Sunday, July 10, 2005

Post Number Thirty-Four: Beautiful Life

Of the Beauty of Small Things and of the Pursuit of Serenity.

When I start typing a post, normally, I know what I want to talk about. So I choose the title first, and type the post later.
Today, I will let my thoughts out freely without choosing a precise topic first. Possibly because I am in a conflicting and thoroughly contrasting mood. It's a mixture of melancholy and awe, amazement and nostalgia.
Where to begin from? I suppose it doesn't really matter. Two nights ago I indulged in watching American Beauty (the movie with Thora Birch and Kevin Spacey) for the second time. I am insanely fixated with movies (and books). This I stated already before, in my previous post on fixations. If you have seen American Beauty, you know what it's about. I will give my interpretation of the movie. If you haven't seen the movie, perhaps you shouldn't read further since I am going to spoil much of it.
Kevin Spacey plays the part of your typical American bourgeois. He's married and has a teen age daughter. He is sad, unfulfilled, disappointed. He doesn't have sex with his wife, doesn't talk to his daughter, who in turn hates him to the verge of hoping for his death. The reasons for this man's disappointment is that he is trying to live life the way others expect him to.
Then, the sight of an alluring blonde cheerleader, clicks something in Kevin Spacey's character's mind. He begins to live the life he wanted to live. He drops his job as a journalist after 14 years of career and gets an employment in a fast food, as waiter. "I want the least possible responsibilities" he tells the employer. He starts living his life. He chases his dreams and desires. Certainly, he's no more fitting in the kitsch ideal of American family.
At a certain point, a new character moves in the neighborhood. A former Marine soldier with scarce social life, who hates gays and tries to raise his only child with "discipline". This child, a teenager involved in selling drugs, in my opinion represents the director of this movie. First of all, he goes around with a videocam always in his hands. Second, he's the one that tries to tell the audience what's the hidden meaning of the movie. Because everything has a hidden meaning.
In a strikingly poetic scene, a paper bag is showed dancing in the wind among withered leaves. There is a surprising beauty and a nostalgic atmosphere in this simple sight. Yet it proves the point of the movie. There is a hidden beauty in all things, and most of us deny this beauty because we can't perceive it, because we waste our precious life in the attempt of appearing as something we are not.
In a certain sense, American Beauty reminds me of another movie I have seen, and loved a lot: Coffee and Cigarettes. Ok, true enough: I hate coffee and cigarettes. I drink tea and do not smoke. Anyway, most people think that coffee and cigarettes are pleasurable, and the movie uses them as a "symbol" of what is pleasant. In the last, most poetic scene, two elders talk by a table, drinking a coffee.
One is literally dreaming. He lifts the cup of coffee imagining it's champagne. His toast is to Paris in the Twenties. That is, lightness and pleasure.
"Let's drink another coffee", the dreaming elder says
"We don't have time, it's about time to go back to work", the other answers. This other elder is all about duties and responsibilities. He insists to go back to work, don't waste time pleasuring yourself with coffee.
But the dreaming elder drinks his cup of coffee.
And dies.

There really is no way to explain this concept with words. It's like a Zen story, a Buddhist parable. What are we running after? Why can't this elder drink his last cup of coffee?
He died with pleasure in his lips (literally). Because he did what he wanted to do, in the end.
Ok, I wasn't expecting to mention her again, but isn't this ALSO the story of Sarong Party Girl, Izzy? Chastized like Kevin Spacey's character for living her life the way she likes it, and therefore not fitting the general idea of "good girl" that Singapore's government tries to hammer into its people? And the people that offend and insult her, are just like the old man telling his friend not to drink his cup of coffee because it's time to go back to work. Why denying him his last moment of pleasure? After all we are all going to die, whether we like it or not. If we died right now, would we be pleased of how we lived our life? Would we die with a smile on our lips?
Because this is the concept. It's not about how you obeyed your boss and stuck to your duties and therefore came to the end of your life with a certain sense you did what you had to do. It's about dying with a satisfied, pleasant, light smile on your lips. The smile I presume appears on Izzy's lips when she's doing what she enjoys the most. The smile that appears on my lips when, instead of rushing in my office like everyone else around me, I stop for a second and look north to the astounding profile of the snow-capped Alps, which I can see from the parking lot outside my office.
Most people are unfulfilled and disappointed with their lives. Maybe they think otherwise, but in the end they are not doing what they wish. This is ultimately sad. And they live on because they know everyone else is in the same condition. But when they see someone, in this world, is blissful, this they can't accept. I perceive the way certain colleagues of mine find it annoying that I am never stressed or disappointed at work. I like what I am doing. I like my peers. I like the Alps outside, I like my life, even if I bet most people would hang themselves rather than living my life. I don't do what people expect from me. I do what I feel right for me.
I feel peaceful. Serene. I don't desire happyness. That's an extreme, I dislike extremes. Besides, happyness is transient. What I desire is to be serene and calm in all those moments when I am not plain happy.
This is perhaps the reason why I find Buddhism so resonant with my inner self.
How many of us really realize how beautiful is a paper bag in the wind?
There is a Zen story I like to quote every now and then.

A man was chased by a tiger. He ran through the jungle and suddenly he reached the edge of a cliff. Losing his balance, with the tiger still after him, the man fell off the cliff. As he watched the ground below, he saw another tiger waiting for him at the end of the fall.
He looked around, and saw a flower growing on the slope. How beatiful that flower was!

This Zen story is again about the same topic. Dying with a smile on your lips. Perceving the beauty of a flower while you are falling off a cliff after being chased by a tiger, aware that another tiger is about to eat whatever remains of you after you hit the ground. Of all this fearsome perspective, what matters the most is the beauty of the flower. Because the beauty of a flower can fill our heart with an immense joy.
The flower can be something else for everyone. I see the beauty of the flower when I sit in front of the city hall in Stockholm, Sweden, and watch the calm lake Mälaren and the vast green woods that cover the islands of the city. Because Stockholm is a city among woods. A park city. When it rains in Stockholm, you can smell the scent of a forest while walking in the streets. It's beautiful. It's charming. It feels my heart with a sense of serenity that I miss all the year round.
But someone else can find this bliss in sex, or in a butterfly, or in the people of the world, or in a teardrop, or a shining star, or the light at dusk. There is so much beauty in this world, so much charm, that we should be thankful for passing by to witness it. Why wasting it? Why pretending it doesn't exist?

Why letting life stress us and why letting others tell us what kind of life we should live, forgoing all the beauty of the world to just be "one of the many", something others will call normal and won't consider worth of anything more than a passing glance?
I would feel so empty, if I were "normal". Luckily, of all the people I have met, no one ever called me a normal person.

I love classical music, books, thoughtful movies, the Sindarin language, the plants of Stockholm, the British people, emancipated girls, the profile of the Alps, the foam of the Mediterranean, the scent of woods, the starry sky above my head, the courage of Thomas Jefferson, the skin of Jessica Alba, the mind of my Singaporean friend Viv, the charm of my Russian friend Tatiana, the smile of my Italian friends (incidentally almost all my friends are females - which is the proof that men and women *can* be friends). I love monuments, I love the sound of an organ and chinese tai music, I love the painted glasses of Cathedrals (no matter how I despise the local priests), I love dusk and night time (I am a creature of the winter dusk, as most tell me). I love graveyards in Scotland with mist and glaring tombstones. I love Japan and its culture. I love China and its charm, I love the woods of Norway and the castles of England, the Tour Eiffel and the Coliseum. I love Romans, I love Greeks and butterflies. I love animals. I love cats and lions, tigers and elks. I love the feeling of a morning breeze in Finland.
How could I be stressed in a world where there is SO MUCH to love?

I wonder if anyone would dare read so far. I guess this is quite a boring entry. But I don't type for my readers, I type because I feel like typing.

I was saying at the beginning that I was feeling amazed. Well yes. I really didn't expect to discover something I found out no longer than 60 minutes ago. I found another comment from Izzy, in my blog. Considering that my blog is probably the last thing a normal teenager would like to read, I felt somehow proud that that teenager, instead, still drops by. As usual ever since Viv mentioned Sarong Party Girl on her blog, I paid a visit to Izzy's musings, and ... well, there was a link to my blog...
Well, if you are reading here, thank you Izzy. I am glad you appreciate this blog enough to consider it worth a link on yours. I presume this means that a lot of people will see the link and drop by to pay me a visit. I expect most of them to flee in terror. I'm of course going to love those that won't.

Today, I have decided not to spit poison on anyone. I often complain about Americans, about the Church, about our stupid dwarf dictator. If I do that, it's because in the end I just wish people were serene. I know they could, they just don't see the point. You know why I am so angry with the Italian government, why I am so ashamed of being a citizen of this Medieval dictatorship? Because I love Italy. I love it so much that it makes my heart bleed to see it reduced to a land of idiotic girls and zombified apes.

I think I have said enough. And I have chosen a title for this post. I bid my readers goodbye and see you in my next post.
Au revoir!