Tags: Cosmopolitan, internet quizzes, Merrill Markoe, text book
Being a writer sometimes leads to unexpected situations. The one that happened today involved a text book requesting permission to reprint a piece that I wrote ten years ago.
This is not the first time. I am told that I have pieces in a few different English text books, though I have never actually seen one of them. Maybe its for the best. When I am writing a piece, usually I am trying to be funny and also trying to figure out who these people are that will or will not be entertained by reading it. But I can assure you that at no point do I ever envision put-upon pissed-off eighth graders rolling their eyes when they hear they are being forced to read my piece for homework, then raising their hands to grudgingly to ask if it will be on the test.
Though it is a pretty funny thought, I will admit.
Anyway…below is a piece I wrote in 2001. I was asked to address the topic of internet quizzes, which were already ubiquitous though not nearly as much as now. You cant look even briefly at a Facebook page without seeing three or four of them. That there is no mention of Facebook and also not a word about Justin Bieber makes the piece a little dated. But the reason I am reprinting it here is because of the test questions at the end. They are written by the text book that is printing the piece. Imagining a class answering those questions just strikes me as really funny. Really really really really funny.
If you don’t want to read the piece….just skip ahead to the questions at the end. If you want to take the test, I will give you a grade.
“WHO AM I?
Having spent a fair amount of time and money in therapy debating my every move with a licensed and theoretically caring professional, I was under the impression that I had a pretty good idea of what I was all about. At least until I started taking personality quizzes on the Internet. As any habitual reader of cheesy women’s magazines will tell you, this quiz taking business can be both time consuming and pointless in terms of gaining meaningful advice. But it can also be as utterly seductive as the horoscope pages. For about a minute and a half, the quiz glistens like a beacon of potential insight before you, offering answers to all the important questions in life. Five minutes later, awash in self loathing, you can’t even remember what it said or why you ever bought that magazine.
As it turns out, the internet is so full of this kind of self improvement quiz that it could be argued that the only thing that separates the Net from an average issue of Cosmo is that Cosmo offers only one quiz at a time. Also the Internet has fewer ads for panty liners.
I came to know of this one day when, quite by accident, I encountered a quiz at a handy site called QuizBox.com that promised to tell me how “attractive” I was. I guess I needed a little reassurance that day (with emphasis on the word little, because since the quiz couldn’t see me, how reassuring could it be?) Still, I willingly submitted to seemingly irrelevant questions like “Which city would you like to visit?” (I chose Paris over Tokyo because in the montage that was running in my imagination, I thought I looked more attractive in Paris). I also selected a peck over a big kiss on the first date as my first date kissing style because a rash of unappealing recent first dates was still fresh in my mind. This quiz didn’t specify whether the guy I was on this first date with had any sex appeal.
After my scores were tallied, the quiz passed judgment. It said, in no uncertain terms, that I needed to improve my personality. I also needed to be more optimistic and smile more. I could be attractive if I would just try harder, it sighed, sounding a lot like my mother. It didn’t think I was trying hard enough.
So there I was, alone in my house and suddenly a lot less attractive than I had been a few minutes earlier. But I wasn’t going to take this lying down. To recoup my losses, like a woman feverishly playing the slot machines, I continued to take more quizzes.
Instantly I was able to wrest myself from the jaws of low self esteem via the “What kind of personality do you have?” quiz. This time, when asked to answer the question “If you could wish for anything, what would it be?” I chose the option “Become a beauty queen.” Okay, yes, I know it’s a little shallow. But my health was already pretty good, and being clever was obviously getting me nowhere. Much to my delight, the quiz was favorably impressed. “People with your kind of character are few and far between” it informed me, “Everybody likes to be around people with your personality.”
Feeling a little more confident now, I went on taking more quizzes. Which is how I came to find out that every single thing I did defined my personality.
There was The Egg Test that revealed that because I eat fried eggs white part first, I am “logical, smart and inventive…though sometimes too cold and selfish.” That I only eat egg whites, period, didn’t seem to factor in one way or another.
Next by picking toilet stall No. 2 out of a drawing of three empty stalls (“The Toilet Test”) I learned I was “an efficient person” yet also “A romantic person” who can be “too hasty making decisions in love.” I guess it serves me right for being so cavalier about my toilet stall selections.
On “The Eating Test” I made the mistake of picking eggs and toast over cereal for breakfast while also admitting to sometimes skipping lunch entirely because of worry about my weight Now I had inadvertently show myself to be “jealous of people who are smarter and better looking”. A harsh evaluation, I felt, for someone with “my kind of character.”
This led me to “The Ultimate Personality Test” Three cups of coffee later (and still in my pajamas at one in the afternoon,) I was saddened to learn that I was a “Secret agent” who “Professionally likes to work in a cubicle and eat lunch at a desk.”
But my mood improved considerably once I clicked on the next test I could find and my choice of an abstract pattern from an assortment of designs offered me a complete reevaluation. Now, thank heavens, I was “dynamic, active, extroverted.” And “willing to accept certain risks and to make a strong commitment in exchange for interesting and varied work.”
So which was it? Was I a cubicle worker or a risk taker? Hoping to get off this emotional roller coaster, I wandered over to TheSpark.com where yet another personality test branded me “an accountant. Reserved. Meticulous. Dependable.” And this despite the fact that on the very same age “The Sexy Test” said I was 75 percent sexier than the average quiz taker! Because this puzzling new image of “sexy accountant” didn’t provide me with anything except an idea for a horrible new sitcom,, I took a deep,, cleansing breath and dived in to the elaborate “How others see you” quiz, where I emerged “extroverted, agreeable,but neurotic and not very conscientious.” I found this confusing because a quiz at a women’s financial site insisted that I was “thorough, meticulous and calm” only a few minutes later.
By the end of the day, I also learned that my taste in room décor is “middle class” (“What Class are you?”) despite the fact that my”Plant personality” is “woodland natural.” My “Workout personality” is 40% inspirational, 30% spontaneous and 30% analytical (sailing, training for a triathlon and softball recommended)” And my religious beliefs are Unitarian Universalitst, neopagan and Malayan Buddhist.
Although the Ayurvedic Foundation’s site tells me that I have a Pitta constitution, meaning I am “hot, sharp, liquid and oily”, an insurance company’s Longevity Quiz says that I will live to be ninety five.
So there it is: I am extroverted and reserved, passive and active, risk taking and afraid of change. I am also calm, neurotic, meticulous, dependable and not very conscientious. So what if my workout program of alternating the gym with swimming does not fit my personality? Who cares if I belong to a religion I have never heard of? All things considered, I have to say that it feels great to really get to know myself at last.
Merrill Markoe “Who Am I?” First published in ON: Time Digital Online Magazine. March 2001. Copyright 2001 by Merrill Markoe.
- Markoe claims that, with the help of a psychologist, she knew who she was until she began taking Internet quizzes. Is the reader to take this comment seriously? Why or why not?
- Why do you think the author was so interested in learning about herself through quizzes? How does she feel about the results?
- Have you ever taken an online quiz? Did you learn anything about yourself? Did you agree or disagree with the results?
Considering Writing Strategies
- Do you feel that Markoe’s description of Internet quizzes is fair and accurate? Why or why not?
- What analogy does Markoe make in paragraph five? What effect does her comparison have on you? What did you envision as you read the analogy?
- How do Markoe’s sarcastic remarks affect your understanding of the message she portrays? Use specific examples from the essay to support your answer.
SPECIAL MESSAGE TO THE STUDENTS OF HUMANITIES 11:
I am very flattered that your teacher included my silly essay in the curriculum of your class. I hope you guys enjoyed it.
But apparently part of the class work seems to be contacting me and asking me for advice on finding your identity. The first dozen times this happened I made an earnest attempt to answer . And I am afraid that now I believe that everything I can think of to offer on the topic is written somewhere in that initial bunch of replies.
Therefore I am inviting the rest of you to please look in the comments for questions asked by others who have taken this class before you . If there is anything to be gotten from asking my advice on this topic, you will probably find it there.
In closing, let me say that it takes a while to really find your identity. You guys are at the age where it starts, but there are plenty of people in their thirties who are still asking these same questions. Some parts of your identity are formed through experimentation, through trial and error. Pursue your interests and your passions, then follow up by learning as much about them as you can. The more you learn, the more complex and interesting a person you become. Next thing you know, you have an identity. And by the way, you’re not stuck with it. If it turns out you don’t like it, begin to take steps to change it. Don’t forget to turn yourself in to someone you wouldn’t mind hanging out with. Because after all, that is what you are going to be doing.
And with that, I am officially closed for questions on identity crisis for the time being. (Except in the event of an earth shattering emergency) ( And fingers crossed that if you are having one of those, you have someone you actually can meet with in person . ) Meanwhile, I wish you guys well. Sounds like an interesting class.