Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

Aesthetic Realism seminar:
The Fight between Boredom
and Awareness in a Woman's Mind, part 2

         At Florida State University, though I’d hoped through  English literature and history to have a wider interest in things, I began to find it difficult to concentrate—everything seemed a wash.  At night I often hung out with friends at the college pub; I felt livelier after I had a few drinks. Other times I would listen to my Elton John records alone in the dorm.

           I looked to meet a man who would save me from a world I felt was cold and dreary.  I liked dating Tom, whose eyes lit up whenever he saw me.  Now I felt tinglingly aware!  But who he was, and what he was hoping for, I was little interested in.  And as I was seeing Tom, I was also writing letters to another man stationed overseas, thinking the more men who were inter-ested in me, the better I'd feel.  But I didn't feel better, I felt ashamed, and stopped seeing Tom after a few months. I was 22, and already felt weary about the future.

          Several months after this, a great thing happened: I began to have Aesthetic Realism consultations!  "How tired are you of life?" my consultants asked me.  How did they know? I wondered, but I languidly answered "Ah, not too terribly tired."

Consultants:  Do you feel the world is interesting or dull?  I hadn’t seen it as interesting, but I felt honestly hopeful that I was going to learn how.  Then they asked:  "Are you going to like the world because you have a lot of men interested in you…or because you see it in a way that is honest, beautiful, and just?"

          As my consultants talked about the meaning of this principle of Aesthetic Realism “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites,” I began to see things differently.  One question they asked was "Are you, like this table, both surface and depth?"  This was the beginning to seeing many things with greater dimension.  After this consultation, I had a fresh awareness of the world around me.  Walking down the street, I felt something new: I was related to things—to a maple tree I saw--it was one tree with many leaves as I was one person with many thoughts.  And as I passed a woman, I felt a kinship: she had a surface, and also feelings beneath, as I did. 

2. Awareness in an important Woman of the 20th Century

Frances Perkins, whom my colleague Irene Reiss spoke about in a seminar here some years ago, is a person I admire for her passionate, scientific work to have social and economic justice come to the American people. Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor undert FDRA former secretary of labor said of her: "Every man and woman who works at a living wage, under safe conditions, for reasonable hours, or who is protected by unemployment insurance or social security, is her debtor." 

           Frances Perkins was born in Boston in 1880.  Her parents were well off, described by Bill Severn in his biography as "strict conservative pillars of the Congregational Church," who "protected [their daughter] from the harsher realities of life. She was shielded from those who lived in less fortunate homes, cautioned not to speak to strangers."
          She was encouraged to feel she was better than some people and should keep her distance.  This, however, made her fearful.  She recalled that she was exceedingly shy, so much so that she hesitated to walk "into the public library to ask for a book or to go into a store to buy a spool of thread." 

       When she began school and became aware that one of her best friends came from an impoverished home, she was troubled, and anxiously asked her parents questions.  "In Frances Perkins family's opinion," Severn writes,

alcohol was the primary evil that dragged…people down into poverty, along with shiftlessness….Her father [told] her {she] shouldn't concern herself with such things, when she asked "But why are so many nice people poor?"
She would come to have a vivid awareness of "such things"; they would concern her life most.

          While attending college at Mount Holyoke, one of her professors encouraged her to major in chemistry.  Unlike me, she felt the stimulus of the course “opened her mind and gave her a scientific approach to other things."  For a course she took on industrial growth in America, she visited factories and described the shocking conditions of working people. 

"I was horrified at the work that many women and children had to do in factories…."There were absolutely no effective laws that regulated the number of hours they were permitted to work. There were no provisions which guarded their health nor…compensation in case of injury.  Those things seemed very wrong."
She was becoming keener and keener--using scientific observation to come to logical conclusions.  Biographer George Martin wrote:
She discovered that one serious accident—say, the loss of a man’s hand—could drive a steady, sober working family into penury…. Avoiding poverty therefore was not a question simply of liquor or laziness but also of safety devices on machines…."
When, in her senior year she heard a speech by the important reformer Florence Kelley on the horrors of child labor and sweatshops, Ms. Perkins knew with certainty social justice would be her vocation.

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