Synesthesia is a rare neurological condition — nay, superpower — that blends the senses. A synesthetic person “sees” non-visual experiences (e.g. tastes, musical notes, textures), often in color. I like to think that I have my own superpower, a colorless form of synesthesia: I see people in numbers.
I discovered my superpower thanks to the Enneagram, a test that can sort anyone into one of nine personality profiles. Like the other, more famous Myers-Briggs (which basically every corporation and private school in America now uses), the Enneagram promises that we can be explained, boxed up in ostensibly unique, yet totally generalized, packages. But if the Myers-Briggs is your mentor, offering polite and supportive career advice, Enneagram is your favorite aunt. Enneagram loves you, and will remind you of this often, but she also *knows* you; she’s the only one who can explain that weird thing you did to your stuffed animals when you were seven. She sees your anxieties, your tics and the worst little seeds in your subconscious, and she’s not afraid to bring them up.
And I treat the Enneagram as gospel. I use it to “deeply understand” not only myself, but everyone I meet. You, for instance. I bet I can guess your number.
Plenty of Yalies (EP&E majors) are type Ones, “the Perfectionists.” A Two, “the Helper,” is your devoted suitemate who also hasn’t fully forgiven you for that time she bought you a sandwich and you didn’t say thank you. Fours, “the Individualists,” say fuck the patriarchy, the government, Yale Corp and you, for failing to understand their complex and overlooked feelings.
Most Yalies are Threes, “Achievers” who gain self-worth by collecting some combination of resume accolades, Goble pictures, “likes” on Goble pictures, memorized John Locke passages, significant others/hook-ups and/or competitive seminar spots. On the flip side, no one on this campus is a true Seven, “the Enthusiast,” an epicurean who avoids pain and extended exertion (although some want the rest of us to think they are).
Of course, these are my own nasty and over-simplified interpretations. These nine types have inspired entire books, and I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that I own two of them. Naturally, I find the analysis of my own type, Nine, “the Peacemaker,” most engrossing.
“Healthy Nines can be the most contented and pleasant people imaginable. They are extraordinarily receptive, making people feel accepted as they are,” according to one book. “The inner landscape of the Nine resembles someone riding a bicycle on a beautiful day, enjoying everything about the flow of the experience.” Obviously, I rather like this picture: my sun-kissed body moving through life on one of those pastel-colored, Taylor-Swiftian bikes, a Stevie Wonder soundtrack in the background.
But, of course, it’s not so simple. “We may fault Nines when they refuse to see that life, while being sweet, also has difficulties which must be dealt with,” the book goes on. “Their refusal to fix the tire when it goes flat, so to speak, is symbolic of their problem. They would rather ignore whatever is wrong so that the tranquility of their ride will not be disturbed.”
The other day, I opened my “Enneathought of the Day” email — yes, that’s a real thing, and yes, I read it every day — and read “The Passion of Nines is Sloth.” Um. Can Sloth even be a passion? The “Passion” of Ones is Anger; Threes have Deceit; Eights even get sexy Lust. But my spot in Dante’s Inferno will be under the waters of the Styx, gurgling in the sludge, in darkness, doing nothing. Because, evidently, that’s my deadliest sin. Sloth. My most intense desire.
I wanted to have a more exciting interior life. But then — there I was, reading the email in bed with the lights off at 2:45 p.m. on a Saturday, yesterday’s makeup clumped around my eyelids, unsorted laundry from last week at my feet. Well, what’s your point, Enneagram? That’s just how I relax!
“Nines confuse numbness with relaxation,” the book explains. “They start to seek numbness through television, or food … [They] begin to ‘tune out’ reality, becoming oblivious to what they do not want to see.”
What, doesn’t *everyone* need at least one episode of TV a day in order to sleep? Sure, maybe I do get a little bit — okay, a lot — of joy from food. I admit that my behavior might have seemed strange the other day, when I closed my eyes and sighed with pleasure while eating a mozzarella stick. Oh my God. Am I “numb?”
Apparently, if things really deteriorate, I hit “Level 9” status — here, Nines become “catatonic, abandoning themselves, turning into shattered shells.”
Well, I don’t think I’ve fallen quite that far just yet. But I have — however fleetingly — touched “Level 1,” Nines’ nirvana. I’ve “become self-possessed, feeling autonomous and fulfilled … Intensely alive, fully connected to self and others.”
So, yes: I sweep conflicts under the rug, I procrastinate, and I grow too attached to fictional characters. But I have also felt “intensely alive,” ecstatic, totally connected to my work and the people around me. I am Caroline, and I am a Nine.
And, yes: I know that I take this whole thing too seriously. I have uttered the sentences “God, I was such an unhealthy Nine today” and “Ugh, sometimes she can just be such a Six” more than once in the last few weeks, and that really does nauseate me. Just not enough to stop me. Maybe I spend so much time thinking about the Enneagram because I’d rather see numbers than people. I use it to explain away all those little blips in myself, and in others — why she made that mean joke, why he didn’t call back. And maybe this is just a Band-Aid over a cracked bone, a consolation and not a cure.
But, you know what? I’m a Nine. I’m just going to keep on riding my bicycle. True to form, even if the tire’s flat, I don’t want to fix it.