The Art of Appreciation

img_0567(Caveat: A different version of this essay appeared elsewhere, long ago and far away.)

It’s almost impossible for me to pass up an interesting consignment store, second-hand shop, or flea market. I love trolling for treasure because I never know what I’ll find. Sometimes nothing, it’s true, but more often than not I’ve walked away with something I truly cherish. Nothing expensive, mind you; that’s not what I’m looking for. My eyes are set on those things that speak to my heart.

Bit ago, I was puttering through an area Goodwill when I came across a CD of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. I bought it on a whim, mostly because of Bernstein’s name. (An aside here. When I was living in NYC many decades ago, the woman I shared an apartment with was given tickets to the NY Philharmonic by her boss. Not having a ready date, she invited me to go along. We dressed in our finest–not all that fine on our budget–and went, not knowing what we might hear or who would be conducting. And Lo, out walked Leonard Bernstein, five-thousand pounds of TNT in a 5’5″ frame. Watching him stride onto that stage was like watching the arrival of God, and I’ve never recovered.)

Anyway, I put the CD into the car play as I drove home.  My God.

All this time later, I still can’t listen to it without spouting tears, never mind finding sufficient words to describe the beauty of this recording. When my husband first heard it, he remarked that it was impossible for him to not think of Hugo Weaving in the movie “V for Vendetta,” and the image of the Old Bailey exploding. (Similarly, those born during a certain time period can’t hear the William Tell Overture without wanting to yell “Hi-Yo, Silver, away!”)

It’s not such a bad thing to connect a piece of classical music to a cinematic image. Oh, there’re those who’d say it is; those who feel that the purity of classical music should be experienced without the crass trappings of Hollywood. For some, though, a movie soundtrack may be their first experience of classical music, and where’s the harm in that?

Case in point: my love of classical music stems not from my mother’s ballet music phonograph records (yes, children, music was pressed into vinyl discs once upon a time), but from Saturday morning Warner Bros. cartoons. Bugs Bunny taught me to appreciate Rossini (“Rabbit of Seville”), Strauss and Tchaikovsky (“A Corny Concerto”), and Wagner (“Long-Haired Hare” and “What’s Opera, Doc?”).  Thanks to Bugs, Elmer, and the rest, I learned about passion and humor, turmoil and hilarity. I suspect watching those cartoons every Saturday also fed into my love of words and desire to write. Thanks, guys! (And if you’ve never seen them, run to YouTube and search them out. You won’t be sorry.)

Back in 2007, violinist Joshua Bell stood incognito in a cold Washington D.C. Metro Station and played six Bach pieces, some of the most intricate music ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million. The performance lasted approximately 45 minutes. Something approaching 2,000 people went through the station in that time. After three minutes, a man stopped for a few seconds, then hurried on. Four minutes later, a woman threw a dollar into Bell’s hat and kept walking. Six minutes later, a young man stopped briefly to listen before moving away. Ten minutes later, a three-year-old stopped to listen, but his mother pushed him along. This identical action was repeated by several other children, although every adult, without exception, forced them to move on quickly. In total, six people stopped to listen for a short while, and 20 gave money as they passed. Bell collected a total of $32. When he finished, silence took over. No one noticed when he left. No one applauded his performance.

This wasn’t a silly whim on Bell’s part, but a sociology experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities . The questions being raised were these: Do we perceive beauty when it’s presented to us in a common place environment, at an inappropriate hour? Do we recognize talent when it appears in an unexpected context?

If not, how much of the  world are we missing?

Whether it’s music or poetry, the ocean or stars, a baby’s cry or the last breath of a loved one, when the opportunity comes your way to share in the mystery, the beauty, hang the clock. Feed your soul.

 

 

I Quit Facebook

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Photo by Ivan Lojko

So, yeah, that. It may not seem radical to most of you, but it was a big decision for me.

I came to Facebook late compared to most of my friends. I just wasn’t certain I wanted to spend time with it. At first, I didn’t. I’d check in once a day, smile at a few posts, maybe laugh, screw up on how I was working with it because I was flying by those proverbial pant-seats, and then sign off and get on with my day.

But then, oh, then.

My time on FB increased. I enjoyed being able to connect with so many friends in such an easy way. Writing can be a lonely business, and we writers sometimes don’t have a wide social circle, so this interaction I was experiencing filled a gap in my life, so to speak. Not that it did; not really. Emails and texts and written words on a screen are all well and good, but they’re no substitute for actual face-to-face time, hearing a person’s words, seeing their facial expressions.

Over time, a funny thing happened. I began to derive less and less pleasure from my time on FB. I grew frustrated because their algorithms wouldn’t let me automatically see posts from certain friends that they decided in their Ultimate Wisdom weren’t worth my time. I hated the political rants (particularly after this last election), the hatred, the finger-pointing, and I was astonished by some of the poison being spewed by people I thought I knew. I also hated being forced to look at pictures I’d never have sought out in a million years merely because they came up on my feed and I couldn’t avoid them. (Sure, keep me from seeing posts from an old, dear friend, but go ahead and show me images of abused children and animals. Yeah, I love that.)

I’d get off FB feeling worse than when I got on. I felt depressed. I liked myself less. And I finally decided, ENOUGH.

So this past weekend, I went through my friends list and contacted many of them (those I know personally or hear from regularly) and told them I was leaving. I provided my email address and let them know that I hoped they would stay in touch, accepting that it’s now out of my hands. can do my part to keep our relationship alive, but if there’s no response then there’s no response, and I’m surprisingly okay with that. You can’t make someone hang with you. (Or can you? Hmmm….isn’t that what FB and its ilk are all about?)

Yesterday I wrote a short farewell post and I pulled the plug. And felt such relief and release. No pressure. No compulsion. I feel lighter, happier, and more energetic. I should have done this years ago.

I’m not saying everyone should leave FB. That’s between you and you. All I recount here is my own experience. But I feel that I’ve taken back a portion of my life, minutes (hours) stolen by aimless drifting. I’ll write more, read more, talk more with those I love, walk the dog more.

It’s like that scene at the end of the movie “Chocolat” where Anouk talks about her imaginary kangaroo friend Pontoufle, how his bad leg miraculously healed and he hopped off in search of new adventures. “I didn’t miss him.”