The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Tananarive, Aristotle, and Me

We must no more ask whether the soul and body are one than ask whether the wax and the figure impressed on it are one.
- Aristotle  "De Anima"

The wonderful reproductive biologist Jack Cohen once told me that if modern translations of Aristotle had been available to Rene Descarte, the Cartesian “error” of the body/mind division would never have taken place.

That to Aristotle, the “soul” was the expression of function, as in “sight is the soul of the eye.”  To view “soul” as “natural or righteous function of an organ” is fascinating, and reveals an entirely new aspect to the concept of “Soulmate.”

What was “love” to this great thinker?   “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies,” he said.  (He may have been referring to more of what we call “friendship”, but the same idea applies.)  This then would be similar to the West African concept of “Num” which is “a single soul looking out through many eyes.”—The unity of mankind, or life itself.

In life, we would seem to begin with this essential “sameness” at birth, and perhaps to return to it in death.  But between those times, there is near-infinite variety of expression.  And relationships are much like keys and locks—people have to fit together to form a whole that can endure.
To this end, it is vital to “know yourself.”  To have either an instinctive or conscious knowledge of your values and emotions, goals and dreams, wants and needs.   From a world of billions, how else are you to determine who might fit your life?   Raw attraction fades.  Selecting solely for beauty or power leads to some of the most unsatisfying relationships imaginable.

What we want and need is someone who “gets us”—is similar enough to us to share those core values, but different enough to “fill in the gaps” in our own emotions and psychology.  Personally, I don’t want someone who is always “up” when I’m up or “down” when I’m down.    I’d rather have a slight mis-match there, so that if she is down, I am “up” and able to support and coax and nurture her back to emotional balance.  And vice versa.  Of course, if you’re NEVER in sync you don’t have much basis for relationship.  There is a balance.

The point here is that you must know yourself, must express yourself in words, actions, intonations, and so forth.  See the impact they are having in the world.  Adjust.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  To a huge degree, who we are is,  what we do, and the meaning of what we do is the effect it has on the world.   Every infant knows this: they act, they observe the effect their actions have, they adjust and act again.

If your “soul” is the function of your mind and organs and actions upon the world, and love is a single soul in two bodies, then a “soul mate” would be viewed as someone whose values, beliefs, emotions, and actions are in sufficient alignment that in their presence you become MORE of what you are rather than less. They take you move deeply into your own essence.

Tananarive does this for me.   She and I have similar commitments to teaching and writing, to health, to family.  But she approaches these things from a different direction.  I’m something of an ally cat, having pieced my psyche together from hundreds of different teachers and experienced, while she was nurtured by her family and community in a way I never dreamed of.

There are ways that I “lead” her, and others in which she “leads” me, forces me to think, to evaluate my approaches to life or writing or parenting or love itself.   She is different, but her life works, and in many ways works spectacularly well.   I cannot deny it when I see it in close-up on a daily basis.  I am watching, from Aristotle’s point of view, her “soul”—her expression of function.

I first saw her “soul” in her basic, honest expression of interest in my life and career when we first met.  Saw more in her interactions with fans and new friends.  More watching her dance, seeing her healthy animal expression—seeing that she had emotional permission to “tap into” that basic energy and allow it to express itself through her body.  And then when I heard her express her tactical path to getting Stephen King’s quote on “My Soul To Keep” I saw a vast number of separate steps aligning to create a specific effect.  I glimpsed the pattern: energy, talent, work, creativity, courage, artistic expression, physical grace and perception all combining to create an opportunity to operate in King’s circle, catch his attention and create an invitation to let him see her work. And if she hadn’t had the chops, hadn’t been ready, that created opportunity would have amounted to nothing.

In that moment, I saw her soul. Saw the creative little girl she had been, guided by a woman’s discipline and focus, creating opportunity.   Life doesn’t give you a single chance at the Gold Ring—there are many chances, perhaps endless chances, but you have to recognize them, be ready for them, and also be working your @#$$ off so that you don’t need them.

I saw her.    And recognized my own soul, in her body.  I was lost from that moment.

Know yourself.   Deeply.  Make no excuses for your failures, have no false modesty about your successes. Without this knowledge, you won’t recognize a kindred spirit, nor will you detect  predators or walking wounded wearing  masks.

How can you know your Soul Mate if you don’t know your Soul?


No comments: