“Everything brings about its own opposite”
That single idea pretty much sums up my mother's entire philosophy. I was about six or seven when I first heard it, and had no idea what the hell it could mean. But there was definitely something very special about that particular bit of knowledge and somehow that was communicated to me by the way she said it. I can't remember how I knew it was enormously real and significant to her, like a treasure. I just did.
I remember how much it bothered me though. How can you get anywhere if everything you head towards leaves you somewhere you didn't want to go? It seemed so unfair and irrational for the world to be this way. How could my mother drop a bomb like this so casually? I'm sure I didn't know about the word cryptic at that age, but I can still remember the resentment created by feeling short changed by all of her explanations. I could tell this bothered her more than me too. Sometimes I think my mother's greatest burden is that she knows so much more than she knows how to say.
She said it so often too, offered usually as an answer to some question I'd asked that most parents answered with god only knows. I did like her answer better than what essentially means don't bother asking because no one will ever know. And my interpretation of what it meant gradually took shape--it was a template that I could use to explain many things; like a NAND gate for the phenomenological.
I noticed the process at work almost everywhere I looked for it. From our perspective, we own our stuff and totally control it. But from our stuff's perspective, it owns us in more or less the same way. We'll do what we must to clean, maintain, house, protect, and utilize our stuff all on its terms. Likewise, and far more sobering to contemplate, with what we think we know. It seems to own us far more than we own it--it shapes the way we see things, what we'll choose to do, what will be interesting to us, all sorts of things. We are, in a very real way, the unwitting robots of whatever knowledge has taken up residence in our brains.
It is probably going to take many months or years of blogging to fully reveal the enormous impact those six words had on my life. That poem on the right was written in my late teens. But I didn't even see the connection when I wrote it. The meme had already buried itself so deeply in my consciousness that I didn't even notice the way it was organizing all the knowledge in my head. Or how it had drifted to accommodate everything I had learned. Today it's more like a loose sort of faith that most things really are deeply entangled with their opposites, and that looking for those relationships is usually a fruitful approach for understanding something well enough to model in your minds' eye. It is the most useful heuristic I know.
But there was something even more wonderful and beautiful hidden unstated in that screwball meme and reflected in everything my mother did. Its the premise that explanations for everything exist and merely need to be discovered or deduced. And that they are fully understandable and very worthy of trying to understand. It more or less forces you to be as objectively observant as you can be. It's a lot easier to have the courage to keep looking for something very hard to find if you're absolutely certain it must be there. Just ask the folks at CERN.
I started this essay hoping to explain how to leverage the utility of a mechanism that taxes the underground economy into a gentle selective pressure that leaves everyone more predisposed to find an attractive productive niche for themselves in society, but ended up only explaining how my mom's main meme made me. (They're probably opposites somehow!)
I guess I must think you're entitled to know a lot more about me if I'm expecting you to take such unusual suggestions seriously. Her name is Elliette by the way. Most people know of her from the dresses she designed and manufactured for many years mostly under the Miss Elliette label. A Google search produced 3,640 references. If you ever need either a tomato, or a picture of a tomato, she's the lady to ask.
After writing this, I asked her for some photos to put in it, and she balked out of modesty. Then, she sent me the photos above, pointing out how rare it is to have a single stem with sixteen roses all blooming simultaneously. Most of our ensuing conversation was about the flowers and tomatoes, and whether I could use the photo from the cover of her autobiography. I thought it better suited to a wikipedia entry about her company, which I plan to do when I get the facts and photos rounded up. Then yesterday someone else wrote about my mother in their blog. So I thought I should post this one now, rather than wait for a more typical photo of her since he's posted one.