My iPod’s wee foam earbuds don’t fit perfectly: the left bud is snug, but the right is a touch too tight. And this isn’t because the appliance is imperfect. My earphones are symmetrical, but I am not. I remember a time when this realization would have been cause for profound concern, because symmetry was just about all I had to rely on when I was a child–it seemed dependable as few things were. But time has given me an appreciation for the misaligned, the uneven, the drifted.
When I was a tyke symmetry was one of my primary diagnostic tools. I might use it to check whether the lump in the left side of my neck was on the right side too. Finding the lump’s twin meant that I was fine–I’d merely discovered another organ or some such. But a single lump was not a good sign. It was a rogue thing acting of its own volition, but most importantly, something that might spell the very end of order. Order without is like an oasis in the desert, but order within is essential during the formative years.
At least that’s what I focused on. The signs of asymmetry were all there if I chose to see them: a brown streak in my right thumbnail that lasted for several years, a mysterious scar high on my forehead that I discovered only as my hairline receded, the snap of bones in my left foot as I walked. Not to mention the Millennium Falcon. And eventually there came a time when I no longer needed the symmetry of my youth, and found value in imperfection. I even entertained the thought of actively exploring asymmetry for a time. I thought: What if I lifted weights only on one side of my body, and allowed the other side–as much as possible–to wither to lankiness? That would be like having two bodies at the same time. Multiple personalities incarnate.
Asymmetry isn’t truly something you have to seek to find however, especially as time goes by. Things do drift, until eventually it’s all you can do to maintain cohesion of form over the course of a day. In fact, occasionally I’ll awaken in the middle of the night and feel an odd pressure in my teeth. Having slept with my head at a certain angle, they have drifted just enough that I can feel them pressing against each other like tectonic plates. Then, in the mirror the single stark light deepens the creases in my face, particularly around the one eye I’m squinting to protect from the glare.
Maybe persistence, as we age, is something that can only be maintained consciously. Maybe the lines deepen when we smile because that’s when we forget ourselves, if for a moment. Maybe we shift toward something eventual only in our sleep because that’s when we forget who we are entirely. Should we awaken too suddenly perhaps we’d find our body parts gone nomadic, scattered like puzzle pieces, eyes in our chests and fingers down our spines.
If symmetry requires so much effort then, isn’t it merely fashion? Because if that’s the case then I have to think that crabs and flounders and Alfred E. Neuman are right, and maybe we’re just not living up to our potentials.