I’ve Never Met Neo

Here are some things I don’t appreciate: modern dance, performance art, freeform poetry, cinéma vérité. That shouldn’t be misinterpreted to mean I think there’s not a place for them in the world; there are lots of other things I don’t appreciate—lawn flamingos, light beer, golden showers—and I don’t actively seek to scour them from the face of the earth, either, but most of those are down to aesthetic preference. The aforementioned arty stuff, though, I just don’t “get,” which has regularly confounded people I’ve known who love them, since they never considered I might be a philistine.

I’m not quite as bad as all that, though. My problem isn’t a lack of appreciation for the arts, but a brain that likes patterns and structure. And it can’t find them in everything. Why it can make sense of a David Lynch film and not a Lars von Trier post-Dogme 95 film is not something I really understand, nor can possibly hope to explain. Why I like jazz, but can’t generally enjoy poetry that doesn’t rhyme, is inexplicable. I try; I really do. But iambic pentameter will always make my heart beat faster than most beat poets ever could. I know my preference for Hopper will doom me forever to the contemptuous glances of Pollock enthusiasts. I like his work well enough, and yet I know…I just don’t get it.

I was, inevitably, completely lost at London’s Tate Modern, through which I strolled with Mr. Shakes and the Londoner Andy not long after it opened. I stepped with the slow, quiet gravity of one who appreciates the artistic value of a piano strung from the ceiling or a pile of jelly beans centered below a strobe light. My pretensions to appreciation did not, however, save me for long, and soon I found myself having to clear my throat to mask the bubbling desire within to laugh. I didn’t belong among these modern art pieces that meant nothing to me, surrounded by angular aficionados who peered at the exhibits through expensive wire glasses and sniffed, satisfied, at their brilliance; my infiltration of their province began to seem hysterically peculiar, and all I wanted to do was giggle.

Andy led the way into the next room, in which a collection of jagged rocks was stacked in a corner. We three stood side by side and took a long look at it. In silence, we contemplated the rocks, their meaning. Mr. Shakes scratched his head, in a way not altogether unlike a silent film star conveying confusion. Andy folded his arms. “Yep,” he said, curtly, then began to walk away, shaking his head. “Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep,” he sighed in one long breath. I was not alone, after all. It was time for us to leave.

I’ve known people who regarded anything they did not understand, for which they had no appreciation, as silly—a waste of time and space and energy (if their suspicion of the artists of such pieces even allow the possibility that energy has been expended in their creation). I don’t share this disdain; I know well enough there are things I enjoy that others would find ridiculous. It’s the untraversable terrain that separates my understanding of these pursuits from them that amuses me. What else can one do, on a date with a man who nearly writhes with pleasure at Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Bleu while one wonders with a yawn what its running time is, but laugh?

These things are, of course, a matter of taste, but my tastes being otherwise so endlessly eclectic, I can’t ignore that the real reason for my void of appreciation is that my intellect just can’t make sense of them, which I admit, makes me feel a bit of a dullard at times. But that’s the way it works, and so I’ve resigned myself to its mysterious quirks. I am, for all my affinity for the innovative and weird, a girl who exists in servitude of a brain that can’t let go of logic and rules, as it identifies and defines them. And I believe Mr. Shakes was right, when he told me, as I pulled to a standstill at a stop sign in the middle of an infinite cornfield, rather than blowing through it like everyone else does, “You’re so going to be the last one out of The Matrix.”

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