Camp is done.
Now I have time to write again.
I’ve been thinking about beauty–and have two things I wanted to mention here.
Something is beautiful when it cuts you in some essential or existential way. Things may be pretty or amusing or aesthetically pleasing in some manner, but, to be truly beautiful, they need have something more. Building off this is observation number…
1) The structure of beauty..the way the concept is made up in my mind… is very similar or at least analogous to how I perceive “happiness,” which is a serious business to me. As I’ve noted before–for me, happiness is not just amusement or fun–it’s a state of being that comes about by working on and achieving one’s life goals. In this way, happiness is not about just eating ice cream or getting presents–although those might be part of your happiness–but rather is a more expansive concept that can include many otherwise “not-fun” things such as chopping wood, or writing a paper, or getting the laundry done.
Happiness is a process for me.. and it is related to enduring and continuous work. It is not the same as pleasure–although the two can certainly overlap.
This kind of rich and textured idea of happiness strikes me as being similar to my conception of beauty. Beauty is not just about prettiness on the surface–but about something deeper. These deeper elements often contain aspects (pain) that one may not normally associate with more naive understandings of beauty, but which are truly necessary in order for one to grok what is really going on here.
Needless to say–for me–a life where one strives for happiness is often going to be one filled with the kind of painful beauty that is too often ignored or completely missed by a lot of our popular culture. In fact, I would argue that it is pretty unlikely that a life that is touched by existential and Aristotelian happiness–as I understand it–can actually exist without the kind of pain that makes some of our experiences truly beautiful.
It is at the point of experiencing the beautiful that my second main thought originates…
2) While we live in a world that often seems cluttered with the mundane, the deceitful, the pretty, but hollow, and/or the merely ordinary, I would like to argue that there is–in an important sense–an abundance of beauty in the world. To find this beauty, however, may require effort.
Let’s make this concrete.
Here is a poem by Octavio Paz that I find beautiful….
the fruit thieves
(monkeys, birds, and bats)
from the branches of the great tree.
its entrails in the air,
it is a huge overflowing cup
where the suns drink.
the plant encamps
on the void,
spins its vertigo
and within it grows tall and sways and spreads.
Years and years fall
in a straight line.
is a leap of water
frozen in its leap: petrified time.
sends out huge roots,
excavates damp galleries
where echoes flare up and die,
resolved in the stillness
of a sun carbonized each day.
Arms, ropes, rings,
of masts and cables, a sloop run aground.
the wandering roots
It is a bramble of hands.
They are not seeking earth: they seek a body,
weave into an embrace.
immures itself alive.
takes a hundred years to rot.
the bleached skull, the broken antlers of a deer.
Under a cape of leathery leaves,
a rippling that sings
from pink to gold to green,
knotted in itself,
two thousand years,
the fig tree creeps, rises up, and strangles itself.
And now.. for another kind of media–go and download this song by Above & Beyond, called “Anjuna Beach.”
Listen to it with headphones. Right around 2:45 or so, it enters a stretch of sound that I find quite beautiful.
Together–both of these pieces of art struck me as beautiful. They evoked emotions in me that were connected to imagery and feelings of loss and patience and time–and I appreciated them for that reason.
However–it was only a chance that I happened upon these two instances of beauty. With regard to the poem, it was the fact that I was given a poem by Octavio Paz as part of my final exam sophomore year in high school–the poem is called “The Street” and it has remained my favorite piece of poetry to this day. Because of that, I recently decided to go get a bunch of Octavio Paz books out of the library and randomly look through them–and that’s how I found this poem.
With regard to the song, I heard it randomly one afternoon after a long day at camp and biking home 7 miles in 95′ sunshine. As I lay down on the couch, it played on the Pandora station that my wife had left on… and at that moment, it lifted me up and restored me in some sense…
To me–both of these are beautiful–but if circumstances had been but a tiny bit different–I would never have known about them and most likely never come across them in my life.
I would have missed this beauty.
And that’s the point.
This poem and this song are not unique or special–or rather they are not more unique and special than any other beautiful things. I happened to come across them and find them beautiful. Note–I do not find everything beautiful or subscribe to the notion that anything and everything are all equally likely to be beautiful.. but that’s a different argument.
I wonder how many unique and beautiful things I will never find.
One might get sad about this–but that’s not the lesson I’ve learned. Instead, I think the point is that if we look and we are careful about our observations, we will find that there are so many beautiful things that we will come across in our lives at one point or another.
The key is to notice them, to remember them, and to pay fucking attention as we live our lives.
That is all.