Sunday, September 17, 2006
Raindrops on Roses
I had a realization awhile back that certain things aesthetic fill me with a dull and hazy sense of dread. The sensation is something like a foggy headache, not strong enough to really be called a pain, and coupled with a very thin paste of nausea. I should call it a slurry, really. Sometimes it feels vaguely claustrophobic. Kind of like the malaise of a too-long nap in the late afternoon, you just don't feel quite right. The only examples I can think of at the moment, and I'm sure there are others, are these:
The original Star Trek series
Planet of the Apes
the Carpenters' tune "Sing a Song"
That other insipid tune, whoever sang it, "Seasons in the Sun"
overly earthen 60s-70s decor
Sunday afternoon televised golf
depictions of seashells
acrylic knits (if I touch this material, the reaction is quite extreme. I literally get chills, the bad kind, up and down my spine.)
small children singing in any sort of performance (I can handle it when they are simply doing it for their own amusement)
and seashells (every time)
Did I mention seashells?
When I recognized what these things had in common, the feelings of loathing suddenly made sense. These are relics of my very early childhood. These are icons of depression. What confused me is that I don't find that the sensation is, in all cases, linked to the relative value of the things themselves. There is some aesthetic medocrity here, to be sure, but why hate Star Trek? Even as ludicrous as that show can be, it certainly has value in its kitsch appeal and absurd humor. Interestingly, that show and the Heston pic are two things I am quite certain I watched with my father. I am not saying I hate those shows, it's just a gray area, a brume. Something to do with the bourbon and Coke on the end table, and me beside him in his easy chair. It's as if my body remembers the haze of his exhalations of alcohol and smoke, hanging in the room.
As to the seashells, you put one to your ear and you hear the sea. I press it to mine and I hear static. I hear the echo of an empty chamber, the hollow home of someone who isn't coming back. Less melodramatically, why is all seashell decoration so insistently little-girl-cloth pastel? Corals, baby pinks, robin's egg blue, peach and tan and it's all an unjustifiably optimistic mess. If it had a sound it would be "Seasons in the Sun." How can something meant to be pretty make me want so much to throw things or scream to break the deadening monotony? If I see a picture of it in a book or magazine, I want to slam the pages closed in the same kind of shocking fear I had as a child when my fingers landed on the photo of a dreadful insect or nematode or a diseased intestine. Genuinely, I was afraid to touch even the image of something disgusting.
I can only conclude that the aversion is something akin to an instinctual aversion to the threat of poisoning, or disease. The way the ignorant shunned the crippled, perhaps thinking their malady a symptom of plague, my memory sends me running from the images that recall periods of emotional trouble.
Or I'm just a snob.