Over homework, I’d become enraged with my parents, my father in particular, as I’d sit at the kitchen table. “How do you spell XX?” I would ask. “Look it up,” he would reply in stride, continuing to put away dishes, not even glancing in my direction. @#&!%! As if he didn’t know! Off I would go to the dictionary (I remember not which, as at that time, I knew only of The Dictionary) to look up the word. This research repeated many evenings for most of my childhood. I was a stubborn child and continued to ask. He was a principled man and continued with the imperative.
These early moments of wonder (really of frustration first) formed a pattern, the methods surrounding wonder and pathways for answer-finding. They too led to a pattern of independence that was discernible, an algebra of self-reliance, that was easy to sense each time it started to emerge in other places.
Algebras of self-reliance
The lookup wasn’t simply about the word at all, it was the physical movement that was solely instigated by and completed by me. A formula that required me to be here, then there, then here again. The chemistry of stimulation.
I can’t help but mention Twyla Tharp, from whom I borrowed the title, on rituals of self-reliance:
My morning workout ritual is the most basic form of self-reliance; it reminds me that, when all else fails, I can at least depend on myself. It’s my algebra of self-reliance: I depend on my body in order to work, and I am more productive if my body is strong. My daily workout is a part of my preparation for work.
Preparation for work
Each morning, I run. The rule, among others, is that I must do it before the light hits Liberty Island a certain way. My own morning ritual isn’t about speed or pace or distance or stamina or iPods, but about rhythm and routine. A catalyst to convert the night to day. To convert energy to productivity, convert anxiety to activity, convert sweat to skirts. Consistency is what’s been valuable. Everyone has their own.
Moment by moment, the ritual then is our formula. Form it once. Shift it often, even. But use algebra again and again. Wonder will always be close behind.