Sunday, July 24, 2011

Putting the "I" in "INTP"

I am going to guess that of the four or five folks who actually read this blog (hey, that's up from two or three!), most of the handful have at least heard of the Myers-Briggs type inventory test, and have probably had to take it themselves once or twice in their respective lifetimes.  I'm no different, having taken the test yet again back in May as part of the battery of psychological testing required by my presbytery as part of my inquirer process, presumably to be sure that I'm in fact crazy enough to be doing what I'm doing.  The results of that test and others have been on my mind this weekend, for various reasons.

I think I've taken the Myers-Briggs at least six times in my life, at least four of which were required for jobs, school applications, or some other such major step.  As is not uncommon with the test when taken multiple times over multiple years, my results have varied.  In the four-letter code that expresses the results of the test, the final letter (P vs. J, perceiving vs. judging) has flipped fairly regularly.  I've usually been a T (thinking) but at least once came out an "F" (feeling).  I've always been an "N" (iNtuiting? I don't always remember this right) but it's always been a fairly close call vs. "S" (sensing?), very near the midpoint of the scale.

That leaves "I" vs. "E", introvert vs. extrovert. Here the results have always been conspicuously consistent; there isn't a Myers-Briggs grid that can contain the extent of my introverted nature.  Always completely off the charts.

Now let's be clear up-front; this is not a sign that I'm an anti-social person.  Not saying I'm not, but one doesn't necessarily equal the other. It does indicate that extroverted ways of interacting with others aren't necessarily best suited to my way of comprehending and coping with the world.

Some examples may work best, as opposed to my trying to describe stuff that's somewhat over my head. I go to baseball games whenever I can make it work, and I'm happy to go with someone, particularly if the someone is also a knowledgable baseball fan who can talk about the finer points of the game with ease.  I can also go with someone else who is less knowledgable, as long as they don't mind me explaining stuff.  But I'm also perfectly happy to go by myself, maybe get or take a scorecard, and get buried in the game without necessarily socializing a lot.  Focusing on the intricate details of the game is for me a highly fulfilling way of being at a game, and it frankly doesn't matter a lot if the crowd is large or small (maybe in some cases a smaller crowd is even better--less distraction).

Concerts are, not surprisingly, another thing I enjoy, and again, being on my own there is at least as fulfilling as being with others.  Particularly if the concert is of classical music, being able to get highly focused on the music, the performance, and all the things that go with it is extremely satisfying regardless of whether anyone's around me or not.  (My years spent as a part-time critic down in West Palm Beach satisfied this part of my personality very well.)

In other words, there are things which, if necessary, I'm quite happy to do alone.  On the other hand, being in a crowd isn't necessarily a problem, but I tend to deal with it differently than others.  I'm quite capable of being "alone in a crowd," but contrary to the portrayal of such in many different outlets, this isn't a problem; in fact it might be a preferred way of dealing with a crowd.  I'll process whatever's going on much more successfully and satisfyingly, frankly, in such "alone in a crowd" fashion.  Having to cope with a lot of interpersonal stimuli in addition to the dynamics of the larger crowd, on the other hand, can get rather overwhelming; everything--not just mind, but emotions, sensations, even physical condition--wants to shut down.  I need time and space to process such surroundings and to get a grasp of what's going on at my own rate, and too much immediate interaction only overloads the circuits.

These are things I've known about myself for a long time, although I probably have better language to describe them now than I have in the past.  It probably plays into the whole business of starting to blog as well, and why I can be so darn wordy as a blogger and rather quiet in person on the same subjects.  (At some point, for example, some sort of reaction to the horrible murders in Norway this weekend may yet appear here, but I'm no wise able to process and react in word spoken or written yet.)  As to why this has occurred to me this weekend, it's all about being "on."

This Wednesday should mark the one-month anniversary of our arrival in town.  The third full week of summer Greek starts tomorrow, and we've also been engaged in such mundane things as getting new driver's licenses and auto registrations, finding new supermarkets, banks, etc. We've been visiting churches for the last four Sundays as well.  All of these things require some level of human interaction (even in the digital age, not quite all of the tasks associated with relocation can be done online, y'know). This is, of course, interaction with new people. Some of you "E"s out there probably think this is just about the greatest thing in the world, but to an off-the-charts "I" it's positively exhausting.  I don't just mean mentally or emotionally draining; I do mean physically exhausting too.

None of this should be taken to mean that any of these experiences have been particularly negative.  Not at all.  Even waiting in line at the DMV was relatively painless, in comparison to some past experiences. And classes so far (aside from the natural insanity inherent in willingly trying to study two semesters of Greek in seven weeks) have gone quite well. I seem to be among good classmates/future colleagues in ministry. I've benefitted from good study-group time (not necessarily something I'd do for every class, but for a language I feel I need the feedback), and had good times outside of class hours as well such as a thoroughly fun potluck dinner last week. We weren't even out particularly late, and were in bed no later than usual; nonetheless, by the next afternoon I was in a state not radically distant from catatonia.  Being "on" and engaging in even the most joyous of interaction was just flat-out exhausting.

Again, this is stuff I can recognize and describe better now, with psych profile results still relatively fresh in hand and in mind.  The past academic career tested these tendencies to some degree--being in front of a class does require one to be "on" very strongly if one wants to be effective at all--but it also built in a good bit of solitary time as well; time for class preparation or research was expected, and one could get joyously lost in the library stacks and be free of interpersonal overstimulation, and have plenty of time to recover one's senses.

But what about this fool's errand of mine, this future calling? I can already hear some of the "E"s among you tut-tutting about how I'll be burned out in a year.  How a pastor, presuming that's where I end up, is always on call, never has a moment to him(in my case)self, how I'll never have that kind of alone time, yadda yadda yadda.  Aside from the fact that such isn't a healthy way for any minister, "I" or "E", to view that vocation, it's clearly not true; sermons don't write themselves, after all.  It simply becomes one of those disciplines I have to program into my vocational life, which would be true no matter what vocation I might engage.  There will certainly be challenges to an extreme "I" such as me, as there are in any case, but as the old saying goes, forewarned is forearmed--I know what's up and can begin to deal with it.

Besides, there are ways in which we "I"s will actually have an advantage.  We may not be supercharged gladhanders, but we're most keen observers--not a lot gets by us; we pick up on subtle things that go right past you "E"s out there.  We're dedicated listeners.  We don't mind taking the time to work through issues from multiple angles. And we're quick to pick up when others need some space--we can recognize in others something we see in ourselves. Part of the future task will be to learn how to make advantages of those extreme "I" traits that others see as deficits or flaws.

So, Friday afternoon, how did I deal with that "I" exhaustion? After mustering up the energy for one clever Facebook status, the Greek had to be laid aside.  A short nap, finishing off the recent Mickey Mantle biography, and some serious down time.  I may regret it on the midterm Tuesday, but I doubt it--or I know I'd regret not being recharged more.  Recognize the condition and remember how to deal with it.  That's the life of an off-the-charts "I" in an "E"-biased world.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A week (or so) in...

So the first full week of Greek is over.  Five more weeks to go . . . oy vey, that sounds like an eternity.  And yet, enough time to see the beginnings of a routine established, some classmates I can call by first names, and a sense of place.

The above image is of the William Morton Smith library on the Union campus.  Though Greek isn't exactly a research class, I've spent a good bit of time in this library for study: make the vocabulary flashcards, work on the homework sentences, etc., sometimes alone, sometimes with a group of classmates.  It's by far the newest building on campus, though built to blend in with the other structures, some of which date back to around the turn of the last century.  OK, I'm a sucker for academic antiquity, I admit it.  Thursday and Friday of this week turned out to be lovely days, with gorgeous skies and temperatures quite a bit cooler than before.  Very easy to begin the process of soaking in the place under such conditions.

The summer language school setup has produced a particular routine: class in the morning, some fairly intensive review/assignment completion in the afternoon in the above library, and a little more review at night.  It's almost a full-time job in some ways (just without the pay).  In such intense contact, you begin the process of getting to know the folks with whom you're going to spend the next few years in the pursuit of this nebulous and uncertain calling.

Gosh, they're young.  No, not all of them, of course, and I'm sure that will be even less the case when a full semester kicks in on a full campus this fall.  But I know I'm at least the second-oldest person in the class, and might just be the oldest.  (Don't know about the Hebrew class in the next building.)  And there are times when, well, it does make me feel old to be in a class with a bunch of kids who are the age of most of my students from two months ago.  Yeah, I knew the moment was coming, and it's just as well to get it over with early on, but lordy, do I feel old.  And I'm going to feel old for the next few years on occasion.  At this point I can have the moment and brush it off with a "whatever" and get back to work.  But it is almost amusing to observe these moments in myself.

They seem pretty capable, for the most part, and generally tolerant-to-welcoming of the guy who thinks more like a professor than a student.  It shall be interesting to see how this year and this class (level 1's like myself) evolves, and to see the surprises come out of people who don't show surprises in obvious ways to this point.

As to other, more frivolous observations: Richmond drivers are pretty awful.  At times they unhappily remind me of south Florida, and that's saying something.  The city and area turns out to be fairly pleasant when it's not experiencing heat indices of a hundred or more.  Chesterfield County, where I actually live, hasn't shown much yet besides chains and strip malls (Shoney's is still in existence? That blew me away for some reason), but there's still time and we haven't gotten out that far into this particular area.  The city proper should be interesting if we're not too broke to enjoy it.

We've visited two churches so far, both in Richmond proper, and both were without their regular preachers when we visited (in both cases the absent preacher was off at Montreat, by coincidence).  Second Presbyterian and Ginter Park Presbyterian will probably get repeat visits at some point when under a more normal schedule.  There are several still to visit (though interestingly enough, none in the 23236 ZIP code.  Not sure why I find that so interesting, but I do) and more weeks left to make visits.

So the rest of July and about half of August is a process of "survive and advance."  Get through the day, get through the week, advance to the next week, the next day, the next tense or conjugation or declension.  With any luck enough of the language will stick so that I'll be able to tell when the preachers of my youth lied to me about what the New Testament actually says.

Until next time, good night and good luck.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

When worlds collide (not collide as such, really, more like overlap?)

As the two or three of you who read this blog might recall, I've been an academic musicologist to some degree (ha!, get it?) for the past decade-plus (close to two decades if you count my time in the musicology program at Florida State).  That role technically ended on or about May 31, but in practice managed to stretch out through much of June, as I was on a committee for a master's degree defense just four days before rolling out of Lawrence in that ill-fated Penske truck from a few entries ago.  Curiously, I managed to get through all of two Greek classes before that world came back into my life, if only for a few days.

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure to be part of developing an academic conference for musicologists in the field of nineteenth-century music (for the uninitiated, that can include such classical composers as Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Wagner, Brahms, etc. and also non-classical musics coming to prominence in the 1800s). Besides playing a small role in planning and organizing the conference, calling for papers and selecting the program, I had the privilege of being the host for the event, as it was held at KU in July 2009.  On the whole it was an interesting and enjoyable conference; the papers were generally well-done, thoughtful and informative, and folks in general seemed to have a good time both academically and otherwise.

I had to step aside because of my change of life plans, naturally.  The other musicologists involved in its planning, with a few new figures joining the committee, carried out the planning, organizing and such for a second such biennial event. By some divine joke, the second North American Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music took place this past weekend at . . . wait for it, folks . . . the University of Richmond.

Of course.  About a fifteen-minute drive from where we live.

I couldn't not go.  And this points to one of the great questions with which I will wrestle for, probably, the rest of my life.

My future is in some sort of ministerial or vocational religious calling. That's the given.  The supposed most logical end is some sort of parish ministerial position, but as I believe I've indicated before, there's room for that calling to evolve a bit if needed.

Given all that, how much do I have to banish the musicologist within?  And no, he isn't dead.  There are at least two major reasons why he's not dead, which involve the fact that he may still be needed.

For one, as much as I may have blasted the idea of measuring a church's or a denomination's health by numbers in an earlier entry, I can read the numbers as well as anyone.  I can't rule out the possibility, maybe even the likelihood, that one or more church callings in my future may well be part-time.  I'll have to make up that part-time income gap somehow.  The most logical way is, well, teaching (whether it be music history or music appreciation or something similar) part-time somewhere, be it a community college or small four-year school or who knows what.  In other words, I may need those musicological chops to support my future calling.  Heck, I may need them to support my way through seminary even before that.

Secondly, the way of thinking about music that has been instilled by my musicological education and research may well be needed as part of my pastoral vocation.  Maybe you've noticed that the way churches use music is sometimes . . . well, let's call it "interesting" for now. Fleshing that out fully may require a whole series of blog posts and a full career.  But what do musicologists do?  We inquire into how societies, or individuals, or groups within societies, make use of music.  Sometimes we even critique it.  To me, that sounds like a match.  I don't know if that's going to be a part of this vocational future, but I certainly don't want to toss that tool out of the toolbox only to find myself needing it shortly thereafter.

In short, there are compelling reasons for me to keep in musicological practice.  Beyond that is a much more personal factor: some of my best friends are my musicological colleagues. In particular, my colleagues in the subfield of nineteenth-century American music matter deeply here. I don't know how much you (particularly the non-musicians out there) know about nineteenth-century American music.  If you're like most people, the answer goes not very far beyond, say, Stephen Foster or John Philip Sousa. As much as this may surprise you, there is more. Even for devotees of classical music, there is in fact more out there; there is such as thing as what I fondly call "American Music B.C." (In this case, "B.C." stands for "before [Aaron] Copland.") It was in this realm of "American Music B.C." that I plied my scholarly trade.

Now you non-musicians will probably know even less of this particular realm. Does the name George Chadwick mean anything to you (and no, not your accountant)? Horatio Parker? George Frederick Bristow? Amy Beach? Charles Hommann? If you recognized one or more of these names, you either: (a) are one of my colleagues in what I'll abbreviate as C19US, (b) have heard me talk (or read my writing) about my research in the past, (c) are lying, or (d) are very unusual.  You are also (e) more knowledgeable about C19US than many trained musicians, and a not-small number of professional musicologists.  One of my greatest sources of satisfaction as a musicologist was undoing this ignorance.

Working in such a field tends to generate something not unlike a bunker mentality.  When the usual reaction to your subject matter in your own field is somewhere between benign ignoring and outright scorn, it's easy to feel a bit as if one is under siege.  When one finds fellow devotees of this treasure-trove of musical exploration, the bonds that form tend to be closer than the average academic collegiality.  So these are not just colleagues, they're friends, and one doesn't dispose of friends cheaply. As one of those colleagues said to me yesterday, "Friends come, and friends stay."

To sum up: I have compelling professional and personal reasons to hang on to some part of that previous life.  At the same time, my new life is a different one, and it is my priority, whatever it turns out to be. On occasion, worlds will collide or overlap or intersect or maybe even mesh. How that will work I don't yet know.

In the meantime, the new life calls.  Back to Greek.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Disconnect

We are here, and more or less fully online--enough so that I can ponder a blog entry without seeking out a coffee shop or restaurant offering free wi-fi.  That was getting tedious.
For an old guy, I'm discovering I'm more modern in my addictions than I expected.  Somewhere along the way we decided not to have cable tv here.  (I knew we had talked about it, but somehow I missed the actual decision part.)  I haven't missed that so much, but I've been going crazy without a consistent or accessible internet connection.  This surprises me, for some reason.
I suppose part of it is the obvious: I'm without connections right now in "real life," not just electronically.  We're barely settling in and really don't know many people here at all.  Once I get into class next week that will start to change, for me.  Provided we can settle into a church and start making connections there that will change yet more, not just for me but for Julia.  But for now, we're largely on our own in this woodsy little corner of suburbia/3G dead spot.  Being able to "connect" with other people, even if only via Facebook, becomes a lifeline for the moment.
Even being able to share the misadventures of the move via FB and this blog (see previous entry) was something of a relief, strange as it may seem.  The notion that other people were sympathizing, even if from a distance, somehow made the whole strange trip less of an ordeal, at least reducing it to monstrous inconvenience.
Meanwhile, the little inconveniences keep popping up.  Our washer seems to have taken a hit, which makes the growing pile of dirty clothes more of a menace.  The long wait for an internet connection became much more arduous than it really should have been.  (Julia, though, apparently got to meet a bunch of seniors at the local McDonald's, while trolling for wi-fi, who were very helpful with where to find various services around here, so that's a plus, I guess.)  The house is slowly coming together.  We can now find our way around much of northern Chesterfield County, or enough at least to find groceries, gas, and other such goodies.  I can get to Union via a couple of different routes.  Julia's office is up and running, and my study is coming together (even if it still looks more like a musicologist's office than a seminarian's study).  The living room ... ehhh, let's not talk about that.
I miss Lawrence terribly and all our friends there.  That won't change.  I know that before long I'll be among new friends and deeply immersed/buried in studies.  Still, I miss Lawrence and will continue to do so.
Yes, I know, the internet isn't all peaches and cream, and online connections are no substitute for a life and all that yada yada.  Still, having it has lessened the sting of a bizarre week just a bit, and something that can do that can't be all bad.  (And by the way, that is probably about a sophisticated a commentary on modern technology as you're going to get from me.)
Thank the Lord for Facebook.  There, I said it.