It’s 7:30 in the evening and, from my window on US Air 1883, I’m watching a guy in a deicing cab, perched in a cold wet sky. Behind him red, yellow and white lights feign daylight for an entire airport community bent on launching people into that sky, many of them homeward bound, all escaping Philly’s winter weather.
As I watch, I become obsessed with catching a glimpse of his face. I somehow want to personalize this experience. It’s got to be uncomfortable out there, and my plane is just one of many, now at the front of a long line waiting for a spot on the deicing pad. I want to see in his eyes that this matters to him more than his comfort, that he’s oblivious to the cold, that he knows the stakes, feels responsible, and will stay on that wing until he is absolutely certain that this plane has been successfully prepared for launch. In other words, I need him to be a perfectionist.
Much has been written extolling the pursuit of excellence and warning against perfectionism, which involves a certain intolerance for mistakes. That may apply to artists, athletes, and office workers, but I’m just not sold on it as a general rule.
We live in a small Florida town that was forgotten by growth promoters sometime in 2008, and I’d apparently gone blind to that particular phenomenon. Last week, I found myself in a suburb just north of Atlanta and was overwhelmed by the wall-to-wall and back-to-back river of stores, all of them shiny-new franchised businesses, all overflowing with stock. There were no clues, not one homegrown establishment and nothing unique to the area. You could drop me from the sky into one of the ubiquitous strip mall parking lots, and I could no more figure out where I was then fly to the moon.
The debate about consumerism vs the economy aside, I’m wondering if a steady diet of aesthetic sameness might, over time, damage one’s spirit.
I’ve always been one to seek beauty in nature and in serene pastoral scenes, but nature and farmland do not generally stand a chance when growth is a possibility. So, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere, to find a substitute. I could train my eye to appreciate (and maybe even my spirit to be recharged by) a shrill suburban homogeneity. After all, it doesn’t seem to be a limited resource.
[iPhone photo made at Party City, Perimeter Village, Atlanta, finished in Snapseed and Photoshop.]
Most of us are immersed in “stuff”, both physically and mentally. Our limited time is spent not on what we’ve chosen but on what we’re confronted with. We dilute our lives with so much of everything that the overall effect is to mire us in indecision and make everything just mediocre.
It occurred to me recently that so many things in life might be made better by the simple act of culling. Of making decisions between and among things, of picking what’s most important and shedding the chaff, even if there’s only a hair’s breadth between the two. Perhaps this often-painful process can make enjoyment of what remains – the carefully chosen – so much sweeter. Perhaps our possessions, how we spend our time, the words we use, the art we make and even our thoughts can all be honed and subjected to the same meticulous process of separating the true gems from the mere minerals.
Culling takes courage, but I believe it refines our ability to be decisive, to take risks, and to discern true beauty or value from a steady menu of mediocrity. The result could be a simpler, more focused and more meaningful experience.
For me, 2015 will be about culling.
[Photo culled from 200+ images taken last Saturday morning at Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon, Florida]