Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Beauty Breathes, Day Three: How Much Time Do You Want?

Beauty Breathes, Day Three: How Much Time Do You Want?

In the comment section of one of my posts, Frank recently posed the question, (and I paraphrase), “Can beauty really be experienced in a hurry?”

I do believe that it takes attention to notice and experience beauty, and that it takes time to cultivate attention, which leads me to wonder if being fully present with beauty is something that belongs only to a certain category of people who have enough leisure time to even contemplate the notion. How much time does is take to be fully present to what is beautiful in our lives? Two minutes? Six seconds passing by in a car traveling at 55 miles an hour? 24 hours? A year? A decade?

I think the keyword here is, “hurry.” “Hurry” is a frantic, panicky mindset. To be in a hurry is to be ungrounded, to be out of our bodies. I believe that “hurry” is fundamentally a state of distrust.

I am almost always in a hurry. I am in a hurry at Bartell's, standing behind the bent-over old lady who is painstakingly writing out a check to buy cough medicine. I am most likely just standing there with bubble bath, a gossip rag, and a box of thin mints, but I am in a hurry to get to my relaxation time. I gnaw my lip, thinking, “Who writes checks anymore? Jesus Christ, lady, speed it up! I have leisure to get to!” I am in a hurry to get back to my desk to eat lunch, which I eat hurriedly, not tasting, while hurriedly responding to kind e-mails from benevolent strangers who want to willingly give away their leisure time to serve our cause. I am in a hurry to cross the street. I am in a hurry to come up with a plan. I am in a hurry to defend myself. I am in a hurry to get through yoga class because I find yoga annoying.

Hurry is addicting. Everything takes on the ring of urgency, and this ringing drowns everything out but its own shrill tones. Attending to this urgency means that I don't have to look. And to not look means to not have to feel pain. And to not have to feel means to not have to take responsibility.

I have an CD set by Diamanda Galas called The Masque of the Red Death Trilogy, avante-garde pieces she composed about the AIDS epidemic. In one moment of the CD, there is a timid whisper, and then a deep voice booms, “How much time do you want?”

I hear this echo in my ears often. I am afraid that this is the fundamental question I must ask myself, because a dearth of time is my excuse for everything. How much time do I want? And what will I do with it if it is granted to me?

--Kristen McHenry


Dana said...

Your own breath can be beautiful, and it can serve you well when you are in a hurry. As can your heartbeat. The rhythms of both are, as you know, centering. Time falls away inside them.

I am in awe of you, as always.

Frank Moraes said...

Your description of the woman writing the check made me burst out laughing. I am very lucky that I mostly do not have to hurry. (I just fixed a pseudo-error in my modifier usage just for you!) Last week, I was in line at the grocery store and a tiny old woman was writing a check, and the aggravation of the others in line was palpable. Because I was not in a hurry, I found it very amusing. It is amusing to watch people in a hurry when you are not. It is sort of like watching drunks when you are sober. Its silliness overwhelms you.

You are right that the issue is not the speed but the way of thinking. It makes me think about reading when my mind is elsewhere: the words come without meaning. Beauty can be flowing over you while you stay dry as sand in a desiccator.

On the other hand, part of me believes this all might be akin to my theory of "conservation of happiness." This is to say that there is only so much beauty that you can appreciate; maybe you can appreciate beauty at a low level all the time, or just in big burps. In general, I get burps (like most people). I had what can only be called a spiritual experience when I discovered American Neo-Classical Realism at the Mary Hill Museum. (Your poem Museum is a similar case—achingly beautiful—but being covered in it: Museum everywhere I look.) Much more recently, I had an experience at the San Francisco MOMA (Do I have "museum" on my mind today?) over a collection by an artist whose name I've lost because I was there with my nephew and was dragged away. I made a promise to myself that I would never again put myself in such a situation because it was so upsetting. It was like falling in love and having your lover promptly executed.

I understand that you are approaching beauty in a broader sense. Human-made art—be it poetry or mathematics—appeals to me more than anything. A walk in a forest is fun. And I can appreciate what you wrote about on day one, but I wouldn't necessarily place them under the rubric of beauty.

I am trying to get at two things. First: I don't think I'm capable of a constant appreciation of beauty. (But I'm not saying that others can't or that the effort is invalid.) Second: I don't think I would want to, even if I could, because of my fear of losing out on these grand heights. Probably my greatest complaint in life is that there are not enough people with whom I can share these moments. "You've got to check this out!"

Perhaps the highs will be higher if you try to constantly appreciate the beauty around you. Where I come from is a place of profound pessimism where nothing changes. My comments are a reflection of who I am vis-a-vis this project. The project itself is a good idea; I am curious where it takes you—and you it.

PS: Breathing does help and Dana is insightful in making the connection. Of course, busy people forget to breath; bored people forget to appreciate.

The Good Typist said...

Dana--yep, that breathing thing always gets me. Sometimes I'm surprised I just don't keel over in a dead faint from short shallow breaths.

Frank of the Long Comment--most excellent thoughts as always. I have more to say but right now I'm pretty bushed and just want to want go watch "Ghost Hunters". I will get back to you when I can do it thoughtfully. But I am so touched you fixed your modifier usage for me!