Man. A word possibly derived from the name of the great progenitor Mannus, or that ancient word manus meaning “hand.” Within this two-fold possibility we can assume that a man is the work of their own hands.
This does not mean you need two whole and abled hands. This means that every choice you make and every action you take is building you into someone. Who that someone is will of course be influenced by people and circumstances beyond your control, but who that someone is begins and ends with you.
There is a persistent idea shared among people that the creator is revealed in the creation. On a smaller scale than understanding the universe in order to understand the divine, this idea is why we spend so much time analyzing the creative works of those we admire. It is also why we turn over in our minds again and again the words that others have spoken to us, and the things others have done in our presence, and sometimes — when feeling guilty or embarrassed — we obsessively recall our own words and deeds.
Play the Hand You’re Dealt
As a reader of this piece, it’s safe for me to assume you know that Hans Christian Andersen is a writer of fairy tales (some of which have been the focus of other articles I’ve written). What you might not know is that he preferred to think of himself as a poet and wanted to support himself as such. While fairy tale writing wasn’t by any means lucrative, it was more lucrative to him than any of his other writing, and so it was that he more and more chose it as his signature form of verse, writing in various introductions to his tales:
In a little land like ours, the poet is always poor; honor, therefore, is the golden bird he tries to grasp. Time will tell whether I can catch it by telling fairy tales.
Through the years I have tried to walk every radius, so to speak, in the circle of the fairy tale; therefore, quite often, if an idea or subject has occurred to me that would bring me back to a form I have already tried, I have either let it go or attempted to give it a different form.
Put Your Hand to the Plow
It may not have been his first choice, but he found a way to tease it into merging with his first choice and created an incredible body of work as a result. He even made use of the introductions to his books to reveal both the technical difficulties and inspiration behind the making of that work. Introductions which reveal only what he wanted to reveal.
Andersen knew the importance of presenting himself in a way that needed to be more humble than proud, more gracious than ungrateful, more conversational than defensive. You can feel the posturing in the introductions (more like apologetics) he wrote, but his stories are sharper. There are touches of cynicism in every instance of the privileged interacting with inspiration, like the Emperor — giving meaningless titles and medals to those who have momentarily pleased him — being told by a Nightingale (ever so gently) that such gifts are more burden than blessing.
He strove in his self-promotion as much as he did his posturing, and craved to find just one creative peer who could show him the ropes of supporting himself. Such searching required expensive travel (on his part or the part of his hoped for mentor), and put him in such a fervor that Charles Dickens thought his constant worrying about money unseemly and so — after just one visit — insisted on a long-distance relationship of mutual admiration.
Your Life In Your Hands
Today, we still have people and circumstances to navigate as we build a life that is wholly our own, something that catches a feather or two from the golden bird Honor. We build with what we have, adding on as we acquire new materials of every sort. Sometimes, we break apart what we have on hand to rearrange them into configurations more to our liking.
The results our not always ideal, but they are ours and they are real. Andersen looked to his life and stories shared among friends and everything he read and researched to write his stories. Those stories reflect the life he lived and the life he was attempting to build.
What do the stories you have to tell today say about who you are right now? What do you want those stories to tell and what will you do to change them?