I’m not sure when this post will get up. In California, AT&T pulled the plug on my broadband too early. In Vermont, the painter painted us out of the office with the computer, and it will be another two or three days before I can get to it. So it goes between the vicissitudes of travel and beautiful blue-gray floors but sticky. I had hoped that while I wasn’t writing I’d think about the blog and come up with something new and better, but no such luck. So, at least for the future, I’ll continue to fly by the seat of my pants—so to speak.
Before I left California, I had lunch with Asa, the potter, who described events of seeing in his life that suggested to him we rarely, almost never, see what’s really there. And, of course, that’s true. I mean, what we see is shaped by us—by our aesthetic sensibilities and intelligences and, above all, by our memories. I became especially aware of that as I watched my mother’s Alzheimers progress. As her memories went, so did her ability to see the world around her. I don’t mean that she started stumbling into chairs—nothing like that—but colors, for example, were either absent, or might as well have been.
So, I ask, what’s “really” there, besides whirling atoms with their component parts? I don’t know, and I’m sure the question must seem absurd, except perhaps to the physics professors among us. What is apparent to me, a non-physicist, is that the day-to-day real” is not something utterly other than us. It’s part of us. We help make it. In both our seeing and our doing.
What’s also apparent to me is that some things we see are “more us” than others. That the New England countryside, for instance, is much more the result of my seeing it than the New Mexico. Vermont has been “futzed-over.” The land is soaked through with the efforts of human beings. Most of New Mexico’s landscape is “exotic,” that is “foreign, not native, strange or different in a way that is striking or fascinating” (Webster). It’s “other” in the same way the vultures and cormorants of my last post are. There is less human memory connected with it, less that was, or is, shaped by our aesthetics or intelligence.
Unless, of course, we are Georgia O’Keefe finding the shape of a woman in the hills of New Mexico or the interior of one of its exotic blooms.