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Beyond the Veil

History is made inbetween heartbeats.

It's funny how much has to happen between two people before they can look at each other Just Ordinary. And when this extraordinary feat does occur, it's always unintentional. Living in a world with people in it is dancing the dance of the seven veils all the time, or at least intending to. But nobody can keep their guard up all the time, and it's the accidental moments when the veils slip that truly reveal us.

It takes a long time to get to know people. A lot of water has to pass under a lot of bridges. But all the while this water is passing under bridges, something is happening between us, something lower down than whatever sturm und drang and whatever superficial history we may notice happening on the surface. A slow root entanglement process. It's something that passes beneath our conscious radar, so we aren't good at guarding against it. But then one day, you will look at each other without agenda, and...there will be no further questions, your Honour.

Real intimacy usually assumes the opposite form of everything we think of as intimacy. Yes, there's an infinite spectrum of looks we can bring to the table, but the “some enchanted evening” look across a crowded room is the opposite of what I'm talking about here, because it's a great big intentional veil that we draw beautifully across ourselves on purpose to entrance the other person. “You are delightful and I feel butterflies and stars in my soul,” “I hope you rot in Hell, you filthy skunk,” “you and me babe, how about it,” “don't think I can't see you doing that horrible thing you're doing,” “there's a bedroom just a few blocks away,” “how amusing it is that we know more about what is going on than everyone around us does,” “here is my heart on a platter,” “that was nice, are we done yet”— these are all veils. These are what our eyes say to each other on the beat. But what we accidentally say inbetween the beats, inbetween arriving on our visual axes...these are the conversations that show who we really are and how we really are with each other. Beyond sex, beyond romance, beyond drama, beyond intrigue. What's at the root?

And then once the root is accidentally revealed, isn't there always a moment of shocked astonishment directly afterwards, where one expects Miss Marple to jump out from behind a tree and catch you red-handed?

In a world where we can hide almost everything, from the world, from the people in our lives, and from ourselves, I always expect unguarded moments to be met with neon screams from the peanut gallery, perhaps a Victorian maiden swooning into a corner. At the very least, I expect all generalized social activity to come to a grinding halt and everyone around must start pointing their fingers in scandalized astonishment, because someone out there must not be blind. Someone must notice when people exchange a look that doesn't say anything at all because it doesn't have to.

Let us be clear. We are not talking about melting eyes, or smouldering glances, or any of that nonsense. There's a time and a place for all that, but that's not the incontrovertible stuff that lies at the heart of what it means to be human. Looks that make music are not the stuff that defines us. It's looks that make silence that are the real stuff of life. And you can get pretty far along in a story with someone without such a look ever happening...or sometimes they can catch you completely off-guard with a most unusual suspect. But if people understood human beings better, they would be a lot less preoccupied with who put what in whom and a lot more attentive to how we are with each other on a much more interesting level, a much more human level, a much more tribal level. If we cared less about kisses, intentional ephemeral things that are gone in a moment, and paid more attention to what comes out of us when we're not trying to do anything, we would understand social truths that are far more relevant to our continued group survival as a species.

Art is the same.

Art isn't the clever bits, or the on-purpose bits, or the bits that catch your eye. Art is the space between the beats, the creative process rather than the finished product, and what comes out of us when we aren't trying to be Artistes. Not like people understand this. People clap at the wrong moments. People see the red scarf on the wrong end of the Chinese sword. People think a portrait is a picture of someone with “a little something wrong about the mouth.” But art is the practice of coming to terms with leaking. What you leak generally bears no resemblance at all to what you intentionally project, and the process of learning an art is the process of learning to live with the fact that you are leaking.

There is a time to project and a time to leak. There is a time to show off, and a time to just be. There is a time to wrap veils around one's self and beguile the world, azure silk and violet gauze and golden trim, and there is a time to get caught off-guard, with no veils, with no intention, with no conscious plan to be clever.

And that's when the magic happens.