Stuck Sisters

Stuck by Elizabeth Wagele

The cover of the New York Times Magazine Sunday (5-29-11) is a poignant photograph of two smiling four-year old girls joined at the scalp. They share a thalamus so there’s no possibility of their being separated. Amazingly, it seems that what one sees or tastes is transmitted to the senses of the other. In some ways, they’re separate identical twins and in some ways they’re one person.

I saw this cover just before my birthday, today, when I turn the same age my father was when he died.

When I saw the photo of the twins in their twisted position, I immediately thought of my relationship to my sister, my only sibling, who’s three and a half years older than I am. I think of this scene often: our little beige bodies taking a bath together when I was 2 and she was 5, seen from a corner near the ceiling. I remember having argued about which of us got the faucet end of the bathtub, my mother scrubbing us and pulling us out to dry us off, and sweet soap smells. That scene must represent to me the innocent days of how I felt about her.

At that age, I idolized her. She and my parents were my whole world. But she was like a twin, one of me; they weren’t. I thought I knew her well, maybe like these joined twins know each other. We were made out of exactly the same stuff and our parents weren’t. Maybe it was narcissism on my part, but I preferred her. She did kid things and played with toys and they lived in the world of grownups, which I didn’t relate to at that age.

It began to slowly dawn on me in the next year or two that revering her as a wonderful sister, who could do everything I hoped I’d learn how to do, wasn’t anything like the way she felt about me. And after I finally accepted that she actually disliked me, I began to dislike her back. So we limped and crashed our ways through our childhoods and our adulthoods and after our parents died that was the end of it. Our twisted relationship ended in a kind of death.

The little joined girls, who sometimes refer to themselves as stuck, have an accepting family. The article about them said they’re closest to their positive and loving grandmother, who lives with them. They have supportive parents, other relatives, and a medical system as well.

I wish I knew what really happened in my family and what might have happened had my parents sought professional help for us. Was our sisterhood doomed before it began? Could it have been saved?

I’m happy that my two daughters grew up being fond of each other. All four of my children have good feelings about one another.

So today on my birthday I’m thinking of all of my family, all of my friends, and two little girls I don’t know. To the birthday messages waiting for me, I want to say Happy Birthday back.

My Glorious Annoyances

by EWagele

There’s a book going around about annoyances. I haven’t read it. But an annoyance happened to me this morning. Actually, some things really annoy me and some things that annoy other people don’t annoy me. I think the Observer type, me, is good at handling many things other people are annoyed by because we can look at life in a relatively objective way.

1. For example, when I had lunch at a restaurant in San Francisco with an Asserter friend of mine, she didn’t like the way the waiter treated her and she didn’t like the ingredients of the drink she was served. Being an Asserter, she wanted to teach the restaurant a lesson. Being an Observer, I had the attitude that nothing we did would change this old financial district restaurant that was used to catering to businessmen and had been making drinks the same way for forty years. I thought, what difference would reforming this place make in the large scheme of things? And to me, the service was just fine. So I was annoyed that my friend was annoyed, but on the other hand, I got to observe this bizarre interaction between server and served.

2. At 5:30 a.m. this morning my phone rang. I was completely asleep and I didn’t hear it.

Then I did. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Then it stopped. After that I couldn’t get back to sleep. Was it my daughter calling from Vienna, the way she did on 9-11-01 when she saw what was happening in New York on TV and called to tell us about it? A family emergency? Someone soliciting? No. Nothing like those.

I got up around 6:30, about an hour earlier than usual.

The phone message was a steady rhythm, maybe a washing machine, with a faint voice in the background, maybe a child. Okay, this has happened before. Probably a kid got hold of the parent’s cell phone and pressed a button that dialed our number. Maybe my friend’s kid in Hong Kong or a grandchild.

3. Presidential campaigns that last two years. I hate the money they cost and I hate the unintelligent way they’re done. They could accomplish just as much in three weeks.

4. I am annoyed by people who have TV or loud music going all the time and expect you to hold a conversation at the same time.

5. The head of the Japanese utilities company resigned in disgrace after withholding information about the earthquake and tsunami. It annoys me that those in the U.S. responsible for the financial mess we’re in have not voluntarily committed hari kari. I wonder what the regulators and bankers who messed up the real estate in our country think about what they did? Do they have any moral standards? Or do they say to themselves, “What can I get away with next?” Wouldn’t it make us all happy to see them resign in disgrace?

6. It annoys me that we aren’t marching in the streets to protest the increasing gulf between the rich and the poor. Unions are discouraged, minimum wages are discouraged, college students are going deeper in debt. This stuff is crazy, annoying, and then some. But the biggest annoyance is how complacent we all are. I liked it when we marched in the streets for our beliefs. Now we’re letting people get away with stuff. That’s scary.

Where True Self Meets Personality

Cover of The Happy Introvert

I changed the name of my blog on WordPress from The Career Within You to Enneagram… Exploring Your True Self a few months ago. I wanted it to represent all of my work instead of one book since the initial year’s promotion of the career book had passed. (The Happy Introvert is my one non-Enneagram book, though includes the Enneagram.)

The reason Enneagram… Exploring Your True Self is an interesting, perhaps controversial blog title is that some Enneagram enthusiasts believe the nine Enneagram types do not represent our true self, but stand for ways we cover up our true self with dreaded personalities or false selves. Our task is to find our authentic self, so the theory goes. And do we ever find it? What is it and where? And what am I now? Am I worth nothing until I have become enlightened by shedding my personality? How am I to reconcile having so much improving to do in the age of NOW?

I used to be a member of The Conversation, a forum magazine editor Jack Labanauskas got together on The Enneagram Monthly. Theologists, professors, writers like me, and others participated and tried to hash out questions like this. We never got closer to resolving this problem than people ever seem to get with the question of free will.

When I wrote The Enneagram of Parenting, I realized we have inborn styles of behavior. We express our true selves in a certain style and we act out habits we use as defenses in the same style. The styles of behavior we’re born with are in our DNA so they are true and natural. A person who has been consistently happy or grouchy or neat or messy or introverted from day one didn’t get that way by training.

One reason I was attracted to calling this blog Enneagram… Exploring Your True Self is that it shares part of the title of my introvert book: The Happy Introvert, a Wild and Crazy Guide for Celebrating Your True Self.

Do you know what your self is? Do you know what your personality is? When I feel anxious, I know that I am the least mySelf. I will act too smiley, too pleased, or too much the way others want me to act out of fear. When I am the most secure, especially when I’m alone or with one or two others I trust, I am the most myself. My behavior and my inner thoughts and feelings all match. I most know who I am at those times. Normally, even if I feel anxious, I don’t put on a big act that I’m someone I’m not. I can’t be out of my quiet space for very long no matter what. Pretense doesn’t sit well with me. When I’m uncomfortable, I’m likely to just be quiet.

Let me know what you think of your self and your personality. Is your self on an authentic/phony continuum? Is there a self/personality continuum or are they the same thing riding along parallel? Are your defenses the real you? What and/or where is the authentic you?