• Posted: Jan 04, 2009 14:50:40
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Wandering nature is a thrilling endeavor. Wandering a city can be equally striking. The common denominator is that both experiences take us outside of ourselves, envelop us in acts of creation beyond what we might have imagined and often far outside the scope of our daily concerns. One problem for some is finding a way back.
A well crafted story can do something similar. It can take us outside of ourselves, envelop us in a world not our own, provide fresh insight. But then it does something a walk through nature or the city does not. It sets us down again inside the familiar. Getting lost is not a problem. The way out is as easy as closing the book or turning the channel.
Staying within the familiar is very important to some, less of a concern for others. Why the difference? The answer probably lies within the comfort or confidence the two groups have with respect to their abilities to find a way back to the familiar. The whole notion of identity is bound up in ideas of self and the self's relationship to its enveloping world. The familiar reconnects us to our identity. Without our identity, we are lost.
The whole process of maturing into an adult is centered on the task of developing a healthy and socially viable identity. Some of us achieve that objective with more success than others. Others have what we thought was our identity taken from us, perhaps because of a job loss, a divorce, the death of a loved one, or a sudden change of health. Is there a way back? Is there a way to get there in the first place?
Remember that question: what do you want to be when you grow up? It was and is an inept and disconcerting question for anyone with any sense of things because it implies both a static self and a static world, neither of which is the case. A more appropriate and encouragingly realistic question might be: what discipline are you interested in developing?
But, what is a discipline? It is a reliable way to connect self with the reliable workings of the world. Some people might know it as their craft, others as a profession or specialty, still others as their art or their sport. It is a set of tasks that require the accumulation of knowledge and skills to accomplish with reliable proficiency. Those of us who have acquired a discipline know it to be unalterably bound up with our identity. It is both who we are and what we do. When we are lost, we take up our discipline and we are not lost anymore.
A good way to find yourself should you lose what you thought was your identity, or to remake yourself should you be dissatisfied with your current identity, is to take up a new and possibly more satisfying discipline. Certainly not every choice of discipline will prove a comfortable fit, but when the right one is found there is no more reliably comfortable and affirming familiar to return to.
Wednesday, November 21st, 1990