Writing Challenge Ice, Water, Steam For this week’s writing challenge, take on the theme of H2O. What does it mean to be the same thing, in different forms?
Water is a miraculous compound, but I doubt it indulges in self-reflection. Like all things in nature, it simply IS. At this moment, crystalline bits of it are drifting very slowly past my window. Behind them is a dormant alder tree with its pine-cone like seed pods. On the ground is more water, crunchy, cold, broken, melted and recrystallized.
Identity — for water and for the self — exists in response to conditions in the external world. In the last 30 years the “idea” of an “external” world has been pushed aside in favor of subjectivism, the “personal” vision of reality. What this implies is that there is NOTHING but the self. As a result of the prevailing idea in the world in which I reached maturity, I worried a lot about who I am. It wasn’t until 1998 when I “met” Goethe, and read Italian Journey, that I understood that the varied iterations of our sacred fucking selves are — like water — defined by the conditions of our being. We ARE in relation to the world, the universe, each other. Our intrinsic nature is what it is, but not as unique and unexpected as we may like to believe. At the same time, it’s impossible for us — or anything in nature — to behave in opposition to our nature.
I am a creative person and, measurably, intelligent. Not my fault. An accident or result of genetics. I am also short. I have a droopy left eye-lid. My mom said, “All Kennedys have that. Look at JFK.” Well, this past summer I saw a photo of my paternal great-grandmother (not a Kennedy, a Mackay) and low and behold, there was my left eye looking out of her face, once more illustrating the fact that the truth might not be what we think it is. It’s not a Kennedy trait at all…
The way others perceive me is often quite different from who I really am. Over and over I’ve found myself standing up for my being; yes, I’m creative, but I’m not messy or disorganized or irresponsible. I am neat, organized and I meet (met 😉 ) deadlines. After a while I learned that much of who we are to other people is not us at all; it’s a projection of THEM. My intelligence doesn’t mean anything other than that and it has limits. I don’t feel — as some people do — that I need to prove anything to anyone. I’d rather get to know people than intimidate them, but there are a lot of smart people in this world who really like the game of intellectual domination.
So, if a person keeps their eyes open they can see themselves in life’s moments, especially in new and unfamiliar ones, they will learn a lot about the substance they are. This past week I spent with very good friends and found myself in a couple of situations that were not “usual” for me. One was returning to an environment I escaped when my mom died, proximity to a very intelligent and competitively facetious woman whose notion of conversation was to “win.” I felt myself backing into a corner where once, long ago, in order to “protect” myself, I would have played. I don’t play that any more. I don’t want to do that, be that. Later, I had the chance to change the rules to rules I feel are more valid than “winning.” I was able to offer a sincere compliment on something I was sure this woman both cared about and was insecure about. I watched her melt, turn human and relax, seeing there was no need to “win,” she was liberated. I know myself well enough NOW that I can choose the “iteration” of self that will act in a given situation — but choice is limited by who I am, fundamentally. That would be integrity which is part of every natural thing.
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote about this beautifully in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.” As a Jesuit, his perception of nature’s law is the word God. His point is that nothing in nature can act in opposition to itself and that is inexpressibly lovely.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame
Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844 – 1889
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Sometimes we have friends who see us as we are. I have several such friends (aren’t they the true friends?) One of them recently told me how he sees me. “…you are an artist, a mountain woman, an athlete, a friend.” Really that’s a perfect summary of who I hope I am, the person I want to be.