We never needed to choose. Yet there’s always this foolish compulsion among us to measure attractions and, should we be so lucky, to consider ourselves superior because we successfully assure ourselves that whatever we think the best among the pretties and the old makes us seem more perfect in our own eyes. We’re our own creations in this way, our own versions of excellence, and whether we believe we fit somewhere high in the measure of greatness as beauties or as wise and wonderful elders, we spend an amazing amount of energy on fancying ourselves fantastic.We expend a large quantity of this fanciful energy, as well, on believing that youth and beauty are irrevocably tied to one another, if not outright synonymous. If one becomes convinced of that construct, then it must follow that becoming old is some sort of process of becoming plainer or uglier or, at greater extremes, less important and worthwhile. As it happens, we are not necessarily all so stupid as I’m making us sound, really. Eventually we mortals do manage to wise up. Perhaps it’s only and logically plain self-preservation that, as we get older, we realize that either we’ve ruled ourselves out of relevance or we might need to adjust our expectations and interpretations to allow that the aged can also be wise or useful or, astonishingly, even beautiful too.Slow as we are to credit our elders with such attractions and advantages, the eventual realization that we are becoming the elders may motivate us to rethink that equation if nothing else can. It’s not that I look in the mirror and see my proliferating wrinkles and expanding crop of grey hairs as evidence that I’ve suddenly or finally become important, improved, impressive. It’s that I see someone, finally, whose value has nothing particular to do with whether those marks of vintage are present or not. I am free to see myself simply and fully as myself, if I’m willing to look, and from this lesson I should–most meaningfully–learn to offer the same courtesy and impartiality to anyone I see, not only myself but anyone. No matter the years or the appearance or how either conforms to the current tastes, every face I see should seem to me the face of worth and dignity. Who knows but what it might be oftener proved true if we allow it to be so.
Ingredients are finite. The possible ways to combine them and make them play together, not so much. I’ve found that true as a visual artist and as a cook just about equally, and in both cases it was clear from very early that I could choose between endlessly repeating myself and looking for fresh and interesting ways to play with the possibilities. If, say, I chose to choose. My friends, we have options.
Having finite resources of money and groceries complicates the cookery. Having finite tastes and interests as an eater takes the complexity further. I congratulate myself on being nearly omnivorous, but yeah, there are things I don’t want to eat. Blueberries (I can never explain this idiosyncrasy to the hordes of blueberry aficionados in the world, I guess). Organ meats (whether of organs one can or can’t live without in one’s own inventory, I generally don’t want them between my teeth). Super stinky cheeses (sorry, Francophiles). Snails (slugs are slugs, whether they’re well dressed or nude, my friends). Being married to a fella with even more limited tastes than mine, well, that’s yet another challenge thrown into the mix. So it may take a tiny bit of puzzling to decide what to prepare and how to blend the available goods into a welcome meal that we’ll both like, never mind how tasty others will find it.
But really, when we’re hungry, it’s not exactly hard to find something that will please a whole range of palates, even if the something needs to come from that aforementioned short list of potential parts. Sugar snap peas: they’re not so specific in flavor or texture or mode of preparation that they can’t be tweaked to fit a huge number of meals and dishes. Raw and plain, they’re sweet and crisp and refreshing. Steamed, they can take in a wide variety of flavors and complement yet more. They work in salads, in hot dishes, and on their own. Hard to go wrong. Meats: beef as a classic steak or roast is no worse or better, no more or less flexible in company with other ingredients or dishes than if the beef is stewed or ground, served spiced or more simply flavored, hot or cold. Bits of food from one recipe that, left over, become the heart of another: orange peel remaining from the peeled supremes used in a salad gets cooked down with stick cinnamon, crushed pods of cardamom and some whole cloves (all, in turn, saved from a baking project or two) and sugar water to make syrup for spiced wine or to be chilled for sodas. The avocado that didn’t get used alongside yesterday’s meal, that one gets put into a smoothie.
Or a tasty banana pudding. Or used as a chopped salad ingredient. Mint frosting base for brownies or a chocolate cake. Who knows. I might even make a dish of avocado with peas, beef, and whatever other readily available ingredients come to mind, because that’s the way I tend to cook. And eat. And it never really gets old.
The change of seasons, whenever and however it happens, always leads me to revisit the idea that we humans are mighty changeable creatures ourselves. This week it suddenly started to act like Autumn here in Texas, after stubbornly refusing to budge from sunny sameness for-seemingly-ever, and instantly there appeared on the public horizon a whole shift of attentions and fashions to go along for the ride. It reminds me as always of what will o’the wisps we are, how fickle and full of silly fancies and steered by every faint current into yet another direction entirely tangential to purpose and meaning, but gripping to us all when we are in it just the same.
Our concepts of beauty and usefulness and value are so mutable, so flexible, it’s a miracle we can find any consensus in our own hearts let alone in the larger community to define what’s important and desirable in our lives from day to day, year to year. I would include most “hard-liners” of any sort in this human whirlpool of constant shift and adjustment too. They will argue that their political or religious or societal stance never alters, but in fact it must if its context is constantly flickering and wriggling uncontrollably, just to maintain the semblance of fixity: the language, tactics, audience-targeting, tools to be used and even reasons for being considered an Immovable Object all have to adjust to the surrounding circumstances and forces in order to keep the believer’s sense of continuity and commitment firm. And that’s both a good and a very scary thing for both sides of the conversation. The Believer side, because it’s really not open to discussion and therefore should neither be questioned nor called to adjust, and the Other-Views side because it’s sometimes hard not only to consider whether we have become fixed in our own ways but also to consider which ways we can and should be going.
That idea alone can veer off into far deeper waters than the initial premise of this rumination warrants, so I’ll leave it by saying that I think of myself as being fairly comfortable with uncertainty and rather not so certain when it comes to taking sides. There isn’t much in the world I know that I see in clearly demarcated black and white, practically speaking. Maybe that’s why I do like to make black and white artworks as much as I do, after all.
In the meantime, the changing of the seasons and its concomitant change of more frivolous things teases me into enjoying the oddity of how easily we are steered in matters of taste and pleasure. The college cuties rambling off-campus are still wearing the same few molecules of skirts and spray-painted tops, but in a faint nod to the changing wind and temperature, suddenly they’re accessorized with bigger than ever Sasquatch boots, long-fringed fake-fur (though still sleeveless) hoodies and, when the males of the species are out of gawking range, garments that look suspiciously like emergency-rescue wrappings used to save hypothermia victims from impending death. I presume these latter items reside, in male-proximal moments, in the depths of those Volkswagen-sized handbags so prevalent nowadays.
Certainly, you can see just from the way I use of the word “nowadays” that I’m old enough to be wearing underpants that could be mistaken for a parachute, holding my socks up with garters, and wearing clothespins on the back of my neck to keep my facial features more reliably in place. To be fair, I was a geezer in many ways from about when I hit the age of ten, so although I eschew such age-appropriate gear myself, I have never quite been what anyone would call At One with the trends. Fortunately for me, I find myself quite fabulous as-is, and apparently those around me have either built up serious tolerance or agree with my skewed view.
So I’m quite happy to live-and-let-live when it comes to personal decoration, even if it means watching delusional dames dress like teenagers, teenagers dress like trashy skanks, and grown men unable to recognize that their comb-overs neither fool anyone other than themselves nor do they remain hugging the skull as insulation when the wind arises but rather take sail and remain vertical until alighting after the storm passes or the gents go indoors, whichever comes first. After all, what would be the excitement, the entertainment value, if we all decorated ourselves well or sensibly or beautifully?
What, especially, would be the fun in all of us considering the same things beautiful? I know one thing: all species would die out shortly after becoming severely inbred if every creature were attracted to only one form of every feature of that creature. And don’t get me started on the likelihood that a handsome sawfish would find a cyclamen pretty or a person who loves to grow prizewinning turnips would like to date a person who looks like a really fine turnip. When it comes to beauty, I’m all for letting you keep your ridiculous prejudices as long as you let me keep my equally ridiculous ones, my friends.