This weekend, Cheri and I took the boy to the antique mall.
We had something specific we were hunting for, but we also just like to look at old stuff. It can be a revelatory experience to see your Grandma’s heirlooms, or the precious items you had in your home, sitting on the shelves of an antique mall with a five dollar price tag. Suddenly you realize that your family had the same mass-produced stuff that everyone else had. It’s just the memories that you attach to those items that make them valuable.
While hunting for “unique” items, we found this Barbie doll, part of the “My Favorite Career” series. This “Rocket Scientist” Barbie was released in 1965.
Now, who am I to say that the little girls who received this doll were not encouraged to think about their career choices? For all I know, Rocket Scientist Barbie did her job, and she looked good doing it.
But Cheri and I had a good chuckle at what Barbie is saying on the box: “Yes, I am a Rocket Scientist.” We couldn’t help but think it sounded a little defensive. “Yes, I am a rocket scientist!” As if no one at the cocktail party believed her when they asked what she did. They assumed she must have mistakenly said “rocket scientist.”
Part of the fun of looking at old things is seeing just how silly so much of it looks now. Watch any of the old shows on Netflix, Dragnet or Hawaii Five-O. They are pretty silly. Sometimes they are painfully silly. But people enjoyed them at the time, without any irony.
That’s the challenge of doing creative work. Very little of what we do is going to last. Our work becomes dated. It goes out of style. It becomes silly to the people who find it later.
There are two things that do not become dated:
Wisdom and Beauty are completely fair, completely timeless things. Styles and tastes in beauty change, and peoples’ perceptions of what is wise changes. But Wisdom and Beauty are like objective truths.
If we want our work on Earth to last, to matter, to be a little more permanent, to not become kitsch in an antique mall, it’s best if it is pursuing Wisdom and Beauty.