I have two faces. My nice face smiles on cue and stops at neighborhood lemonade stands, tosses five dollar bills in the tip jar when the barista is not looking and eats blackberry cobbler with ice cream. My ugly face sprinkles tip jars with inconvenient change, mocks McDonald’s eaters and gulps $3 Venti Soy Americano’s while sniffing ginger in the produce section at Whole Foods.
Successful people share a common trait; they have brightly lit bathroom mirrors, unlike the hotel furnished “mirror that lies” which Jimmy Buffet once sang about. Successful folks value self-assessment while embracing one unlikely character trait, self-deprecation, often useful when looking into mirrors that speak the truth.
Self-assessment shares the same ruthless process with creating a beautiful work of art. The creative process identifies what isn’t beautiful, or to be politically incorrect, removing the ugly so the beauty will shine. For example, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is gorgeous perfection, but hidden behind the music are reams of discarded music that we never see, notes that Beethoven tried that didn’t quite work, leaving behind what we know as the 5th.
According to Callum Hackett, creativity and great music, as well as striding into each day with our best face, “does not require a virtuosity capable of instantaneous perfection, it needs a honed sensibility of imperfection so that you can work persistently at alternatives until that sense evaporates and what remains is worth an audience.”
Perhaps this inversion – the idea of creating beauty replaced with the destruction of ugliness – is why so many admirable people are self-effacing. Which comes around to my original statement about two faces and my wife’s theory about eyesight and aging. It’s what keeps us romantically together, our inability to see clearly at close range, the flaws, wrinkles and blemishes, time etching our faces like Tecumseh Sherman marching on Atlanta.
Despite her theory, she is testing her romantic attraction to me, spitting in the face of imperfection like a hobo eating expired cheddar cheese. She just received five pairs of reading glasses from peepers.com, and she looks amazing in these stylish rims. Alas, when she wears these attractive lenses I fear closeness and the power of attraction wrestles the dread of magnification, so I’m staying at a safe distance, distrustful of honing too intimate a sense of imperfection. But honing our sense of imperfection is necessary.
In his book, Story, Robert McKee writes, “Genius consists not only of the power to create expressive scenes, but of the taste, judgement, and will to weed out and destroy banalities, conceits, false notes, and lies.”
If we are writing the story of our lives with our faces, we sometimes find our own beauty by identifying our ugliness, removing the lying mirrors and having the courage to wear the good glasses, the ones that spare no detail, and weed out our false notes, revealing what was there all along, a lovely symphony of beauty.
Last night I enjoyed a dinner of roast beef stew with my parents and missionaries from Ecuador who have a son, James. James has some challenges in his life, his eyesight is not great, and he is challenged in other physical aspects, small in stature, he’s seventeen years old but looks fourteen. James wanted to play my pitch and putt golf course behind our house before dinner.
So we walked out to the first tee where I have a bin of clubs and a five gallon bucket of balls. He just wanted to look at the course, but I said let’s play. I pulled out a nine-iron and a ball and we walked to the first tee and as we did, James informed me that he was left-handed. The bin clubs are all right-handed, so I said, “We’ll just knock it around some with this right-handed club.” So I helped him with his grip, he had a Hank Aaron grip, left hand down on the grip and right on top. We switched the hands and I told him to swing with his shoulders and dance with his feet. He made it to the first green with Wayne Gretzky slap shots and Paul Bunyan wood chops leaving behind a gleeful trail of busted turf and fleeing grub worms. And he giggled without reason, at least to my sense of giggling normalcy.
Once on the green he whacked a twenty-footer screaming across the putting surface and it hit the pin and went in and he leaped into the air like Nicklaus in 1975 at the Master’s on the sixteenth green when he holed a 50 footer to take the lead.
I noticed he didn’t struggle with any of this stuff I’m talking about. Being authentic, ugliness, mirrors that lie. He was just James.
Later on, after shooting some hoops and kicking a soccer ball, we sat in my theater room which has six reclining chairs. I sit in the front right chair because the front middle and front left are broken, they don’t recline. James looked at my reclined chair as he sat in the middle front chair and tried to recline his and I told him it was broken. He sat back. We were watching the Cardinals-Dodgers game and I wasn’t too chatty, as the Cardinals were down 6-1. Then he looked at me and said, “Why don’t you put these two broken ones on the back row and two good ones on the front row?”
Creative destruction removes the ugliness, our broken recliners, our joyless soul. I’d never considered switching my recliners. Maybe I’m too lazy, perhaps my mirror lies. Maybe I’ll get some glasses like James, from peepers.com, the ones that see the world as a blessing, something to giggle about, even when you are playing golf from the right side and you are left-handed.
Then I can be destructive, creatively I mean, tear things up, put my broken front row chairs on the back row, and smile with sweet emotion, chiseling away the ugliness like Michelangelo discovering David, naked and proud inside a great block of granite.