Subject #01110

Tester: Here’s card

Subject: An

Tester: Okay, card

Subject: Mmm, I
see a cat face.

Tester: Here’s card

Subject: A coyote

Tester: Okay, here’s
card four…-

The audio recorder beeped as I paused the playback. The recording was from April 13th, in the midst of my Rorschach inkblot experiment on-campus at The Center. And yet, here I am, in August, still trudging through the material and profiling my subjects.

The one featured above is Subject #01110 (numbered in binary – it translates to subject fourteen), she was shy from the start. Around seven or eight if I had to bet money on her age. Golden hair, bright eyes, and a lot of animal sightings in her responses. I could tell when I started on her profile last night in the wee small hours that Subject 01110 has a loving, supportive home and she’s predominantly introverted, but chica doesn’t let it get in the way of her social experiences. A good kid. I liked this subject from the start.

I can get a personality profile done in 10 hours or so (if that sounds like a long time- it is), but something seems to be holding me back. Freezing my feet in a particular brand of symbolic cement that was best buddies with gravity in college, now paying back some absurd frat boy loyalty bit by remaining tight with him to this day. Friendship is grand and all that, I support the alliance between laws of nature and non-hydraulic binding substances, especially the metaphoric kind. Just not when they are the anchor to whatever Freudian subconscious malady is keeping me from bringing my beloved experiment to a close.

Maybe because I don’t have an emotional need for it anymore.

I created the Rorschach experiment because I was furious at my psychology class. No, not furious, I suppose I was just tired of talking and reciting more about psychology to the class than my teacher. Stuck in a classroom-sized cage, I wanted to be out in the field like my favorite psyche-gurus that I had been reading about for three years. So, solo, I spent two months planning and making my own inkblots (because some bafoon posted the real Rorschach inkblots on Wikipedia along with the “right” reponses for each blot) and then approached the main madame of the school, who would quickly show herself to be my greatest advocate and encouragement, showing faith in a scatter-brained 16-year old gripping her blazer and a manilla folder containing a month-long plot that, if accepted, would give me permission to a private classroom that would allow me to lock myself in with little children and examine their innermost thoughts by showing them splotches of ink and saying “Tell me everything you see!” (moo-hoo-hoo-ha-ha….ha.)

I will always feel gratitude towards that woman. More than once my mom had me in silent tears because of not only her dismissal, but her disapproval of the one thing that gave me such indescribable joy, and this main madame would see me come into the campus main building for one of my inkblot interviews and in an excited tone ask me how it was going and how proud she was. She would then call over to the barista in the cafe that I had ‘cooler privileges’ and anything from the tea/iced coffee fridge by the checkout I would get for free because of the long hours I had been putting in for my experiment. I thank God for her, because in that instant when she pulled me into her office and presented me with a chart showing when I could use my classroom (before I even gave her my plan explaining exactly what I was doing!) she showed faith in me that I never had for myself until that moment.

The only thing keeping me up now until the wee-small hours, listening to the innocent soprano intonations of Subject #01110, is the undeniable need to finish what I’ve started. And so I will.

Type to ya’ll next week,



Unanticipated Lessons

People watching

Image by dobrych via Flickr

All of us want to be understood.

I’ve been finishing up my beloved experiment the past month. Flipping through my notes and rereading how it all began in the pages of my little black leather notebook that has been so faithful to me. I’ve heard stories of experimenters learning things from their experiments that they never planned to, things that are not completely relevant to their research, but are still striking and noteworthy, things that stick with them for their entire lives. I have learned one of these things from my Rorschach experiment:

People, even if they do not realize it this instant, want to be understood with a profound fiber of their being.

After each inkblot exam I would go through my notes and Rorschach textbooks, and work out a profile using Rorschach’s methods of interpretation. After a profile was worked out, I would type up a transcript of the interview (typically video or audio recorded) and add that to the file, along with miniatures of each inkblot so they can see what I mean when I refer to a card number in their file. The typical reaction when given the manilla folder is often first amusement, and then clear curiosity as they flip it open and read the pages. And then, even if I see them a week later for the response of accuracy, they often become suddenly emotional. One point after another expressing the most accurate areas and sharing personal life stories with me, tears nearly filling their eyes. Because after so long, the words on the pages in that folder mean that they are understood.

“Wow, I can’t – I can’t believe this.” One girl said as she put a hand to her mouth and stared at the papers in disbelief, “I didn’t know anyone could see this about me.”

More often than not, I see things in their responses that I never intended to. Everything from inferiority complexes to indescribable capabilities for creativity and vision. I’ve seen the hidden pain and abilities of strangers, and I’ve seen their hearts suddenly jump to their sleeves when they realize I can see who they truly are, when they could hardly convince themselves.

The point of the inkblot experiment was to test the validity of the Rorschach, and point of the interviews and inkblot responses was to get basic elements of personality to compare against the MMPI for accuracy. The point was never to uncover the depth of grief, struggle, and self-doubt that I found in people I had been walking past every other day during the semester without a second thought. I now walk out my front door, see all of these human beings around me, and think with bitter realization how everyone is walking around with that pain, regret, hidden potential and ambition, with those dreams and shame and sadness and hope. I cannot look another human being in the eye without wanting to ask them to tell me their story and let me help them.

Our hearts ache with gratitude and relief when we are understood, truly understood, by anyone, even a stranger. Because something so inherent, something that feels unattainable, unreachable, impossible, is that the notorious veil would be ripped off, and a pure part of our hearts or dark part of our past is revealed, and we are finally seen, finally reached, finally understood.