Walk in Beauty I

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Life is full of beauty. Notice it.

Notice the bumble bee, the small child,

and the smiling faces.

Smell the rain, and feel the wind.

Live your life to the fullest potential,

and fight for your dreams.

Ashley Smith

Picture from Martha Tate (Garden Photo of the Day)

 

 

 

Is This Beautiful?

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To choose beauty is one of the most beneficial choices one can make. It entails becoming mindful of the world around you and the people who inhabit it rather than spending all of one’s time, attention, and energy rushing to complete the next task or running away from harsh reality with mindless pursuits. It’s not so much a matter of wealth, for many humble things are beautiful. Nor is it a matter of taste, for taste is somewhat subjective, dependent upon current zeitgeist. No, it is a matter of observation.

Beauty is the choice to contemplate, to notice, to discern, and to pay attention. While skimming, peeking or glancing may be sufficient in a few situations, those activities will most frequently obscure beauty, rather than reveal it. To choose to see the beauty we encounter every day is much more important now than when the admonition to “take time to smell the roses” first became popular. The advances in technology that should have freed us from tedious labor, have instead encouraged the tedious distraction of an artificial virtual environment.

A simple way to take back one’s life is to consciously buy, keep, and use only objects of beauty that make you happy every time you look at them. Get rid of the clunkers. Don’t clutter your environment with things that do not delight you while using them.

A case in point is the item pictured above – my most recent beautiful acquisition. It efficiently removes food stuck to pans or plates before the dishwasher takes over. It is gentle to the good plates and gentle to my fingers. It’s a bright, happy color. And every time I look at it, I remember Gina. She made it herself and gave it to me with joy shining in her eyes. I fondly remember Gina each time I use the beautiful gift she graciously gave me for no reason at all, except that she loved giving. She is even more beautiful than her gift.

Copyright by Kaye Fairweather 2017

 

 

Poignant Performance

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Part Four of the movie, The Lives of Others

In The Lives of Others, Sebastian Koch’s performance as Georg Dreyman, the playwright, rightfully commanded generous praise. But Ulrich Mühr’s portrayal of Gerd Weisler, the dutiful Stasi officer, is especially poignant. Of course his lines were written by the playwright, but Mühr brought a depth to those lines that few others could muster. He had actually lived in East Berlin during the era of its soul crushing culture, almost as if he had been groomed for this particular role. After 1989, any East Berliner was allowed to read the files that the Stasi had made and kept on him during the previous decades. When Mühe took that step, he discovered that some of his best friends and – even his own wife – had regularly informed the secret police about his private activities. He knew the story from the inside out.

At the start, Weisler is one of the villains – a protector of the oppressive state. As a true believer, he reminds one of a teacher who sternly disciplines unruly students because of an ardent belief they need tough love to change from bitter rebellion to contented obedience.

The devoted Stasi officer appears to be a good soldier, eager to perform well. Gerd Weisler understands that while the government edicts may appear somewhat harsh, he accepts their usefulness in achieving a greater good – the Utopian State offering multiple benefits to its citizens.

But it is his earnest, scrupulous work performance itself that forces new paradigms onto his rather narrow worldview. While spying on Koch and his circle of friends, Weisler is exposed to poetry that speaks to a man’s soul, to music that stirs up inexplicable aspirations, and to observing men who live for the joy of self expression. Those ideas and emotions awaken him to an existence far above and beyond achieving measurable quotas or writing reports just to gain favor with one’s superiors. Gerd finally glimpses life as lived outside the narrow boundaries of political correctness.

As Gerd Weisler began to secretly help fellow human beings instead of focusing on precisely fulfilling assignments for the demanding State, he discovers that his assignment to follow Koch’s private life had nothing to do with building the utopia he had defended and worked toward for years. Instead the entire project was designed and executed merely to help a higher official seduce a woman who had caught his fancy.

His immediate superior chides him for going soft by asserting that the state had taken good care of its citizens, “All was good in our little republic.”

To which Gerd Weisler tersely replied, “To think that people like you once ran a country.”

The award winning movie certainly adds credence to Dostoevsky’s statement: “Beauty can change the world.”

Copyright by Kaye Fairweather 2017

Beauty Changes the Man

 

 

 

 

A German-made movie, The Lives of Others, illustrates the power of beauty to change noxious beliefs and actions into deeds of kind heroism – even when it puts the perpetrator into danger. Despite needing English subtitles for most American viewers, it won the 2007* Academy Award for Best Foreign Movie. With a bare bones budget of $2 million, a brand new writer/director, and actors working for a mere 20% of their usual pay, it also received a record number of nominations and awards in Europe.

Most of the dialogue and action involves Georg Dreyman, a playwright, Crista-Maria Sieland, a successful actress, and their circle of artist friends. The group is basically apolitical; they just want to fulfill their creative desires without fear of retribution from the State. Eventually one of them commits suicide after six years of being blacklisted and not allowed to work at all.

However the main character is a proudly diligent Stasi Captain in East Berlin. Gerd Weisler is well trained in effective methods of interrogation and the official expectation that ordinary people do not change without punishment, if at all. Weisler is neither evil, nor a slacker; he worked hard to succeed at his assigned tasks. He believed in the system.

But the Captain begins to change when sent to personally monitor George and Crista-Maria with hidden cameras and microphones in every room of their apartment. After hearing George discuss Bertol Brecht, he slyly enters the Dreyman apartment to ‘borrow’ a book of Brecht’s poetry. When he first over-hears Dreyman play “Sonata for A Good Man,” he is mesmerized. (See entry for July 4, 2017). Quietly, almost imperceptibly, he begins to adjust his written reports.

The plot is subtle, but powerfully moving. You will be glad you watched all 137 minutes, just like 95% of reviewers on Amazon. You might even decide to buy a CD of the score by Gabriel Yared. The writer/director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, spent a month translating the script into French before sending it to Gabriel because he believed Yared would be the best composer for the soundtrack. (Some of it in is the clip above.)

* Just in case you’re wondering, I had a number of serious health issues in 2005-2007, so I didn’t even hear about the movie until I started looking for examples of beauty changing the world.

 

 

 

Choose Beauty – Every Time

Every year or so, I climb down from my bunker on the ninth floor of my “Ivory Tower” to watch a movie. And every two or three years, I actually recommend a film to others. It’s not that I don’t like movies. I love movies! They graciously bring the theater to those of us living on the wrong side of the tracks or the wrong side of the country.

Because, like theater productions, they engage one’s sight and hearing, as well as, the brain, they are powerful tools of engagement, inspiration, awakening, and change. They can present ideas forcefully enough to at least influence, if not alter beliefs and actions. That’s one reason the Catholic Church employed plays for teaching long before the printing press made reading a common skill. Plays allowed the educated priests to easily coach the whole parish about living the Christian life, reaching old and young alike intellectually and emotionally.

Since I try to choose beauty as a way of living life, I avoid un-beautiful entertainment as much as possible. I carefully select movies and plays that will feed my soul, not just help me avoid boredom. Why should I spend my precious time, energy, and money attending a performance that degrades or promotes bad decisions?

I had no more than a visceral understanding of the power inherent in theater and/or movies until I read about the Rhapsodic Theater that Karol Wojtyla and Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk started in Poland in 1941. It was an underground theater of the spoken word only: no costumes, no sets, no music. Performances consisted of a few actors in street clothes reciting their lines distinctly and dramatically to a small audience in someone’s living room. Both men believed the word had priority over gesture or background; they also insisted that thought has priority over action. That and careful choice of scripts caused the performances to influence audiences.

Despite the numerous limitations imposed, the Rhapsodic Theater was such a powerful method of encouraging the Polish people and keeping their spirits high, the German Army declared it illegal. Both actors and audience would be shot on the spot if discovered. In the year and a half that Wojtyla participated before he entered the underground seminary, they performed 7 plays in 122 performances. After he left, the theater continued to galvanize the Poles for another twenty-six years under Communist oppression.

Any medium that powerful must be “used” with respect. Adding action, costumes, sets, dramatic lighting, and music adds even more power to performances. Don’t allow ugly, raunchy, or mindless plays and movies into your mind where the impact on your psyche may outlast any memory of the plot. Since it’s going to create a permanent, although largely subconscious, part of who you are, choose carefully. Choose beauty.

Can Beauty Save The World? II

“Can anyone who has heard this music – I mean truly hear it – really be a bad person?”

from a 2006 German movie : The Lives of Others, “Sonata of a Good Man” written by Gabriel Yarid and performed by Karin Okada

The movie is a magnificent one, winning top awards. On Amazon, where you may rent or buy it, there are 706 top reviews and only 42 with 1 to 2 stars. So I am not alone in highly recommending that you watch it. For those of us who don’t speak German, there are English sub-titles – and the movie is so good that American viewers don’t notice the handicap. It’s set in East Berlin in 1984 before the fall of the wall and celebrates the universal desire for the freedom that allows people to flourish, invent, and create and illustrates the soul deadening effect of stifling rules and political correctness.

The seed of the plot comes from a quote by Lenin when discussing Beethoven’s Apassionata.  In a conversation with Maxim Gorky, he extolled the power of Beethoven, but added, “I can’t listen to music too often. It affects your nerves, makes you want to say stupid nice things, and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty while living in this vile hell.”

Beauty and Pathos

 

While I have defined beauty as something delights, inspires, and enriches, I honestly have to admit that beauty is nearly always accompanied by a brush of pathos. Even as I revel in the enchantment of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, in the pleasure of a mesmerizing sunset hanging over the high plains that is so gorgeous it almost seems artificial, in the satisfaction of careful make-up and flattering outfits, or in the joy expressed by a baby’s spontaneous laughter, I also feel a twinge of longing, mostly because I know the gratification will be temporary. The music stops. The sunset darkens into night. The mascara runs. The sweater is snagged. The baby cries as unexpectedly he began to laugh.

 

And yet, even the mere memory of any particular delight of beauty continues to lift my spirits. And for that reason, I seek it zealously where ever I can find it. I need beauty at least as intensely as an addict needs a “fix.” Life is tough for all of us, and much of our current, crass culture encourages depression. But beauty can stem the tide of despondency and lift one to another level of existence. I want to create it, see it, hold it, hear it, feel it in every possible way because each experience of beauty becomes nourishment that heals my soul.

 

I want to walk in beauty every day.

 

Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather