Paris in the present tense

Listening to Mark Helprins “Paris in the Present Tense” on audiobook, because I loved his “Soldier in the great war” so much. It’s uncomfortable: In the first book, written years and years ago the theme seemed to me to be ‘beauty can save the world’. His main character is an Italian Alpini soldier in WWI whose grim/beautiful adventures are told by his older self years later; after the war (s) he’s become a Professor of Aesthetics, a man who studies beauty, which is a concept I find delightful. The awfulness of WWI serves to offset the beauty of art, the natural world and infatuation, sharpen it, make it wonderful. Mark Helprin is screaming “FIND AWE AND EMBRACE IT’.

But Paris in the Present Tense has a similar main character, an older music professor at a Parisian college, who has devoted his life to music and beauty. This story is set in 2014 and everything has changed. Less war and death so that’s good, but much of the point of the first part of the novel has been his regret in having lived a simple aesthetic life. He doesn’t have enough money to pay to have his grandson treated for cancer (better then the French medical care) and he feels terrible about it.

This hits so far home for me that I’m struggling to keep reading. You can’t be an artist without to some extent being an antimaterialist, and part and parcel of antimaterialism is not having a lot of money around. My justification for that is easy: Lots of people work hard, miserable lives in terrible jobs and still don’t have a lot of money around. Screenprinting prepress graphic designers are $18 per hour at most, and I can make that with my own shop, my own art, and still have time for raising my beautiful daughter. I was never destined for a lot of money, I guess. Captain obvious here but man I hope I never have a Grandson with cancer, I’m not going to be able to do a thing.

SO was it right for me to live an aesthetic life instead of a practical money-oriented one? I imagine there’s an ocean of office workers who sit in their cubes making much more money then I do who wish they could be self-employed starving artists. For them I should stop complaining. Besides, even those office workers don’t have the kind of money it takes to treat cancer in a grandson… or even if they do, they could live their lives with crushing regret for not having enough money to treat a second cancerous grandson!

The sadness and regret is a part of the beauty; beauty without some darkness is very trite and fanciful. Creating artwork is full of the hope that the message of beauty, art, antimaterialism and a search for unique awe is a big part of the reason for living! Everything entropies, the darkness is with us always, especially as we get older; What we get from this life is wonder, awe, satisfaction, contentment… if we are lucky, make beautiful decisions, and are productive.

5AM I’ve getting a 2nd cup of coffee and putting pen to paper, the day has to start.