- Nothing exposes limits of still photography like water patterns. Water does not look like its picture. Even videos, more faithful, fail to capture the experience, because when there is no central focus, such as on a distant scene, the eyes wander and see differently all the time. Sometimes refracting almost (but not quite) geometric patterns , sometimes ongoing glints of sunlight, sometimes resolution into tantalizing reflections.
- Gazing at a water surface seems a good metaphor for how I view my life. There also lies shifting focus, things appear one certainty, then another. Impossible to capture, impossible to remember exactly, and impossible to decode into Newtonian or mathematic schematics. Beautiful but frustrating, and, most important, impossible to truly know.
Go with quick flow, glide over tide
Inspect what reflects, gaze ranks of waves
Nothing is ever the same
See flowing seas, sight ripples bright,
Astound each rebound, stare into glare
Never exactly again
- Water views are disorienting when presented out of context. In real life a viewer is aware of looking down or out, of what is up or sideways, always peripherally focused by what surrounds the framed image. An isolated water view requires complicated investigation and intuitions. Even this pond’s calm reflecting surface is difficult to decipher. A photographer might claim a photograph such as this approaches the “modernity” of abstraction.
- When not confronted with survival-level challenges, too much leisure in hand, I become obsessed with transitory passions. I may, for example, deeply examine weeds or wildflowers or historic markers. People I know turn into connoisseurs of cooking or craft beer or social media. Such personal myopia bores other people. A saving grace is that each pursuit remains fluid enough that I may drop it in the blink of an eye to move on to something else.
Waves drift in endless lines, encountering other disturbances, bouncing and reflecting and picking up glints of sunlight. I try to make sense of it all, then fall into a reverie. “Hi Wayne,” brings me back to my body here on the dock. Oh, our neighbors Joe and Linda.
“Watcha up to,” asks Joe, staring where I had been looking. “I don’t see anything.”
“Just being hypnotized by ripples and reflections,” I answer, “doing nothing.”
“Ah,” he intones dramatically, enunciating slowly in a deep fake voice “You will now jump in the water …”
“If you were a wave,” I laugh, “I probably would.”
“It is beautiful here,” Linda murmurs. “Especially when the sun is setting over those trees.”
“Just looking at the surface activity is always wonderful to me,” I add. “Kind of an aid to mindless meditation.”
“So do you do this often?”
“Probably not often enough,” I admit. “Like everyone else, I always seem to have something more important to do. But when I force myself, this can seem just as critical to my thought balance.”
“Know what you mean,” Joe gestures to his boat. “When I’m out there fishing I can get into the same kind of trance. Refreshing.”
“Given the problems of the world,” muses Linda, “I suppose mindless is good.”
“I don’t know,” I reply. “Seems to me mindless is the cause of a lot of the problems of the world.”
“Well, we’re off to the deeper waters,” says Joe as they start down the gangplank. “Give us a minute to fire her up and we can add some big action to those waves of yours. No, no, don’t thank me now.”
“Have a great afternoon.” I turn back to the circles and flickers and darks and intimating patterns, lost in complexity and happy for it.
- Until the late Renaissance, artists hardly attempted the depiction of water. Rembrandt showed interesting spills from a goblet, but even Courbet and Homer painted waves that appear more like copies of photographs than reality. Canaletto’s intricate and beautiful wavery flecks around gondolas (this skiff as close as Huntington gets) are hardly what the grand canal looks like, but are accepted useful convention. Marvelous abstractions of Turner and the Impressionists are all but meaningless unless a viewer is already familiar with water, mist, and waves.
- We laugh at the schematic efforts of small children, who put a blue line on the bottom of their picture and draw their tree as a green lollipop with brown stick. Yet I see that way most of the time. A car is a box on wheels _ all I really need to know is if it is moving and in what direction. Houses are giant covered boxes with holes cut in. And, yes, most trees are lollipops. The world is so complex and fantastic and liquid that without use of schematics I would never be able to concentrate on what is required for my current task.
- Liquidity refers to how quickly we can turn assets into cash. Cash will let us buy a candy bar, video game, steak dinner, car, boat, milti-million-dollar house, or election, depending on our level of affluence. Liquidity determines how quickly and easily those purchases could be used to get something else.
- Fluidity is different. A gas is intangible, has no shape, and offers little resistance to anything. A solid will break your nose if you try to walk through it because it resists everything. A liquid, on the other hand, flows around and modifies, but still has presence and resistance to change. A fluid can be contained, but not grasped.
- American morality is oddly fluid. We claim to admire rock-solid values, never deviating, break-your-nose if you waver or flip-flop. Yet we profess a gaseous mantra of forgiveness and understanding. Adjectives applied to a more liquid morality are hardly admiring _ oily, sleazy, shifting. Contradictions pile up, and it must be so, because in fact all of any society is more fluid than static. Rigid societies crack under tension, and are unable to handle real changes in their environment.
- I suppose Karma comes as close as anything to the nature of our fluid interactions. What we do will bounce back, reflections will affect us, what we accomplish is less eternal than we think. Ripples in a small puddle. Yet without some anchor of moral certainty, however arbitrary, we drift queasily on unsettled waters.
- Mostly, fluidity is a concept of play, to let me try out different viewpoints, evoke unusual fantasies, make ridiculous judgements. A game, but possibly a very serious one. Meanwhile, I stare from the shore and let my mind flow as the waters, hopefully sparkling internally once in a while like the breaking foam.
- Three quarters of the surface of this globe is water, almost the entire human body is constructed of it. Although apparent solids remain the center of attention, liquids are the essence of being. Fluidity is not some cosmic fantasy of consciousness, but the essence of life itself. And even after that is acknowledged, for the most part all the liquid which is noticed is the mere skin, reflecting light, rippling along. The much more extensive lower internals are forgotten or ignored.
- Do I think of what lies beneath the surface? Not often. I am too concerned with the pretty baubles readily available to vision, to easy photographs. My thoughts are often limited to “is that fresh or salt?” unless there is an unusual tide or storm. And so it is with fluidity itself. That whole concept, with all its complexities, is a reason I distrust silicon “thinking” machines. I do not think artificial solid intelligence can ever mimic fluid intelligence, and I believe we should all spend more time considering the vast difference.
One thought on “Fluidities”
I love these fluidities. You see them with a painter's eye and a poet's mind. The phrase “….impossible to know” applies to everything we focus our gaze upon, doesn't it? Some would call this “mystery.”