I found the above photo here from the Los Angeles Time. The caption describes this photo as “sleek and slightly surreal.”
At the museum the other day, a very nice patron asked me what surrealism meant to me.
All I could say was that surrealism was fantastic, and otherworldly. Anything marked with the label of surrealism has a very intense, almost irrational dreamlike quality, but it is still very much ingrained in an eerily familiar reality. Bizarre juxtapositions abound in surrealist literature, art, etc. Perhaps that is why surrealist works appeal to so many people. Surrealism, to me, seems to be a sneak peek into another person’s mind. Sometimes the images or words are so harsh and stark, and personal, that one feels almost apologetic when one views them.
Well, I wish I could have said all that. I am hardly eloquent in real life. I’m practicing, though.
The nice man was a paraplegic, and I accompanied him through the exhibit to help him with his audio tour.
It was a situation I’d never found myself in, and I took the opportunity to simultaneously detach myself from it, and still remain a visibly operational human being.
I watched people around us. I watched how they interacted with the artwork; I watched how they reacted to the nice man’s guide dog.
Mostly, I was struck by their ignorance, or their idea of “acceptance.” I know dogs are adorable, and everyone wants to pet a lovely golden retriever, but a guide dog is always on duty if it is outside with its owner. You are not supposed to pet it. But countless people did. I am pretty sure the nice man didn’t like that; my suspicion was justified when I asked him if I could pet his dog. He said, “She’s working, so I’d rather you not. But thank you for asking.”
Eventually, he let me pet her anyway, since I was helping him with maneuvering through the gallery.
So, I watched people. And I couldn’t help but feel disgusted. And very disappointed. Everywhere I looked, people would smile at me, at the nice man, at the dog. But the smiles all came off as condescending, pitying.
“Oh, isn’t it nice of you to help this unfortunate young man.”
“My, isn’t it wonderful that he is willing to make it all the way to the museum by himself to view the exhibit! He must really be a huge fan of the artist.”
I don’t know. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but generally, the prevailing feeling I had was that everyone’s first instinct was to treat the nice man with kid gloves, even though he was clearly in his mid-twenties, perhaps even early thirties.
I found it disgusting. I was disgusted with myself as well. When I initially met him, I later realized that I was behaving in much the same way as the rest of the museum patrons.
And I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted them to see past his obvious “misfortune.” I wanted people to see the real person before judging him based on his wheelchair.
My heart ached.
My heart still aches. I felt funny for the rest of the day after spending that hour with that nice man.
Afterward, he was so appreciative that I felt embarrassed. Well, even during our tour, he kept thanking me every single time I input something in his audio player for him. And he profusely thanked me again when we’d finished the last stop.
Honestly, I still feel funny. I watch people all the time, and for the most part I’m not too proud of people. Hell, I’m not even too proud of myself, but I like to think that I am not so terrible, since I do think so deeply on these things.
There was another incident only a few weeks ago on the BART that made me pretty angry.
I had just gotten off work at my job in Union Square. It was the middle of the afternoon, when the BART is usually full of people trying to get out of the city. On this particular train, there was standing room only. A young woman about my age stood directly in front of me; we were standing two-people deep from the train doors. At one stop, a man came into our car. His face had been severely burned at some point years ago, so badly that the majority of his face was just scar tissue, and he was missing an eye.
You don’t see that every day.
The young woman in front of me, either out of fear, disgust, or discomfort, but most likely a combination of all three, decided to shove herself away from this man, further down the train. People moved aside to give him a seat, as he couldn’t see very well and had to use a walking stick.
I wanted to push my way through the crowd and smack her, but I turned my attention to the man. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to know more about him, but by that time, he was already on his way off the BART.
Meh. This is just one of those moments when I am not very proud of being a human being.
These moments pass. I’m still in love with Life. Incidents like the ones above only prove to me that there is so much work to be done.