Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Obsession (and Happy Halloween!)

(image from: OneBluePebble on Flickr)

Some of you know I have an obsession with Harry Potter. For those of you who didn't know-- now you do. Yes, I'm a 40 year-old (gulp) mom who loves the books more than my kids do. I hid my obsession for years because, well, I was embarrassed. It's not exactly the kind of thing I could talk about during the law firm events that Jason and I attend, or at formal charity balls in Philadelphia. (Though I found one attorney who also loves the books, and another attorney and his wife were surprised when I knew all about the Yule Ball/ Wizard Rock Concert that their daughter was attending that night...)

(here's some mood music...)

You see, I'm not just the average Potter fan. I didn't just enjoy the books and share them with my kids. I've read each book at least 7 times. My copy of Order of the Phoenix still has post-its riddling the pages from the months that I spent in an online reading group discussing the clues and literary devices that Jo used. And yes, I refer to the well-known author as she requested her fans to do-- as "Jo".

When my daughter was 4, my most proud "mommy moment" was when she pointed her finger at my mother-in-law and shouted "Silencio!" (My mother-in-law laughed after I explained what the spell did.) Here's a photo of the same daughter sporting her Dark Mark tattoo:

As many folks did, I attended the midnight release party for Deathly Hallows. But I drove home with tears in my eyes while clutching my copy, because it marked the end of an era. The next morning my deluxe copy was waiting in my mailbox (pre-ordered from Amazon the day it was available). And they now sit on my bookshelf next to the Bloomsbury "adult" version of Half-Blood Prince that I had shipped from the UK.

I not only signed up my kids and I to attend a Harry Potter conference that came to Philadelphia, I signed up within the first two weeks that the conference was announced (nine months early) because I browse fansites daily. And, I wasn't just an attendee. I volunteered to organize the opening and closing feasts and created and ran the Tri-Wizard Tournament. While there I was very proud of my oldest daughter who was chosen to compete (for our "House") in the Jeopardy-style trivia contest because she had the most questions correct on her qualifying quiz for her age group. And I was shocked when my name was announced as the adult contestant for our House! (No-- I didn't win, but I did get to meet the guys who run Mugglenet and their weekly podcast, Mugglecast!-- that's like meeting the Beatles to Harry Potter fans....)

So, now you understand why I call myself "obsessed."

The question is why. I was never the type to be such a fan. I didn't have a favorite rock group, movie, or celebrity when I was a teenager. There was no precedent for me to become obsessed over anything.

I was given the Harry Potter books for Christmas in 2003 (at the time only 5 had been published). Reading became an escape from my mommy duties ( the girls were ages 2 and 4). I quickly became swept up into the world of Hogwarts, and read all five within a month. Then I started to re-read them, because I wasn't ready to leave the wizarding world. I remember the day that I googled Harry Potter. I didn't know about "fandoms" or news blogs or fanfiction. Wow-- what I found online that day changed my life.

What draws me to the books is the warm characters, the universal themes, the humor and the darkness, the mysteries, the complexity of so many subplots woven together seamlessly, and last but not least, how the books celebrate motherhood. Yes, I've used many references from HP while parenting. What a great way to describe that gray area between good and evil: Dolores Umbridge. And how about explaining ethnic cleansing to an eight year old.... The sorting hat is a wonderful device to explain how we often categorize people but that unity makes us stronger. And Dumbledore provides many pearls of wisdom: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities" (from Chamber of Secrets) and "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends" (from Sorcerer's Stone). Not to mention all of the fabulous Latin roots that are used for spells through the books!

I am tickled every time I hear that educators are using the books, from elementary to college-level. There were wonderful discussions at Enlightening led by scholars (most of the presenters had PhDs and many were Ivy League graduates): including "Harry Potter and the Denial of Due Process" (taught by a law professor), "Motherhood in the HP Canon", a class on psychological processes represented in the books, and a discussion about the global perspective : how HP engages people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Several weeks ago I found this article (warning: it contains spoilers for anyone who hasn't read the books) about a freshman seminar being taught at Swarthmore College. The article also states:

"This is one of several "Harry Potter"-themed courses being taught on a collegiate level throughout the country — and not all of them are in English departments. Yale has one that uses "Harry Potter" as a prism for theology. Georgetown uses the story to look at international relations. Frostburg State University in Maryland employs the series to teach Physical Science 100. And more classes just keep popping up."

So, now I'm not so embarrassed by my obsession. I feel validated by others who aren't just reading the books to their children at bedtime.

And, I can now share with you that my first thought on Halloween morning will be "Happy Birthday, Harry!"

EDIT: D'oh! Janey brought to my attention that I must've lost my mind-- perhaps I can blame it on inhaling too much Lysol (see The Clarity of Night if you want to hear about the state of the Evans household....) Harry's birthday is July 31st, just like Jo's. Halloween is the day that Voldemort murdered his parents. So I'll just have a moment of silence for Lily and James.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Individuation (Personality Talk, part 6)

(image courtesy of teamtechnology.co.uk)

I think I just stumbled upon the best part of personality theory! It explains so much in my life (remember, I'm an idealist: always searching for meaning!)

The theorists postulate that we prefer our dominant cognitive process by the time we're 12 years old. Then, through a process they call individuation (which you and I would probably call growth), we develop our second function by age 20, the third by 25, and the fourth by 50. And lastly, the four "shadow processes" may emerge after age 50 for some people (which can result in more balance and confidence). This developmental timeline is just a guideline. It is similar to physical development-- not all babies sit unassisted at 6 months or walk at 12 months, those are just norms or guidelines. Each individual grows at their own pace.

When we start gaining skill in each process, we become drawn to activities that will provide practice and lead to growth. For example, people who are beginning to develop Se (extraverted sensing--a perceiving process that involves taking in data through the five senses and attending to the here and now) may start doing activities that increase sensory stimulation. Perhaps they'll try new foods or suddenly take up a new hobby or sport such as surfing or hiking. Likewise, people who are developing their Fe (extraverted feeling) may start becoming interested in situations where they can interact with others, perhaps they'll seek new friendships or host a party.

So as I was reading this theory, I began to ponder my own type development. As an INFJ, my dominant process is Ni (introverted intuiting). That's the process that finds meanings in relationships and connections. It's a way of structuring one's understanding of the world. And it often is expressed as a feeling of just "knowing" something is a certain way or that something will happen, without being able to explain it in words. I remember at age eight "knowing" that I was different than other kids. I could "see" in my mind's eye how all the people in my life were connected to me and to each other. I "knew" how a schoolmate would react to another child when the other was behaving in a way that was typical of them. I was reserved and shy (introverted) so my teachers didn't notice me, except for the fact that I was an excellent student. When our school district started a gifted program, none of the teachers identified me for testing. I observed who was chosen, and who tested into the program. I "knew" I belonged there too, so I went home one day and told my parents simply that I should be in the gifted program. Thankfully, they were supportive and they hired a psychologist to come to my home to administer the testing. Sure enough, I made it! I now see how all of these moments in my childhood are related to my Ni function.

My second function is Fe (extroverted feeling). Well, that fits perfectly with my personal history. During my teen years I was working hard to overcome my shyness. I developed a close circle of friends, became a cheerleader (not what you'd expect from an introvert!), joined various school clubs, and loved family gatherings.

My third function is Ti (introverted thinking). Hmmm… again, as I look back at the years between 20 and 25, I see how my developing Ti shaped my activities. I became a healthcare professional which required a bit of diagnostic skill (definitely a Ti task!) I spent hours doing crossword puzzles, and fell in love with logic problems. And, last but not least, I married a man whose dominant function is Ti! (Is this weird or what?!)

Now at 40, according to the theory, I should be developing my 4th function: Se (extraverted sensing). Interestingly, the 4th function is very important for balancing the dominant function in all types. Types who have a dominant T function (either Ti or Te) need to balance that with the F function that is their 4th process. Dominant F types have a T as their 4th. Types that have a dominant N, have an S function as their 4th, etc.

The 4th function, therefore, presents a way of thinking that is almost opposite from a person's dominant process for most of their life. So, people will start to be interested in activities that may seem entirely "out of character". And look at when this happens-- sometime before age 50! Doesn't that sound eerily similar to what we call midlife crisis?! Wow! So, what has been happening in my life? I've started living in the present. I developed a fascination (Jason calls it an obsession) with Harry Potter. I started dressing up for Halloween for the first time in 15 years (I blamed it on the age of my girls and the obligations of parenthood, but truthfully, that was just an excuse-- I wanted to have fun!) I don't think my actions present as the radical change that looks like a midlife crisis, but that may be because my Se process started developing in childhood. I grew up with a twin brother who (I believe) has a secondary Se function. His influence led me to embrace the way of thinking that is Se when I was younger.
Which brings me to the last point about Individuation. Life circumstances can affect your development pattern. During childhood, the following situations can alter the development of processes:

  1. You received negative feedback when using your dominant process.

  2. A non-preferred function was necessary to survive family life (e.g., dealing with an alcoholic or abusive parent)

  3. You received positive feedback for using non-preferred functions.

  4. And in adulthood:

  5. A job requires extensive use of non-preferred functions.

  6. Parenting requires extensive use of non-preferred functions.

If you know your personality type (you are quite certain based on resonance with the type descriptions), can you see a pattern to your growth in the cognitive processes preferred by your type? And how about that midlife crisis theory-- does emergence of cognitive processes explain it? Perhaps we can better understand our spouses, friends, and family members when they suddenly start acting out of character. (Jason-- I'm on to you, dear!)

(back to part 5)
(on to part 7)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Conjunction Junction, What's Your Function?

No, I'm not blogging about the grammar rules that were so effectively drilled into my generation by Schoolhouse Rock. Though I did enjoy those ditties….

No, today I'm continuing my Personality Talk series by talking about the eight cognitive functions that are the basis of the 16-type personality theory. As I said before, each type is not simply the expression of the four functions (or preferences) that the four letter code implies. So, an INTP is not simply an introverted version of an ENTP. And an ESFJ is not simply an ESTJ that uses feeling to make decisions. There is a more complex underlying interaction that the four preferences represent.

The base of the theory is that there are eight cognitive processes (sometimes called functions) or ways of thinking. Everyone uses all eight, but we tend to prefer some over others. Think about how you first react (or your natural inclination) to a situation or when you need to make a decision. The theory says that we tend to use a few of these processes more automatically than the others.

The eight functions are:
Extraverted Sensing (Se)-- experiencing the physical world, enjoying taking action, recognizing "what is" rather than what "could be"

Introverted Sensing (Si)-- comparing the current situation to a remembered one, reviewing past experiences, recalling stored impressions

Extraverted Intuiting (Ne)-- noticing hidden meanings in the world and interpreting them

Introverted Intuiting (Ni)-- looking inward to foresee the future, conceptualizing new ways of seeing things, envisioning transformations

Extraverted Thinking (Te)-- segmenting, logically organizing people and situations, contingency planning and scheduling

Introverted Thinking (Ti)-- evaluating according to principles and whether something fits the framework or model, seeking precision through clarifying definitions

Extraverted Feeling (Fe)-- connecting, expressing appreciation for others, considering and accommodating others

Introverted Feeling (Fi)-- evaluating the importance and worth of something based on one's own values, clarifying values

Each of the 16 personality types can be defined by the hierarchical pattern of their preferred cognitive processes. For example, the dominant process of an INFJ is Ni, followed by Fe, Ti, and Se (the other four processes are weaker and called "shadow processes.") A chart of the processes used by each personality type can be found here (scroll down for the chart.)

Here is a fun example of the eight functions in action. Given the situation that you are considering building a fence, what is your first thought or reaction? (Disclaimer: this list can be found on various websites, I don't know who the author is.)

The Eight Functions and Fence-Building
Se - I want to decorate the fence and make sure that it looks stylish and appealing.
Si - I’ll take care of looking at the instructions and making sure that we follow the established guidelines.
Ne - I want to design the fence.
Ni - Why do they want to do this and what is the deal with fences anyway? Is this necessary?
Te - Is doing this cost effective? Will it be useful?
Ti - I want to analyze the structure and placement of the fence.
Fe - How will it affect the neighborhood, and what will the neighbors think?
Fi - I want it to be my own special fence that I can share with others over time.

Here is another example (from Understanding Yourself and Others by Linda V. Berens and Dario Nardi).

How do you decide what to wear?
Se - Notice what is available, try on a few things to see how they look.
Si - Remember the last time you wore an outfit and how you felt then.
Ne - Think about the meaning of an outfit, what it may communicate to others.
Ni - Envision yourself in the outfit and perhaps seeing yourself being a certain way.
Te - Sort through colors and styles, consider consequences such as "since I have to stand all day…."
Ti - Analyze options using principles such as comfort, or "red is a power color."
Fe - Consider what would be appropriate for the situation.
Fi - Evaluate whether you like an outfit or not, does it suit you and feel right?

Can you identify what your dominant function is (remember, you probably use several functions when making a decision, but what is your first thought or automatic reaction)? Does it match the dominant process of your personality type?

(on to part 6)
(back to part 4)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Setting the Mood

Do you set the mood? No, I don't mean with candles, flowers, and soft music. I don't mean setting the mood for others. I'm talking about consciously setting your internal mood.

When I was entering my teen years, my Dad habitually woke my brother and I with his rendition of the bugle song: "Oh how I hate to get up in the morning! Oh, how I'd rather remain in bed…" At some point in those teen years I remember thinking what a stupid song that was to start the day with. I didn't want to begin the day hating the fact that I was awake. So I began a habit of singing my own tune in my mind. The first was:
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my, what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine headin' my way
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

(It's impossible to sing that song without smiling-- I dare you to try.) Later, when my obsession with the Beatles began, this was my wake-up song:

I also ended each day by listing in my mind all the people who I was most grateful for. Granted, the list was recited by rote memory, but nevertheless, it worked. I always fell asleep with a sense of belonging and peace because I felt fortunate to have people to love.

Sometime as I was entering adulthood, getting married, and finishing my education, I stopped. I no longer set the mood. In the early years of my career I tried to affect a similar start to the morning. As I believe happens with most professions, the first year or so was particularly challenging because my clinical skills were still developing. So starting the day on a positive note was essential. I remember creating a positive mood with little details. Perhaps I had a new pair of socks to wear, or a favorite cereal that I hadn't bought in some time. Sometimes I would treat myself to a cup of tea (which I didn't usually leave time for). Or I would look forward to something planned later in the day. Then, as my career became second nature, those efforts fell away.

Now as I reflect on my past, I marvel at how wise I was during my teen years. (Oh no! Does that mean that I'm developing backwards?! Ha!) How lucky we are to be human. Really! We can change our mood consciously. We can turn on the brain chemistry that makes us feel good by simply having a thought. We don't have to react to our environment. We can create our environment.

So, do you set the mood? What works for you?