It could hardly be one without the other
The Trickster. Everywhere I turn I run into him. Everything I read, whatever I see, wherever I look; he’s winking at me. I used to think I could read the world pretty well, but now I’m seeing things in a whole new way. I’ve had a paradigm shift…and while this isn’t the only place to be, and it isn’t necessarily “better” than any other place, this is where I am.
On my way to work one recent morning, I ruminated (I love this word – a Trickster reference bringing together appetite and thought) on the infinite ways to apply the “&” stance from Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s book Thanks for the Feedback (see post In My Reflection for more on this). My mind then jumped to how “AND” also allows us to engage thoughtfully with paradox. To use the example from the Trickster post, the signs and symbols are both meant just for me AND have nothing to do with me (See Trickster Makes this Road for more on this).
Suddenly, the little word “and” seemed to carry so much more meaning than the sum of it’s letters. In fact, it represents exactly where I am. According to Carl Jung, the subconscious operates in symbol. An image bubbled up from the deep; the Ampersand turned on it’s side. From such a perspective, it resembles the sign for infinity; “The Infinite AND” was born.
Engaging with the Subconscious
You may be thinking, OK, you just flipped the Ampersand on it’s side, what’s the big deal? I admit, i’m not going win any prizes for innovation here, but a closer study of this symbol and it’s meaning can reveal that there is something interesting going on here.
Part of the beauty of this symbol Is it’s simplicity. Yes, I merely turned an existing symbol on it’s side. Strangely enough, though, when I first show this symbol to people, they usually don’t even recognize the Ampersand. In that way, this new view on an old character is symbolic of the difference a mere change in perspective can make.
Further, on the left side of this symbol we can clearly see the “beginnings” of the infinity sign, but when we follow the lines to the right, instead of the two lines joining together to close the loop of infinity, we find another crossroads; an opening. The very same opening that ’AND’ often allows us to find. So, in a way, this character is a symbol of change – the opening that allows us to get out of a closed loop of thinking, being, etc. It is a symbol of opportunity and, at a deeper level, represents the opening to embrace paradox.
Another funny coincidence; the other mark commonly used for “and” in handwriting is a “+” which is visually reminiscent of a crossroads – the very place we can expect to find the Trickster. Sometimes this “cross” symbol is handwritten such that two of the perpendicular lines are connected (this is the way I write it) which suggests a boxy sort of infinity symbol that is, again, open on the opposite side.
For me, at the deepest level, this image represents the Trickster who governs the crossroads, opportunity, and (often) paradox. Incidentally the Trickster also governs “the lucky find” as this symbol was for me.
What’s in a Name?
According to Wikipedia the Ampersand was once considered a “letter” in it’s own right. Around the 1800’s students were required to recite their letters. After ’z’ the students would go on to distinguish “a” per se “a”, which meant “a by itself a” and referred to the use of “a” alone versus in a word (the same case is true for “I”).
Apparently, “&” was also recited in this way. “And per se and” to mean “and, by itself, and” – the thinking is that this got slurred over time to our modern day name, “Ampersand.” Ironically, if this etymology is true, then even the name of this ligature contains a bit of a fun paradox. “Ampersand” may literally translate to “And, by itself, and” – but (at least from a usage perspective) the purpose of “and” is to join things – so how can “and” ever be by itself?
Dreams AND Reality
Of course the Universe is always ready to step in and make sure I don’t get too full of myself. As I mentioned earlier, I found this symbol on my morning walk. The first blush of enthusiasm had not yet worn off by the time I got to work. So, when I got to my desk, I immediately opened Word and printed out the biggest Ampersand I could, filling the whole page. I then turned it sideways and hung it in my cube.
What I didn’t realize at the time, was that the printer printed out five more copies. Yep, five more copies of giant Ampersands sitting on the work printer. So the rest of the morning, I had to field questions about why I was printing out giant Ampersands. One such exchange went like this;
(Coworker walks to snack table which is located right by my cube and notices my newly hanging cube art)
Coworker: Oh! That was YOU printing out giant “and” signs. I thought the printer was malfunctioning.
Me: Yeah. No. That was me!
Coworker: What the heck are you printing out giant “and” signs for?
Me: Um… (Trying to determine if there’s any way i’m going to be able to condense exactly what happened that morning that resulted in the symbol -as well as the symbol’s significance to me- into a reasonable answer for an acquaintance-coworker. Nope!) ummm…. I find it inspiring.
Coworker: You find it inspiring. Ohhhhhh-K. (Coworker walks away shaking head).
I have to smile because this is an excellent example of how the Trickster operates. There’s nothing particularly magical about what happened here. Clearly, the last time I printed something form Word I had selected to print five copies of it and somehow the default setting stuck.
Nevermind that I don’t remember doing that or that whether or not Word would have saved that default depends on any number of uncertain variables; to try to make more out of the occurrence than it is misses the point. The point is – “pay attention or look like an idiot.” 🙂 A good reminder from the influence that leaves opportunities, traps, and lucky finds lying around. A good reminder and a good opportunity to smile and say “You got me” followed by “Thank You.”