Elegance

Rococo

What a knack there is to that
Acting like a born aristocrat
We got elegance, if you ain’t got elegance
Y
ou can never ever carry it off.
(Excerpt from the song “Elegance” by Jerry Herman from the musical Hello, Dolly!)

Elegance is defined as the quality of being graceful or stylish in appearance or manner. I wonder how important it is to the human race. Are people more likely to value others for how elegant they consider them? Can elegant people carry off behavior that non-elegant people cannot? Are some people naturally elegant? Can elegance be acquired?

I refuse to imitate elegance in order to be socially acceptable. I expect to be valued for qualities such as honesty, integrity, kindness, and good table manners. When I am in public, I take care to avoid any behavior that makes other people uncomfortable; I don’t shout, burp, throw things, or overturn apple carts in the hope that my efforts are enough be agreeable. I was at a nice restaurant one time, dancing on the dance floor, when a woman, for some reason, lifted her top, exposing her breasts bouncing around in time to the beat. I don’t do things like that. To attempt to be elegant is, for me, an exercise in disingenuousness. I have not been born with outward elegance, and I’m not going to fake it.

On the other hand, elegance is also defined as the quality of being ingenious in function and/or design. I love that kind of elegance. I rejoice in the elegance of a mathematical proof. If someone finds an elegant solution to a complex problem, I kiss the hem of his or her garment. An elegant thought process is enough to herald the Rapture. That’s the kind of elegance I can sink my teeth into.

(Note to self: Can one sink one’s teeth–figuratively speaking– into the elegance of ingenuity? Re-read Nisbett’s book Intelligence and How to Get It for some ideas.)

But, on the other hand, what do I know? I suspect that being elegant is related to being beautiful. It may be that elegance, like beauty, is a superficial quality that a select few are born with. Or not. I am going to have to think about it. Perhaps I will formulate an elegant hypothesis and proof. I would love that!

Daily Prompt:Elegance

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Thoughts on the Cove

Kleitsch-Cove

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless see.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearig tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge ~ Kubla Khan

The world of the insensible appreciates the benefits of peace.
Erasmus ~ The Complaint of Peace

As interesting as I find speculation, I do not invest my emotions in it. It makes for a poor return.
The Book of Rhino

Saints and Aints

Homer-Beach Boys

(Rhino Between the Lines)

“What does it mean to be saintly?” asked Amalia.

“It means to be like a saint,” Elbert replied.

“What’s a saint?”

“What! Don’t you know what a saint it?” said Skandar. “I thought everyone knew that.”

Amalia shrugged.

“A saint is a holy person, someone real religious. They pray and fast all the time and do good works.”

“How can they survive if they fast all the time?”

“Well, they don’t do it all the time; they just do it enough so everyone knows they are saints.”

“If course,” said Elbert, “people usually aren’t considered saints until after they’re dead. You have to look at how they lived over their entire lifetime.”

“Then are some people born saints? I mean, how do you know? Can someone not be born a saint and turn into one later on?”

“I guess so,” said Wilfred. “You see, there are saints and there are ‘ain’ts’. If at first you ain’t a saint, you could become one later if you work at it. On the other hand, you could start off like a saint and end up like an ‘ain’t.”

Amalia laughed.

“That’s funny,” she said. “Which would you rather be?”

“Right now, I would rather be an ‘ain’t’,” said Skandar, “’cause I smell fresh-baked buns. That puts a fellow off fasting for a while.”

“Do you have to fast to be a saint?”

“Well…it does help,” said Elbert, “but I think you can make up for it by doing extra good works.”

“Great! I will share my buns with all of you,” said Skandar. “Just make sure you record it somewhere so people will think I’m a saint.”

“You ain’t a saint just because you share a bun or two,” said Wilfred. “You have to do something good every day for the rest of your life. You would have to share your buns everyday until you die.”

“All right, I will. Wilfred, Amalia, and Elbert, you may have whatever buns life sends my way.”

“So, you promise to give away all your buns?” asked Amalia. “You won’t save any for yourself?”

“I won’t need to,” said Skandar. “Saint Amalia, Saint Elbert, and Saint Wilfred will all share their buns with me.”

Daily Prompt:Saintly

Old Sole

Route 66 Car

I have been young, and now I am old, old enough to tell my story, old enough to have a story to tell. When I was young, I saw my life running along a familiar route; but now I see that I have been traveling along a curve of unique and unexpected twists.

Age, with all its wrinkles, dings, and scratches, has at least one advantage over youth. Age wears the Patina of accumulated years, years which give an old soul greater perspective based on experience. I know the road. It’s worn me down a bit, but I ain’t dead yet.

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. What about the thousands of words a picture inspires? I think they would be interesting to read.
The Book of Rhino

Performing Selves

The Daily Prompt is the word Sparkle. For some reason, it reminded me of something Susan Cain wrote in her book Quiet regarding the rise of the Extrovert Ideal.

Around the turn of the twentieth century…America had shifted from what influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality—and opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties from which we would never recover.

In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a personality” was not widespread until the twentieth.

But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining.

“The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer,” Susman famously wrote. “Every American was to become a performing self.”

Personally, I do not mind all the “performing selfs” out there. What I do mind is my expected participation in the performance. I will sparkle in no one’s play.

My ship is sailing to Byzantium. It may even have landed there. But I am not going to live in the city. I will build myself a little hut on the shore and watch the waves.
The Book of Rhino

Driftwood House

Medea Still Rages

This is a Snippet from the play Medea, written in 431 B.C. by Euripides. In the play, Medea, the daughter of the king of Colchis, has been deserted by her husband Jason for another, younger woman. Sound familiar? *sigh* There is nothing new under the sun.

Medea

Ladies, Corinthians, I’m here.
Don’t think ill of me. Call others proud.
In public, in private, it’s hard to get it right.
Tread as carefully as you will,
“She’s proud,” they’ll say; “she won’t join in.”
What human being looks fairly on another?
They’d sooner hate you than know you properly,
even before you’ve done them any harm.
And when you’re a foreigner: “Be like us,” they say.
Even Greeks look down on other Greeks,
too clever to see the good in them.
As for me, the blow that struck me down
and eats my heart I least expected.
My lovely life is lost; I want to die.
He was everything to me–and now
he’s the vilest man alive, my husband.

Of all Earth’s creatures that live and breathe,
are we women not the wretchedest?
We scratch and save, a dowry to buy a man–
and then he lords it over us; we’re his,
our lives depend on how his lordship feels.
For better for worse: we can’t divorce him.
However it turns out, he’s ours and ours he stays.
Women’s cunning? We need all of it.


Set down with strangers, with ways and laws
she never knew at home, a wife must learn
every trick she can to please the man
whose bed she shares. If he’s satisfied,
if he lives content, rides not against the yoke–
Congratulations! If not, we’re better dead.

(Translated by Thomas Cahill in his book Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea. Why the Greeks Matter  © 2003 by Anchor Books, registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Image by Alphonse Mucha: Medee 1898)

I recently came across this passage in my reading and was astounded that a drama from ancient Athens is as contemporary as today’s headlines. Small wonder that women are expressing their outrage over men’s sexual misconduct. Apparently it has been going on for centuries.

*another sigh* Really?

Handiwork

Yarn Tree

Hands are really wonderful things, when you think about it. They can do all sorts of handiwork like knitting and sewing. They craft birdhouses and beanies and benches in the park and are conveniently attached to the body. They are handy anytime we need a hand.

Handiwork can be an intimate thing as experienced hands guide younger hands in the act of creation. Hands joined with other hands knit heart to heart together in a shared process. It’s no accident that the defining image of The Sistine Chapel Ceiling is the hand of God stretching forth to touch the hand of Adam. We recognize the power of touch, hand joined to hand.

But as wonderful as hands are, they are also terrible. They contain both the power of creation and the power of destruction. Hands can devise weapons; hands can be weapons, used against fellow creatures to inflict pain and terror. Why do hands do that anyway? Don’t they know any better? Could it be that there are hands that have never joined with another hand in love, compassion, or mercy?

I think we need to take care of our hands and treat them with respect. We should make sure that every new hand that comes into the world is knit together with another hand, one that will guide it and nurture it. Teach it the artisan crafts. Show it how to make things, beautiful things for the benefit of others. Let every hand learn by example the healing touch. I am sure there are enough old hands out there that know a thing or three about such handiwork. Let them teach; let us learn.

Daily Prompt:Knit

Time for Mercy

Dad's Shoes

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
TIme held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Dylan Thomas ~ “Fern Hill” 1946

Daily Prompt:Mercy

Salute to Gremlins

“It must be the gremlins.”

That was my father’s explanation for any unexplained and unacknowledged mischief around the house. It could be the reason why a nude photograph of U. S. Representative Joe Barton wound up on Twitter. Oh, of only his constituents could be persuaded to believe that’s what happened! It was the gremlins!

However, Rep. Barton has owned up to his conduct, stating that he had “sexual relationships with mature adult women” while he was separated from his wife. What I find interesting about this statement is that he qualifies that the women with whom he had a sexual relationship were mature adults. That is not by accident or the work of gremlins. I call it the “Roy Moore” effect. Rep. Barton wants people to know that he did not have anything to do with underage girls. These were women—mature, adult, wrinkled, saggy, grey-haired—sorry, I exaggerate. The key point is they were NOT GIRLS! They were not cute little mogwais; they were gremlins.

Ah, youth! That is really the big deception about it. All the cute little mogwais eventually turn into ugly-looking gremlins if they live long enough. Gremlins are reputed to be dangerous and mean. I think I would be too, if I suddenly found I was no longer valued because I had a few grey hairs and wrinkles. I, too, might go on a mischievous-making rampage. A gremlin may as well live down to expectations, right?

So I’m going to acknowledge Rep. Joe Barton’s indirect salute to mature adult women. Long may they live!

(Note to self: No matter what, don’t go on a rampage. It’s inconsiderate and a big waste of time.)

Daily Prompt:Gremlins

The Girdle Effect

“CAUTION, HOT. BUT YOU’RE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT.”

This statement was printed on a paper coffee cup that I bought at a coffee shop. It cracks me up. It is a great example of a company wanting to protect itself against a possible lawsuit should someone get burned by hot coffee. Thus it prints a warning on every coffee cup. On the other hand, the company does not want the warning to offend a person’s intelligence; that could instigate another lawsuit. So it words the statement very carefully. In a subtle way, a warning like this relieves people of having to think. It’s an example of what my father called “The Girdle Effect.”

When I was in junior high, my father would not allow me to wear a “junior” girdle.  He said that if I allowed a girdle to hold in my stomach, then eventually my stomach muscles would grow weak from underuse.  “Use it or lose it, “ he used to say.

The Girdle Effect is an example of “choice architecture” described by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein in their book Nudge.  In it, they advocate organizing the context in which people make decisions so that their eventual choices will secure greater health, wealth, and happiness.  But it begs the question of what is good and who decides it.

For example, there is a city in Germany that imbedded red lights in the sidewalk to warn people walking while using their phone—WUIP  (Walking Under the Influence of Phone). The red lights relieve people of the tiresome chore of watching where they are going. But is that really a good thing?

If social engineers relieve people of their decision-making, then how will they learn how to make decisions that require reflective, critical thinking?  If mistakes are to be avoided at all costs, then we eliminate the learning that only comes from mistakes.  It’s the Girdle Effect. If we do not use our decision-making ability, it will eventually atrophy.

Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed.  I’ve just found ten thousand ways that don’t work.” As appreciative as I am that my coffee cup wants to warn me about hot coffee, I would rather learn that lesson myself, even if I get burned.