Below the Surface

They say only 10% of an iceberg floats on the surface of the ocean while 90% of that iceberg exists under the sea. They say the surface area of a tree’s root system below the earth can be three times the size of the crown far above.  

The enormity and the complexity of all that’s going on below the surface of sea and soil to keep the iceberg afloat and the tree upright are hard to comprehend, and at the same time are essential to the iceberg’s and the tree’s magnificence and survival.

It seems to me that just like the iceberg and the tree, we're reliant upon remarkably complex systems below our surfaces to hold us up, keep us balanced, keep us alive.  The anatomical aspects of ourselves are a marvel, but what I'm wondering at right now are the enormous and complex systems of emotions, values, impressions, beliefs, and desires below our surfaces that are essential to our magnificence and survival as individuals. And when it comes to imagining and writing characters for our stories, it’s what lies below the surface of our characters that is often the most difficult to decipher and express—and the most crucial to figure out.

An iceberg is made almost entirely of fresh water; as it melts, its center of gravity can change, causing it to roll over and settle in a new position with a new center of gravity. Even in winter, when the portion of a tree that’s above ground appears to be dead, the root system far below the soil is coursing with life and vitality, readying the sap to flow and the tree to bloom come spring.

What is it deep within our characters that keeps them buoyant? That keeps them brave in the face of disaster? That keeps them flexible in a hurricane? That keeps them afloat in a storm?  What is the complex root system or center of gravity that keeps our characters from toppling? And if that which our characters are up against becomes too great to withstand, what is it that suddenly becomes exposed, is unexpectedly revealed, that cries out for comfort or healing? And what happens if all that's exposed of our characters' undersides can’t be healed? To figure out the answers to these questions, we need look no farther than ourselves—delve below the surface to explore what it takes for us to withstand physical, emotional, and psychological storms; what it takes to right ourselves when we topple; what it takes for us to shift our centers of gravity or bloom again; what it takes for us to keep going even if we're thrown off our axis, even if our very roots are exposed. 

I’m inspired by the poetry of Marge Piercy in her “The seven of pentacles” (Circles on the Water): “Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground. / You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.” The more we’re willing to explore and trust what lies below the surface of our characters, the more resonant stories we will write. The more we’re willing to explore and trust what lies below the surface of ourselves, the more resonant lives we will live. 

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc