Fun with Myers-Briggs

This Myers-Briggs Dating Field Guide has been floating around the ‘net, and I thought it rather fine. But as an ENFP (who occasionally feels rather INFP) married to a strong ESTP, this was a bit disconcerting:

Why you want one: Know Jeremy Piven in Entourage? Sometimes it just feels good to be around an asshole.
Spoiler Alert: Followed to its logical conclusion, this personality type can also be called ‘sociopathic.’
Where to find one: The clubbiest of clubs, near edge of the dancefloor where they’re looking to shove their tongue down someones throat for awhile and then have some aggressive sex before they leave without saying anything.
Pickup technique: Maybe the easiest to pickup, just try to look good and get in their line of vision. Be aggressive.

Honey, is that you? We do call my wife Herschel, as I explained here…

Why you want one: Passionate, unpredictable, absolutely always interesting.
Spoiler Alert: Not loyal to people or ideologies. One day it’s yoga, the next it’s kickboxing. One day it’s Theravada Buddhism, the next it’s Assemblies of God. This applies to their romantic life.
Where to find one: The clubbiest of clubs, in the middle of the dancefloor, possibly on X.
Pickup technique: Wear some bright colors, talk about how you bathed in the Ganges to get salvation, give them drugs, promise to get tantric. Beware of passionate yet very sloppy kisses.

Hah. I actually was in Assemblies of God for five minutes. And yeah, that’s probably my kissing technique too.

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Jack Kissell, 1930-2009

I read this morning of the death of Jack Kissell, a legendary figure in Southern California recovery circles, and my “sponsor” (on and off) for many years during the 1990s and the beginning of this decade.

Alcoholics Anonymous and the legion of Twelve Step programs that sprang forth from it have always insisted on, as the name implies, anonymity for its members. (In my writing, I’ve danced very close to the edge of “outing” myself, of course, but on this blog claim no membership in any particular organization.) For years, it has generally been understood that the anonymity requirement ended with death; it is common in public obituaries to note a long-standing period of sobriety in AA or other groups. Jack, who died at 79, died with 38 years sober.

In my recovery, I’ve had many sponsors. Two have stood out: my friend Jenia B., a woman just four years my senior but with (today) over a quarter century of sobriety who brought me into the heart of what is often called “the program”, and Jack Kissell, who took me through the twelve steps with insight and humor and Irish relentlessness. Jack sponsored hundreds of men and women around the country, and how he found time to talk so intimately and warmly with each is simply miraculous. For years, he and his beloved Jean lived in an apartment near the water in Redondo Beach. Time and again, I drove down to see him, to “read him my inventory” or talk about a specific problem. We always finished our conversations by moving from a discussion of sobriety to Jack’s second-favorite topic, Notre Dame football. I saw him on the stage many times in productions across Los Angeles; he was a delightful character actor who could, like so many sober alcoholics, perform both menace and vulnerability with ease.

I’ve referred to Jack before on this blog, never by his full name. It was Jack who taught me to “do the NEXT right thing”, who taught me what fidelity really looked like, and who gave me – at least for a short time — the gift of celibacy. And it was Jack who first taught me these lines:

If you want what you’ve never had, you have to become what you’ve never been. To become what you’ve never been, you’re gonna have to do what you’ve never done.

It is not the melodrama of a eulogy that leads me to note that I might very well not be alive without his wisdom, his kindness, and his love. Jack Kissell and I hadn’t spoken since 2000, after a foolish falling-out. (The fault was entirely mine, and I confess I held a entirely unjustified resentment against Jack for a long time.) I always meant to call him again, and never made the time. I am glad that while he was my sponsor, I was able to express my profound gratitude for his loving presence in my life, and glad that I am now able to give public credit where credit is due. I know that many folks have found comfort in things I’ve said or written that I learned from Jack, and they ought to know his full name.

We’re all on a journey, going through a process, and it would be far more lonely and far more terrifying without the wisdom of those just a bit further down the road. Jack’s gone farther along now, to the other country, and in due course, all whom he loved and sponsored will follow him there. But the good he did — for he was a very, very good man — will last, kept alive by the many he taught who will, over and over again, repeat his insights.

Marilyn French, 1929-2009: UPDATED

The great Marilyn French has died at 79. Many appreciations are appearing this week, see here for more.

Marilyn French is best known for her wonderful — if now dated — The Women’s Room. It’s perhaps the most important novel to come out of what is commonly known as Second Wave Feminism, and it remains a vital, fascinating, at times infuriating text. In 1986, when I was first beginning to think about doing women’s studies and feminist work, a friend of mine recommended the book to me. “Read it”, she said, “and tell me what you think.” I read the book the fall semester of my sophomore year, and was galvanized by it. Much has been made in the obituaries of French’s anger, and there’s little doubt that in many respects “The Women’s Room” is an angry novel. But righteous anger in the face of blind privilege, reckless entitlement, and crushing social norms is no vice — and I found French’s work to be a powerful and damning indictment. At 19, I recognized aspects of myself in some of her less sympathetic male characters — and in no small way, the book contributed to the beginning of my intellectual journey to (at least attempt to) become a different sort of man.

I also loved her Beyond Power, now out of print. One of the first organized discussions of feminism in which I ever participated (if we don’t count sitting quietly in the room while my mother hosted meetings of the League of Women Voters) came in late ’86, and the topic was French’s then brand-new and dazzling meditation on patriarchy, resistance, and sexuality over the entire course of human history. Most of my younger feminist colleagues who’ve read the book tend to roll eyes or snort derisively when I talk almost worshipfully of French; for some, she’s the very epitome of a certain kind of privileged Second Waver, the sort whose feminism is often alienating to those born long after Watergate. But it’s still on my shelf, and it’s still a terrific text. It’s influenced more than a little of my teaching.

I confess that “The Women’s Room” and “Beyond Power” are the only two Marilyn French works I’ve read. But like most of the books which have served me well, I take great pleasure in re-reading them. I’ll track down some of her more recent novels soon, and urge those who have never read her work to start with her most important and influential offerings.

UPDATE: Jha has a great tribute here.

Father Joseph Martin, 1924-2009

Today would be my father’s 74th birthday. He’s been gone almost three years, and I think about him almost every day. That he never got to hold his granddaughter Heloise Cerys Raquel is a source of great sadness; the hope that I have that he sees her now is a great comfort. And most importantly, I pray that the gentleness he bequeathed to me comes through my words and my fingertips when I hold my baby girl.

Today I note the passing, too, of an influential figure in my recovery from addiction. Many an alcoholic or addict who went through treatment in the ’80s or ’90s will recognize the name “Father Martin”. Joseph Martin’s “chalk talks” about alcoholism, depression, and anger were marvelously insightful and comforting. His common-sense approach to the disease of alcoholism (and I remain a passionate adherent of the disease model) continues to shape how I think about my sobriety, though I haven’t seen any of his tapes in over a decade. Along with John Bradshaw and Leo Buscaglia, Father Martin was one of those popular (and often amateur) psychologists whose writing and whose VHS tapes were script and soundtrack for my recovery. Joe Martin saved a lot of lives, and made a lot of lives better. May there be joy and laughter as he comes to the far side of the Jordan.

Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009

Father Richard John Neuhaus died this morning at the age of 72, following a long battle with complications from cancer.

Neuhaus was the founder, editor, and publisher of First Things, the flagship journal for Catholic neo-conservatism, and the only right-of-center magazine to which I have ever regularly subscribed. Neuhaus, a former Lutheran pastor who converted to Rome and was ordained as a priest, was an extraordinary writer. It was the quality of his prose that drew me to him many years ago, when my friend Steve gave me a copy of the wonderful Death on a Friday Afternoon. Steve was — and is — a strong evangelical conservative with latent Catholic tendencies, and he hoped to bring me “over to the dark side” by playing on my fondness for first-rate writing. “Death on a Friday Afternoon” is a book I have returned to again and again in recent Lents, and though I am too progressive in my politics to have much taste for most atonement theories, Neuhaus’ case for the efficaciousness of Christ’s suffering on the cross is as good as any I’ve read. (And I’ve read a lot on atonement theory, having worked on the subject for a year or two in graduate school.)

Neuhaus was a vigorous defender of the idea that faith was vital to how we participated in the struggle for the common good, a point he made in his earlier and very influential The Naked Public Square. His greatest wrath was reserved for those who tried to excise religious motivations from political discussions. He ridiculed the idea that any serious believer (be he or she Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or what-have-you) could so compartmentalize his or her life so that politics and faith had no influence upon each other. Our faith, Neuhaus reminded his readers again and again, shapes our world view — and we participate in public life based upon that world view. Respect and tolerance had their place (and Neuhaus proved it by having friends across the ideological and theological spectrum, including, famously, the radical Methodist Stanley Hauerwas), but respect and tolerance did not preclude the obligation to bring one’s own most deeply held convictions into the political sphere. Father Neuhaus was an influence on many important conservative Catholic voices, and was, without question, the priest closest to the upper echelons of the Bush Administration. George W. Bush called him simply “Father Richard”.

Neuhaus, partnering with Chuck Colson of Watergate fame, was a linchpin of the movement known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together. A former Protestant, Neuhaus retained deep and abiding affection and respect for those churches not in communion with Rome. A keen culture warrior, Neuhaus was eager to overcome decades of distrust and hostility between conservative Catholics and right-wing Protestants. Some of his motive was political: American conservatism needed unity rather than division in the struggle against liberalism. Some of his motive was theological: like most serious Christians, the divisions in the body of Christ wounded and saddened him. ECT, as it is known, has been an important project, and has brought in moderates and progressives as well as traditionalists. In recent years, Neuhaus took an interest in Catholic-Mormon dialogue, and published several pieces in First Things sympathetic to the LDS movement. Continue reading

Saluting Odetta, and some thoughts on a folk-music childhood

I was saddened to read last night of the death of Odetta, the legendary folk-singer whose deep voice inspired generations of activists and music fans alike. I am so sorry she did not fulfill her most recent ambition (to perform at Barack Obama’s inauguration), and thrilled that she lived long enough to see him elected president.

As soon as I saw the obituary on the New York Times web page, sounds and feelings from my childhood rushed into my head. I was, from my earliest memories, a folk-music baby. Though my father (an amateur cellist) loved classical music, my mother had fallen in love with folk as a student at Vassar in the late 1950s. Folk music in the 1950s was the music of the political and cultural Left; it was also experiencing a major rebirth thanks to the efforts of folks like Odetta, Pete Seeger, and others. It was the soundtrack for my mother’s young adult years, and growing up in the 1970s, I listened over and over again to the records she had collected in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

The Newport Folk Festivals of the early 1960s were extraordinarily important in American musical history. My mother had virtually all of the recordings of these live concerts on LPs. On these records, which she or I (or less often, my little brother) would put on on rainy afternoons, I heard Joan Baez, Pete Seeger (on his own and with the Weavers), Ian and Sylvia, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and the young — acoustic — Bob Dylan. What had been the soundtrack for my mother’s college and graduate school years became the soundtrack for my childhood.

My liberal politics were — and to some extent still are — inextricably linked to music. I have no musical ability myself, but like many children and teenagers, I found in music an opportunity to discover emotions and ideas that I could not have felt as deeply in any other way. If, like some of my conservative friends, I had been raised listening to the explicitly evangelical music of the likes of the Gaither family, I might have embraced a much more traditional world view as a child. As it was, I came of age on protest songs. I can sing from memory every verse of “Joe Hill”, of “We Shall Not Be Moved“, and “The Banks are Made of Marble.” And Odetta’s version of “Down by the Riverside” is my favorite call to pacifism I know. Continue reading

Edie Karas, 1921-2008

One of the memorable figures of my childhood and youth, Edie Karas, has died. On the Monterey Peninsula where I was raised, Edie and her late husband Sam were institutions in the intersecting worlds of local politics, higher education, and the arts. Edie founded the Gentrain program at Monterey Peninsula College in which she and my mother taught for many years. In 1987, Edie co-led a tour of northern Italy which gave me my first chance to see the glories of Florence, Venice, and Milan. She was a dear friend; a remarkable woman and a devoted public servant, and I honor her legacy and her memory.

She came to our family Christmas party each December for more than thirty years. We will miss her very much this year.

Dean Barnett

My goodness, the conservatives keep dying. I don’t mean to be rude or flip, but the rapidity with which the ranks of the right are being depleted by the reaper seems, well, a bit stunning. (I mentioned that here.) In any event, a conservative commentator whom I enjoyed, Dean Barnett, died today of complications from cystic fibrosis. He was a regular guest host on the Hugh Hewitt radio program, and I always liked listening to him when he filled in. Like Hewitt, Barnett was painfully, willfully, irretrievably reactionary in his politics; like Hewitt, he softened some of that troglodytism with humor and grace and thoughtfulness. He was wrong on the issues, but I suspect he died right with his God.

May his family be comforted by his memory, and by the promise that they will rejoice with him again, in another country.

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Ronald Grace

It’s always a shock when one discovers a familiar name on the list of those killed in a notorious tragedy. My wife learned only this morning that among the 26 killed in last Friday’s terrible Metrolink train crash was Ron Grace, her junior-high counselor and P.E. teacher. His obituary is here.

Mr. Grace, as she knew him, was a key figure in my wife’s early adolescent years. It was Mr. Grace, she told me today, who encouraged her to compete in the eighth-grade spelling bee; she won that bee. She has often remarked that that victory (which stunned her, but not Mr. Grace), gave her a shot of intellectual confidence that made a huge difference in the years that followed. Ron Grace was at the very beginning of his career as a mentor when he coached my wife on the athletic field and pushed her into the spelling contest. He died on Friday afternoon, on his way home, just 55 years old.

If you’ve got mentors, father figures, mother figures, old school counselors or beloved teachers who made a difference, let this be your encouragement to drop them a line. Now. No one, after all, knows the time or the hour when we are to be summoned home.

Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, 1949-2008

I’m in Europe still, but breaking hiatus to express my great shock and sadness at the death yesterday of Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones. Tubbs-Jones died suddenly following a brain hemorrhage.

Stephanie Tubbs-Jones was a dedicated progressive, and was perhaps best known for her role in vigorously contesting the 2004 Ohio presidential election results. What was less well-known was her role as an animal activist and a crusader for healthier eating. We sat with her at the 2007 PCRM Gala, and she and my wife chatted at length about the role that a vegetarian diet could play in reducing obesity and heart disease rates in the African-American community. (I mentioned that talk in this post.) Though Tubbs-Jones was not a vegan like her next-door neighbor in the House, Dennis Kucinich, she was convinced that education about and access to a plant-based diet was a crucial component in saving lives, both animal and human.

I told her that I intended to come before a House committee someday, pleading for a nationwide ban on fur pelting. Tubbs-Jones smiled and told me she looked forward to it. I don’t know if I’ll ever testify before Congress, but I knew that I would have had a very friendly welcome if I had made it there under her watch. Ohio and the country have lost a devoted advocate for the poor, for women, and for the interconnectedness of healthy eating and justice for animals.