Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Who knew that white elephants had so much market value?

"Abstract theory is not an end unto itself. It must shape concrete living"--Swanee Hunt

"I have no miracle to offer you. If someone has miraculous powers, I will seek this person's help. Frankly, I am skeptical of those who claim extraordinary powers. However, through training our minds, with constant effort, we can change our mental perceptions or mental attitudes. This can make a real difference in our lives"--the Dalai Lama

When we lived just outside Los Angeles, we lived in the Crescenta Valley. This sliver valley lies between the San Gabriel Valley, home of Pasadena, and the San Fernando Valley, memorialized in song and film as suburbia personified.

The Crescenta Valley sounds its own note in the Los Angeles symphony. It is essentially "uncool", unknown, and somehow undemanding. It is a place of foothills comprising three neighborhoods. One is the affluent town of La Canada--Flintridge, where large homes loom; one is the slightly upper middle-class unincorporated area known as La Crescenta; and one is the middle class neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles called Sunland-Tujunga. It's easy to give an image of Sunland-Tujunga to those less familiar with it,because many of the outdoors scenes of the motion picture "ET: The Extra-terrestrial" were filmed in the foothills of Sunland-Tujunga.

Sunland-Tujunga has a public library which I visited regularly. The front portion of this library was a used bookstore run by the local Friends of the Library. I used to go there, to find things I could sell on eBay. I suppose I caught the fever when I found an 1896 chess book there, bought it for a quarter, and sold it for 12 dollars. When I found a first bookclub edition of the "Alice B. Toklas" book, bought it for a dime, and then sold it also for 12 dollars or so, I was hooked.

Let's not clutter up this image of buy-low-sell-high too much with the facts about how the guest room of our thimble-sized home soon became the repository of used and remaindered books waiting for their turn at auction. Let's omit the Y2K auctions I set up to sell off literally dozens upon dozens of books when I realized that the income from eBay book sales, while bracing and exciting, required a fair bit of work for a modest bit of profit. Let's even skip the part about how my master plan to have 50 books auction at 11:59:00 on 12/31/99 and 50 or so more at 12:01:00 on 1/1/00 came to naught when eBay granted a five hour extension to all auctions.

Rather, tonight I wish to talk about how different things have different values to different people. Never mind that I can pick up the brochure for the Pasadena Tour of Homes for free--the craftsman homes loving portrayed there might be worth six dollars in the South Bay of Los Angeles, a mere hour away. My nephews have still not forgiven me for the hike in the Dinosaur Valley State Park, merely because we got lost for two hours and one of them brushed a charming but not user-friendly cactus. I personally find getting lost in a place where I am sure to be found a sort of private grace, so long as I am not forced to remain there for ten thousand years bright shining as the sun.
But I understand my nephews' viewpoint, and "wanna go hiking" is now a kind of family joke with them.

Musical tastes of course vary widely. I am rather an eclectic music fan, who can and does enjoy anything from show tunes to rather unmelodic experimental stuff, but who also has pretty definite "likes" and "dislikes". I come to appreciate as time goes on that many people "dislike" my "likes" and vice versa, and yet themselves are entirely creditable music fans.
Sometimes musicians I respect enormously I don't particularly "like"--Bonnie Raitt comes to mind, an artist I consider "serious" and "real" and yet whose tunes can send me to the radio dial in short order.
Some artists I love I don't consider "good" on some critical level. I just love them.

It's all a sorting, though, I suppose. Maybe the solution is to just play clarinet at a New York bar whenever someone tries to compare one thing and another. But that's not my view. I think that comparison and contrast of differences has its place, provided that one can approach it all with a tolerant way. I remember in high school, on a long bus ride with a church choir to Florida, deeply offending someone by saying that I did not fully appreciate the sonic musings of the band Aerosmith (now I treasure them, curiously enough, but then they were, perhaps, a bit "mainstream" for me). My acquaintance posited the theory that if I disrespected her favorite band, I must,by implication, be disrespecting her. Sorta of a StevenTylerway or the highway, if you see what I am saying.

Just as I will buy kazoos on eBay that nobody else would dream of bidding on, I learn as time goes on that other people place their bids in life on things I would never dream of wanting to own. The paradox is to listen as someone tells me what they bid on an exotic feather duster, without telling him/her that such a duster would make me sneeze.

This raises a conversational problem, as conversations based on "I see" and "yes, I understand your view" are the sort of conversations that those happy Tolstoi families keep boring everyone with. Sometimes comparison and analysis are necessary to conduct a conversation in which any information is truly imparted. But then, there's the danger of rejection by divergence. That's not a bad thing, or a good thing, but a thing, a thing in deed. It's like that bit in Mr. Ed--no one can talk to a horse of course, a horse being a horse of course of course. But then we confront the problem of Mr. Ed; at least, so it seemed to Wilbur.

If one indeed cannot please all of the people all the time, it remains to be seen if one can truly please some of the people some of the time. That's why that fellow who went to the garden party said that he had to please himself, but sometimes I'm not convinced.
I think lately about the challenge of saying what one feels, and yet not alienating people.

I have a theory, which I have used in practice quite often. My theory is that one can say almost anything, if one says it in a proper tone of voice. I have practiced this theory throughout my life in the south, a place in which I am frequently a social liberal among arch-conservatives, and a person of heterodox faith among people who on my left lack faith and on my right have faiths to which I do not subscribe. While some newcomers to our region express to me their fear of discussing politics or religion, I have never shied away from either in polite discussion. I just apply the right tone of voice. Sadly, it's not as cool as The Voice in "Dune", but it is my own voice and I use it gently but without reservation.

In on-line communications, tone of voice is impossible,and though I use emoticons relentlessly, I completely disdain them. All one can really do is to write sentence after sentence, and try to adopt a completely non-judgmental tone.

It's important to allow for so many points of view. But then it's hard to say one's own point of view sometimes, for fear of offending. In real life, it's much easier to say what one means, because one can add that confident yet meek "I wish you well" to one's voice. It's not just about tone of voice or prepositional phrase, though. Sometimes it's about a mindset--I will allow this idea in, and it may change me, but when I have considered the change, I may let the idea out again.

I may even be outbid by a different idea. But sometimes, just sometimes, I may want to own it, and bid high. They're not easy, ideas. They mold one, they have value, they are a marketplace so difficult to shop.

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