The “chair-ness” of us

I love the notion of the Platonic Ideal. I don’t recall exactly when I heard the concept – probably in my Philosophy 101 classes in college – but it struck me with the weight of a 2×4 covered in goose down. A solid thwack with a side of oh.

“What makes a chair a chair and not a table?” When the professor asked the room, I’m certain we were all thinking he was high. Or at the very least that we were infinitely more intelligent than he. Honestly, who asks that kind of question?
He went on to explain and get us to think. Why is a chair a chair? Both a table and a chair have four legs. Both are often made of wood.
“A chair has a back you can lean in to,” someone called out.
“You use a table and a chair differently,” came another answer from the room.
As the discussion continued, we realized they weren’t all that different, though. A beanbag chair has no back, but we still consider it a chair. Some kids sit on top of tables. Especially in college. Some tables don’t have legs – what about a tree stump in a rustic setting? That could be used as a table, too. So what is it that makes a chair a chair? Is there some essential quality of a chair, every chair, that makes them chairs? No matter the individual design elements, we still recognize them as chairs, in some particular category of solid object that possesses some essence of “chair-ness.” And if you extrapolate that out to every object, is there some seminal essence that renders each of these things exactly what they are? Is there some quality of dog-ness, car-ness, cloud-ness for everything?
What about me?
I have spent a lot of time lately trying to define just who I am. Perhaps it has something to do with recently turning 40. Perhaps it is because I am finding myself at a bit of a crossroads as a writer trying to decide which project I move forward with (or not). How can I be the best me, the best version of Kari? I have to incorporate Mom-ness, wife-ness and writer-ness, all things that encompass multiple things within them. It is a process fraught with peril. I would have thought I had some definition of myself by now – know myself well enough to know what drives me, what is important to me, which things need to fall away – but it turns out I am not as close as I thought.
Some things have fallen away. I no longer define myself as a sexual abuse survivor or a child of divorce. Those things are part of who I am but like the tree whose trunk grows around the nail placed in it as a young sapling, I have formed a scar and incorporated them into myself.
So the question remains, what is the essence of me? At my core, what are the definable attributes that make me Kari and not Bubba or Eve or Lola? Or, on a larger scale, my mother? (Yes, that is a concept to wrestle with, too, as I age.) How am I different, unique, special and, yet, the same as these other humans near and around me? What is it that makes up my inner essential quality?
As I examine this notion, I am struck that it is not as frightening to ponder as I once thought it was. What ever these things are that make up my essence, they are immutable. Whether or not I ever discover them and am able to put a name to them, they will exist. Whether or not I can excavate them and polish them to a perfect shine does not really matter. Like the chair, even though I have a special “chair-ness” all my own, I am free to express it however I want. Like the chair, I can have four legs or three, or none at all. I can be plush and velvet or carved from a redwood. It does not change my essential Kari-ness and the fun is in playing with that, secure in the knowledge that I am me. No matter what.
8 replies
  1. Elisabeth
    Elisabeth says:

    Great to meet you, Kari. I'm here via Elizabeth's blog.Identity is a fascinating and vexed subject. I'm always trying to find mine. Great writing here and lovely to meet you.

  2. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I think there's great poetry in answering questions like "what makes a chair a chair." I go to poetry for answers to these — I think of Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams in particular.

  3. Dee Ready
    Dee Ready says:

    Dear Kari,
    How wonderful that you are exploring your "you-ness." That is, I think, the beginning of a great journey into past and present and future. It is the beginning of embracing yourself as one and only within the Oneness of All Creation.

    You say so well that you need "to incorporate Mom-ness, wife-ness and writer-ness." And I'd add that you need also to incorporate your "be-ness," that is your being a human being. Be-ness.


  4. Kelly @ Ahimsa Mama
    Kelly @ Ahimsa Mama says:

    You – Yes You! – have been awarded a Versatile Blogger Award!!! Congrats!

  5. Deb Shucka
    Deb Shucka says:

    A lovely reflective piece. I think it's the questions we ask that reveal our essence. And in the continuing to ask, our essence becomes more fully developed.


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