FROM NOW ON 6 - shrewd awakenings

by Susan Weber

In The Organized Mind, Daniel J. Levitin organizes human differences into five categories: extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to new experience, and conscientiousness. I’m surprised introversion isn’t there; I’m a long time fan of the genre.

Scanning the list, I see myself in agreeableness — except when I’m contrary — and conscientiousness — except when I’m a sloth. Both words make me feel like punching in the teeth of the good girl I decided to become when the culture barked its orders at my psyche. I resent conscientiousness every time an extrovert leaves the detail work in a given wild idea to me. The Organized Mind assures me conscientiousness is a positive predictor of longevity, career success, and good recovery from transplant surgery. But I’m not sure I want to live forever, sporting other people’s body parts while minding the Ps and Qs of the world’s troublemakers, neurotic and otherwise.

Of all the categories, openness to new experience looks to be the pop culture favorite. How we admire the novelty-obsessed! They’re so… risk-aligned! Not that I've avoided risk exactly. I've had babies, performed music for adoring and indifferent fans alike, traveled to exotic lands. It was fun slamming the door on the demon monkey of Rishikesh before he could scratch my eyes out and snatch my lunch. And teaching kids to love art all those years required fresh air to the brain, along with the discipline artists tend to find inescapable.

But I have shut the gate on certain things. Extreme violence in stories is near impossible to witness anymore. When it comes to horrors like the German Holocaust and American Slavery, I think I should watch the movie, read the book, hear the poem out of reverence. And awareness. Conscientiousness advises this. But I know this brain of mine to hold horrific images like a slow burning poison, so I filter certain input carefully.

I recently slid Lolita halfway off the library shelf, never having read it. Nabokov will trick me into empathy for the old guy seducing the innocent girl, won’t he? That’s what crafty writers do. I would have to organize my mind differently, examine my long held beliefs, be more agreeable to ambiguity than a conscientious person wants to be. I tapped the book back in.

Curiosity will conduct my feet back to the Lolita aisle. The novelist will no doubt sheath my eyes in compassion just long enough for my neural network to apply, withhold, or utterly abandon all hope of conscientious thought.

Photo by Guptaele CC BY-SA 4.0