The INTP Book

There are very few novels I like because I find that fictional characters tend to be unbelievable, possessing dissonant traits that are contradictory to Myers-Briggs. Writers who don’t know about Myers-Briggs don’t know that you can’t simply choose any combination of personality traits and put them together in one person. Some authors try to make their characters complex to the point of psychological impossibility.

When_you_reach_meWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (which I’ve blogged about briefly before) is my favorite book, and I don’t say that lightly. This book is different. This book is all about INTPs. Despite the fact that it’s a children’s novel, I have never read a better fictional portrayal of INTPs.

There are several INTPs in the book, including a mysterious time traveler. The main character though, 12-year-old Miranda, is probably an INFP. I think of INFPs as “INTP Whisperers”. They make great friends for INTPs. They can understand INTPs well, and act as a translator between INTPs and others. They can be selfless champions of an INTP’s ideas, and can often identify an INTP’s emotional and relational needs better than INTPs themselves. They can also tolerate a lot of INTP eccentricities that deter other friendships, such as their lack of emotional preamble and tendency towards self-absorption. (The author has stated that Miranda is heavily modeled after herself. If Rebecca Stead is an INFP as I suspect, it’s very apt that a book about INTPs would be written by an INFP.)

Miranda becomes friends with an INTP boy named Marcus, and she does all of these things for him. At first she thinks he’s weird because he talks about advanced concepts in math and physics rather than typical 12-year-old stuff, and he doesn’t make small talk or seem to have any other friends. But then she comes to understand him. While she begins to protect Marcus in ways that he’s completely oblivious to, he teaches her how to solve the mystery of the time traveler.

Miranda spends a lot of time thinking about the nature of reality, using the metaphor of a veil. Everyone is born with an invisible veil separating them from the rest of the world, she says:

We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way.

But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there’s a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to. Some people learn to lift the veil themselves. Then they don’t have to depend on the wind anymore.

I’ve thought a lot about those veils. I wonder if, every once in awhile, someone is born without one. Someone who sees the big stuff all the time. Like maybe you [the time traveler].

I re-read this book whenever I’m feeling lost or overwhelmed; I’ve read it over a dozen times. It reminds me of who I am. I am not a stay-at-home mom, a person who does laundry and kisses boo-boos. I am not a homeowner or a wife. I am an INTP, a person without a veil. Most people have to work hard to lift their veil, but I have to work hard to create it.

The Sound Limit (or why I don’t like talking about my kid)

As an extremely introverted INTP, I feel like there are a limited number of words that can come out of my mouth each day, and a limited amount of sound that my ears can take in each day. After I reach those limits, I shut down. I don’t think those limits were ever really tested until I became the parent of a toddler. Boy, does she test them.

Not only does my daughter enjoy screaming at the top of her lungs for sport, she also narrates everything that she sees at all times and will repeat, “Mommy, that’s a yellow car! That’s a yellow car! Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, that’s a yellow car!” until I acknowledge the yellow car and begin an in-depth conversation about it. The amount of talking I have to do per day is mind-blowing, because I have to repeat everything at least five times before my daughter will acknowledge it. I also spend a lot of words talking about her and discussing parenting issues with my husband, which decreases the reservoir of words that I have left for discussing things that actually engage my mind.

When I take my daughter to playgroups with other kids, I can’t bear the conversations that go on between the other moms. They center around all of my least favorite topics: baby sleep, toddler feeding, kids clothes, cute things kids do, cooking, crafting, home renovations, etc. I don’t feel the need to talk about my daughter’s cute antics with anyone but my husband, and I don’t like to talk about her sleep and feeding issues even with him because I think they’re boring. Unfortunately we have to do a lot of troubleshooting in those areas, so we talk about them out of necessity.

If I don’t even like spending my limited number of words per day talking about my own kid, you can bet I don’t want to spend my limited sound intake listening to someone else talk about their kids. And I like my house a lot less than I like my daughter, so why would I ever talk about it, much less want to hear about someone else’s house? There are times when I can tolerate small talk and even times when I can be reasonably engaged in it, but being a parent of a toddler is not one of those times. Obviously I don’t have much success making friends these days.

I recently started my own playgroup for parents who don’t talk about their kids. We get together for playdates and while our kids play, we talk about science, books, art, philosophy, anything that doesn’t involve parenting or “homemaking”. It’s a pretty small group, as you can imagine that the number of stay-at-home parents who prefer talking about intellectual topics to talking about their kids is rather small, but it has made a huge difference in my mood.

Other parents often give me weird looks when I show no interest in talking about kids, like I must not like my kid because I don’t want to talk about her. But it just seems redundant to talk about kids and parenting when I already spend every day living it. My daughter is awesome and the proof is right in front of me, so I’m not going to state the obvious. I love spending time with my family, and there’s nothing better than getting a hug from my daughter. I would just rather be talking about science while it happens. I have a finite number of words and an infinite number of things I want to talk about.