As is indicated by my highly subtle use of Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer as my featured image, my quotation presentation is about this painting’s eponymous book by Tracy Chevalier.
“I had been looking at clouds all my life, but I felt as if I saw them for the first time in that moment.” (pg. 101)
“You’re so calm and quiet, you never say. But there are things inside you. I see them sometimes, hiding in your eyes.” (pg. 160)
To quickly recap the context of these quotes, the first quotation listed above is part of Griet’s inner thoughts when she and Vermeer have a discussion about the true colours of everyday objects. To help Griet understand his practices as a painter who uses “false colours” Vermeer has Griet examine the clouds outside. Though she initially has difficulty, she becomes able to see the clouds as more than fluffy grey bringers of snow (this is the exact terminology all Canadians use to describe clouds, but I digress).
The second quotation is said by Pieter out of frustration; he is unable to understand what is going on inside Griet’s mind and decides to vocalize his exasperation through this quotation. Griet, in a truly headstrong fashion, outwardly ignores his words, but becomes aware of the fact that Pieter, to some degree, understands that she is keeping secrets from him.
I chose these quotations mainly because of how they encapsulate Griet’s character in ways I find understandable; originally, when I read these two quotes together, I thought of the first bit of that Billy Joel song The Stranger, where he starts by crooning about how “Well, we all have a face/That we hide away forever/And we take them out/And show ourselves when everyone has gone/Some are satin, some are steel/Some are silk and some are leather/They’re the faces of a stranger/But we’d love to try them on”. (I swear this isn’t a reflection of my taste in music.) Griet is characterized by that paradox of human nature; she’s aware of the passion residing within her (the face she has hidden), as suggested by the first quotation, but she makes the active choice to cover it because she has deemed that passion to be improper (so she hides it away forever), demonstrated by Pieter’s words.
Thematically, it is a case of appearances vs reality; the first quote shows what Griet may have been like if she allowed herself to foster the passion she feels (it’s the face of a stranger, but she becomes infatuated with it in heat of the moment), a notion which is emphasized by the whimsical choice of subject matter and the unrestrained tone of the quote and the fact that she has become aware of beauty in the world through the lens of a painter, while the second demonstrates Griet’s attempt to ground herself, as well as her inability to completely disregard the artist within her – as in, her true self – around others. This weakness festers behind her eyes: eyes, as is already well known and often written about, are a connection between an individual and the world around them. Eyes are particularly significant because of the connection to visual art, which, shockingly, generally needs one to have vision – ideally, artistic vision, as Griet and Vermeer have – to enjoy, and the connection between the two suggests that Griet’s own artistic vision is both her strength, in the sense that it makes her sensitive to aesthetics, and her weakness, in that she fails to hide herself because she cannot contain it, ultimately turning her into the type of girl she feared she would become.
Naturally, I relate to Griet because of her character; as an immigrant, I feel as though there are parts of myself I cannot share with either my parents, who are “true” first-generation immigrants, or my brother, who is a “true” second generation immigrant. Because of these, it often feels like I’m straddled between worlds, a sort of “1.5 generation” that is supposed to be a link to bridge cultures but instead I became a vessel for things that can’t be expressed without making others uncomfortable. Because of my heritage, I became, from a young age, aware of poverty and discrimination and water sanitation problems and healthcare issues and the notion that I should be grateful because there are some kids that starve daily (that last one may just be a staple of parental lecturing, but it felt so much closer back then). When I moved here, it was hard for me to reconcile these atrocities with the immutable natural beauty represent by Canada; in the end, the only conclusion for me was that the world can simultaneously be disgusting and beautiful, and that the two cannot be separated. I suppose this is the main reason for my cynicism, but I think it also allows me to find unexpected beauty and humour: this is what I’ve explored in my personal response below.
They say that eyes are like the windows to the soul.
Well, I’m afraid you’ve been lied to. Eyes are like funhouse mirrors—the shapes and reflections in them will lead you on like crocodile tears, and when you realize how foolish you were to believe in such a frivolous sentiment, you will be sorry for it.
Did you honestly think these things that leak like faucets when in close proximity to onions could hold all of your soul? Your essence does not hide behind your retinas; you don’t need an optometrist to find your soul-mate.
Your soul exists out here: in the smell of cut grass and in all the arachnids you have chosen to kill or spare, in the energy of the molecules you are breathing out at this moment. Your soul is what fills the vacuous yet comfortable silence between friends, what can make a sonorous flourish of trumpets feel like an adventure, and why a chance encounter can feel serendipitous instead of merely circumstantial.
So when I look at the clouds instead of at you, don’t take it as an insult that you’ve been spared of a dissection, because you are not some creature on a laboratory table that needs my understanding to survive. Your soul is the microcosm of all that you have experienced and will continue to experience, a sketch of the world through your spirit.
That’s what I want to believe.
I find it hard to believe.
Because believing this blindly means forgetting.
It means erasing my understanding of the world as ugly and unforgiving: it means undoing my awareness of the fact that some children, somewhere, are not amputees because of tragic accident, but because some adult was sick enough to realize a child without limbs elicits more pity from us, the privileged; it means knowing that in this catch-22, your pity may inadvertently make a life much, much worse. It means looking away when people search for mercy because there is no mercy in being spared of pain now to only drown later.
It means disregarding all the times I’ve wanted something to be there, behind your eyes, and believed there was something there, something worthwhile, something in the way you saw me.
They say there is great beauty and great pain in this world; sometimes, the polarity of it makes me want the ignorance associated with blindness. I wanted to be special, but I am no different from every other little creature you will encounter in your lifetime. Sorry to disappoint.
Looking at the clouds doesn’t save you at all: I want to save myself from your gaze; I don’t want to be some animal on a table, waiting for you to understand me.
The clouds look rather beautiful today, don’t they?
I’d like to thank those of you (hopefully I’m referring to a plural, but I am grateful for even you, singular reader) who took the time to read all of that. I don’t know if anything was particularly insightful, but for this one, I wanted it to be as simple as me, sharing a book about a painting I like. Thank you for tolerating my nonsense long enough to reach this note.
Girl with a Pearl Earring (painting): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_with_a_Pearl_Earring
If you’re interested in the whole thing with child beggars, I’d recommend this; it’s disturbing, but it’s the truth: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/09/giving_money_to_child_beggars_don_t_do_it.html
4 thoughts on “They say that eyes are like the windows to the soul.”
There is never a dull day that passes by every time I get to hear what you have to say – this was never more true than the day you presented your quotation in class. Hearing your words in that cynical style of yours exposed a more vulnerable side to you (a side I must say I am honoured to have seen!) and I am made all the better because of it. I hope that didn’t sound too awkward, but here’s to hoping you know what I mean!
Though (hopefully) not a cynic myself, cynicism has always attracted me – I find there is often something refreshing about such blunt honesty. Despite its negativity, it does paint a different perspective of the world, one that is admittedly imperfect. Knowing this about you, however, couldn’t have prepared me for what I read in your piece; it left me speechless.
Your words hold such a power within them that I can hardly refrain from shouting out – it’s some inexplicable presence that has stirred something deep within my soul. I can’t even begin to explain it. But knowing that this comment will eventually count for marks, I suppose I have to try my best to come up with something more helpful. Tarannum, you know better than anyone about the power of beautiful things and I enjoyed your exploration of the complex relationship between pain and beauty – you can’t have one without the other. Even in pain, there is something unexplainably seductive – it’s as if humanity needs pain to feel worthy of the world, and of themselves. What is, after all, victory without the struggle? Yet, after all this, we still desire a world without pain. In this way, we are trapped in a world that is both nightmare and dream, hell and heaven, disgusting and beautiful. In your words, I find that my passions are mysteriously stirred – you just have such a way with words that forces me to admit that I fall for them. I fall for your musings on beauty, but even more so for the painful truth in your words: “…in the end, the only conclusion for me was that the world can simultaneously be disgusting and beautiful, and that the two cannot be separated.” I was also particularly moved by the sentence “Griet’s own artistic vision is both her strength, in the sense that it makes her sensitive to aesthetics, and her weakness, in that she fails to hide herself because she cannot contain it, ulitmately turning her into the type of girl she feared she would become.” I feel that you have effectively encapsulated the fear of the artist within us all, the little whisper of inspiration within our souls that drive us to create – we are afraid of being vulnerable. We are afraid of being discovered. We are afraid of being seen as we truly are. And you, Tarannum, through this post, have shown your true colours to me – I am thankful for that.
The imagery in your poem was especially enjoyable – I cherished everything. I could feel the truth reverberating within every word, even painfully so. Aside from your lines about onions and optometrists, I was greatly moved by this: “Your soul exists out here: in the smell of cut grass and in all the arachnids you have chosen to kill or spare, in the energy of the molecules you are breathing out at this moment. Your soul is what fills the vacuous yet comfortable silence between friends, what can make a sonorous flourish of trumpets feel like an adventure, and why a chance encounter can feel serendipitous instead of merely circumstantial.” Your imagery was very vivid and your diction offered a style that was both subtly cynical and overtly artistic. In this, ultimately, one finds a window to your soul. Or so they say. The idea that our soul is made up of the little moments in everyday life absolutely captivates me, and the way you have described them makes my heart feel…how can I say this…exhilarated. Perhaps not so much because of happiness, but more so because of the truth lurking within. I think you captured the idea of life rather perfectly.
The only suggestions I can offer you would be to watch out for spelling mistakes – “ultimately” instead of “ultimately” – as well as for any missing punctuation (the comma in “its the face of a stranger”). These are, however, rather minor and they, in no way, detract from the beauty and power in your voice.
My dear Tarannum, I am filled with happiness that I have gotten to know you – seeing the beauty within you, in your character and in your words, has fulfilled me in a way I can’t explain. In a world riddled with chaos, hardship, and pain, it is almost impossible to gaze at such beauty without being distracted from the issues that urgently require our talents, our lives, and our very selves. We don’t want to look at beauty if it means losing sight of a world that needs our help. However, it is my fervent hope that instead of getting in our way, such beauty can help us aspire to a better world – one definitely flawed, but infinitely beautiful.
P.S. As an immigrant myself, I feel the same way! Despite my best efforts, I often feel I am not Filipino enough to be considered a true Filipino, nor enough of a Canadian to be truly Canadian. I am trapped between two worlds, and it is in this grey area we remain, but it feels a little more comforting to know that we are in this together! (And, as a final note, I want to apologize for any time I made you feel awkward while reading this comment – I can hardly contain how I feel and you know how strange I can be! Sorry.)
Oh my goodness, you flatter me too much!
I certainly wasn’t expecting such a thoughtful comment on my little piece here – for that, I am extremely grateful, and will attempt to show my appreciation for your efforts with a reply.
Firstly, it is always an honour to have your thoughts on these writing pieces considering the immense wisdom you radiate and your undeniable talent for languages. If anything, I believe your response itself holds some of that “micro beauty” I so deeply love; it may not, say, move planets or traverse oceans, yet something so heartfelt is beautiful to me, and makes the everyday wear of life worthwhile. Therefore, since I believe in the beauty of such simplicity, I will say this and hope you understand the sincerity I wish to covey: thank you for everything.
I must thank you as well for the mistakes you caught. I will definitely watch my spelling in the future!
Finally, I would like to say that there is no shame in being “strange” as you put it; the passion you display in your actions is always an inspiration, so please don’t apologize for this part of you. It’s another small source of beauty, and anyone who discovers it will surely be in awe.
Thank you once more; it has truly been wonderful to get to know you this past year. I’m excited to see what you write in the future!
(P.S. Saying that this left you speechless is a hyperbole; saying that I am left speechless by your ability to make meaning out of my tiny presentation in such a gorgeous manner, however, is not. I mean it.)
Tarannum, your well-roundedness and ability to ace whatever you step foot into has always left me in awe and wholehearted appreciation of your work and you as an individual, however, this piece of yours has truly blown me away to beyond by, firstly, showing me how ELA was never about language, but about life and human nature. Secondly, it blew me away by leaving me speechless (yes, Jieo, more speechless than you), because I literally paused and stared at a blank wall to think about your analysis and the relationship between concealment and portrayal before I continued on to read your personal response.
Specifically pertaining to your writing, I absolutely loved your work due to the technique of parallelism that you used frequently in your analysis as a tool to highlight the relationship between appearance and reality. The most dominant lines in your work that evidently used this technique to show Griet’s strength and weakness were, “… the first quote shows what Griet may have been like if she allowed herself to foster the passion she feels… while the second demonstrates Griet’s attempt to ground herself, as well as her inability to completely disregard the artist within her – as in, her true self – around others,” and, “Griet’s own artistic vision is both her strength, in the sense that it makes her sensitive to aesthetics, and her weakness, in that she fails to hide herself because she cannot contain it, ultimately turning her into the type of girl she feared she would become.” Furthermore, even though you say creative writing is not your “thing”, your personal response was unquestionably up to par with your analysis in its level of excellence, as it beautifully captured your cynical voice while depicting your ability to use literary techniques, as the way that you smoothly transitioned into the part that revealed your vulnerability by reflecting the structure of the first half of your piece revealed how far you have come as an exceptional writer. This mirroring in your writing was done best between the lines, “So when I look at the clouds instead of at you, don’t take it as an insult that you’ve been spared of a dissection, because you are not some creature on a laboratory table that needs my understanding to survive,” and, “I want to save myself from your gaze; I don’t want to be some animal on a table, waiting for you to understand me.”
In terms of improvement, I honestly do not have much to suggest for edits due to the fact that the majority of your piece has given nothing to me other than learning and enlightenment. The way that you depict how pain and beauty are both essential strings in a weaved piece has, in a way, opened my eyes to appreciate pain in its ability to give birth to beauty through its diminish. Since I, likewise, must suggest some sort of change for improvement, I would suggest breaking up the first sentence in the section that starts with the word “thematically” to enhance the flow of the section (I mean, at first, I thought you included the repetition of the “and” segments for emphasis, but eventually decided that it may sound better if broken up).
Overall, I absolutely loved your writing, for both analysis and response, due to your ability to always highlight your cynical voice while crafting pieces that show your skill and understanding regarding all types of writing and techniques that cover more than just the style that is associated with cynicism. After getting to know you over the past two years, I knew for sure that I wanted to be in the same family group as you because there is so much that I yearn to learn from you while strengthening our friendship, and this piece reinforced every bit of what I hoped to experience while in your physical and metaphysical presence.
With love and smiles,
P.S. – Physical because your actual presentation was something that I never otherwise would have experienced or seen of you while being in some other science or math class with you.
Also, did I use the word metaphysical correctly? 🙂
Alas, you are too brazen in your compliments. You leave me speechless everyday in class – this blog is nothing in comparison to your abilities. Regardless of how embarrassing (if I were capable of blushing, I think I would be) it is to receive praise from an amazing soul such as yourself, I must thank you.
Thank you as well for your suggestion! My work tends to have a lot of patterns in it, and these little tweaks really help my style overall.
I’ll finish off by saying that I truly appreciate getting to know you over the last two years. Everything I learn only further confirms the truth: that you, my friend, are simply amazing. Thank you for blessing me with your presence in this class. I hope you have a wonderful year!
P. S. Metaphysical may be to strong a word for me; I’m simply here, and that is all. 😉