Know thyself is an often cited quote. It was invented by the ancient Greeks, who carved it into the temple of Deplhi. Many books have been written about why the Greeks were so wise. It is speculated that it was because of the climate. Another, perhaps more convincing, theory is that it might be because of the fact that the elite had housewives and slaves which allowed them to spend their time to think and reflect.
I never understood how one acquires self-knowledge. Of course, there are the simple things. Like the fact that I need at least eight hours of sleep each night, whereas someone else might only need four.
But then there is the fact that I never sleep well after a journey. Everytime I drift away, I immediately wake up again. This continues throughout the night. It is only in the early hours of the morning that I manage to fall asleep. But it hasn’t always been like this. When I used to go on business trips, I always slept fine the first night but then hardly slept at all during the second one. What does this tell me about who I am?
My mother loved the comfort of her own home. My father, on the other hand, was always planning new adventures. If they had known themselves better, they might have been much happier. When they were old, however, they always stayed at home. Then my mother started asking him if they would go on holiday again, to which my father replied: it’s holiday everyday at our home. So who were they really?
These simple examples show how difficult it is to know yourself, given the fact that you change.
Have you ever been impulsive and regretted it badly?
When I was young, I had noticed that many children in my class wrote notes and secretly passed them on to their friends. This annoyed me, because no one ever wrote to me. One fine day I suddenly wrote a little note in yibberish to no one at all and threw it across the classroom. My teacher, however, saw me do this and picked the note up from the floor. She opened it and was very surprised to read my mysterious words. She told me I had to stay after class. When all the children had gone home, she yelled at me and demanded that I tell her what the message was that I had written. I told her that I had just made the words up. She did not believe me. She kept asking the same question over and over again, but there was nothing else for me to say. I couldn’t understand why my teacher couldn’t accept that it wasn’t a secret code, but just nonsense. When she grew tired of my stubborness, she harshly ordered me to go home and tell my parents about the incident. I was to report back the next morning about their response.
When I got home, my dad was playing chess with a friend. This did not seem a good time to tell him about what had happened. Nor did it seem a good time at any point that evening. Moreover, I was afraid that my parents would be astounded by my stupidity and would not understand at all.
The next morning I didn’t know what to do, except to go to school. How I wished I could have called in sick! When I announced to my teacher that I hadn’t told my parents, she threw her hands into the air. She was angry with me, but didn’t know what else to do with me. No further punishment followed, but she kept her suspicions. It wasn’t until weeks later that the matter seemed forgotten.
I was only ten years old.
How on earth do we develop our understanding of how the world works?
One of the mysteries that haunted me for a long time is where music comes from. When I sing a song, I simply repeat a melody that I heard somewhere (my mother loved to sing and as a kid at school we learned a lot of songs). But where does the melody come from? I didn’t realise that music was composed by someone. Of course, I had heard about composers, but how they worked or why they did it, was a mystery to me. It wasn’t until I took guitar lessons that I saw the sheet music and learned to read notes.
Another mystery is where the food in the store comes from. First of all, how do vegetables become vegetables? Why do they have to grow, and where are they grown? And why are there so many different species? No idea. Also, how did we know which ones are safe to eat and which not? Growing up, no one explained this to me and it didn’t occur to me to simply ask these questions.
As a daughter of a bookseller I had many books to read. And read I did! However, the idea that I myself could write a book was beyond me. Becoming a writer was unimaginable. One could become a doctor, a grocer, a farmer or a bookseller etcetera. One could become anything but a writer. Where would one begin? I might have written a poem, but in my mind that wasn’t nearly enough to become a writer.
In hindsight it seems funny to me that as children things aren’t properly explained to us when we need it, as grown-ups we’re often too busy with other things and by the time we are old it’s a changed world.
One fine morning, Mischa and I set out for a walk in the hills. We followed the meandering road, slowly going uphill. On our left hand we have a beautiful view over the houses and their back gardens, on our right side the giant trees rise above us. Suddenly I notice a pile of garden waste dumped beside the road. I am wondering how it ended up there, when silver glitters catch my eye. “Wait”, I shout to Mischa, “look what I found!” Together we decide to investigate. It seems like there are some silky seeds on long stems lying amidst the rubble. I want to get them, because I collect seeds to sow them in my garden in the hope that they will flourish. Everywhere I go, I sneakily take a bunch of seeds from people’s plants that I can easily reach from the pavement. Never before have I seen such amazing seeds as these. I am determined to take them home, but how to get them? The slope is really steep and we cannot descend safely. We decide to continue our walk and think about ways to collect them. It’s Mischa’s brilliant idea to use the long handed garden grubber. With a little “heigh ho” we walk up the hill once again. Of course, we forgot to mark the site so we argue about where it was exactly. Mischa is sure we’ve passed it already, but I insist that it must be farther away. And it is. I firmly hold Mischa’s hand, as she leans down to reach the stems. One by one she pulls them up. How happy I am! Little treasures to bring home. Walking back I didn’t yet know how much inspiration they would give me. Since then I have photographed them many times.
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