Reviews | Rorschach Test

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I have never taken a Rorschach test. Not clinically. I’m guessing neither have most of you, although you’re likely familiar with them. For those who aren’t, Rorschach tests, or inkblot tests, are mirrored, purposely ambiguous, splotches of ink spread across a page. While they most resemble the artwork of a creative toddler, they are instead a form of psychological test. The ambiguousness of the imagery supposedly allows the viewer to see whatever speaks to them and in so doing reveals elements of their subconcious they may not be aware of or might otherwise try to keep hidden.

In the above image, the most common response is to see a bat, or a butterfly, or a moth. But you might see something else entirely. You might see a wicked face laughing at you. You might see a dancer, mid pose. You might see an angel reaching for the sun. There are no wrong answers, only your answer. With your answer telling us more about you than it does about the image.

Hermann Rorschach, the namesake and creator, devised this test in his twenties while working at a psychiatric hospital in a remote part of Switzerland. You might consider that young to develop a psychological test that still has some sporadic use in clinics today, and you’d be right. However, inkblots had been a part of Rorschach’s life since he was a child. He had such a love of making images from inkblots–also known as klecksography–that his school friends called his Klek, or inkblot. It’s no real wonder then that when young Hermann looked out at the field of psychoanalysis what he saw he saw were inkblots.

While still a medical student, Rorschach showed inkblots to schoolchildren and analysed their responses as part of his dissertation. He then travelled, studying further, before settling in Herisau, the location of the psychiatric hospital where he would develop his now famous test. He designed the inkblots himself, his creativity coming from the fact that his father was an artist, with Hermann himself having previously grappled with the decision to move into art or science when leaving his schooling. He experimented with several hundred inkblot tests, differing colour and design, showing them all to the patients at the hospital. Early results were promising. The different responses to the the different blots were consistent among schizophrenics to manic-depressives, who both responded differently to the control group–people not diagnosed with any kind of mental disorder. It didn’t take long for Rorschach to reverse engineer his own findings and start to diagnose psychiatric illnesses and predict personality traits based on answers to the inkblot tests, claiming that he got it wrong less than 25 percent of the time.

After studying three hundred mental patients and one hundred controls Rorschach wrote the book that would eventually make him famous, Pschodiagnostik. In it he showed ten inkblots, carefully chosen for their diagnostic value. The first of which you’ve now seen. The book did not do well, attracting little attention from the people of the time and was described as “a densely written piece couched in dry, scientific terminology”. Those looking at his work didn’t see much of anything at all it turned out.

Rorschach would die unexpectedly a year later, due to a ruptured appendix.

It wouldn’t be until six years after that that his work would finally be published to some acclaim, after being purchased by the then newly founded Hans Huber publishing house, who still publish the Rorschach test to this day.

Since then it has been used millions and millions of times. For murder trials and custody battles, psychiatric diagnoses and university admissions and job applications. People’s lives have changed for better or worse, spun on a dime into a whole new direction, because of what they saw in a blot of ink.

I find the Rorschach test exceedingly interesting, if not overly scientific. I think the results are valid and illuminating and worth analysing, they’re just not as precise as other scientific methods, like say a blood test. But then I also don’t think that anything that tries to grasp the complexities of the human mind could be.

I wonder also what the difference a day makes when completing a Rorschach test. If I were to complete one on a day when everything had gone right would I see something different, and more positive, than on a day when everything had gone wrong?

While researching this topic I saw a comic that showed two people from different eras giving an answer to the same inkblot test. One, from our decade, saw a tree, while another from the 1960’s–when nuclear war was an occasional threat–saw a mushroom cloud. Meaning what we see is as much about the time we live in as it is about our subconscious. That the time period we live in forms who we are and how we think. If Hermann Rorschach had been born in a today’s era, apart from likely surviving his ruptured appendix, his patients might very well have seen smartphones or thumbs up emojis swimming inside his inkblots.

Which brings me to an example of a modern Rorschach test. The internet. I saw a post on twitter the other day–a joke, not a particularly funny one, but a joke nonetheless–and the comments that followed covered the entire emotional spectrum. Some people thought it was hilarious, others banal, and yet others still that it was the highest form of insult imaginable. Who was right? They all were. They all saw something different. They each read it in an entirely different way. And, I think, as with a traditional Rorschach test, the way in which they read it said more about them than it did about the original post.

The truth is everything is a Rorschach test, because every reaction and response we have to a stimulus, whatever it may be, tells us something about ourselves. Inkblots and the internet are perhaps just a less subtle form, one where we lower our efforts to mask the inner gremlin controlling us, and let out it to describe our innermost horrors. Except that’s not really how it works is it? What’s hidden away behind the veil of our subconscious may just be apathy, or a fear of rejection. It might be a concern over being forgotten, or dread at the possibility of failure. All these little insecurities inside of us, subtly controlling our actions and responses. Insecurities that we want to keep hidden away, unless it’s from behind the anonymous safety of a computer screen, of the unconscious reveal of a Rorschach test. But maybe they should be revealed. Maybe they should be uncovered and examined, and better yet, healed.

It was, it turns out, for this reason that Rorschach first designed his test.

Here is a quote taken from a letter Hermann Rorschach wrote to his sister when he was nineteen and had just made the decision to pursue medicine over art.

I never again want to read just books. I want to read people. The most interesting thing in nature is the human soul, and the greatest thing a person can do is heal souls. Sick souls.”

I have never taken a Rorschach test. Maybe I will.

Talk soon

Damian

Reviews | Painting A Big Red Door

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This is the first in a series of reviews. As I described in my last post, these reviews won’t be overly review-y. Instead I’ll be using “review” as a loosely fitting descriptor to allow me to talk about a thing. Let’s see if it works.

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In another life I was a painter. The life in question was this one, just thirteen years ago, but as our cells are constantly dying and regenerating (excepting our neurons) let’s call it another life, as that person was mostly another me. This painter’s life began after I finished high school and, as I really had no idea what to do next, had decided to take a gap year (I still wouldn’t know after that year, but we can review the difficulty of choosing a life path at the ignorant age of eighteen another time). I chose to get a job and save some money, failing to realise this endeavour would be difficult as I lived in a country town with limited job opportunities available, and had zero experience; my resume was basically just my name and phone number.

Luckily, a family friend by the name of Angelo–think an italian Michael Scott with a Mario mustache–knew I was looking for work and had decided to take me on. I say decided because that’s how it felt, like he had made the decision and so now I was his apprentice, whether I wanted to be or not. He was aggressive in his kindness, and I’m glad he was.

Angelo worked as a handyman, with two other people working under him; one a carpenter, one a plumber, but all of them completing a variety of tasks. A lot of the work he picked up usually entailed painting at some stage or other, and so that was the skill Angelo decided to train me in. It also just happened to be the skill that fit my personality perfectly.

Painting is not for everybody. I’ve had different people tell me they loathe it for a number of reasons. Some have said it takes too long, others that it’s boring, or too messy, and one person told me the smell of paint makes them nauseous. I love it. Painting requires patience and time. It demands a focus, a concentration of attention so that the coloured liquid you’re pushing around only goes where you want it to go, and not where gravity would prefer to take it. Because of this focus I find it meditative. Often when I paint it’s just me, and it’s quiet, or I have some music softly playing, and I have one job to do, which is to slowly and carefully move the brush or roller around the room until the whole thing is coated with a fresh start. At the end of it I get the very visual satisfaction of a job completed, the clear mind of a focused worker, and the warm and worn muscles that come with physical work.

Fast forward a few years and I am no longer a painter. I miss it, but have other things in my life now, such as writing and a wife. However, every once in awhile someone I know needs some painting done, at which point I often raise an eager hand.

Enter, the big red door. Or rather, the big grey door that I would then turn red.

I occasionally do some work for a writing studio run by a friend of mine, and so when he put the call out for a working bee for the studio I replied that I would dust off my painting gear and bring it along. The studio exists in an old heritage building in the heart of Fitzroy, and stands tall, with thick wooden doors, years old. The doors were the only part of the studio that required a fresh coat. The coat in question would be a warm red one, as the studio has recently rebranded and this particular shade of red was their primary colour. The rest of the building is a mix grey and white and so I knew the red would look outstanding with them as a backdrop. First though was the question of prep work.

Like any job done well, painting requires a healthy amount of prep work before the fun part, the painting, can begin. Cracks need to be filled, imperfections sanded away, and flaking paint removed. These doors had a lot of flaking paint. The previous owners of the building had given it a facelift before passing it along, including a fresh coat of white on the insides of the doors. They had also unfortunately used an acrylic paint over the top of an enamel one, hence all the flaking. Acrylic doesn’t stick well to enamel, and so using just a fingernail I was able to strip a line of the white from its underlying base. That’s not meant to happen. It would all need to go. I got to work with a scraper and sander and soon sheets, chips, and chalky dust flakes of dry white paint were raining down upon me. I would say it was like snow but I’ve never really seen snow fall, living in Australia as I do, so instead I’ll say it was like a big cloud of dandruff drifting down from the head of some dry scalped giant. So not overly pleasant.

It takes a while to remove a whole coat of paint from a surface, especially one that has panels and trowels like these doors did, but eventually I got the majority of it off, cleaned up as much of it as I could–the wind keen to make the job as hard as possible–and then, finally, I was ready to begin.

As always the process forced a focus that stilled my mind and narrowed my world down to a brush, a bucket, and the surface I’m painting. The first coat is always a little patchy, especially with such a rich colour like the red coating the underlying lighter grey, but it didn’t take long before you could see the new door emerging from the old. Passerbys eyed the doors, often offering positives opinions about it, my favourite of which was when one man described them as “inspirational”. I liked that. I liked that a solo act of improvement could have further reaching influence. That when we do something positive its effect could ripple outwards causing change and motivations we might never know about. While it might be weird that a man would describe a set of doors an inspirational, it was a description I could get behind.

The second coat went on and with it the new door presented itself in all its glory, a small point of colour in a street full of concrete greys and bitumen black.

The idea that these big now-red doors could be inspirational stuck in my mind, and so, when a week later, I was leading a writing night at the very same studio, I decide to use those doors as the inspiration for a small writing challenge. I asked the writers there to write a quick piece that featured the doors in any way they liked, ensuring only that it would be engaging and leave me wanting to read more.

The results were excellent and varied. One was haunting and dark, another used the doors to lead us into the realms of fantasy, another still placed them in a nearby suburb in a story that felt rich and real. Another story made us laugh out loud, its protagonist the doors themselves, and another rhymed with silly fun. Five new stories, out in the world. Off to create ripples of their own.

All of them now existing due to the painting of a big red door.

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Talk soon

Damian

January 18, 2019 | Reviews

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With the grand adventures of last years travels and my recent wedding sitting comfortably in the pleasant recesses of my memory/the past/the pages of this website, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to write about on the blog. Because, while this is ostensibly a journal, the truth is, minus a few exceptions here and there, my life is not that interesting. The big events of a three month trip across Europe and my wedding day are excellent fodder to keep a journal engaging, but I doubt I’ll get married again and I can not afford to consistently travel. Of course, the truth is, all life is interesting if looked at in the right way. But, while I could write about my day to day, and it might be interesting for a while, it would then get repetitive. Really repetitive. I am way too fond of a routine.

Instead I’ve come up with the idea to do reviews. About anything. A concept, an emotion, an object, a moment. Just something that’s crossed my path, worked its way into my head, and given me something to think about. I’ve also just lied to you, because the truth is that the idea is not really mine. I’m not so subtly ripping it off of John Green, the writer and you-tuber, who also has a podcast entitled The Anthropocene Reviewed. The podcast, which I highly recommend, is pretty much the idea I’ve just told you; although about more tangible things, specifically from within the Anthropocene time period, and intertwined with all the wonderful facts and research John Green is known for. It’s so good I wanted more of it, and so decided to emulate it in my own special way.

The reviews I’ll do doing will not be particularly helpful, by and large, but more a public way for me to figure out how I feel about a thing. I will not be giving a rating in my reviews, there will be no thumbs up or thumbs down, rather I’ll just be listing the pros and cons of any given thing, my thoughts about them, and any personal affiliations or connections I have with the subject being reviewed.

In other words I’ll be making it up as I go along.

But I think it’s a good format for me to write weekly in a way that will let me cover a range of different topics and avoid me repeating “this week I worked, did some writing, and went for a run”

Failing that, Holly and I will just have to get married again.

First one to come next Friday.

Talk soon

Damian

January 11, 2019

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On day two of this new year I was back at work and feeling pretty blue about it. I work three days per week from an atypical office I share with three other people. It is located in a pocket of Melbourne, just outside the CDB, populated with offices, apartment buildings, a couple of hospitals, and of course the university I work for. However it does also have some greenery, Melbourne’s good like that. There’s a rather large park down one of the major roads, perhaps two kilometers away, and a few smaller ones in opposite directions. And then there are the areas I think of as micro parks. Small patches of grass, wedged between dissecting back streets, hidden away behind the multistory behemoths. These tiny slices of land are mini oasis’s from the surrounding sea of traffic and enterprise, and it’s from one of these parks that I’m writing this now, its greenery making me feel less blue. Given the peace of this micro park it seemed like a good place to share some thoughts as we roll into the new year.  So let’s dig in.

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I use to look down upon new year’s resolutions, and new years as a celebration in general. It seemed arbitrary to my not-so-long-ago younger self. The parties never felt as fun as they should, resolutions can be made any day of the year, and it’s so close to Christmas; and you’re never going to be able to compete against Christmas when it comes to good ways to end off a year.

Now, I like New Years more. There are a number of reasons for this, but mostly it comes down to a matter of perspective.

I realised the mode of celebration was under my influence, and that I craved something more subdued and relaxed than an all out party, as that felt like a better was to step into a new year. This year, for example, started off great. I started it married. I started it on a beach with family watching illegal fireworks explode above us as the waves crashed gently against the shore. I started it with my wife sitting in front of me and a chest sore from laughing. We drank some spirits from the bottle, jokes flying between the five of us, played some good/bad music off of Holly’s phone, lay down on a too small blanket, looked up at the endless array of stars, and sang. While I did find sand in my hair the next morning it still seemed like if the rest of the year was an extension of that night, then 2019 would be just fine.

I also have my resolutions for the year, or goals as my brother Matthew prefers, as goals are changeable and adaptable, able to be altered to match whatever may come. The reason I have started this tradition is that while resolutions can be made any day of the year, while we can stop and evaluate our situations, decide upon changes we’d like to make then action them, we often don’t. New years works as a reminder that I have influence over my life, specifically my actions, and that if I want to make changes the first step is deciding on what they are. Even if I don’t want to make changes, it’s still good to stop and recognise that fact, appreciate the course I’m on and continue down it.

My four goals are much the same as last year, which boil down to Write more, Run more, Read more, and one new one, which is to pick up the guitar again and learn some new songs. All of these goals have definitive targets involved because I’ve found that’s what works best from me. They also have spreadsheets to track these targets because, again, that’s what works best for me. They’re also all goals I have control over. There’s no point me setting a goal like ‘get a story published’ because ultimately I can’t ensure that happens. I can write a story, find a publication to submit it to, and do the best job I can with the application, but that doesn’t mean I have any control over whether it gets published or not. Now, if my goal was to submit one story per week to a publication, then we have a tangible and achievable goal I have control over.

As for competing New Years against Christmas, then, yeah, no, New Years isn’t going to take that crown, at least not for me. But it’s not supposed to, they’re two different beasts, each with their own positives, and personally I’ve come to enjoy the contemplative aspect that New Years provides.

Whatever shape 2019 ends up taking I know I’m grateful to be living it, and hope that throughout the year I continue to look at the stars, laugh until my chest hurts, and sing bad songs. And, occasionally, find a quiet micro park to sit in, escape the world for a moment, and write down some words, much like these.

Talk soon,

Damian