On noticing

They're beautiful, but don't try to make soup with them.  May 2015

They’re beautiful, but don’t try to make soup with them. May 2015

“An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it makes a better soup.” ― H.L. Mencken

Have you ever noticed that we have a tendency to idealize that which charms us?  Because we like the appearance of a product, we might conclude that it’s more functional.  If we fall in love with a house we see, we imagine that we’d live a happier life there. When we see actors we admire, we sometimes confuse them with the roles they are playing, forgetting that they might have real-life habits that would drive us crazy if we spent time with them.

It’s natural, of course, to be attracted to surface traits.  But a car can run well without being visually appealing, and food can be nutritious and even tasty without appearing particularly appetizing.  Somehow, that’s not typically enough for us; we want the whole package.  We want and expect things to be perfect, connecting with all our senses in a positive way.

Advertisers know this, of course, and exploit it to devastating effect. Tapping into the power of association, they use images of beautiful people and places to sell everything from beer to deodorant to gadgets to appliances. It’s doubly risky to swallow too many of these messages.   Not only can it leave us financially depleted and disappointed by having been sold on more than is actually delivered; it also can build in us an unrealistic level of expectation about pretty much everything, which renders us perpetually discontented with reality.

Next time you’re looking through a catalog or magazine, try to picture how that clothing or furniture or artwork might fit into the context of your own world. How would it look on your body, in your room or on your walls?  Have you noticed the gorgeous bathroom photos rarely depict toothpaste, shaving cream, hair care items or other necessities of daily life that will inevitably cluster on our counters?  Will everything stay so neatly folded and pressed as it appears in the article about household organization?  Or are we buying an illusion?

We come close to perfection surprisingly often in our everyday lives, even if only in a splendid meal now and then, or a well-brewed cup of coffee or tea.  As long as we don’t expect that level of delight to generalize to the rest our day, we can treasure such moments as ornaments alongside more mundane experiences.  We can enjoy the cabbage soup (or, OK, the tomato basil soup) without expecting it to be as beautiful as a perfect rose, or expecting the rose to give us more than the sheer joy of its fragrance and loveliness.

How can we keep a realistic level of expectation, yet still strive to add joy and beauty to our lives?  How can we experience idealism as an asset rather than a liability?


  1. raynard

    Julia, I noticed last weekend, how come people using a GPS if they are lost, dont realize that ” speeding up will make you ” lost faster? And I always wondered how much trouble it is to” keep a house looking like in those magazine? Oh the days ofLeave it to Beaver, the mother coming to the front door with pearls on her neck and a tray of cookies.. I digress. I’m not one to walk down the street on my cell phone or ipod listening to music.Attention to detail is what I was taught in the military. It became a life lesson for me.. I use it to give out landmarks when giving others directions all the while” keeping it simple” People have become” over stimulated ,and ” over energy drinks consumption..I start a new position at work next week. My hours will be from 4am till 12 noon. I will be up before the chickens and” the guy who makes the donuts”. But hey, as the military once said” we do more before 9 than most people do all day”.. Be blessed

    • Raynard, I had to smile when I read this. I don’t know how many times Jeff has heard me say “When you don’t know where you are going, you need to slow down!” He always likes for me to navigate for him when we go somewhere new (less so since we have the GPS, but he still wants me to be the backup) and he often misses turns because he just can’t stand slowing down very much. I think he’s worried about annoying people behind him. I do have to admit, though, that he truly gets ore done by 9 than I usually get done all day. Hope you have a great weekend!

  2. Contrast is a word I use a lot anymore. If we don’t have the stuff that’s not so stunning or idea, the good stuff wouldn’t be so good. They’ve worked hard to get my money but I’m pretty good at knowing I’d rather have a bowl of cabbage soup and keep the roses where they belong, on my bushes for all to enjoy. Great points and beautiful rose!

    • Yes, it’s the average stuff that make the outstanding stuff appear outstanding. I read a book recently that pointed out that commercial goods really have no absolute value, but only relative value — once everyone has or can afford something, it’s often considered passe or even undesirable. Most of us age into seeing through a lot of the hype, and some seem to be born knowing better than to go for it. There’s a great deal of freedom in not trying to impress anyone.

      • Somehow, I’m not sure how, I was never drawn to things that were “in”. Maybe it’s the Virgo in me. Very practical. Even as a child and teen. Maybe it was we didn’t have TV?. 🙂

        • I guess I wasn’t drawn to trendy things, either, though I longed to be liked and fit in with others, and never quite managed it. In the 60’s when I was a young teenager, I found it ironic that most of the people trying to be hip and “do their own thing” were acting surprisingly like one another, while the oddballs such as I were, as always, seen as oddballs, popular quotes about different drummers notwithstanding. I guess that’s one reason why I loved this song so much (scroll down to see the video link). I do think your being without TV must have had something to do with it, too. It’s hard to get brainwashed by advertising if you are rarely or never exposed to it.

          • I was too busy working and taking care of my siblings to have time to care what anyone thought. I worked from 15 on and since I was always the new kid with no money to spend, I was pretty much invisible. Yay! I think I got lucky in so many ways. It would have been nice to fit in but then, I guess it’s just not in our cards. Maybe that’s why we are writers. 😉 I liked the video and the song. 🙂 Thanks

            • Marlene, I think you are correct about that being part of becoming a writer. Jonathan Franzen wrote of being a “social isolate” who learned at an early age to connect to others by reading and writing. When I read that, I immediately identified with it. YES we did get lucky, didn’t we? Hope you are having a lovely week!

  3. Such a great question Julia! I like the rose and cabbage soup quote very much!

    • Pauline, I’m so happy you like it! ❤

  4. Sheila

    Julia, this is a day of sadness and loss for words. The beauty of your photo and words have certainly been meaningful. I recall that you spent your honeymoon in Charleston, and also have a nephew that lives there now. Does my recollection serve me correctly? My most favorite southern city is in mourning, prayers for all! Love to y’all, Sheila

    • Sheila, I thought of you yesterday when I heard the news. I feel so sad about those murders. I first saw the news on TV yesterday afternoon when I took Matt to the gym to do the treadmill; it was on all the news shows playing there. I couldn’t hear the sound but the closed captioning was on, and as the story unfolded I became more and more horrified to learn what happened. Your recollection is correct; we did honeymoon there, and our nephew and his family live there. What a horrible tragedy to befall such a lovely town. It makes me feel as if nowhere is safe from hatred and violence. Of course, that legacy started long ago…So many of us are praying for the victims AND wisdom in knowing how to deal with it; how to make some difference in the larger circumstances that surround such events. As always, there will be plenty of pundits offering different solutions or explanations, but in the end the resolution to such hate and anger has to come one person at a time…it only takes one person to cause irrevocable destruction.

      • Heartbreakingly sad and difficult to comprehend such anger and hatred. So many extraordinary people making a difference in the world, too, cut down in such a violent and unfathomable way. Sending love and light.

        • I take great comfort in the brave words of one of the teenagers who lost her mother to that rampage: “Love is way stronger than hate.” ❤ The legacy of those who died, and the forgiving spirits of their families, will live on and shine all the more brightly despite the tragic story.

  5. We could “stop and eat the roses” (instead of just smelling them)? You are asking some good questions, Julia.
    Perhaps approaching the novelty with a sense of whimsy or humor?
    I did once make a rose-mint Mead that turned out to be quite delightful.
    I think rose is a more popular flavor in Indian cuisine. And rose hips have a lot of vitamin C, I understand.

    • Susan, I had forgotten that roses are (at least in some forms) actually edible. My Mama used to have me take chewable vitamin C tablets that were made in part from rose hips. They were delicious! I think humor and whimsy are delightful and beneficial in almost every endeavor.

  6. Julia, beautiful rose but I prefer stir fried cabbage for lunch. I like my roses outside. Occasionally I cut one to enjoy in my kitchen window.
    I’m so sad for the citizens of Charleston and the rest of us. Why so much hate??

    • Hi Merry! I know cabbage is supposed to be one of the healthiest vegetables, but I don’t think I could get into a cabbage soup, though I don’t mind having some in my vegetable soup. I love purple cabbage raw in my salads, and I totally LOVE LOVE LOVE bok choy in stir fry.

      I too have felt very sad about Charleston, as I think most of us do. My mother called me this morning and was venting about it. She said what got her most was that this young man sat in that church an hour before killing the people he was sitting with, planning all along (or maybe, as Jeff said, trying to get up the nerve) to become their MURDERER. I keep hearing he was on some sort of drugs but I don’t think that alone explains the problem. May God have mercy on our country.

  7. How can we not…….

    • Great point, Patricia! Hope your summer is going well.

  8. Sheila

    Julia, I hope you’ve had a good weekend and that Jeff is having a nice Father’s Day. It’s too hot to be on the verandah (for 10 days now) so we’re maintaining inside, without too much “cabin fever”! Thank you, always, for your kind words. Until tomorrow, Sheila

    • Sheila, it was heat advisory here all day today, and now it’s a thunderstorm, so my daily walk got put on hold today. To console myself I’m eating chocolate cake, which shows you how risky staying inside can be for me. 😀 WOW, 10 days of heat is more than we’ve had here. I hope you get some cool breezes soon. Meanwhile I’m sending you a tall glass of iced tea with mint leaves! Come sit a spell…

  9. Three cheers for that perfect cup of tea, Julia. One of my favorite ‘silly’ ads is the desk top with a computer and NO cords anywhere, not even the lamp. Yep, that’s how we live. The sun is always streaming through the window and the trees are always green. The problem with perceived perfection is that it makes us all feel inadequate. We all have toothpaste on the mirror as you cleverly point out.

    Great post, Julia!

    • Thanks, Alys. I too have noticed how those pesky cords never seem to show up in any advertisements except the gadgets sold to supposedly help us get them under control. And don’t even get me started on what the kitchen counters and pantries look like in those magazine photos. When I was a teenager, my younger brother told me that the reason I felt inadequate was because I read too many magazines like Glamour and Mademoiselle, where the models were expertly coiffed and dressed and then, as if that wasn’t enough, airbrushed. I guess it’s not too different from the images we buy when we get just a bit older. Different subjects, same yearning for perfection. I am so happy to be finally growing out of (most of) that!

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