The Inlooker’s Lament
I was born and raised with no religion except the religion of no religion — that is, a kind of politically-progressive Marxist-Atheism, but I’m not particularly a Marxist, and I’m not particularly an Atheist, and while I consider myself politically progressive, I’m . . . oh hell, I don’t know what I am.
With no ready-made answers, I struggle to establish a sense of order. I munch down popular science because I love learning how things work logistically. Language is my bread and butter, the more precise the better, because not only are words fun and important, they, as language theorist Kenneth Burke says, define our reality. Then there’s the sweet candy of psychology, in all its permutations. I know he’s sexist, dated, and out of fashion, but I love me a good dose of Freud.
My emotional junk food is categorizing myself the Pop Psychology way. According to the Enneagram, I’m a 4 (the “artist”) with a 3 (the “achiever”) wing; according to Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFJ — an Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling Judger. According to all those cool quizzes on Facebook, my color is Red, my vegetable is Asparagus, my celebrity is Julia Roberts, and if I were a shoe, I’d be a pair of Athletic Shoes. I’m a Right-Brained Metal Libra Rat.
Combine all this knowledge with my age (47), my height (short), my race (Jewish-American), my blood type (B Negative), my coast (West) and you should know exactly what I’m like, what I’ll buy, how I respond to stress, what kind of work teammate I would make, and whether you should hire me as an EMT. Or as a file clerk. Or whatever.
More so, I can know these things.
In the spirit of it, I’ve even come up with my own measurement scale: Ericka’s LOOK Determination. Try it.
Are you a Looker, an Onlooker, an Inlooker, or an Outlooker? Choose one of the Four Looks:
Looker: “She’s a real looker.” Doesn’t mean she looks at you, means you look at her. The Looker walks into a room and the room hushes; she strides into the crowd and the crowd parts.
Onlooker: The one at the side of the crowd. Not involved, maybe just an observer, maybe even a writer. This is the cool dude, the one in shades, skinny jeans, awesome boots, with a six-figure book contract, and a don’t-mess-with-me expression. “I’m not really involved. I’m not one of you.”
Inlooker: Your standard meditating Northern Californian who goes to an ashram in India. Your philosophy student, your therapy junkie, your Thoreau, perhaps. The Inlooker is self-involved (to put a negative spin on it), he’s evolved and serene (to spin it the other way). A.H. Almaas, originator of the Diamond Approach® to Self-Realization, suggests looking inward 80% and being engaged with the world 20%. At all times. This way, you can be a seeker on a mountain without the mountain. Daily life is your guru.
Outlooker: The seer, the prognosticator. Think Cassandra, Al Gore, Faith Popcorn. The Outlooker bravely sees the world large, crunches the trends, and stands as the alarm goose at the edge of the flock.
According to this system, there were times when I was a Looker. Rarely am I an Onlooker. I aspire to be an Outlooker. Right now, almost compulsively, I am an Inlooker.
The more out-of-control my life feels, my husband in chronic pain, my career in a self-imposed stall, my daughter a struggling teenager, my therapist in India, my old friend Depression camping out in my living room, the more I’m online doing stupid quizzes. “Tell me who I am,” I demand of the universe. Without religion to answer, I only have Facebook: I am an Athletic Shoe. I am Red. I am Asparagus.
Would religion help? As a guilty secret (so many memories of my mom exclaiming, “She what? She believes in God?“), I’ve long envied those with the certainty and hope and answers of religious belief, even as I’ve scorned the seeming simplicity of all those tenets and rules. Do people with a stronger set of religious beliefs need to define themselves as much as us “Nothings” do?
Or maybe this urge towards classification has nothing to do with my lack of strong religious identity. Religion provides a sense of order in the world, yet so does knowing how to line up according to size to go in from recess in second grade at McKinley School in San Francisco. In second grade I knew who I was: the smallest kid at the front of the line.
When Annie was born and I entered the world of Mothering with a Capital M, the classifications continued: Is your child a Sleepy Baby or a Colicky Baby? Is she Vertical or Horizontal? Is she a Spirited Child? But I didn’t ask these questions much. I didn’t need to — Annie was so clearly thriving despite her tiny size and refusal to get anywhere near the Height and Weight Charts. Except for the lack of sleep issue (she didn’t sleep and I didn’t sleep), it was all pretty straightforward. I didn’t need surveys and scales to tell us who we were.
Perhaps I’m in the thick of a very quiet Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown (apologies to the Rolling Stones). Maybe it’s hormonal. Maybe it’s the time of life: a daughter approaching grown and my parents aging. I’m looking for something to sustain me in hard times. I have no religion and my family’s “dharma” has failed me, so I’ve started a daily meditation practice, but I’m a beginner, and it will probably be a while before its benefits kick in.
In the meantime, the world feels complicated and tragic and I keep looking for answers no matter where they come from: augury, astrology, the Internet. Long before Facebook and Quizilla, there were the quizzes in Seventeen and Redbook, and long before those, there was Linnaean taxonomy to give some sense of control in an out-of-control universe, to give us ways to identify and group ourselves.
So am I really the kind of person who needs an online quiz to tell me who I am? I don’t know, but I’m sure there’s an online quiz that will tell me.
6 replies on “The Inlooker’s Lament”
Oh, Ericka, that’s brilliant!
Maybe we all go through phases. Or contain them all like the four elements. I was an inlooker for so long that I started to bore myself, now I tend more toward onlookerism with outlooker aspirations. Meanwhile I’m developing a mean “look at me” tantrum. Perhaps we need to master them all before we can ascend.
Here’s looking at you, from across the abyss…
Ericka, as usual, a wonderful article that puts its finger right on the pulse of what is going on with 40-something women/mothers/wives/writers. I think you are a prognosticator along the same lines as Al Gore and certainly much better than Faith Popcorn, myself. I always completely understand where you are coming from and empathize with how you feel. This past year was a rough one for me, too. I also have been feeling the need to define myself more, and perhaps get back to worship out of a necessity, as a way to handle grief and frustration and stress. Blessings to you as you continue down this road. Know that you are not alone, there are many of us 47 year olds walking right behind you, myself included.
Oy, come for a hug!
You forgot me – the overlooker
Ericka, I am so with you here. I fit the 40-something woman/mother/wife/writer, INFP, Idealist (I don’t know my color or vegetable but I’ll get right on it!) struggling with meaning.
When my children were very young, meaning and purpose were fairly easy to come by, with or without religion. Now, as my children are older and more independent, I am left with a bit of an identity crisis. And more than a little guilt that I’ve given them a very small religious foundation on which to build.
I appreciate the honest telling of your story. It makes me feel a little better to know that I’m not the only one who doesn’t have it all figured out!
Very funny, touching piece!