Let’s call the whole thing off


English: Dilapidated house in Paramaribo.

English: Dilapidated house in Paramaribo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been looking at houses recently, and I’ve not seen even one that I like as much as my own. That’s partly familiarity, but mainly it’s personal taste. I would like a lot of these houses, if they had furniture, blinds, colors, flooring, and landscaping to my taste. It surprises me how often I see houses that make me cringe but that I’d like if redecorated. What would possess someone to paint the walls that color? Why would anyone want that bed? Who would want pink carpet in the dining room? Who would want to live somewhere that looks like that? Before we moved here, we had a condo painted in colors that I intended to repaint white. Before I got around to painting, I began to like having colorful walls. When we sold that condo, the woman who bought it planned to paint the whole place stark white. Meanwhile, we had bought our house, which was all white, and we planned to paint it in colors similar to our condo. We wanted those colors. She wanted white. And we all completely repainted our new homes before we moved in. So much of life is subjective–whether we’re talking about home decorating style, or food preferences, choice of neighborhood or town, book or movie or TV preferences, family size, or career choices. The list is endless–things that are right for me but wrong for someone else because they boil down to personal preferences.

It almost surprises me now that we ever agree. If the hideous houses I’ve seen are any indication, assuming that the people who live in those houses actually like them, there are a LOT of people in my neighborhood whose taste is across-the-board different from mine. How do we ever have a blockbuster movie? How is there ever a bestselling book? How does any artist manage to sell his art? How is anyone confident enough to share what they make? I would never decorate a house like some of these houses. I would never dress like my sister-in-law dressed this weekend–presentably, respectably, in a dress so hideous that I would sooner dress for a wedding in old scrubs with “Property of University Hospital” printed all over them than wear that dress. I will never read some of the books my husband has recommended, and I never expect my husband read some that I love. How is it that we ever agree? And why do we ever think that anyone else agrees with us?

It’s liberating to see how poorly I can guess the preferences of others because it means that I really shouldn’t care what others think of my home or clothes or hair or lifestyle or career path (i.e. complete absence thereof). I can’t tell what will appeal to them anyway, so why bother? But then I consider how easily, in the face of all the subjectivity, the people whose business is making things that the rest of us like could have thrown in the towel and given up. There are a lot of books that I’m grateful the writer didn’t keep to himself and music that I’m glad the musicians recorded and distributed. It would be a shame for us all if those people had not shared. They shared what they made with no assurance it would be well-received and exposed themselves to the derision of all the people whose tastes were different. I’m grateful for the dumb luck that what they liked enough to share pleases me too.

You like potato and I like potahto,

You like tomato and I like tomahto;

Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!

Let’s call the whole thing off! (George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin)


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