As I was walking to work today, I happened past a building with square azaleas in front of it. You know you’ve seen them: a wildly-blooming bush full of bright pink or yellow flowers that has been trimmed into a formal shape, as if to keep it in check. As if we wouldn’t want those gorgeous flowers to get out of control and take over the landscape. Seeing people taming nature that way reminds me of all the ways that our various human tendencies limit beauty, often from our trying to do what we think is right.
While that phenomenon brings me a certain amount of melancholy, I am fortunate to have books and movies that counter that feeling. For example, I just recently read Claire Dederer’s Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, a memoir of a young woman and her struggle with perfectionism. She sends her back into agonizing spasms trying to be the perfect mom and decides to try yoga, which gives her a choice of continuing that painful path or trying another. Another author who writes about the process of coming into a more authentic sense of self (which I seem to be interpreting as beauty) is Sue Monk Kidd. Both the main character in her novel The Mermaid Chair, and she herself in her memoir The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, experience a profound blossoming that, while perhaps rather messy-looking, brings them closer to who they truly are.
One movie, originally a play, that portrays the beauty of one woman letting herself go a little wild is Shirley Valentine. In it, a bored and lonely housewife in Liverpool gets an opportunity to go to Greece for a vacation and risks her marriage to do so.
Lest you think that this theme applies only to women, let me tell you about Donald Miller and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. While writing the screenplay based on his book Blue Like Jazz, Miller realizes that due to a certain amount of risk aversion and laziness, his life lacks the elements that make both stories and life interesting. Inspired to make some small changes, he finds himself in a completely new and beautiful way of living.
Of course it’s your turn now. Tell me how much you love perfectly trimmed bushes, or send me suggestions for books or movies about the beauty of going wild.