I wear my writer vest when I’m serious about writing and never at all serious about myself. It’s a dress-up exercise I play when I feel like a super hero in my own skin, and the vest is a cape I wear to remind me I am so much more than my day job. Sometimes when I wear my writer vest, I’ll stick a pen behind my ear, drink a pot of coffee at midnight or take a shot of whiskey at noon. But I hate whiskey. My palette is not that refined. And neither are my faux super hero activities.
But I’ll tell you what’s better than wearing the vest-cape, it is the lens through which I look at the world when sitting down to intentionally think about it. It is distinct with a multi-color, blinding set of fractals. A fractal is a mathematical set of self-similar patterns that are “the same from near as from far.” Thus, fractals may be exactly the same at every scale or they may be nearly all the same at different scales. Either way, a very intricate, detailed pattern is revealed and repeated over and over again no matter the way a person looks upon it. You can’t magnify it and uncover a new structure, pattern or code. It is what it already is. Nowhere it is differential. So what do mathematical fractals have to do with writing? Just about everything.
I spent all day yesterday reading The Shack, a book about God. It was very popular about five years ago (you may have even read it!), and though I am late to the festival, I thought God still might be handing out his fingerprints within the pages. So I reached out and read, bawling my eyes out along the way. It was here where I first learned of fractals. The Holy Spirit character in the book reveals that Life is composed of a tapestry of fractals. Something that is considered simple and orderly really has an underlying “chaotic’ pattern of infinite variations and forms. How magnificently complex and beautiful, to be woven together in such a seamingly purposeful way. I enjoyed this Holy Spirit character very much throughout the novel, and it is probably because I already feel very close to Holy Spirit in real life — most directly when I write, and try to see those fractals from various view points despite their repeating pattern. It is here, right here, when I pull at the strings in an effort to see just how and where everything is connected. Words are great bridges.
When I’m not wearing my writer’s vest, I tend to take off my fractal lenses as well. I try very hard not to, but it is so easy to see the man-made barriers between each of us: where we work, where we live, what kind of car we drive, the money in our bank accounts, our job titles. All of this (and there are a million more) shape the roles we play with each other (maybe not a super hero) and the definitions we assign (maybe just a writer). This is so disappointing. Because that is not at all how we were designed.
There is an antidote to all of this, however, and I’ve learned to do it quite well: ask questions. When I ask questions, I’m not just curious for the sake of discovering knowledge. I actually want to know who you are. Most importantly, what moves you, inspires you, changes you. That’s right, I’d like you to tell me about the Holy Spirit, even if you have no idea that is actually what I’m asking you. Small talk for me means going right for the jugular, where the pulse of your being is closest to your voice box. Of course, I know the magnitude of what I am asking, so figuring out way to be merciful and grateful is the only way the create a pillow of trust for which to lay our mutual vulnerability. I am not asking easy questions, ones I am able to ask others only because I have already asked myself. But this is how we were designed, I believe. To see ourselves for who we really are, and sometimes we need help and sometimes we need mirrors. A great conversation can do both.
Having said all of that, I recently had a conversation with a man in which I asked no questions. He caught me off guard as I was on my way out to lunch. But before I could leave he decided to authoritatively sit down at my desk. “Let me tell you a story. I want you to know who I am,” he said. Normally, if someone started off that way, I’d clear my entire schedule and listen away because I would be certain this would be most important thing I’d hear, hands down. But not that day. Not when I was in rare form and confused as to what really mattered. My heart was nowhere in this conversation, and I tried hard to bring myself back to the present, too distracted by my busyness and tangible priorities to be successful. As the man continued talking, my mind continued to wander, returning again and again to all of the things I had to get done. Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. “I really want you to know who I am,” he said again. At this, I returned to his eyes and smiled, nodding in acknowledgement that I had heard him, though I wondered if he could tell I had not actually been listening. I responded with some empty, universal statements that could be applied to any situation, most notably, “Hmm, yeah that’s interesting…” and that seemed to satisfy so the man continued talking about his story.
It was then I realized I had no idea where this story was going, why he was sharing it with and what he expected me to do now that he was unapologetically sharing. My stomach growled and I too became angry. I shifted my body in my chair, looked at my watched and sighed deeply–all deliberate signs that I was growing impatient and had places to be. The man didn’t notice, or if he did, chose to ignore it with a mouth full of patience, despite my pacing. Finally, I stood up and looked down at the man. “I’m sorry, this is a really great story but is there anything that I can do for you right now? Today? What do you need from me?”
“Oh, I don’t need anything from you, darling. I just really wanted you to know who I am. What I’m about.”
“Well, is it okay if we finish this another time? I have to run to a meeting,” I lied to his face.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Miss. I understand. We can talk more later.”
“Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks for stopping by,” I said and hurried out the door.
It occurred to me then, that the most striking thing about the confusing nature of the conversation, was the fact that he had declared himself to me three times. And all three times, I made a decision to ignore him, eventually turning my back in finality. He had never asked for anything from me in return, assuming that we would return to the conversation. We have not.
But neither has the rooster crowed.