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Trading My Small Nuance for a Bigger One

I thought I could do nuance. I love the word. And there are so many other, quite necessary things I lack, so I was grateful that at least I had that, I had nuance. I fibrillate, I know the spaces between things, therefore I can appreciate nuance. But it turns out that my uncharacteristic confidence in this elusive, shimmering thing has led me down the garden path.

Now I have to add this to my very long list of things I need to fix about my personality. I thought my list was long because I was cripplingly self aware. Well not enough it seems, and I could sulk about that because it’s unnerving. This list hardly wants to be longer, its desperate focus is on becoming shorter, of checking some of the boxes.

Yes, I could sulk because it’s embarrassing, this claiming nuance as my own and then finding I’m not nuanced enough to handle it. I who triumphantly brandished it, bemoaning it’s lack out there, someone who practically saw herself as unofficially ‘here for nuance’, just as much as ‘for wonder’, realize that my capacity for nuance is sadly limited to what I can personally identify with and relate to.

Now I have to learn how to relate to the rest of the world, and its odd, and oddly gratifying, to realize that going on this unexpected detour may somehow end up checking some particularly stubborn items off my To Do list. Who would have thought.

Kind people, who like me, describe me as having virtually no skin between myself and the world. This means I am comparatively undefended against both sadness and joy. I have learnt to enjoy this permeability although it has to be navigated with a degree of elegance that is there on my To Do list and not checked off.

I rely on nuance to guide this skinless me. What it makes me is spontaneous, immediate, the canary in the mine, typically responding on the run not waiting until after . And sometimes the spontaneity leads to ecstasy and sometimes it falls flat or falls on someone’s head, or foot, and they don’t thank me for it.

So as I grow up I have to learn how to step into spaces I have no appetite for. I have to see the nuances in things where the bare outlines escape me.

I know how to work deftly with the things I know and love, even depths of sorrow or the abrupt change in light, from something illuminating and transparent to something draped and gloomy. I have this palette I am familiar with, that I understand, that I feel without thinking. I can see the unseen, feel the nuances. And then along comes different. I mean really different, and then I fall in love and marry it.

And now I have a whole lifetime where I must look at this other kind of wild, this mysterious unruly that presents like something blank and unassailable, like a wall and I must find my way in. I must grasp the nuance in life somewhat other than myself.

Why should I want to understand something I cannot relate to? These things I can’t relate to ought to be polite and go away. But these things I do not know are close to me and I want to know what lies behind this wall and how many other guises nuance has, how much more nuanced nuance is.

I want to broaden my nuance to understand the world beyond my world and that means I have to tackle my jealously guarded, highly prized prejudices even where they are cleverly disguised as something else.

I will have to leave my garden with the flowers I know, the hummingbirds that hover, the velvety striped bees and go next door. I don’t even know what’s next door. I like to entertain in my own garden. It’s a huge garden, everyone should be able to feel at home here. And I have made it especially so that everyone will feel welcome.

Over the big stone wall the sky glowers at me, it is a foreign sky and now it begs me to consider it has facets, subtleties, nuances that I cannot imagine and I have thought this imagination of mine formidable, enviable, certainly not limited.

I see that I have divided myself up into those things on my To Do list that are reprehensible, urgent and untenable and this other side with capacities for seeing and shaping and naming. I like the latter, have only just learnt to appreciate it’s presence, and I am deeply ashamed of the other. But this is me. Me, me, me. Me in the world. And then there is this whole other world filled with You. I long to know you, every one, but I am so hindered by my muddled me.

But if I think I can win a reprieve for good behavior, for brazen and painful self awareness, I have another think coming. There is nowhere to go but next door. I have to stretch my nuance, I have to turn my eyes inside out with seeing, I have to skin my heart and butterfly it wide open.

I have to understand there are so many different ways to be alive and I must let go of my personal little nuance and exchange it for a bigger more radical version of the thing. Nuance happens whenever you take the time to look beneath the surface.

I have to realize that if you have nuance and it only applies to what you know and understand and not beyond, then it isn’t really nuance, its a form of favoritism.

I have loved nuance but I have not really known her. I have applied her to myself and like minded people. I have not recognized nuance in the other, I mean the real other, other. I begin at home. Nuance opens my heart, grows my ability to love, stretches my understanding.

I had previously divided the world up into the certain and the uncertain. My like minded people are the uncertain, we are famously aware of the nuances that complicate every reality for better or worse. I always think it is for the better even if it gives us pause when action is urgent.

The certain have been an uncomfortable bunch to me. They appear to strike without thinking and their conviction gives them dangerous power to override those considering the nuances before acting.

But nuance exists below strident certainty too, even when it appears as it’s exact opposite. Nuance exists below the black and white of defunct paradigms and the apparent transparency of new enlightened paradigms. Nuance alludes to the mystery at the heart of things so it is closer to truth. Nuance is forgiving, it crumbles practiced ideologies and nurtures something more essential.

Right now I have to open up to see how it is for those who are ‘other’ than me and my lot. I begin at home. It requires breaking down walls and checking my most dear concepts and paradigms at the opening created by my intention. It is not some rational process that brings me to this realization. I arrive at this impasse, harassed, disheveled, and no longer able to deny the urgent need to trade in my small nuance for the big one that includes everything.


If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. 

George Eliot



I live in hazard and infinity. The cosmos stretches around me, meadow on meadow of galaxies, reach on reach of dark space, steppes of stars, oceanic darkness and light. There is no amenable god in it, no particular concern or particular mercy. Yet everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling of tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. And I comprehend that being is understanding that I must exist in hazard but that the whole is not in hazard. Seeing and knowing this is being conscious; accepting it is being human.

John Fowles, Aristos


“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

Arundhati Roy

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