. The poet, and the transcendental nature of his work, is in a sphere somewhere beyond the critical approach. A rational analysis can only get one so far in understanding him. Still, the form, the repetition in different sections, and the transitions can help in understanding. For instance, the speaker ends both section one and section four with a variation of the world “disperse.” In section one, he writes, “on a page a poem begun, something / about to be dispersed / something about to come into being” (65-67). Here, dispersal seems to be a synonym for creation, the creative act of writing a poem. But at the end of section four, “each sickly / bloom uttering, I shall not die! / before it’s dispersed,” (255-257), ‘dispersed’ seems to be a synonym for death. From the death of the rose, its dispersal, comes the creation of the poem, now dispersed and come into being, in the process of being formed. The form of “The Cleaving” is one long poem. It begins and ends with the same image. The man doing the cleaving is a man with the same face as the speaker: “this man / with my face,” (1) in the first lines of the poem, and “this immigrant, / this man with my own face” (334) to end the poem. In “Furious Versions,” the speaker gives the audience versions of himself, as a son walking with his father (section 5), as a man wandering the house looking for what is making a sound (section 2), and as a man thinking of the similarities and differences between the sound of trees and the sound of the sea (section 6). In “The Cleaving,” there is only one version of the speaker, only one scene he is involved with. This one version of the speaker, though, encompasses the whole world.

“What is it in me would

devour the world to utter it?” (189, 190)

Although he never answers the questions explicitly, he later states that he would “devour this race to sing it” (217). Cleaving can mean two things: it can mean splitting, sundering, severing; and it can mean linking, embracing, conjoining. These are two contrasting meanings that the speaker in “The Cleaving” brings together. He writes at the end,

“What then can I do

but cleave to what cleaves me.”

Here, he is talking about embracing the divisions within himself, embracing his soul in all its manifestations, whether grotesque or ideal; embracing the world, despite its divisions, its cleaving and splitting up into races which do violence to each other, the violence that is “no easy thing” to accept (309).

In the forward to Rose, poet Gerald Stern, who once taught Lee, writes that he is “amazed by the large vision, the deep seriousness and the almost heroic ideal, reminiscent more of John Keats, Rainer Maria Rilke and perhaps Theodre Roethke than Williams Carlos Williams on the one hand or T.S. Eliot on the other” (Rose 8). He also says Lee owes “a debt to Whitman” (Rose 10), no doubt because both share a similarly large vision. In terms of the collection, I would say to potential readers to read the selection if they are curious and wonder about their own conception of God, if they are interested in searching the depths of the invisible to attempt to make it visible. Readers may need to spend more time on Li-Young Lee poems to appreciate them in as full a way as possible than they would spend on most other poets. A poet should be read in much the same way his poems are written: written with serious intent, they must be read with the same seriousness. A surface level reading will not get very far towards understanding the depths of this poet. The speaker in the cleaving says he would

“eat Emerson, his transparent soul, his

soporific transcendence.”

Here Lee is making a break from the transcendentalists, professing his individuality. Though inspired by Whitman and Emerson, his poetry will not be a repetition of either of their writings. Li-Young Lee is distinct from both because his story is unique and completely different from the native born Americans. He is distinct from post-modernists in that he predominantly uses himself as the subject in his poems. As David Roderick writes in his review of Lee’s Book of My Nights, published in 2002, “Li-Young Lee has always eschewed the postmodern condition of fragmentation in favor of synthesis, and what makes him a contemporary poet worth reading is that he remains true to his ideals without backsliding down the slope of solipsistic confessionalism” (Roderick 172). Finally, Lee is distinct from objectivists in that his poems are subjective, primarily concerning his thoughts, emotions, desires, his ‘large vision,’ his ‘heroic ideal,’ his search for his true self, for God.

In an interview with Tod Marshall, Li-Young Lee says, “In minute and inevitable ways, everything is connected. In the invisible realm—which has more reality than the visible realm because the visible is dying and without materiality—when somebody writes a poem, when he opens himself up to universe mind and that universe is suddenly present in the visible world, the poet isn’t the only one that gets the benefits of that. Universe mind comes down and that whole mind is a little more pure, a little more habitable.” To make the universe mind visible, to find and express the true self, these are Lee’s goals throughout this collection of poems. In many of the poems, especially “This Room, and Everything in It,” and “The Cleaving,” Lee is successful. For a moment, whether in his own soul, in his wife’s body, in the face of the man with his own face, Lee is able to see himself, his true self, in another. He is able to see God in another. For a moment, he realizes there is no difference between the two, between his true self and God, between himself and another. The walls come down, the boundaries are split, cleaved, and he embraces the world, in all its grotesquerie and beauty. Reading his poems late on a humid summer night, I was able, for a few moments, to do the same.

Carl Jung’s Personality Types, the MBTI, and the INFP Type

This is an essay I wrote for the Interpersonal Communication class I’m taking.

 

 

The wealth of material on the Myers-Briggs typology test is exhaustive and reading through it, though often stimulating and interesting, can be exhausting as well. But the test immediately intrigued me, especially after I read the description of my type, and was struck by a few sentences that told me things about myself I had never told anyone, and I knew I would end up writing the essay on the test. More than the test itself, and the actual questions that were on it, it was the differences in orientation that interested me. I asked friends and siblings to take the test, curious to see what type they would be. I took out every book from the library on the subject, though I knew I wouldn’t be able to get around to reading all of them in the week before the essay was due. Still, I was interested in the study of personality not because of extroverted reasons, because I had to write an essay and personality was as good a topic as any other, or because I needed to get a good grade on the essay. In typically introverted fashion, I took out the books because they interested me, stimulated me; in short, I checked them out for myself alone, for the internal enjoyment I would receive from them, with little regard for the observable, practical, external benefits that might be gained by reading them. I spent much of my time reading the book that inspired Myers-Briggs to create the test: Psychological Types, by Carl Jung. Although in the essay criteria it is mentioned that the first-person should be reserved for the conclusion, I will probably have to disregard that warning, as it is difficult to write on personality in a way other than a first person narrative. However, this essay will not consist solely of subjective feelings and thoughts, as I will quote and reference the books I read in my research on the topic, the authors of which have more authority than I do on the subject and more time spent in investigating it. As this essay is meant to be an exploration on the topic of personality, I will not limit it unnecessarily by starting with a thesis and going about proving that thesis. By the end of the essay I may have come to some sort of conclusion on the Myers-Briggs test and on personality differences and typology generally. But there is also the possibility that I will not come to any conclusion at all but instead explore to the end, exploring with no end in sight, wandering with no destination in mind.

Carl Jung came out with Psychological Types in 1921. In it, he laid out the descriptions for the extroverted and introverted types, and he broke up each type into intuitive, sensation, feeling, or thinking. Later, Myers-Briggs would go further and say that Intuition and Sensation were opposed, as were Feeling and Thinking. She also added the category of Judging vs. Perception. But originally Jung came up with eight types: extroverted or introverted intuitive, extraverted or introverted sensation, extroverted or introverted feeling, and extroverted or introverted thinking. Jung probably would not have thought Myers-Briggs’ test the ideal outlet for the expression of his ideas. In the foreword to the Argentine Edition of Psychological Types, he writes that the kind of classification of people, the dividing into types, was “nothing but a childish parlor game” (xiv). He hopes “to avoid possible misunderstandings” (3) about his descriptions of types, writing that his intention is not to “stick labels on people at first sight” (xiv), a “totally useless desire” (xv), but rather to at least partially organize the infinite extent of individual differences in psychological complexity into helpful if limited groups.

Most of the book focuses on the history of typing, in classical and medieval thought, in the Apollonian and Dionysian characters, in poetry, in psychopathology, in aesthetics, in philosophy and in biography. Only then does Jung go into his actual descriptions of the types. Although the main focus of the book is not on the descriptions, still it will be the descriptions that I focus on, as that is the connecting link with the Myers-Briggs test and thus the course itself. Although Jung writes that it would be “unjustifiable to maintain that one type is in any respect more valuable than the other,” he does seem to be a certain bias towards the introverted type. I almost certain he would identify himself with the introverted thinking type. As I identify more with the introverted feeling type, I will focus on his description of that type, comparing it to the INFP type from the MBTI.

In Please Understand Me II, David Keirsey calls the INFP The Healer, and groups it with the other three types who share Intuition and Feeling. This group he calls The Idealists, and writes that they “are very sensitive to how they are seen by others, and care a great deal about meeting others’ expectations” (Keirsey 139). This sensitivity, writing now specifically about the INFP’s, comes from an acute understanding of division, and an intense desire to heal “those divisions that plague one’s private life and one’s relationships.” (Keirsey 158). Both Keirsey and Jung remark on the imbalance between how this type appears on the outside, and what they feel on the inside. Jung, who mentions that he finds the type “principally in women,” (Jung 388) says they are “mostly silent, inaccessible, hard to understand…guided by their subjective feelings, their true motives generally remain hidden” (Jung 389). Marie-Louise von Franz, in Lectures on Jung’s Typology, writes, “Introverted feeling, even if it is the main function, is very difficult to understand…feeling is very strong, but it does not flow towards the object. It is rather like a state of being in love with one’s self. Naturally, this kind of feeling is very much misunderstood, and such people are considered very cold” (von Franz 39) But though the type might outwardly calm and stoic, even cold “on the inside they are anything but serene” (Keirsey 158), and anything but cold. Myers-Briggs, who was an INFP herself, said her type needed to find meaning in life. Loren E. Pederson, in his book Sixteen Men: Understanding Masculine Personality Types, writes that without meaning the INFP man feels “lost, depressed, and forlorn, as though he has been deserted by life.” (Pederson 169).  

To find meaning, to understand internal divisions, to find an outlet, a means to let out what they feel but cannot easily express, “to bring peace to the world,” (Keirsey 158). This is idealism in its purest form. Franz makes the point that introverted feeling is “rather like a state of being in love with oneself.” In trying to understand the type, she is doing a good job only of promoting more misunderstanding, more division between the extraverted type, who, in Jung’s words, “subordinates the subject to the object, so that the object has the higher value,” and the introverted type who “sets the ego and the subjective process above the object and the objective process, or at any rate seeks to hold its ground against the object” (Jung 5). It is true that, in types with an especial emphasis on either tendency, there seems to be a gap too wide to bridge. The introvert may always see the extravert as superficial, without depth, while the latter may always regard the former as egotistical, self-loving and other-hating. But perhaps the introverted man with a feeling emphasis, not wanting to limit the power and depth and breadth of his love by exclusive focus on one object, keeps it inside him, a midnight sun in the depths of darkest Arctic winter, a tender and delicate flower that can never be torn, an inner wild passion that is necessary for the soulful, sensitive man to live with the pain he feels at destruction of the outer wilderness and the construction of a material, soulless, technological civilization. To express the love to another is to dilute and domesticate it, to verbalize the love is to lose some of its power, its mystery. Better to stay silent than to speak. Better to wander alone and slowly cultivate the love in your heart until it cannot help but rush out from you in some form uniquely your own, perhaps in dancing or writing or music, likely not in verbal utterances.

The INFP type is rare. Pederson writes that the INFP type “is probably the most difficult type for a man to be” (Pederson 168). Extroversion accounts for 75% of the male population, he says, thinking for 65-70%, and sensation for 70% of the entire population. This can leave the introverted feeling male feeling very much in the minority. Lenore Thomson in her book Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual, writes that “types that are uncommon may have to work harder to be understood, but they are less likely to be seduced by a collective illusion” (Thomson 8). Because the strengths of the INFP type are often antithetical to the purposes of most social institutions, he can feel lost and isolated, misunderstood. But he also has the intuitive knowledge that his identity is not to be found in any social institution, in any profession; in short, in anything outside himself, in any role which he does not himself mold. His identity can only be found in the outward expression of an inner truth. It is because his potential is so great that he becomes disillusioned when unable to find meaning. When he is able to express that inner truth, he leaves behind disillusionment, he dismisses despair as an immature mindset towards life, he is released from a burden he had felt as intolerable. He becomes light, joyful, free.

To conclude, in taking the Myers-Briggs typology test, I learned to some extent why I had always felt strange growing up in the competitive, political, extroverted capital of the United States, where thinking and rationality and practicality were placed above feeling and irrationality and originality. I now know some of the reasons behind the strangeness, but the strangeness will likely remain. David Keirsey writes that it is typical of the Idealist temperament to “wander, sometimes intellectually, sometimes spiritually, sometimes physically, looking to actualize all their inborn possibilities, and so become completely themselves, even though the paths in search of identity are never clearly marked.” (Keirsey 143). So, born a stranger, I will wander the pathless lands of inner and outer in a rambling and unplanned way in order to understand the strangeness, to identify and express that strangeness in a way that makes me feel less strange, less apart, more a part of something greater than myself and in conformity with my true self.