My Random House Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language says that the first definition of “Perverse” is “willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired”. There are other meanings which are more negative, but I’m going to stick with the first definition for my purposes here. (By the way, I often cannot remember where in my brain I filed exactly the word I want, so, in addition to my dictionary, I often rely on my Roget’s International Thesaurus to find the word for me. A hand-written inscription in the front of the book tells me that my Grandmother Mitchell gave me the volume when I was 10 years old, never dreaming that I would be using it my whole life. Thanks, Grandmother!)
When I was a young teenager, I had a theory about perversity. I suspected that if I wanted one thing in my life to go really well, I would need to perversely sacrifice something else in order to make the desired thing happen. For example: while dressing for a piano recital, I would make sure that there was a little problem with my clothes, such as a run in my stockings hidden under my skirt, in order to try to create my own good luck for playing music in public. Other people’s mothers apparently warned them to put on nice underwear when they went out, in case they were in a traffic accident and had to be taken to the hospital. Well, my thinking was that if I wore underwear that was a bit torn, or had elastic wearing out in some part, that I could prevent the car accident in the first place. Eventually I confirmed that luck playing piano in public had a lot to do with amount and quality of practice on the instrument well in advance of the performance, and that avoiding a traffic accident had a lot to do with the attention I gave to driving and to observing what other drivers intended. But my friend, Perversity, appears by my side from time to time, even now.
Perversity is what drives me to think of and plan for the worst-case scenario, rather than trusting in what is more likely to happen, namely something that falls short of the worst. Perversity drives me to ask “Well, why not?”, when the answer is not evident to me, and she causes me to think of alternative ways to do things, just in case the alternative turns out to be better than the traditional, which occasionally happens. I’m quite sure that when I was younger, I was perverse just for the sake of being crabby, or to attempt to cover up a short-coming. Now I’m much more likely to be perverse out of pure curiosity at the outcome. I guess you could say that, in a way, I’m returning to the world of toddlerhood.
I think that Perversity can be good for the soul, if she is treated well and her dark side is kept on a leash. Perverse choices, such as choosing to live simply in this age of glut, can lead to ingenuity, which is definitely good for the mind and the soul. Refusing to believe something just because the crowd vows it to be true is quite perverse, but, accompanied by discernment, can lead to a liberated life. For those of us who tend to see things that need doing and to take on a lot of responsibility, perversely refusing to do one more needful thing can lead to rejuvenation.
Even God seems perverse to me at times. The story of God, who is a spirit everywhere at once and always, choosing to become one of us at the same time, in the person of a Jewish man in a backwater of the Roman Empire, is about as perverse as I can imagine. Power in weakness- now that’s just perverse.
In physics, there is the concept of the event horizon, a boundary in time-space beyond which we cannot hope to detect an event. I hear about these things in conjunction with black holes, the gravity of which is so strong that nothing, including light, can escape. Their event horizons from our perspective are the points of no return, when everything within is guaranteed to stay there. My little mosaic depicts a cousin of the event horizon. This is “The Perversity Horizon”, a landscape based on perverse combinations, and beyond which uncontrolled chaos rules. How ridiculous to embed delicate glass seed beads into coarse cement! How idiotic to color that cement with a dark plum pigment, matching nothing else in the landscape! How silly to combine rough stone with refined patterned glass! And, how absurd to make a limitless landscape on a board only one inch tall! But, I guess that’s what happens when one returns to toddlerhood and starts to defy the limits again.