Love in middle age
Same Old Same Old, part 1
the main reason to love art


I do not much like being grown up and wise, Akhila said to me over a glass of something in the deep shade of the great Bo tree: a Bo tree as huge and as silent as a Gothic church.

(A Bo tree, just think!)

"For, although my mother, now 57, says to me 'I wish I had known at your age what you know at yours', the truth is that this knowledge is -- a burden. The truth is, my old friend, that premature wisdom is... bitter.

"Yes, it is useful to know with perfect 20/20 clarity just what motivates everyone around me, and thus how to press their buttons... and thus how to manipulate them efficiently into doing what I want. It makes one effective at business... look at this house all paid off at 32, and another one... And yes, it is good to know not to expect from people anything beyond that -- one saves herself so much disappointment by not entertaining silly expectations...

"And yet, it is -- disappointing, after all, I suppose -- tiresome -- dull -- to know that people are such simple creatures; that everything in life is so -- predictable; so -- unromantic; so -- mechanical; so -- mercenary... all of it... That everyone is just like everyone else... that they are all after the same things... and that one can trust no one at all, and never ever hope for anyone to surprise us...

"When I think about it now, I realize just how much I do not like it: there is a part of me which wishes I did not know; a part of me that wishes to be mystified, wide-eyed, amazed. I want to believe life is a mystery. I want to be in love -- yes, I suppose I do want to be in love -- which is, to my mind, a feeling of giving oneself to something bigger and better than oneself... of believing in goodness and friendship and -- well -- love.

"But, of course, it is impossible; at our age we know better; we have the perfect knowledge; the 20/20 vision. Zero illusion."


My lady Akhila's words do not surprise me.

They, too, are predictable: it is the voice of the middle age.

I once heard Joe Campbell saying the very same thing: by the time you are forty, you know what a person is going to say before they open their mouth; you know everything; everyone you meet you have met already in a different guise... everything someone else says you have heard... you are ready for -- a whole new movie.

And, of course, this has been my experience, too: same old, same old.

And, like Akhila, I am tired and bored of it.

The difference is that Joe Campbell was 52 when he pronounced those words; and I was forty when I understood them; but Akhila is... thirty-two. How terrifying it must be to be disillusioned at her age.

At her age I was still stupid enough to fall in love -- for what will be, I certainly hope, the last time.


There are, I say to her, two ways to cope.

The first is not to become cynical.

Cynical, think my friends, means not believing anyone we meet; assuming absolutely the worst about them; and then merely waiting to see how right we were in our initial estimation; waiting for them to prove themselves to be just what we thought they were in the first place. At which they do not usually disappoint.

But that is not correct; that is not the true meaning of being cynical. That is merely being realistic, practical, true to the our middle-age knowledge of people and the world. The species is ugly; its members are by and large a worthless waste of time.

This is god's own truth.

It is a fact of life.

But being cynical is not about knowing it, but about agreeing to be like them.

And this we must not do. Merely because x is a louse, why should I be the same? If x fails me as a friend, why should I fail him? The world is lousy, surely; but that does not mean I should be lousy myself, too, does it now?

So my friends can count on me even if I cannot -- and do not -- count on them. They are oftentimes lice, perhaps; sometimes lice squared, even; but I -- I shall be a reliable and trustworthy friend to them.

No one will ever catch me being a louse.


But the second way to cope is probably the better one -- fewer concerns with interpersonal relationships and character in it, certainly fewer disappointments -- it is to take an interest in art.

Every artistic technique -- whether it is weaving, or pottery, or painting, or metalworking -- is a kind of struggle with the technological limitations of the medium; within each there are numerous histories of multigenerational research projects each directed at the attainment of a particular result. In painting this may be the struggle to represent three dimensional space on a flat surface; or to represent texture -- glistening glass, fluffy fur, stubble; in Chinese pottery such projects included the quest for the color of sangue de boeuf; or for the perfect celadon crackle. Following these research projects is intellectually fascinating; but their ends are always fresh and new: they are far removed from the usual same old same old; which is why the artists followed them in the first place, I suppose. They, too, found the endless cycle of seduction and betrayal painful and -- dull. They, too, tried to get away -- and thanks to them now we can, too -- by following them down their paths.


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