A Journal of My Mid-Life Crisis
23 August 1998 - Art, Alien Abduction and Ambiguity (or How to Have Great Sex)
Art 1: I am in Edinburgh. The Festival(s) are on. I am sitting in the Princes Street Gardens writing in my journal. A woman approaches me and says, "Excuse me, are you into performance poetry?"
Alien Abduction 1: In Notes from a Small Island Bill Bryson used the fact that 3 million Americans believe they have been abducted by aliens as one of his reasons to return to the U.S. after nearly 20 years in Britain. Clearly his people needed him, he writes.
Ambiguity 1: I am not sure how I feel about ambiguity.
Art 2: The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow has two pieces by Patrick Hughes. They appear to move, showing different facades as you walk around them. It's an intriguing game with perspective, involving surfaces arranged at various angles relative to one another and shadows painted in ways that don't always make sense. A lot of the effects are achieved by painting things deliberately wrong. You have to understand perspective very well to be able to violate it this way.
Alien Abduction 2: I once read an ad in a newspaper in San Francisco which ran "Do you ever suffer from headaches, sinus congestion, fatigue, depression, skin irritations, digestive upsets? If so, you may have been abducted by aliens!" Personally, I would have said "if so, congratulations on being human."
Ambiguity 2: I find myself increasingly able to persuade myself of the truth of either side of nearly any issue. I want flexibility. I want to take a strong stand. One can't do both.
Art 3: When I read a book or see a play or film, I write a little about it in a journal. I do this to force myself to think about the things I read and the entertainments I choose. I've discovered that I don't have the vocabulary to write about abstract dance.
Alien Abduction 3: When I was a child I believed that Martians came from the marshes. One night I saw a bright light over the marshes. I was scared but felt I had to follow it. It turned out to be a weather beam, the first one I had ever seen.
Ambiguity 3: I am annoyed when a store has an "open" sign in its window while it is closed. I am not sure if it is the ambiguity that annoys me or merely thwarted expectations.
Art 4: In the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow there are a few pieces by an artist named Aidan Shingler. On his business card, Shingler describes himself as a "reality tester." The world describes him as a "paranoid schizophrenic."
Alien Abduction 4: One of Shingler's sculptures is titled "Pie in the Sky." It consists of a suitcase full of things he put together in preparation for being abducted by aliens, an experience he hoped for and tried to force by sitting in dark fields at night with a flashlight in hand as a beacon to passing spaceships. The contents of the suitcase include star maps and chocolate bars, particularly Milky Way and Mars bars. They do not include any literature, music or other art.
Ambiguity 4: Insanity is the inability to accept ambiguity.
How to Appreciate Art:
Talent is a trap. If you are talented, it just means something is easier for you than it is for other people, not that other people can't do it if they devoted the effort. Children believe they can do anything. Adults are convinced that they can only do the things that are easy. It is hard to force yourself to work at something when you can do it fairly well without working. The way to overcome the trap of talent is to learn to enjoy doing things that you aren't good at.
By the same token, it is worthwhile to try to appreciate the things that are hard for us to understand. While in Edinburgh, I am making some effort to see shows that are things I might not ordinarily choose. I am trying to do things like watching a piece of abstract dance without asking "what does it mean?" and listening to music without thinking about anything other than the sounds. This is not easy.
Look at a painting that you do not instantly like. Try to understand the intelligence behind it.
Read a book that you know nothing about beforehand. Ideally, you should buy it, rather than borrow it. Buy it in hardcover. That way you commit money to the unexpected.
Listen to a piece of music that is not to your taste. If you love rock, put on a Handel oratorio. If you love Mozart, try an Indonesian gamelan recording. It doesn't matter what you choose, as long as it is outside your usual experience. Really listen.
What This Has to Do With Great Sex:
Treat your lover as a work of art.
Copyright 1998 Miriam H. Nadel
Send comments to: email@example.com