Personality type makes twists, turns during middle age

You should see my tomatoes.

My tomatoes will make you stop buying tomatoes at the grocery store, because you won’t be able to bear the disappointment of wannabe tomatoes compared with tomatoes off the vine out of my garden. Biting into them is like biting into a sunshine-and-love sandwich made personally by God in God’s Deli. It’s better than sex (or maybe I’m just getting old).

Now, there’s no particular economy in my growing tomatoes. They don’t really belong in the Mojave Desert, and to pull it off you have to remove the Mojave Desert and replace it with “Pete’s Dirt,” which basically is a bunch of really cool dirt gathered in bags from someplace else. It contains “worm castings and bat guano,” which means it contains animal doody. I’ve named the dirt after my friend Pete, who is to plants what St. Francis of Assisi was to animals.

Growing tomatoes has become a part of my spirituality. Let me explain.

C.G. Jung said that when a man reaches middle age, it is both predictable and beneficial for him to begin to develop a few activities and interests causing him to behave in diametric opposition to his given personality type. Meaning, he isn’t being phony and he’s not crazy and he will always have his given personality type; but, spontaneously, his soul begins to crave occasional forays into hobbies that introduce him to the other side of the universe. This adds to his balance, his depth, his solidity and wholeness.

My given personality type — based on Jung’s theory of type — is “extroverted intuition with feeling.” My life is spent in enthusiastic fascination with trying to figure out how to get the genie out of the bottle. Possibilities. High energy. Compulsive communicator. Dreamer. Act now, plan later.

Mostly people like my type. Mostly they will say I’m energizing, sometimes inspirational and certainly never boring. Mostly. But the honest ones will also tell you I regularly wear them out with my intensity and perseveration and the way my mind, left with nothing to do, will begin to eat itself.

I am Jung’s extroverted intuition with feeling type … except when I’m growing tomatoes. I don’t talk. I plan my garden. I precisely measure Miracle Grow fertilizer. Every morning begins with a contemplative stroll out to my garden. I caress the leaves, and inspect the plants for tomato hornworms (caterpillars). Woe to the creature should I find him munching my plants! He is immediately sentenced to death by 6-year-old. (I give him to my son Joseph.) Ha-HA!

… and when I’m lifting weights. Normally I’m Mr. Gregarious. But at the gym I don’t even make eye contact. I talk to virtually no one unless absolutely necessary, as in, “Uh, buddy, this steam room is coed and so not clothing optional.” I abide deep in my own body.

… and when I’m cooking. I love to cook. And I’m mercilessly accurate with tablespoons and measuring cups. I chop things exactly into the right sizes and shapes. I really don’t want your help, because I’ll just end up being critical about the way you’re doing it, which will hurt your feelings and you won’t want to have dinner with me.

… and when I’m writing, such as right now. When I’m lost in this muse, I am such a crappy father. I’m impatient, grouchy and entitled. Why oh why should I have to stop this joyful runaway train of creativity and answer a question about Pop-Tarts! Aaaaiiieeee!!

And then there is my choice in best friend.

My best friend is Paul. I was 8 years old and he was 7 the day I met him in the dirt field that would one day become a pecan orchard. If he dies tomorrow, I will have a fine life. An abundant life. But I will never have a best friend again.

The most important thing I can tell you about Paul? He stayed. Stayed with me. He’s still here. Through joys beyond counting and immaturities beyond imagining and laughter that has more than once laid us both on the floor clutching carpet and barely able to breathe. Through my stupidity and selfishness and thoughtlessness and arrogance and general sunzabitchedness. He stayed.

He’s a card-carrying introvert, and I know I regularly wear him out.

The Indigo Girls’ first pop hit was called “Closer to Fine.” The entire song turns out to be for me a manifesto of why my friendship with Paul makes me stupid rich:

“The best thing you’ve ever done for me

Is to help me take my life less seriously

It’s only life, after all.”

Steven Kalas’ columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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