What is your personal definition of beauty?
Growing up with artists, I learned to look at things critically all the time. Everything is up for review–clothing, landscapes, food. Our house has become one long meditation on beauty which evolves over time. Right now I seem to be obsessed with the beauty of tiny microenvironments, terrariums and aquariums.
I bought a terrarium off Craigslist last week. The owner neglected to mention that there were inhabitants living there, and I discovered a completely terrified fiddler crab upon arriving home with it. I instantly fell in love with him; he’s this hilarious little creature, showing off his big ol’ claw to any passing lady crabs. He looks like a tiny disco king or an aquatic traffic controller as he waves it around.
A couple days later I was cleaning out his home when I found an outrageously well-camouflaged salamander cowering in fear behind a rock. It was tiny, almost a worm with legs, with two enormous black eyes like an amphibious Keane painting. Now I have these creatures enriching my life, filling my world with the mystery of the natural. All these amazing, beautiful, fragile things make my heart ache with wonder. That can only be a good thing.
What do you hope people learn for themselves about beauty? What have you learned?
Recognizing beauty is what makes us human. Not noticing beautiful people, necessarily, but making things around us beautiful or appreciating naturally occurring beauty. We’re like bower birds, collecting amazing things and arranging them in pleasing ways, which makes us sensitive to our environment. If you stop to collect enough shiny bits and arrange them just so, you are having a direct relationship with your life and the world around you.
Biggest surprises when it comes to beauty?
Death is a part of life, and as such, one must recognize its inherent beauty. I learned that as I helped my father die. He faced his death with as much grace and humor as one can, and helped me face death as a reality, not as some sort of mythical idea, unknown and unknowable. My father’s death was one of the two most beautiful and poignant events in my life, the other being—of course—my son’s birth. To elevate birth without recognizing the sanctity and quiet beauty of life’s inevitable conclusion is not to embrace life in toto.