The geometry of self.

September 8, 2012 § 12 Comments

I was terrible at algebra, but not so bad at geometry.

Geometry came with pictures.

Each geometric shape seemed to possess a personality, an attitude.

As I walked the neighborhood this morning, thinking about that most personal of possessions, the self, geometric shapes began to appear in my mind, each an illustration of a particular self.

Sometimes the self is a sphere. Round, fully inflated, it rolls along, self-contained and confident. The sphere, with its ability to move with little resistance, looks ambitious.

But take that sphere and apply the gravity of a life-changing situation and it becomes tear-shaped as it hurdles toward an inevitable smash landing. The free-fall can be thrilling or scary—but the self can’t help but be reshaped.

Sometimes the self is a pyramid. It sits stably on its base, stubborn and calm.  This is the mindset of holding firm, being hard to knock over. It can become the collective shape of a group such as the Civil Rights Movement. It is the shape of determination.

A cube is possible, but I go for the rhombus, a cube with an easy slouch. It’s cool. Although alert, this self views the world through half closed eyes. It sees the humor in a situation.

Then there is the point. When I was in the seventh grade  Mr. Lee shared the wonders of “new math.” It was easy to tell that he was as unconvinced as we were when he described a point as being both infinitely small and infinitely large, but with no measurable dimensions it could be either.

Sometimes the self is a point, for me, always immeasurably small, a sizzling nothing, but potent, like a spot of sunlight focused through a magnifying glass. That small, imploded self, is aware of nothing outside its own tiny jot of existence and is busy burning itself out. That self desperately needs to be distracted, tricked into expanding.

By simple addition points become lines. I imagine that the linear self enjoys a great sense of purpose going steadily in one direction. Like a dog with its head out a car window, the rush of wind and the roadside scenery going by fast must be exhilarating. My self is hardly ever that sure of where it’s going, or so committed to getting there that it takes the shortest route without detours.

My line is usually a scribble. Sometimes the scribble describes lazy loops, dancing a private waltz. Sometimes it is jagged and erratic, shaped by worry. I prefer the dance.

The rarest and worst state is when the self has no discernible shape at all. On very rare occasions I become too diffuse, scattered and feeble to feel that my self exists except as a collection of disparate thoughts and emotions that happen to be gathered in a single place.

Confined as it always is in the same vessel, climbing out of the same bed each morning, drinking the same brand of coffee, it seems that the self would have a constant, stable shape. But the self is always in flux, shape shifting, growing and shrinking, still or in motion, casting a colossal shadow or no shadow at all.

The shape my self takes depends on who I’m with, what I am trying to do, whether the sun is shining.

The self as a single, organized entity may be fiction.  The shape of self may be a creation of the moment, always in a state of becoming.

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