What Picture

One is not allowed to be a curmudgeon; life says to such an one, you are looking in all the wrong places. So it is that colour returns to life like to a face after initially blanching, there comes a blush. Though not that on a face in a little party dress but of one balking at the many inoculations one gets to this earthly life, perhaps one turned pale at the idea of drinking snake's blood, but then turned red again understanding that it was the only way to participate in that moment that was ultimately a gesture of good will made towards one's health.
 "If you suppose that only to be your own which is your own ... you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. ... say to every harsh appearance: 'You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be.'"
It is funny to read Epictetus after papers on "learner autonomy" (wherein students are to take responsibility for their "learning experience"). It is funny because the essence of those early philosophical schools acknowledged this responsibility, hence the popularity of the maxims that were to help students remember and apply the philosophical tenets.
Learner autonomy, in its accountability, seems to move towards the Tao, wherein the sage merely demonstrates by example: while it is up to others to follow this example, it is posited that this is the only way to teach effectively because to impose ideals or morals, these can quickly become their opposite (Tao Te Ching 58). "The method of correction shall by a turn become a distortion, and the good in it shall by a turn become evil".
What is really at issue here is contained in the idiom (which is not the same thing as a cliché because of its economic, clear expression of a larger idea), practice what you preach. Epictetus would say, as does Lao Tzu, that one is to fulfill only one's part of the bargain and not worry about what other people owe, even if to do so means a loss, because this is how one is freed from grudges, which are not beneficial (80).




The practice of the better picture is stepping back to disengage from nets or nooses. Victory goes to the one who deplores war (69). "With that gentleness I can be bold; with that economy I can be liberal; shrinking from taking precedence of others, I can become a vessel of the highest honour. Now-a-days they give up gentleness and are all for being bold; economy, and are all for being liberal; the hindmost place, and seek only to be foremost;--(of all which the end is) death. Gentleness is sure to be victorious even in battle" (67).
Which reminds me of a short film I watched about Sister Corita Kent, of serigraphed Wonderbread and US Love stamp design fame, who said on leaving academia that the second part of one's life does not have to be the same as the first: and at that time she began to paint in lighter colours, in pastels. The film is a beautiful and colourful tribute of testimonies of that personality. We see a person who followed her gifts, even when this must have brought discomfort and existential questions; it is hard not to see the art as the answer that everything does turn out right if one follows one's path, it is perhaps the colour that does the convincing. "The groundwork doesn't show 'till one day" reads one of her serigraphs.
There is space for an ellipses, space formed by stepping back, a Socratic gap, like where he says in the Theaetetus that the beginning of learning is wonder or in Apology that wisdom is in knowing that one knows nothing, just like Lao Tzu writes "To know and yet think we do not know is one of the highest attainments". The opposite is a painful disease (71).
I think we create in the face of this disease, and death. Just like poet Kenneth Patchen wrote about how his injury, which kept him bedridden, spurred him to write, "for the sake of being able to show my sick part that it can never become all powerful".
In "What is the Beautiful?", Patchen writes, "Will the power of man flame as a sun? Will the power of man turn against death? Who is right? Is war? Pause. And begin again. A narrow line. Walking on the beautiful ground. A ledge of fire. It would take little to be free."
In one of Sister Kent's serigraphs, the Patchen line echoes, "Pause and begin again. It would take little to be free." Epictetus defines the free as that which is in our control. The picture is in learning where the canvas is, the aperture.


Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees; bokeh brush by ~stock7000 at DeviantART.

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