Behold, Beauty

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One of my guy friends in high school once developed a serious crush on a girl. I was puzzled about his fascination, because while I liked the girl in question, my eyes failed to behold the beauty that he had decided was there in volumes.

So, I asked him about it. Without hesitation but with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “I love women with crooked teeth.”

This is a view in vivid contrast to a world where Photoshopped models and oiled bodies have created certain standards of beauty that are completely unrealistic, creating ludicrous expectations that lead to low self-esteem and all the neuroses associated with self-hatred. Hawthorne warned us about this in his story, “The Birthmark,” in which a man finds a woman who is as close to perfection as she can get except for a birthmark that he considers her only flaw. The man comes up with a method for removing the unsightly birthmark and is able to behold his image of perfection a few precious seconds . . . before the woman dies.

Way to go, asshole.

I don’t know what is behind this quest for perfection in the human body, but it is one of the most ridiculous journeys humanity has ever taken. Trying to look your best for your honey is a nice thing to do (after all, they have to look at you all day), but trying to make yourself look like whatever empty-headed model or hot actor happens to be in vogue in order to attract someone misses the point of an intimate relationship. The point of an intimate relationship is to find someone who loves you for who you are, flaws and all.

The question of who defines perfection must also be considered. Different cultures have different perceptions of beauty. The dynamics of body-type attraction tell us that a person tends to pay more attention to certain body types while others fail to register. This creates a situation where anyone’s definition of beauty is going to be a product of cultural and personal biases.  

Frankly, my heterosexual tastes lean strongly in the direction of imperfection. When I’ve met women with perfect teeth and botoxed skin I feel a little frightened, like I’m looking at Data right before something has gone wacko in his core processor and he’s about to take over the Enterprise. I don’t care if a woman is plump or skinny; tall or short; blotchy, dark or fair; nearsighted or birthmarked. What I care about is whether or not we can trust each other enough to share our vulnerabilities, physical and emotional.

Once I dated a girl who had everything wrong with her. Poor eyesight. Osgood-Slaughter disease. A form of epilepsy that made her sleep for days. And to top it all off, whenever I came over to pick her up for a date, her father would always be sitting in a big black leather chair reading the biggest Bible I have ever seen.

We spent most of our dating life fucking each other’s brains out. Damn, she was good.

And guess what happened? She dumped me. I remember being blown away by it all and, in a moment of rare vulnerability with one of my buddies, I blurted out why I was so very, very upset.

“She was perfect.”

Image from Dreamstime.com

Truth and Beauty

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Some time ago I posted a quote from Robert F. Kennedy’s moving address at the University of Kansas:

“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile . . . “

Since he spoke those words in 1968, the situation has become worse. The phrase “intelligence of our public debate” and “integrity of our public officials” describe a political culture that vanished years ago. Great artists toil in obscurity as the publishing, film and art industries bring to market only what their marketing demographic studies predict will sell. Educational institutions find themselves marginalized by testing requirements and ill-equipped to deal with a generation that learns differently than what their educational dogma prescribes. Cynicism dominates; imagination is only worth something when it can be transformed into a marketable product or service. Beauty has been defined for us by the media, and the enhanced photographs of attractive models carry very little truth with them.

For some reason (bad genes, mental defect or good old-fashioned stupidity), I still value truth and beauty above all things. If I were to describe the driving force of my existence, it is this pursuit of truth and beauty. When I do find those qualities, whether in honestly-spoken words or in the eyes of a woman experiencing delight or in the sun illuminating the green leaves of  a shade tree in summer, I experience timelessness, awakening and joy.

I have found two things through this endless pursuit. The first is that Keats was right: truth and beauty are one. The second is that the pursuit of beauty and truth can be an alienating experience in a culture that values neither. People in our culture have become almost exclusively transactional, caring little about conversations that do not produce results. This is particularly true for those in our culture who work for a living and are simply too tired to bother with anything that smells of “deep.”

Though many of the people I know find it inconvenient, silly and a little bit weird, I can’t help myself. I will continue to seek truth and beauty regardless of what other people think. It makes me sad that there are so few people with whom I can connect on this subject, but those are the times we live in.

However, I do have to protest when people accuse me of being an idealist. I am not seeking an ideal, I am seeking beauty and truth without a preconceived definition of what it will look like when I find it. The surprise is an essential component in the power of its revelation. What I am constantly seeking is real, tangible and possesses that elusive quality of forever.

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

The Things That Matter

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“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile . . . ”

–Robert F. Kennedy

Poetry: Poppy

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We’ll take a break from The Numbers and share a poem or two. This particular poem was published in a lit mag by the name of Malevolence a few years back.

 

Poppy

 

While covering familiar ground on a luminous night,

I happened upon a poppy which had spun itself

Into a tight little roll to guard against

The influence of moon and stars.

 

And I stopped to consider this problem,

A problem of will and desire. But I found

No solution, and left myself wishing

That the poppy would spread its full beauty

And give passion to the night.

 

But it was not in the code. The next morning

I saw the poppy unraveled by the sun,

Predictably pleasing, in fulfillment of all expectation—

But much too obvious; the colors

Washed; the display uncomfortable.

 

And again I found myself wishing that somehow

The programming could be disrupted for one moment

And that the poppy would silently withdraw from the sun,

To wait in joyful anticipation of the thrill

In surrendering beauty to moonlight.