The Hughsletter #91 – Beauty in the Ugliness

Good Morning!

When I began this little project, it was because of my belief that in a world filled with ugliness, you needed to have access to beautiful things as a way of building reserves to see you through. As my buddy Bart once said, “If you knew that tomorrow you would walk across the desert, you would spend today gorging yourself with water. “ I know that tomorrow may bring about the possibility of ugliness and pain (isn’t this just what it means to be human?) and so, today I try to gorge myself on beauty.

I really don’t want to talk about it here, but this week has been incredibly trying. It has been as emotionally challenging as anything I have ever been through, and in the last ten years, I have been through a lot. This has been a week of ugliness and pain. Full stop.

There have been two places I could go this week to get through – to stop the voices in my head, to calm the panic, to stop the rage and the pain.

The first was nature. Saturday was perhaps the worst day, feeling-wise. So I went to the Botanical Gardens in Chapel Hill, a 10 acre naturalistic garden. Just walking in the canopy of trees, watching the birds and squirrels, hearing the trickling of water, the sounds of geese… it just worked. The problems did not go away, but did feel more human-sized, and they moved aside long enough for me to be able to gain some perspective.

The other place has been literature. It was hard to sit still and read, but I forced myself in the beginning. This week I read Insomniac City, the memoir of Oliver Sacks’ partner and lover Bill Hayes and their six years together.

It was a perfect book for episodic reading, grabbing time in snatches. His stories of life with Oliver, and watching him die, and his trying to live after, was just what I needed. The interspersed journal entries showing vignettes of their life together and their love for each other was beautiful. I wept throughout the book.

Beauty. If the world is indeed capable of being saved, it will be beauty that does it for us. And since most of us don’t know if the ugliness will hit tomorrow or not, we should work on building our reserves today.

Here are five things I thought were beautiful.

  • Two artists (who are also scientists) created Self-Reflected, an art piece that uses a technique called microetching to trace neural pathways through the human brain. But you don’t need to understand any of that to know it is mesmerizing. (Here is more about it)
  • Who hasn’t written their name in the dust on a car? This artist creates beautiful, if ephemeral images, on dirty cars and building.
  • This article on mindfulness as a way of gaining emotional self-control has been a lifesaver this week.
  • This wooden mosaic floor is the height of craftsmanship. Art from waste always gets me.
  • I love grand public buildings – in a way, architecture is public art. David Katzenstein’s collection of photos of Grand Central Station in New York are breathtaking. It makes me wonder what the architects were thinking, and how they must have loved the people who would see this building.

That’s it for now.

Take care of yourself, and each other.

Hugh Hollowell
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