Jay Young Gerard
and Lisa Nielsen

Lisa Nielsen
“The Lake Has Two Faces”

Inspiration piece

The Beautiful Ugly
By Jay Young Gerard


Joan Crawford had blue eyes. Her real name was Lucille LaSueur. She was a tiny timid child with freckles who wanted to be a dancer. Who knew? What I did know was that she always appeared to bully people, had scary eyebrows, mean lips and big shoulders. That she always seemed angry and uncaring. And that she appeared to be black, white and gray. I thought she was ugly and horrid. But other people called her beautiful and talented, and she won awards.

I didn’t buy any of it. She was a made-up person. I didn’t like the facade and didn’t care enough to probe behind the curtain to see if I liked the real thing. She was ugly and that was that.

Years later, I went through a bad time. The love of my life left me in the stately house we had bought together. He went to the Bronx to be with a 19 year old gum chewer. I didn’t understand. I was lost. I was referred to a therapist named Mr. Arnie who was purported to be “very good”. I walked into his office to find an Einstein-ish head of messy white hair on a seated man in a schlumpy brown suit. I didn’t mind the hair. But that brown suit did not inspire confidence. I forced myself to return for a second session and walked in to find the same man with the same hair sitting in a navy blue suit. Though the suit did not fit much better, I liked him much more! Yes, those people had been right, he WAS a good therapist after all. It took me 30 years to realize that my initial response to Mr. Arnie was to the color of his suit. Once that off-putting facade was replaced by one that appealed to me, there were no barriers between us that we couldn’t talk through. We had a valuable, in fact, a beautiful relationship that left me whole and able to move on.

As an artist, I forgive myself. I was not being judgmental in a righteous way. I was only responding to the visual. So I have learned to be more thoughtful and generous, less offended by the facade. Now I try to visualize big shouldered women with overdrawn eyebrows and lips as they may look when they touch the hair on the head of a beloved child. I try to see schlumpy men in brown suits as they might look polished in pinstripes with soft white shirts and silk ties. I find it tedious that I need to replace what is with what I wish things to be, but it is better than rejecting what is. I have found ways to deal with what I find ugly and turn them into what I can see clearly as beautiful. Although I have also found that my initial visceral impression is very often ultimately the truer one, these coping techniques make for reduced harshness on a daily basis, and create a more palatable pleasantness in my world. Another kind of facade, perhaps, but a less stress-inducing one.

And so… I look at this photograph of a winter that has done it’s damage. A winter that has churned the mud to the surface and turned the stream to roiling filth. A winter where icicles are still choking the branches on the dark side of the river bank, the side that gets not enough light to even melt the last layer of snow from the rocks, let alone melt water deep enough to paddle through in summer. A winter that had weighed down trees and ripped the branches from them, leaving them like bloodied limbs strewn on a field of battle.

The scene is a dichotomy: it could be North versus South. The Haves v. The Have Nots.

The I-Will-Survives versus Those Who Have Given Up. It is a scene of earthly browns versus ghostly blacks and whites. It’s a mess. It is ugly.

And yet… with the coping mechanism I have developed over years of having to turn “What I Don’t Want “ into “Something I Can Live With”, here’s what I see: I see that Spring IS coming. That the waters will rise then quiet down and turn into a blue that reflects the sky. That greens will embrace each rock that gets washed clean by gentle rain. As for that red shape in the lower right quadrant: if I squint my eyes, I can see very clearly that it is a sure sign. That yes! It IS the first robin! Oh yes, this is a photograph of nature’s inevitable hope, and I find it to be beautiful. Do you see what I see?



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