What am I supposed to write about oceans? My ocean is a Great Lake. It’s not even the greatest of the Great Lakes, and has a bad reputation for pollution – though we’ve done wonders in cleaning it up since the Cuyahoga River caught fire back when.
I used to argue with my college roommate about ocean vs. lake. She said I hadn’t lived until I’d seen the ocean. I told her Lake Erie was better than the ocean. It doesn’t have scary Linda-eating things living in it like the limitless depths of the ocean. The lake is fresh water and you can’t see across it. It has seagulls and waves. We’ve got ocean-sized ships, and the Coast Guard protects us from unruly Canadians – okay, I’m pretty sure the Coast Guard’s main job is rescuing drunk boaters since Canadians seldom get unruly, but it is an international border. What was different about the ocean, and why did I need to go?
One summer I went to the ocean, she went to the lake, and afterwards we both exclaimed enthusiastically about how right the other was about ocean vs. lake. It just goes to show that we can have more joys and fewer prejudices the more we get out and live in the world.
When we look at the world from a narrow perspective, we might not be able to tell what we’re really seeing. Is that the eyeball of something that would rip off your leg, or is it just a baby fish?
From an artistic point of view, sometimes we forget to let viewers figure things out on their own. We don’t have to spell everything out. It can be really boring when we do. It’s like writing a murder mystery where the author tells you upfront who got killed by whom and why, and then you read the story. Or maybe you tell someone the punch line of a joke, and then you tell the joke. Okay, I’ve done that. Telling jokes is harder for me than painting.
Sometimes the joy of living is being willing to see something from a different perspective. One time I was having dinner with an extended family, one of whom I didn’t like very much. He was one of those bombastic blowhards who eats all the mashed potatoes before anybody else gets a turn. My buddy at the other end of the table took a different slant on the conversation, and just to be companionable, I took the other. At some point, I said he had completely convinced me that he was right. My buddy said “No, no, you’ve convinced me!” and we traded sides of the argument. The mashed potato eater didn’t understand us at all.
Every argument has two sides, and there’s usually something worthwhile in each of those sides. When we forget that, we dig in our heels and we don’t know how to find a common ground any more.
I’ll be the first to admit that I can be stubborn. If I have an opinion, it’s usually because I’ve thought it over. If I accept someone else’s opinion, then I have to do a lot of rewiring in my brain, and that seems like an awful lot of work when I thought I already had that issue settled. It starts throwing in more questions about what is actually true, but it’s something we all ought to learn to do more often. What if you took the other side of the argument?