What if I told you I got these beautiful roses at a countryside shop in Paris?
That my love ran off to gather the handful, bucket and all.
Stuffed them in the back of the car we’d rented for our second honeymoon.
Splayed them forth upon the grass to decorate our weekend picnic. On that shining, gorgeous spring day.
* * *
And now it’s Monday in the cold, harsh clear light filtered through a suburban Maryland window.
As I am forced to admit these are dollar-store creations, plastic in a plastic case, made up substantially, to look like something more and better than they are.
My roses are filtered, once and twice and again. And I look at the photo and tell myself the story that I want to tell you.
Repeat, repeat, repeat it again. Convincing myself that the steady drumbeat of a lie — or should we say an altered representation of the truth — will give them the glamour that they lack when viewed as real things. In their unfiltered properties and context.
Who is to say what is real and what is not real? Who is the author? Whose version are we bound to believe?
* * *
I was talking to someone about religion once. I talk about religion a lot.
The person held very fixed beliefs about right and wrong. “I won’t give up my beliefs for anything.”
Looking at her I had the opposite thought. I will give up my beliefs for something. If I am causing myself or others unnecessary pain. If I come to believe I am unnecessarily rigid. If I am lazy, if it’s inconvenient, if I rationalize. If…
My thoughts trailed off. I really could not finish the sentences. Because from my point of view, a primary purpose of life is to explore, refine and sometimes revise your basic beliefs. And to learn to embrace (well sometimes, tolerate) others.
To parse out which of your thought processes are real and helpful, and which are artifacts of superstition, brainwashing and fear.
To encourage the productive use of deep emotion, creativity, rebellion, fantasy.
* * *
There are really only two ways of looking at the world, two different axes upon which all of us grind the gears of our thinking.
Neither is superior to the other, although if you inhabit X, you’d be forgiven for choosing it above Y.
The first is a kind of ruthless allegiance to a given framework of thinking. Buddhist, scientist, artist, feminist, Kabbalist, baseball player, parent or some complicated combination of the above. The point is, you find an axiom — or to be more precise about it, a version of an axiom combined with versions of the other truths-for-granted — and you learn its ways thoroughly and follow that path.
Almost like being a grammarian. The art is in the application of what you see and experience to the frameworks you’ve come to believe are true.
The second is a refusal to believe in anything, any axiom at all. That is to say, you sample ideas the way you taste the hot food at a $6.99 a pound buffet. One day you want the fried cauliflower, another day you want the soup, and maybe on the third you decide to take up macrobiotic cooking, and you whip up a week’s worth of food from scratch.
You tell yourself you are “into” this framework or that one, but what you’re really doing is sampling the experience of the framework like a child eats ice cream at the local 31 flavors place. It’s all good, you know this and it’s all limited in its way.
You free your mind from the constraints that other people seem to impose on themselves and instead you embrace your mind’s capacity to imagine. You fantasize the experience you want to have in this life, and you mentally align the best of the thought-worlds you’ve sampled.
It’s not so much about validity or not, in this scheme, but more about exercising your capacity to pick, choose, weave and synthesize at will.
The danger of the first course of action is that you can’t see anything outside your predetermined states — which facts become comprehensible. You miss opportunity.
The danger of the second, of course, is that you risk a descent into madness. If everything is equally possibly true then what guarantee do you have that your personal observation, experience, decision, belief have any validity at all?
* * *
Most of us decide not to make such a drastic choice. Instead we hover in the world, perched warily on the edge of indecision.
Worse, we fail to acknowledge that we’re doing it.
You take the photo and you see that the lens only got one version of what your eyes saw. And you refine that vision yet again, through the Instagram filter.
What makes the experience a real one, even beautiful, is that all of us share your the desire you hold inside your deepest heart.
To live in a world free from any constraints or forced choices at all.
To live in a state of beautiful, potentially real illusion.
All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by me (filter by Instagram).