Derek Franz: The hunger for perfection
It was the first warm First Friday in Carbondale and everyone was out in the streets. There was a palpable sense of relief among the revelers as they shook hands with friends and doted on little ones. The air smelled of roasting peppers and frying grease. Even the transients who slept in the dirt on the outskirts of town were smiling as the sun set on the gentle evening.
By 11 p.m., I was walking alone on the bike path under the moonless stars. My girlfriend was tired, so I walked her home a few hours earlier, unsure if I would go back out even though the night was whispering my name.
At home, I worked on the computer, revisiting stories I’d written years ago. Memories of a former life came trickling back — days when I worked a graveyard shift and spent a great deal of time walking alone in the dark, a little unsure of who or what I was on Earth. I was staring into the glowing computer screen when my friend called, inviting me to join him at a bar with live music. For a moment, I stepped into the shoes of a younger man and slipped out the door, heading for the bar.
An eight-piece bluegrass band had the brick building busting with noise. The wood floor practically flexed under the weight of all the hopping dancers as the lead singer poured her pipes into the mic like water for a pack of thirsty animals. One of the transients I had seen earlier kicked his unlaced shoes high in a jig, spinning around and around in front of the stage, his long gray hair flying. A young, pretty girl danced with him at one point and smiles stretched wide.
A grinning, gaping mouth practically swallowed the moment in the room like a gulp of beer. A raw, positive emotion came to life. I watched the smile spread from band member to band member as they made eye contact with each other, and I couldn’t help but smile when the shy fiddle player met my eye. I looked around and saw the same smile everywhere.
“Man is nature’s art!” I thought, marveling at the scene of perfect joy. And it was perfect.
Perfection is an idea that plasters the halls of society. Humans clearly long for it. It is a rare person who does not strive to attain some form or forms of theorized perfection. Some practice mercilessly on the piano, or study books or religion, or hone their abs at the gym. Maybe one reason we never find lasting perfection is because we don’t know what it is — our concepts of it are flawed.
The next morning, my girlfriend went to the mailbox and raised an interesting point when she plopped the latest issue of Outside magazine on the table.
“I’m gonna start counting how many times the word, ‘Perfect,’ appears on the cover,” she said.
She was right — since January the word has been on the cover at least three out of five times. I thought of all the other places I see it, including magazines on racks in checkout aisles.
Then I contrasted what appears to be America’s idea of perfection and that of eastern cultures, such as China, where it is often said that wooden sticks beat a rigorous work ethic into students and where a personal folly might shame your family for generations. Clearly, both cultures encourage people to attain various ideals. There is another chapter of analysis as to which culture pursues more superficial forms of perfection, but that is beside the point here.
The truth that sets me free in rare moments of clarity is that perfection is not ours to hold. It’s like we’re trying to construct something with material that is immaterial. But sometimes a flawless moment visits us in the fluidity of a situation — think of skis gliding over powder; a baseball player hitting a home run, or just that feeling of complete contentment with loved ones, like in weddings — the moments in which there is nothing more to be desired in that particular second.
What makes a perfect piece of art? There is no defined form of expression; it seems that the best art — the ideal art — is anything that invokes the experience of something that is otherwise intangible; it renders the immaterial with material. We are art!
So participate! Be what you are — dance, let the moment come to you — and you will taste the warm sweetness of perfection, if only in a smattering of dots across your fluid life.
That’s what we live for.
— Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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