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Simply Beautiful

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We spent last week in Miami Beach vacationing. The weather was gorgeous, the art deco offered a flashback to the 50s, and of course, beautiful people were everywhere.

When I was a young man, beauty was carnal, it was the flesh. But walking around as a middle aged man, though I found the young women attractive and the buff men handsome, I was not so easily swayed.

It’s not that I felt asexual or I had a desperate need for a Viagra fix. Far from it, my eyeballs fell out a few times like any other member of the male species (in fact, my wife Caitlin laughed at me a couple of times).

Yet that inner desire to surround myself with physical attractiveness was diminished, reduced to an amused curiosity with a dash of hunger, but measured by a good dose of wariness, too.

Perhaps this lack of interest is the curse/grace of age, but I find little beauty solely in one’s physique.

At a parade like Miami Beach it’s all show and tell. String bikinis and heels, sculpted chests, tight clothes, great cars, bump and grind music, on and on. Yeah, it’s hot and adds to the memory, but in the end the architecture will be the thing etched into my mind.

Human Beauty

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It’s trite to say that beauty only lies with souls who do admirable things. If the world were only so altruistic. It’s not, in my opinion.

We all know Apollonian spirits receive preference and extra advantages because of their looks, even if favoritism is an act of the sub-conscious.

I’ve known many physically beautiful people throughout my life. The ones I truly cherish are the ones who didn’t let it get to their heads, who went out and earned their salt. People who focus on actions rather than fickle captivation hold a special spot in my heart.

When the actions of the pretty or the handsome don’t meet an angelic promise, they seem uglier, even horrid. Consider celebrities who fall from grace, the Lohans and the Armstrongs of the world. Oh, the horror of it all!

In contrast, the rest of us normal people just seem flawed when we exhibit the same behavior.

Maybe its because dastardly beautiful people are so complicated. These men and women rend our hearts and minds, driving us crazy. They defy what we see, a simple physical beauty paired with a tainted soul.

Defects coupled with the grace of good looks translates to an abuse of power. And that’s not fair to anyone, really.

We all need the latitude to be human. In a world of attention, that latitude is robbed. Instead, we demand resplendent behavior to match picturesque looks. When it doesn’t we cannot help but tear the soul down, disgusted by our betrayed symmetrical admiration.

Yet, we always seem to be willing to give these flawed beauties another chance to get it right. We just can’t reconcile the angelic attraction with the devilish acts.

Robert Boyer wrote an essay called “A Beauty” about his philandering friend Charles Newman whom he excused because of his handsomeness. Boyer reconciled his friend’s behavior because his wife was not a target. More chances given.

But as time passes, it is not so easy to let the beautiful off the hook for repeated flagrant behavior. There’s little consequence, though. Another glad person comes along who tolerates mistreatment in exchange for presence in the aura of a physical wonder. God bless them.

A Middle Aged View of Beauty

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It stands to reason that age brings a different view of beauty. It’s a natural progression as what we label gorgeous is really something wanted, whether it’s that lover we pursued in our youth, or the serenity a gentle stream offers in the woods.

At first, beauty is desire imagined. Age brings appreciation of happiness, not just pleasure. While closely related, they are not synonymous. One fulfills for the moment, while the other quenches thirst for days, weeks, even a lifetime.

In The Republic Plato wrote, “Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity – I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character, not that other simplicity which is only a euphemism for folly.”

We come to understand the carnal as lustful folly, albeit an irrrestible one that has or will posess the very best of us. Experience, pain, and the realization of happiness — even temporarily — teach us the true beauty life offers.

The turn of a woman’s hips may be striking, but her willingness to hold the door for a man on crutches is just devastating. An authentic beauty rings through that conquers the petty physical admiration. Suddenly she becomes lovely.

Appreciation comes with understanding the simple authenticity of something or someone.

The art deco of Miami Beach offered a repeated stylistic grace that could not be matched. Attractive and authentically Miami, cultivated and preserved through the decades, the art deco offered a back drop that spanned eras, from the days of Marilyn Monroe to the current quests of Lebron James. It provided soul.

Complication works when it comes together to offer a powerful simple experience. Mind you, art deco is not an easily drawn font or architectural style.

We see this complicated phenomena with technologies like iOS. We have experience it with the frenetic individual paint strokes of Van Gogh that in aggregate make such incredible impressionistic art.

Yet gorgeous art and the incredible Apple operating system that changed everything — while complicated — are in their own right natural. They offer an undeniable simple vision, an authentic delivery of human innovation and spirit, or perhaps even a reflection of the natural order in life. This is beauty delivered through the hands of others.

The Grace of Cherry Blossoms

It’s cherry blossom season in Washington, DC, one of my favorite times of year. As a photographer, I can’t help but trek to the National Mall to shoot. The gorgeous morning and late afternoon light dances on the blossoms, turning these five petal beauties into a shifting glory of color.

The back drop of the monuments and the national mall make for sweeping landscapes. But really it’s the elegant flowers and their precious few days with us that make the annual pilgrimage worthwhile.

They stir the soul without fail, good year or bad year, busy or relaxed. It’s irresistible, so I play hookie for a few hours to walk amongst the blossoms. They offer the most simplistic authentic beauty.

Everyday I can see beauty if I choose to for it surrounds me. It surrounds me in little acts of others throughout the day, in the every changing world around me.

It’s always so simple, so pure, and very easily ignored. It’s a question of choosing to be present and admire that which is simple, authentic and pure.

What do you think of beauty?

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  • http://www.writerightwords.com/ Erin Feldman

    Keats says a thing of beauty is a joy forever. For me, beauty comes from the inside out and is quiet in a way. It doesn’t beg for attention but you can’t help but notice it if you, like you say, learn to be present. The most attractive guy loses luster once it becomes apparent that he knows and celebrates how good-looking he is or is unkind on a consistent basis.

    • geofflivingston

      Yeah, it’s always a disappointment to see the attractive people display real defects of character. They are human and not perfect. I think our disappointment lies in the visual promise unmet, not their fault. That doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it’s funny to actually examine the emotion behind the angst.

  • http://twitter.com/ExtremelyAvg Brian D. Meeks

    I, too, loved the Cherry Blossom festival when I lived in the DC area. I used to go down to the Mall and take photos between 2 – 4 am, all year round. It was fantastic.

    • geofflivingston

      Really quite the canvas. It’s so scenic down there it’s hard not to love it. What kind of camera do you use?

  • http://brianvickery.com/ Brian Vickery

    I enjoyed the prose and sentiment of this post, Geoff. How do I define beauty – the more natural, the better. I love the Colorado Rockies…sunset on a beach or over a placid lake…and people that do not try to achieve beauty with makeup and clothes. I told my wife that I fell in love with her the first time I met her…because of her beautiful smile and laughing eyes.

    I love beautiful music – vocals and/or instrumentals.

    I love beautiful relationships that stand the test of time and are unencumbered. When the discussions can range across any number of topics without judgment…or the silence can be comfortably shared.

    • geofflivingston

      Now that is a very serene and well thought out definition of beauty… I like it, a lot. The lack of judgment, the peace of the sky, water or the mountains… Hope you are doing well, Brian.

      • http://brianvickery.com/ Brian Vickery

        When I’m not doing well, I look around me, see how abundantly blessed I am, mentally smack myself, and get back in the right frame of mind.

        If I don’t mentally smack myself, my wife is more than willing to oblige! She’s my barometer.

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