You may be wondering what the above picture has to do with identity and being adopted, you may even fear that this will be an entry entirely about cubing, rather than my usual musings about life’s twists and turns. Don’t worry. It shall all become clear. Or at least I hope so.
[By the way, if you are a ‘cuber’ and happen upon this post, what will follow are metaphors, so absolute minute accuracy isn’t what I’m aiming for. Feel free to refrain from correcting me on technicalities. ;) ].
Anyway, earlier today I decided to bring the above ‘props’ with me to my therapy session. But it wasn’t just for the fun of it, therapy isn’t fun and games; there was some thought behind it. As you may know I’ve recently had pneumonia, and being stuck in bed, I’ve consequently had even more time on my hands than I usually do, and this time has largely been spent solving my various cubes and Thinking About Things. [I find that the two go very naturally hand in hand.]
It started in an ordinary enough way, just randomly solving cube puzzles and thinking about which ones I like better. The regular 3x3x3 [commonly referred to as the “Rubik’s cube”] was a given, but the other puzzle that stood out for me was the funky one you can see in the picture above, the one with a hole in it; the Void cube. I then started thinking about why I liked that puzzle in particular and eventually came to realise that I in a somewhat odd way identify with it.
Now, to make the philosophy which is to follow make sense, I need to explain a little about the regular 3x3x3 cube. One of the keys to this cube is that the centres are fixed, meaning that no matter how much you mix it up, just by looking at the piece in the centre you will know what colour that side will be. Thus, if a side has an orange centre, that will always be the orange side, once the cube is solved.
Now, the Void cube has no centres, and so once it’s scrambled you have no way of knowing what colour any given side is going to be. In short, you are left to guess and hope for the best. And this is the reason why I feel I can relate to this cube.
You see, most people can look at themselves in the mirror and say “Oh, look! I’ve got brown eyes, just like my father” or “Those dimples definitely came from grandma.” Just like the centre square of the Rubik’s cube gives a clue as to why that specific side is a certain colour, you may be able to identify why you look the way you do. At least to some extent.
But, me, I was adopted, so just like the Void cube, I have no clues as to why I look the way I do. Of course, it’s not chance for me, any more than it is for anyone else; we all get our DNA from our parents, but because I don’t know who my birth parents were, I don’t know what they looked like, or in what ways I am similar – or indeed different – to them. I simply have nothing to go on. When I go to the doctor, and she asks “Have you got a family history of diabetes?” I usually joke that “Yes, my mother is diabetic, but that’s nothing to do with me!”, before I explain that my mum is diabetic, but I was adopted, and I simply don’t know what my biological background is.
Taking the cube metaphore one step further, something else that makes me more like the Void cube than the Rubik’s cube is this: if you were to take a Rubik’s cube apart, you would see that all the little pieces are supported by what is known as a core, and no matter how much you mix them up they always swivel around this core. As you can see in the picture above, all the centre pieces – the clues to what colours go where – are firmly attached to this core, hanging at the end of the different branches, much like pictures of family members on a family tree. This is again something, I – and the Void cube – lack. There is no central core, no known family tree to hang pictures on, nothing for all the other pieces to revolve around.
To compensate for this lack of an obvious central core, I had to develop a whole different strategy for holding my pieces together. Rather than relying on a central core to support the pieces that I am made up of, they are instead held together by one another. One might think that would make it prone to easily coming apart, but in fact, it is the exact opposite. Whereas a Rubik’s cube is both easy to take apart and put back together [because of that internal family tree], the pieces of the Void are tightly held together in a way that is very very hard to prise apart, almost as if it is defending against the possibility of falling to pieces, knowing that it will be a real challenge to put it back together again. And that is how I sometimes feel, too; there is a very real fear inside of me that were I to take a few pieces of myself out to look at, as helpful as that may be, there is always a risk that I mightn’t be able to put myself neatly back together again. And this can sometimes cause me to hold back in therapy.
Of course, with therapy and cubes alike, the main object isn’t to take it apart piece from piece, but rather to scramble it, so that you get to see things from a different angle, and can then look for a natural way to get the different pieces back into place; to temporarily mix things up, so that you ultimately get some sort of understanding of why they go together in the way they do.
But even when you just scramble the Void, you have no set starting point, and as a consequence it is that little bit harder to figure out, because if you make an incorrect assumption about those missing pieces at the centres, things simply won’t turn out the way you had expected; when you think you’ve done it, when you only have a few more pieces to go, you will discover that the side you though was meant to be orange, is really meant to be blue, and you’ll have to go back and try again.
Now, of course I know that people, myself included, are not cubes; it’s not as black and white [or orange and blue!] as that; there are people who can trace their family back hundreds of years, who are just as lost, and just as frightened as I am, of mixing things up. Whether we have a known family tree or not, the core of who we are is made up of much more than just that. And, of course, it isn’t just people who were adopted who have missing pieces and blind spots; everyone does. Also, whatever our internal structure looks like, there is something there that holds us together, despite those missing pieces.
And most importantly, for us humans there simply is no permanent ‘solved state’. We are forever scrambling and un-scrambling, and having to sometimes go back a few steps to in order to better understand something about ourselves, really isn’t such a bad thing. And although we often wish we could solve the puzzle really quickly, in reality, we have our whole lives to do it.
So, be kind to your Selves; get a Rubik’s cube.
.. or a Dayan..
.. or a Fangshi..