Improbable combinations of species have a history in many cultures as mythical hybrids—sometimes as gods, but just as often as monsters. Long past believing in griffins, the public still reacts strongly to “unnatural” combinations; the current GMO contention is a prime example.
Think of Shapero instead as a kind of poetic Louis C.K. — the misery is part of the act. Yes, you’re supposed to laugh: “All I have coming in this / world is a joke that hits me later.” And like the best stand-up comedy routines, her poems have solid opening hooks, a finely wrought structure, and a resonance, a truth, beyond what is directly expressed.
The act of keeping a diary has a long history, and a tangled relationship with subjective “truth.” Although diaries have long been associated with women, Margo Culley argues in the essay “I Look at Me: Self as Subject in the Diaries of American Women” that diary-writing was not a feminized form until the second half of the nineteenth century — with the era’s shifting notions of self, the private sphere, and inner life — and again in the feminist 60s and 70s.
This idea of narratives is key: in a sense, the Enneagram is just an organized and abstracted system of characters that already exist, in specific forms, in literature. And just like literature, it can give us ways to understand and mobilize our own stories and transformations; indeed, we can think of literature as a place where philosophies of personality are put into play.
For my last semester in college, in an effort to be practical, I signed up for a graduate humanities course called “How to Live.” On the first day, the professor discussed the syllabus at length, then asked us to introduce ourselves. The air had drained from the room, and as I waited for my turn I could already tell there was a problem.