I have been carrying around this picture (above) for almost a decade. It’s a glass slide I picked up cheap at some antique store somewhere and have never mounted or done anything with.
It gets shuffled from my desk to my workbench to the counter but I never quite admit that I am never going to do anything with it.
Part of it is Paris. It is a picture of Paris. No firm date, but likely somewhere around the 1800’s. I like to think of it as 1888. I even wrote a story about that date somewhere back there.
I have a thing for Paris, even though I have not been there yet. I grew up reading French novels (translated, I am terrible at languages). Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is my favorite novel. I read it almost yearly. A young addict to NPR, I fell in love Debussy, Ravel and Maurice Saint Saens – a strange mix to the rock and roll that was also part of my time and culture. I aoften listen to French cafe music and French jazz, even if I can’t understand the words. And the art! The impressionists sing to me. Picasso fascinates me. I love the idea of the left bank artists and salons and…. all of it.
I am perfectly aware that my vision of Paris is a romantic one. But that is how I see things. Not through rose-colored glasses, but through romantic colored glasses. That causes me problems sometimes. And I am very wrong sometimes. But it is how I see. When I travel to a city, particularly a city or village overseas, I see it differently than most people. It is like living in a novel, with that same richness of feeling that you only get in novels and at times, the most sublime of poetry.
Seeing things romanticly is a problem sometimes. I have been slow to see when people around me dislike me, or even hate me. I have been slow to see the bad in people, even when others around me see it loud and clear. I often have hope when perhaps, it’s time to abandon hope and get down to some nitty-gritty painful admissions. I am not good at protecting myself from pain.
A decade ago, my therapist and others around me put in a lot of work trying to help me see things more clearly. I can do it now. I don’t like it, but I do it. Sometimes.
I am one of those guys that puts up pictures of things I want in life to remind me, to help me eventually get “there”, where ever “there” is. In my office, you’ll see a small gathering of pictures from Venice (where I did get to and where I hope to go to again) and Paris. Perhaps I keep the glass slide for that reason, to constantly prick me, to remind me that I will, someday, go. Recently though, the slide has taken on a different importance.
So much of life is blurry. We think we know where it’s all going, and then we find out we don’t. We think we recognize someone and they turn out to be something very different. Heck, sometimes we think we know ourselves and then we do something totally out of character and we end up scratching our heads wondering “Where did THAT come from.”
I spent the first fifty years or so of my life thinking otherwise. Things and people and plans were what they were. I laughingly thought I had a modicum of control about life and where it was going.
I was wrong about a lot of things I thought. Life is a lot less certain and a lot less clear than I imagined back then. Less realism and more impressionist. I have become comfortable with fog, with letting the blurred shapes in the distance unfold as they unfold. And this picture reminds me of that.
I get married in 2 days, after more than a decade living on my own. Am I looking at that through romantic eyes? Yeah, probably. I have taken the time to step back and look at it with realistic eyes (My therapists would be proud of me.). But mostly, I look at her, and our marriage through eyes blurred with love.
And like this slide, I kinda know what is there. But there are lots of details I can’t see.
When I do get to Paris, I am hoping I can find this place and take a new picture, all clear and in color and full of detail, of the same spot. But that will never replace the image of this old glass slide in my mind.
That’s the way I choose to live. I can turn romanticism on and off, but mostly, I leave it on. Blurry pictures and all. Come to my house and you will find lots of pictures of places I have traveled. Many of them are not photographs, but old postcards from the forties and fifties, some in black and white, some are hand colored, almost like paintings. They don’t capture the detail. They capture the essence, the feeling, often far better than modern, high definition images of today.
And that’s what is important me, far more than the details – the essence. And it can get lost in the details. It too often does. A person makes one mistake and they are branded by it the rest of their life. A person says one stupid thing and we remind them of it forever. We fail once and that failure is like a brand burnt into their reputation. We have one diverging point of view on politics, religion, life – and we tar and feather them and ride them out of town.
We never give them the chance to play out who they are. We dismiss them fast and hard and throw them aside. The details. If they aren’t perfect, we paint them with the flaws.
I’ve been painted that way, and discarded. You likely have too.
But I don’t want to live that way. No, for me, I want to live impressionistly, and let the details get lost in the essence. I can live with the fog, with the blur, with the belief that most people are good, with the belief that God is love, that there is hope, that I can make a difference, and that the people I love are wonderful.
Not perfect. Wonderful. There’s a difference.
And I’ll take wonderful every time.
See you in Paris.