In another month I will have been in Kunming for exactly one year. When I first arrived in the middle of March my hopes were high and I felt intensely alive in a way reminiscent of the sense of vivid excitement and promise I felt long ago when I was truly on my own for the first time, having chosen to move to Bellingham, a small coastal city not even a hundred miles due south from Vancouver, B.C. All the new sights of Bellingham, the bay with its small sailboats and occasional freighters; a downtown area and its collection of shops, cafés, and bars; the surrounding pine forests just outside the city; and the few people who came into my life all held at first a mysteriousness and novelty for a time, then which I would come to see slowly fade into familiarity.
Having lived in Bellingham for eighteen months, having found work in a print shop and after only nine months abandoning that same job when the feelings of artistry had reached a fever pitch within me, I finally returned to my hometown in a state of depression and resignation. My working-class life had barely gotten underway and I had willfully aborted it in favor of leisure on a pocket-change budget later augmented by an unemployment check each month. My most laudable intention was to study philosophy and literature on my own and later enroll in some courses at the state university just up the street from my rooming house, both of which I actually endeavored to do with seriousness and devotion.
Over the years since that time I gradually came to understand the compelling force of a mood, and how these varied states-of-mind can come to enclose a person within a specific character. And once that mood lifts, either slowly or abruptly, that outward character dissipates as well, only to be replaced by another similar to it. But this kind of sea-change in a person can leave others with an impression of eccentricity and peculiarity if the change happens to be striking enough, or if even if a less-pronounced psychological transition proves to be rapid enough.
Perhaps because we all perceive a stability in the appearance of an individual’s face and body, we also anticipate or expect this same kind of stability and predictability in a person’s character as well. One can further note here the stability of sound in a person’s voice, which in a very physical way is molded by the body—the size of the lungs and contour of the throat and the shape of the mouth and lips. The uniformity of the mere sound of a person’s speech readily lends itself to our expectation of the sense we have of a person’s character.
The human voice passes through a gradation of the emotions, it is true; but nonetheless does not change in any fundamental way apart from growing deeper and more husky over a period of years. Precisely this takes place most dramatically in a boy during the first throes of his adolescence, at the same time coincidentally when his personality begins to take on it’s specific character. So in some sense one can justifiably say that personality is a framework within which character is housed and grows.
The character of an individual shaped and informed by a demonstrative or extroverted personality is the most easily perceived by us for obvious reasons. The hide-a-bound character growing out of a reticent or introspective temperament by contrast is much more difficult to quickly grasp, far more elusive to our perceptions. Whereas the former likes to talk and socialize, the latter likes to think and reflect; and therefore a far greater subtlety is found in this second basic type of personality.
One might quite naturally and quickly assume that those men and women who, in adult life, can be found in the professions of journalism, education, science, the law, policy-making, or the arts were all in their more youthful years quiet, studious, and introspective. But this assumption is sorely mistaken.
The path of individual development can take any variety of turns, like the unpredictable branching of a tree. Perhaps during the seventeenth or eighteenth year of an individual possessed with social flare and an out-going character, a slow transformation begins to occur through which this sort learns to think and reflect and contemplate ideas. And on the other hand, the shy and introspective sort who has excelled academically but falls short in most social circles will gradually learn the hundreds of fashionable expressions, jokes and jibes already long known by their counterparts, and grow more adept and aggressive in using them.