My good friend Steve Fishman can often be heard to say, “It’s all squares and rectangles, man. It’s all squares and rectangles.” It is a phrase that he coined, and that I’ve borrowed, and it means exactly nothing–but broadly everything. That isn’t to say that it’s meaningless. No, quite the opposite, in fact–rather, it is a phrase that looks, feels, and sounds like an established idiomatic expression, but in fact has so many potential meanings and contexts that it is therefore rendered ambiguous and without any in particular; and that, in turn, is precisely its meaning.
“Whoa. Meta.” I know. That’s what I find so beautiful about it: It breaks down the linguistic construct of idioms into its component parts, then reassembles them into a phrase whose very definition is undefinable. Its usefulness and significance in speech is entirely up to the speaker. And in all my 11 years (of 24 total) spent writing, and for all the lines I’ve patted myself on the back for, I’ve never been able to come up with a phrase so robustly inventive as “It’s all squares and rectangles.” So I’m borrowing his for the name of my blog. I hope he doesn’t mind.
Well, now that we’ve gotten that little introductory tidbit out of the way, I suppose it’s time we cut to the chase, and got down to brass tacks, and got to the point, and went straight to the heart of this discussion. So…uh…hmm…alright, look, I’ll be perfectly honest with you here–I’ve never been good at transitions. For all the areas of writing in which I excel, transitions have never been one of them. Particularly not in situations like this with such stifling and unbridled sexual tension.
Huh? What’s that you say? There isn’t any?
Oh. Well…good, that’s good, that means we don’t have to- Are you kidding me, not even a little? No-no, no, that’s–that’s fine. “Ideal,” even. Wouldn’t have it any other way. So if it’s all the same, I guess we’ll just skip the awkward getting-to-know-you phase (I can’t believe you guys aren’t feeling this tension right here) altogether. We could have had a beautiful moment just now, but then you had to go and spoil it. Whatever. It’s all squares and rectangles, man.
But maybe that’s beautiful in and of itself. In all fairness, it must be said that beauty, like meaning, exists where you let yourself find it. Hey, what do you know–we’re here:
“Beauty exists where you let yourself find it.” That’s my own best phrase right there, and I assure you that it absolutely has meaning of its own. It’s a mantra of mine, and one I try my best to live by (sidenote: “Prepositions are things I don’t mind ending my sentences with” is another mantra I live by; and one you Grammar Nazis will just have to deal with).
Say it aloud to yourself, and let it sink in for a minute: “Beauty exists where you let yourself find it.”
Now let me be clear–by “beauty” I don’t mean the quality of attractiveness found in pretty faces, nor do I mean inner beauty, or pastoral beauty, or any of the above. None of those are broad enough to form the basis of what I’m getting at, though they certainly can feature prominently in it. No, for the purposes of this discussion, “beauty” should be understood to mean, “An ethereal passion felt in the presence of an object, entity, or idea, that inspires supreme interest, connection, or awe.” To put it a different way: The reason you love what you love is that it is beautiful to you.
Some, like myself, find beauty in words and stories; others find it in music, or economic trends, or in the way a well-prepared meal looks on a plate. Some people even find beauty in insects; another college friend of mine does, and often posts pictures of her holding various bugs she’s found on a tree or in a bush or something, and while I’m always thoroughly disgusted and feel like bug-bombing my entire house when I see said pictures (pay heed all those with exoskeletons who enter my room: get the hell out, or suffer the wrath of my Slippers of Furious Smooshing), I admire her greatly for her ability to see something in them that I don’t. Perhaps if I were to push myself to look upon them in a different light (and go through hundreds of hours of phobia therapy), I might find beauty in them too.
I wouldn’t bet on me doing that, though; we’re talking like beyond winning Powerball-kind of longshot there. But that’s what it boils down to: To say that I won’t find beauty in (6/8)-legged freaks of nature is not to say that I can’t–rather it is that I am unwilling on both a conscious and subconscious level to allow myself to do so. And that’s the meat of the matter, isn’t it? It’s all too easy to pursue that which most closely aligns with the personalities we construct for ourselves; my love of words and wordplay, for instance, is so deeply ingrained that it takes little effort for me to approach them with utter fascination. But for me to look upon trigonometry, or hockey, or *gag* even insects with a similar degree of interest would require no small amount of work, and an even greater level of will power; but in my experience, that old adage about how working harder to acquire something makes it all the more rewarding when you obtain it isn’t limited to job titles or material objects or significant others–it is fully applicable to our passions and fascinations as well.
We all live inside of our own heads, some to greater extents than others, and it is there that we set constraints on what we are open to learning, liking, seeing, eating, drinking, and so on, and so forth. Acquiring new tastes is not so much a question of creating brand new appreciations within yourself, but of releasing yourself to the potential appreciations you may not have even realized were there. Nature has little to do with it, and nurture has only slightly more–your biology and upbringing may have set the stage for you, but now that you are upon it, you alone are responsible for what happens in the show. No, ultimately, your capacity for finding interest, meaning, and beauty in that to which you are not naturally drawn rests squarely upon your willingness to let yourself do so.
The next time you find yourself dismissively saying, “It must be an acquired taste,” why not follow that up with, “But perhaps I should try to acquire it,” and see if you aren’t the least bit intrigued by the idea. And why wouldn’t you be? If others have found beauty in a particular subject, then what’s to say that you can’t do the same? Clearly there’s something there to love–it is simply a matter of locating that primer, that one personally meaningful connection to it, that will allow you to decipher its greater beauty as well.
Now, I won’t stand here and purport to know exactly why we as a species are often so averse to acquiring such tastes–perhaps it’s that we possess a natural tendency to stay within our comfort zones, or perhaps it’s that we fear a potentially slippery slope at the bottom of which we might find beauty in murder or pillaging (is pillaging still a thing these days?). Perhaps both. Perhaps neither. I’ll leave that discussion to those far more studied in psych-/soci-/anthropology than I am. But what I can say with some certainty is that perception is wholly subjective: Nothing in existence is by its own nature beautiful or meaningful–except maybe existence itself (there’s your second dose of meta-cine right there)–rather, beauty and meaning are entirely relative to each of us, and occur only at that special tri-lateral intersection of existence, perception, and willing interest. In other words, “Beauty exists where you let yourself find it.”
Perhaps you’ve let yourself find beauty in my words here and would like to read more. I can only hope. If so, then in the pieces to follow, expect to see a wide variety of anecdotes, musings, the occasional film/play/book/video game/music/beer review, maybe a tirade here and there, and of course, massive quantities of terrible puns; all of them, however, will share this central quality of looking for deeper meanings and connections in places where they perhaps aren’t so apparent. If not–if you’re giving this the tl;dr treatment (“too long; didn’t read,” for those of you who haven’t wasted as much time on the internet as I have)–then that’s certainly something you’re entitled to. Either way, it’s all squares and rectangles, man.
It’s all squares and rectangles.