The emotionally stunted INTP

I’ve read a lot of articles and forums about INTPs and feelings, and there’s this great divide between those who say “I have very weak feelings or none at all, it bugs me when I’m expected to emote or commiserate” and those who say “I have all the feelings all the time and I hate it make them go away what is this I don’t even”. Some of these texts take it upon themselves to generalize about the other group, such that “those who say they are very emotional are probably mistyped INFPs” and “those who say they have no feelings are kidding themselves.”

So. As an INTP with these wildly different data, what do I do? Negate the self-analysis made by fellow INTPs? I wouldn’t presume. Instead I propose that the state of “having feelings” has nothing to do with the MBTI.

Now, I’m not an expert in chemistry or psychology or neurology or any of that stuff, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that feelings are chemical in nature and that the MBTI merely describes how the brain is structured. If this is “true”, feelings can arise in any brain regardless of how it’s structured, but it’s what comes after that’s interesting. When feelings do or don’t occur, how does the brain handle them – or their absence?

Because if there’s one constant in all the INTP writings I’ve seen, it’s that feelings are an Issue. That seldom seems to vary, unless the person is very well developed, lives in a supportive environment, and accepts themselves for what they are. Most of us aren’t so lucky, it seems.

Perhaps the INTPs who report having little to no emotion are happier or at least calmer than others. Their problems arise when people need comforting, or when they’re expected to react emotionally and can’t, because their brains are structured to use logic first and empathy last. They may feel different, as if they’re lacking some vital part when they compare themselves to others, but left to their own devices they’re quite content.

But what about the rest of us? Those who do have feelings, and strong ones to boot?

Man.

We have this set of problems with a very limited toolbox for handling them. Give us a philosophical conundrum and time to think and yay, what comes out is a childlike, excited monologue full of what ifs and weird associations. We’re in our element. We’re asked to use our introverted thinking and extraverted intuition to make sense of the world, and it feels as natural as breathing.

Give us something emotional, and we stumble – because our tools just don’t work very well on that kind of thing. You can’t beat a feeling into submission using logic. Well, you can, but it’s going to come back and bite you in the arse sooner or later. It’s a bit like sawing water – hey, knock yourself out using that saw, but the water is only going to slosh around for a bit and then settle in the same place as before. You’re not going to divide it in half however much energy you spend.

It’s difficult to describe, so I made a sketch about it (because that’s a completely sane thing to do). NB this is my humorous take on it and may not be generalizable at all.

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INTP feelings – the musical (not really)

Dramatis Personae

Ti, wearing a black turtleneck and glasses

Ne, with her uncombed hair and purple glitter sweater

Si, hair in plaits and a girly skirt

Fe, with pigtails, pyjamas, and a teddy bear

 

Act I (of one)

Ti is sorting Important Stuff when suddenly Fluffy Stuff appears.

Ti: WTF is this? Si!

Si: (watching telly and eating ice cream) Yeah?

Ti: What’s this?

Si: (glances at the Fluffy Stuff) Looks like a feeling.

Ti: (Groans) Oh no. What kind of feeling? I have some boxes here to put it in… Is it positive or negative?

Si: Um… I think it’s positive.

Ti: Okay, well, that’s good then. Won’t be a problem, will it?

Si: Well, no… But there’s something underneath it, look.

Ti: What?

Si: Look, there’s something else connected to the positive Fluff.

Ti: (Pulls at the Fluffy Stuff and different Fluffy Stuff appears) Jesus. There’s all sorts here. I mean, what’s even… Fe!

Fe: (Sucking her thumb) Yeah?

Ti: Is this yours?

Fe: Um…

Ti: Come on, come on, I don’t have all day. What is it?

Fe: It’s these people I’m scared of.

Ti: Christ. So how can that be connected to the positive Fluff?

Fe: Um…

Ti: (Trying to stuff Fluff into box) Shiiiit.

Si: Look, Fe. Just ignore it. You know how it goes: you get nervous, you behave like an idiot, and it all goes to shit. Let it go, okay? Let Ti work in peace.

Ti: (Gives up trying to stuff Fluff into box) Well, this won’t do. Ne?

Ne: (Jumps in, eager to the point of lunacy) Yes?

Ti: I need your help. It’s up to us to make sense of this, yeah?

Ne: (Claps hands) Okay!

Ti: (Rolls her eyes at Ne:s childish glee) So this Fluffy Stuff goes into the positive box, yeah? But it seems to be linked to this godawful thing, I can’t get them to separate, but they should go in different boxes, right?

Ne: Maybe you can link the boxes.

Si: Yeah, like a hierarchy! You love those.

Ti: Yeah, that could work. Okay, so the godawful is a subcategory of the positive, and… what do we have here? But this is… my god, this is about the crush I had in my twenties. Where the fuck…?

Si: Maybe there’s something about this that reminds you of that.

Ti: Must be. But how…?

Fe: Not that anyone listens to me, but while you’re trying to categorize that Stuff, there’s more Stuff coming in. It’s getting a bit crowded in here.

Ti: Craaaap! I have work to do, I can’t keep stuffing this Stuff into boxes!

Fe: So don’t.

Ti: What? Fe, you’re not making any sense. These are grown up matters, stay out of it.

Ne: Okay, but can I say something? This sorting… I don’t know what it accomplishes. You’re only going in circles.

Ti: So what’s your idea, genius?

Ne: (Grins) I have lots of them, actually. Let’s throw some of the Stuff at someone else and see what happens.

Fe: Yes! Let’s do that!

Ti: (Stares at Ne and Fe) Are you insane?

Ne: Actually, insanity and genius are very similar.

Si: No, no, no, wait! Remember that one time in 1998 when we threw some Stuff at someone? It didn’t end well.

Ti: Exactly. You’d all do well to listen to Si. She knows what she’s talking about.

Ne: But she’s boooooring! If we listen to her, nothing will ever change.

Fe: Yeah, we have to do something. Otherwise this Stuff is just going to accumulate.

Ti: Accumulate? Fe, use age-appropriate words please. And no, we don’t throw Stuff at other people. That’s just not happening. Jesus, it’s obviously up to me to not fuck this up. We just need some order. Not this crazy ball of Fluff.

Ne: (Snorts with laughter) Actually it kinda looks like our thoughts.

Ti: (Gives Ne a look) You’re seriously comparing feelings to our thoughts?

Ne: (Shrugs) Crazy ball of Fluff, crazy ball of thoughts. Same difference.

Ti: (Shakes head and mutters) And whose fucking fault is that?

Ne: Oooooh, look, actually this bit looks like a plot idea! What if we wrote a story about a conductor who’s homesick and meets someone from home, and then…

Si: Yeah! Maybe we could use that old story we never finished? The one with the socially inept professor…

Ne: … or that short story we published that really sucks, but if we flesh it out…

Fe: … maybe it’ll be like therapy, and then we can publish it and people will read it and understand and…

Ti: (Slams fist on table) See, this is why you don’t get to make the plans! I’d be a fucking genius if not for you crazy people. (Goes back to sorting Fluff) So anyway, this goes here, and it’s connected to this, and…

Fe: I just don’t see how this is helping. It’s still the same Stuff, even if you put it in boxes. It doesn’t change anything.

Ti: It changes how I see it. If it makes sense, it can stay.

Ne: And if it doesn’t?

Ti: I don’t fucking know, do I? It’s not my fault these things turn up.

Ne, Si and Fe: (Laugh)

Ti: What?

Si: It’s you!

Ti: What?

Si: You’re the one attracting all this Stuff.

Ti: What the hell are you saying? I’m logical. I categorize. I don’t give a fuck about Fluff.

Si: But it’s the same thing every time. The thing that gets you going.

Ti: What?

Si: How did they put it in that show you like? “Sherlock has the brain of a scientist or a philosopher, yet he elects to be a detective. What might we deduce about his heart?”

Ti: …

Si: You see a chance to understand emotions and you go completely gaga.

Ti: … Gaga?

Ne, Si and Fe: (Nod)

Ti: (Looks at Fluff) Help…

Ne: Okay. (Takes Fluff and strews it all over the place) Look. That’s not so bad, is it? Now let’s take a portion of this and give to someone else. If it works out we’ll take it from there. Si, you have some good phrases memorized, yeah? Some self-deprecating jokes?

Si: Absolutely. I have a whole library.

Ne: And you, Fe, you can check so it doesn’t come off as too crazy or offensive?

Fe: I’ll try.

Ne: Alright. Ti, you can go rest for a while. Let the rest of us deal with this. There must be someone out there who can tolerate this Stuff, yeah?

Fe: I never lose hope.

Ti: (Pours a scotch with trembling hands) Si, you want to watch Wire in the Blood later and analyse face journeys?

Si: You betcha.

 

Perfection

For stationary addicts, perfection can be confused with an empty planner. The pristine page – symbolising a whole, untouched year – is so daunting that you hesitate to put a blot on it, because what if you ruin it?

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Well. I propose another way to look at perfection. And obviously I’m operating from the assumption that there is such a thing as perfection, even though I know that can be debated. But we’ve all experienced something we felt was perfect – a day, a movie, a piece of music – but that perfection isn’t universal, or valid for everyone. It’s not an objective fact – it’s a subjective fact.

Which, you know… aren’t they all?

But let’s not go down that rabbit hole today. I’m just here to propose, on the third day of the western new year and the cusp of breaking all those resolutions, that perfection isn’t a new beginning. It’s what comes at the end of a messy process full of dead ends and mistakes. You don’t put pen to pristine paper and produce perfection from scratch. Nothing grows out of perfection – it’s perfection that does the growing: it’s the end product, and it literally needs some shit to give it life.

Take a flowering apple tree: it didn’t spring into existence from a perfect void. It grew from dead leaves and dirt.

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So why do some of us view the emptiness of infinite promise as perfect, rather than the end product? Because we haven’t put our (imperfect) stamp on it. We haven’t ruined the thing with our less-than-stellar Stuff. We haven’t yet revealed our new 2019 life for what it is – “a mingled yarn, good and ill together” (All’s Well). Perhaps it feels messy and wrong to fill a pretty book with pain and confusion side by side with euphoria and hope.

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Is that the problem? That the book only seems pretty until you fill it with your ugly handwriting and your slightly non-noble thoughts? That the year looks promising until you’re a few days in and you realise you’re the same person you were in 2018, with the same insecurities and baggage?

Well, you can’t fix a shitty self image in a day. But maybe you can get somewhere in a year? Maybe it’s not in January we should judge ourselves, but in December? At the end of the year, when the planner is all filled out, maybe that’s when you’ll see the beauty of it. Maybe your ugly handwriting improves in hindsight, when every page is covered in the same illegible scrawls, making the whole thing a kind of abstract pattern.

And maybe a string of bad days can take on a new and beautiful meaning as you look back on them and realise that holy fuck, you actually survived that!

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Fernweh, homesickness, and the ever-elusive Here-and-Now

The Germans have some smashing words, Fernweh being one of them. Fern = far away, distant, and Weh = pain or woe. It means that you’re homesick for a place you haven’t necessarily been. Very Sturm und Drang.

I experience something similar, or in between, with England and Wales. Neither of them is my country, and yet… Gah. If Britain were a person, it would be “the one that got away”. It’s always there, like an evil siren, pretending to be something it’s not. Calling to me with memories whose silver nitrate sheen has nothing to do with truth. I know my image of the place is very different from the reality of living there, but there’s no accounting for childhood impressions. You feel what you feel.

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But I can also get homesick for the place I actually am. Filled with yearning for the present moment. When something is so overwhelmingly good in a banal sort of way, and yet impossible to handle or reach or know what to do with, because feelings are unwieldy beasts and my brain is too small for their limitless nature. How many times have I asked myself when I’ve actually been in England or Wales, “How do you wrap a whole country in your arms? How do you hug this sceptered fucking isle?” And the answer, of course, is that you don’t. You can’t. A country is vast, and you are small. We’re not built for it.

Except… we are. Humans, for all their flaws, have one redeeming feature: artistic expression. Through this one divine spark, we can touch something like the truth.

Which brings me to this little gif. I know posting it borders on creepiness, since it depicts such vulnerability. But it’s also the perfect illustration for what I’m trying to say in this post. How do you embrace something that’s a thousand times bigger than you? The only way is through music, through writing, through art. You don’t try to hold it for longer than it takes you to play it, describe it, or paint it. You accept it, and let it wreak its havoc with you because really, there’s no alternative unless you want an ulcer. Life is a fleeting moment of euphoric dread. Those who feel it deeply can touch fingertips through the very best of us who have the gift to make it tangible.

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”Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?” (Much Ado About Nothing, 2.iii).

In this case it’s Sibelius who provokes the reaction, but for me it’s always Elgar. The man whose auditive paintbrush is dipped not in the darkness of a Finnish forest, but in the misty green of rolling English hills. Who somehow looked into my soul before I was born and wrote the music that described my homesickness for a place I can never call mine.

And they say INTPs are emotionless machines!

I’ve written a few songs myself that try to embrace the full scope of the heart-bursting present. Some of them about England, others about peope – and this is one of them: Next Year Jerusalem. The inspiration for it came from a group of students I taught French. I don’t think they ever knew the impression they made on me. How they were the reason I got up in the morning.

Because INTPs are good at pretending to be emotionless machines…

Next year Jerusalem
we will not die
’til we’re through with life
Here on the other side
skies are bright
and breathing light

Sweet Jesus
I never thought I’d see the day
Sweet baby
you have saved me

This is where we ended up
This is where we’ll drain the cup
This the fountain of youth
Maybe we were meant to be
Straying in the wrong alley
only to see
that we are essentially free

Next year Jerusalem
we have time
even though we’re dying
We’re on the road today
here we’ll stay
’til we’re ta’en away

Somehow we found
water from the holy land
flowing like wine
through the desert sand

This is where we ended up…

Nostalgic ramblings

“And I don’t recall how I became the one I used to be…” (IQ, Frequency)

Today I’ve been distracted. Pulled back by memories and earlier versions of myself. I sometimes miss younger incarnations of this person I play, Ingelas that knew how the world worked and what was True. I’d like to blame the dissertation for “sucking every shred of fun out of me” (to quote a friend), but it happened way before that: the disillusionment with dogma – which is a good thing, surely?

But somehow it used to be so simple. I watched an interview this morning with a person from a lost world (lost to me), and he was so eloquent and serious and convinced – of things I used to be convinced of too. And I miss it.

Genuinely?

I don’t know. If I came back in contact with it, I might rebel again. Dismiss them all for snobs. But it used to be me, and it’s like when you smell a pastry from your childhood – you can’t handle it in a rational way. You’re seduced. I’m seduced. And I want to press my nose to the window once again and almost belong.

This is all pretty abstract, I know, but it’s hard to explain the background. I’ll let an old song speak for me instead – one that, in hindsight, is strangely fitting.

There’s a window
in this town
No lamp, no Christmas candles
can compete
And I am a house
that implodes

And she still
has white nails
’cause she still
is a saint
But I know
I am wrong

My living room
smells of death
I know I should have buried you
months ago
like I threw away those herbs
when you died

But I still hope for a breath
from that husk of yours
And I still believe there is
something you haven’t yet seen

But I know
I’m wrong


A world of stars

Chains of Being Cover

Time to make some noise about my latest book. Lo, an excerpt appears!

After trudging through the more touristy parts of SoHo, we finally reach the Aquarian, a pub that allows plus ones but is still moderately tasteful. When I get my card out and press it to the bouncer display, I feel Timon tense beside me, but the laser reads the card and makes a happy chirp: confirmation that I have the requisite aspects to frequent this particular pub.

I usually don’t reflect on it – I’m eligible to enter almost anywhere – but this time, with Timon at my side, I wonder: what is it about my chart that makes me such an attractive customer? And more importantly, what aspects would result in a beep and a red light?

Azods can’t get in anywhere on their own, of course, since they don’t even have a card. But there are also less obvious fences. Some places don’t want people with badly aspected Mars, since it’ll always result in a fight. Shops are wary of Neptune square Mercury and their potentially thieving ways. Even the university has taken to turning away students with Mercury retrograde in the first house. There are challenges, and then there are challenges. No need to put people through the wringer if they don’t have it in them.

“What are you having? Heineken?”

“Kilkenny,” Timon says, and I go to order for both of us. Sure, places like this might pride themselves on their open-mindedness, but there are limits, and the handling of money is one such limit. As the charted one, I’m responsible for my starless tag-along, and my right to bring him can be revoked at the slightest hint of trouble.

While I wait at the bar, I look around the room. It’s filled with the usual rabble of show-offs and hang-arounds. I don’t like the Aquarian. Half the people here are the type to tattoo their chart onto their necks or advertise their most attractive trait with a pendant. But I’ve promised Timon a drink, so the Aquarian it is.

The bartender gives me two overfull glasses and I walk over to the booth Timon has found, foam sliding down my hands. When he takes his glass, our fingers touch and I stiffen. I want to wipe it – because of the beer foam, nothing else – but now we’ve had skin contact, Timon will probably think I do it out of disgust.

My phone beeps and I automatically wipe my hand before reaching for it. Shit. The screen shows a notification from StraightDate. Putting the date into dating, the slogan announces. Cheesy, yes, but I work sixty hour weeks and don’t have the time to look for love the traditional way. I open the latest message to see a flirty smile.

“News?” Timon asks sweetly.

“It’s just this dating site I’m a member of.” I flash the screen at him to make sure he understands. A slow nod is his only comment, and I narrow my eyes. Is there an element of disbelief in there? Fumbling to put away my phone, I clear my throat. “Just so you know.”

Timon snorts. “Know what?”

I shoot him a glare. “What kind of people I date,” I bite out, regretting having notifications on that stupid app in the first place.

Timon gives a wan smile. “I have no problem with who you date.”

“That’s not what I…” I break off with a sigh that sounds too exasperated. “I’m just saying.”

“Well, this isn’t a date, so.”

“I know that.”

“Just… if you were worried.” Timon gives me a mischievous look, but before I can retort something clever, he changes gears. “So anyway, this study you’re conducting…” He takes a sip from his drink. “Were you on the cusp of a breakthrough or something?”

Jarred by the shift, I try to stall. “Why do you ask?”

Timon cocks his head. “It’s my job to know everything. What kind of scopiler would I be if I didn’t draw exaggerated conclusions from flimsy evidence?”

I give my beer a pointed look. “You’d make a great researcher.”

“Hah. Wouldn’t that be a sight to behold?”

I make a repentant face. Someone like Timon can never get into research, so perhaps joking about it is perceived as a taunt? I give him a searching look, but he doesn’t meet my gaze. Instead he studies the pearls of condensation running down his glass.

“Whoever killed the professor doesn’t want the study to go forward, right?” he muses.

I hesitate. “Uh… maybe.”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? Why else kill an old man who wouldn’t hurt a fly?”

“Well…”

“Which tells me the study was on the verge of a breakthrough, and someone knew. It also means you’re in danger.”

I take a deep swallow from my glass and put it back down too hard. The bang makes me sound angry, but I’m really not. I’m just… sick of it. Of everything. The world feels like an itchy sweater I can’t take off. I have a sudden urge to talk to Feona, even though I know I can’t confide in her. Emotional support isn’t her strong suit. Sure, she can pat a hand and offer advice she’s memorized from a book of quotations, but to actually listen and be there… that just isn’t her. Blame her Aries ascendant or Mars in the eighth house, but Feona Hollander is a doer, not a feeler.

Unlike Timon, who seems able to channel every emotion under the stars.

He’s drumming his fingers on the table now, deep in thought. “Maybe you should take a few sick days. Lie low for a while.”

Sudden anger surges in me. “I can’t let this psycho scare me into silence. I’m a searcher for truth. If I abandon my post, what’ll the world come to?”

Timon stares at me. Then he laughs. “Wow, Doctor Hammond. You do take yourself seriously.”

“And you don’t? What if you started guessing at crime scenes? Plucked theories out of thin air?”

“That’s kind of what I do, actually.”

“I don’t believe that.”

Timon shoots me a cheeky look. “Believe? I thought you were a ‘searcher for truth’. Aren’t you supposed to know?”

I roll my eyes. “Okay, one-nil to the starless.”

Timon falls quiet, mouth open for words that don’t come. Oh, wait… ‘starless’ isn’t a PC word anymore, is it? I seem to remember a columnist cautioning against it in some Sunday supplement or other. As I scrabble to take it back, Timon waves a dismissive hand.

“It’s, um… a bit difficult to keep up, you know?” I attempt to defend myself. “These terms change all the time, and…”

“It’s your job, though, isn’t it?” Timon’s dark eyes issue a blood-freezing challenge, and I swallow drily.

“That doesn’t mean…” I half-whisper, gesturing vaguely. “I mean… I fuck up. I’m so sorry.”

“You said.”

“Yeah, but…” But you’re obviously not forgiving me. I take a sip from my beer to avoid looking at him. Tension hangs heavy over the table, dissuading further conversation. Yeah, I’ve fucked up, but come on. Three months ago, that word was fine. Sure, I’m an ‘expert’, but not in the way Timon thinks. I don’t socialize with Azods, I only work with their blood. I’m in a lab, for stars’ sake. I don’t frequent websites devoted to Azod rights, I only read research papers and tables full of blood metal levels. Where would I even get the memo that ‘starless’ is no longer an okay word?

Not knowing what else to do, I take another gulp, but the beer tastes sour now. Timon looks sullen and unreachable. I want to explain, but it’ll only make things worse. Sighing, I prepare to empty my glass in silence. This was a crap idea to begin with. A doctor and an Azod, pretending at friends? It’s laughable. Bound to go wrong.

Intrigued? Find out what happens in Chains of Being at your favourite online store.

In a world of stars, #WhatsYourSign?

Doctor Hammond is the darling of the constellations. With a genius birth chart and a doctorate in Astrology, everything points to imminent academic stardom. But a danger lurks at the heart of Hammond’s research, and when Timon the Azod enters the stage, a collision is inescapable – because Timon is Hammond’s polar opposite. Navigating the world on intuition alone, he represents the chaos Hammond tries so hard to control. And in a society built on the zodiac, he’s the unthinkable: a man without a chart.

In another part of town, actor Sean Matthews prepares for the role of his life. Together with posh boy co-star Alastair Chesterton, he’s about to make television history. But when the show starts bleeding into reality, Sean has to face some difficult truths – about himself, about Alastair, about reality itself. In the clutches of a narrative that’s stronger than him, he’s faced with the ultimate choice: to play the part he’s been given, or to risk it all and go off script.

Set in a London close to our own, this story shows a world about to crumble – or be born again.