A Weakness for Beauty

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In his unfinished novel The First Man, Albert Camus wrote “We all have a weakness for beauty.” My favorite absurdist philosopher got it all right. I am fascinated with beauty, absolutely unreservedly fascinated. In fact, my fascination is less of a distraction and more of a purpose. I live to find the beauty in everything. My friends joke and say I am a self-proclaimed aesthetics guru. While hilarious, that’s totally wrong. I am not an expert in beautiful things. That sounds ridiculous to say, probably because beauty is a complicated mess of so many things and values, it’s impossible to find something universally beautiful. What is beautiful is specific to each person, shaped by experience, environment, and the self. Rather, I make a note of scouting out all the things I can. Material things, locations, music, graphic designs, aesthetics, people…they all make up this intricate network and cause for admiration.

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I love to explore locations. I’ve always thought cities operate like clockwork. In my short life, walking cities has always been my favorite thing to do. Even before hitting the tourist spots, the first thing I did in a new place was scour the streets for hidden treasure. And my, did I find gold. One of the first cities I ever got to explore was hilly, dynamic, perennial San Francisco. Right across the bridge from my hometown, I grew up spending many weekends, days, and dinners in that dazzling city by the bay. Before, after, and in-between jobs I took the time to explore its districts. For the longest time I worked on the Embarcadero. Telegraph Hill became my Mount of Olives. I remember the first time I ever climbed up to Coit Tower by myself. My curiosity made me take a second glance at the steep zigzagging steel stairs that trailed into a verdant jungle. I could not see the endpoint, but those stairs had echoes of adventures and I couldn’t resist. As I climbed, locals–presumably the residents to the pastel dotted hill–glided down past me like clouds. 200 steps later and at my breath’s end, I reached the top. It was a quaint one way street with 360 degree vistas. The hill itself smelled of diversity, history, and opportunity. I took the chance, and it was worth it. I had a full two hours before I had to be anywhere, so I spent time going up and down streets one by one and capturing the very best of each apartment, each bus stop, and each corner laundromat. It was interesting to see the city at a quiet time of the day, because it felt like I had been taken back to a time when the city breathed and talked for itself. San Francisco’s architecture has always amazed me. Adjoined victorians and ornate reliefs littered these streets like trash. If you weren’t careful, you could miss the wonders of a century old masterpiece there in front of your eyes. It was a good couple of hours, and led me to take up this practice wherever I may be. There’s something about walking a city and collecting memories with each step. At the end of the day when my feet are swollen and legs hard, I know I’ve collected enough images and ideas.

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I think in order to be a good anything you must be intrepid. There cannot be fear of the unknown; the unknown must only pique your interest and drive you to do what you would not have done before. Climbing up those stairs and not knowing what was on the other side was a bit stupid (of course I made sure it was safe before), but definitely a risk worth taking. In any case, here’s to finding the beauty in all things. Here’s to walking the cities we call home.

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Renewal

Do you ever feel like you are multi-tasking at life? Sometimes it feels like everything is meddled into one cauldron, constantly bubbling, constantly needing stirring, constantly intermixing. 

Personally, I am always adding ingredients to that mix and taking others out. It’s as if my life at the moment is a jumbled mess. And frankly, it is. It’s often so easy for us to get lost in the middle of everything. When people ask how I’m doing the response goes, “Barely hanging onto my coat tails.”

I cannot even begin to get into the different dynamics that are a part of this witch’s brew, but they’re messy. My God, are they messy. 

I’ve tried and tried to try to sort out my life. I’ve tried to create strict schedules and plan ahead. But the fact is, I’m not a planner. I take things as they come. Not the best method for a young woman, but it’s all I know. 

My lack of self direction and planning is only comforted by the unwavering notion that God can clear our minds, renew our spirits, and wipe our hearts from stain. Psalm 51 has particularly been insightful in that it shows the impregnable redemptive nature of Christ. 

 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,

and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. 
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 

9 Hide your face from my sins,

and blot out all my iniquities. 

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me. 

11 Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.

In the end, we are not the heroes of this tale. I am not at all prepared to deal with this mess before me. But God is with me and only he can renew my spirit. 

I think back to the times when I had a clue of what I was doing. Good times, they seemed. I might not necessarily ever get out of this jumble. But I might as well ask for the help that God so vehemently offers. So here’s to this confusing life. Here’s to knowing it’s not just me against the world. Here’s to peace with myself. 

Flâneuse: Book Review

IMG_2351.JPGI recently bought a book by Lauren Elkin, (instagram post here). An American expat in Paris, she talks about the hidden history of women in cities. More specifically, les flâneuses, the women who wander through cities. Flâneur is French slang for someone who wanders aimlessly. The term heralds from the 19th century when women simply were not allowed to walk up and down streets on their own. In fact, most of the word’s history belongs in the realm of men.  But, Elkin goes on to disprove this stereotype. She talks about her own experience as a flâneuse (feminizing the word), and the experiences of many other women in history who explored their cities uninhibited by the “guardianship” of men.

Lauren writes about her own experiences in Tokyo, London, New York, Venice, and of course, Paris. In her book she points out that the flâneuse is not just a wanderer, she is so much more. One quote I loved was, “The flâneur, attuned to the chords that vibrate through his city, knows without knowing” (3). The flâneur carries an intuition, so real and authentic and legitimate that it is often labeled as a kind of magic. How can one know a city so well? How can one be so acclimatized to the undulations of the cobblestone streets? How can one know which direction the water inside a city’s metal pipes flow? At what time does the baker peek out his window? What direction that redolent scent originates?

It is the ultimate native of a city, though she may not even have been born there. She just knows. Paris and I have been in an entangled love story for the past few years. We are no strangers. Elkin writes about my favorite places:

I walked past all the great cafés lining the boulevard, La Rotonde, Le Select, Le Dôme and La Coupole, watering holes to generations of American writers in Paris, whose ghosts hunched under café awnings, unimpressed with the way the twentieth century had turned out. I crossed over the rue Vavin, with its eponymous café, where all the cool lycéens went when they got out of school, assertive cigarette smokers with sleeves too long for their arms, shod in Converse sneakers, boys with dark curls and girls with no make-up. (5)

As you can imagine, reading about Elkin’s time in my filthy, stupefying, ambrosial lover was much more than just a thrill. I am not quite finished with this book, but I was so excited I had to write about it immediately.

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One of Hemingway’s Parisian apartments

It shocked me to know that, over the past two centuries, so many women were tied to their homes. Many were forced only to take part in marital duties. But some brave heroines refused the hearth and made their homes in the deep veins of a city. We are part of this thread of rebels. We know our cities…albeit through different strategies. Here is to all our intelligent, intuitive, illustrative, ignescent, irresistible, impious, idiosyncratic, international flâneuses who never gave a damn and loved their cities all the more.

And finally, a snippet of Baudelaire’s “Passer-by,” one of my favorite French poems that Elkin puts in her book:

The deafening street roared around me

Tall, sender, in heavy mourning, majestic in her grandeur

A woman walked past me, her sumptuous hand

Lifting and shining her hem as she went.

Swift and graceful, with legs like a statue’s

Twitching like a madman, I drank in

Her eyes, a pallid sky where storms are born

the sweetness that charms and the pleasure that kills.

  • by Charles Baudelaire (1855)

Vision

I’ve always loved the phrase, “My, what a vision.” I’m a film geek (to say the least), and I’ve watched those classic scenes when a dazzling  dame walks down the stairs in a glittering dress and the handsome man waiting for her exclaims, “What a vision!” But, most of the time the man refers to the woman’s looks, her dress, and even that graceful lilt in her step.

But, I want to take the phrase to another level. I want people to look at me one day and say, “my, what a vision,” but I don’t want it to be for how I look. I want to be a vision in the way I treat other people, how much I share my love, and how well I am a good fellow being. That is what I mean by a vision.IMG_2259.JPG

There is a difference, however, between a vision and a visionary. A visionary, according to the Webster dictionary, is someone who thinks about the future with imagination. A visionary just dreams. But a vision literally personifies the dreams of the visionary. It infers action, movement, and change. I hope to e this type of person. And the vision I hope to personify is the life of Jesus Christ. I want to love as he loved, serve as he served, and walk as he walked. That is my life mission, and I want people to look at my life and say, “My, what a vision”.