The odd thing about life is its images. They should be taken seriously. One interesting thing about an image is that it's beyond control, so there is no point trying to develop one of one's own.
I used to think that content, logic, substance (as it is called) were the big things. I now think images are bigger--not that they are ever divorced from the substance, the style or the soul of a thing. That's why they are powerful.
The person or institution or thing that provides the image has no control over the person who perceives the image. We may get the image all "wrong," but that does not keep it from being effective, as far as we are concerned.
Once I was standing about as Golda Meir got out of a car to enter a building. She was old and sick. She had had years of political work behind her. Our eyes happened to meet. Nothing was said. Her eyes were five miles deep. Her face registered nothing; there was no movement there. She was like a piece of sculpture, permanent, and beyond adding or subtracting some pleasant novelty of line. She seemed sad, or drained, but not tired. She was ready to go on, to whatever god-awful reception awaited her.
The thing that struck me was that she was not intentionally projecting anything. She was just getting out of a car. If her mind was on anything, it was probably on whether her cat needed a low-protein diet back in Israel. Or who knows. Of all the thousands of times she wished to convey through her person a particular image, this was one time she almost certainly did not wish to convey anything at all. But if I think of her, it is the first image that comes to mind. Odd.
Sometimes I watch late-night talk shows. A character actress told Dick Cavett she always watched his show, which (she said) was often "crappy." True. Sometimes you marvel at the world, which has so many asses in it.
I have tried to think why I was so churned up seeing Janet Baker on the Cavett show. She sings, of course. She sings gloriously, everybody knows that. But then so do a handful of others. What happens, when one is all but shattered by an image--in this case simply Baker standing up singing a song of Ben Jonson's--is the coming together of maybe 40,000 things, most of them half lost in the memory, but a sound, a scent, a human figure, a mere accident of light, can call up all that is forgotten, not in any tiresome detail, but with the original force intact or even amplified.
I went to a lecture at the Smithsonian, the Frank Nelson Doubleday lecture with a bunch of southerners (Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, C. Vann Woodward) speaking about a bunch of Yankees (Melville, Hawthorne, Parkman). There were some facts new to me, one or two things I had not thought of, but really you don't have to get done up in a dinner jacket and race about town just to find something you never thought of before. You can do that just answering the phone.
The thing I remember most vividly is Welty in her amazing green dress with big purple stars that had mirrors in them. A sort of Merlin costume, I thought. The colors of the grape vine. Her soft but standard voice. (She has made an effort, I warrant you, not to sound too melting, too southern, or in any other way extraordinary; she could have learned to sound grand and I am not sure how she escaped it, which is why I think she has given more attention to her voice than most people would guess, wishing it to be firm, standard, unexceptional, modest--and in the voice, this usually leads to distinction of tone, so that anybody would recognize the Welty voice, or what may be called the Eudoran timbre, anywhere.)
I was much moved. I wonder if people often think they are bizarre, as I often wonder about myself, when they find themselves continually being moved greatly. All people are so similar that we rarely have any idea whether we are strange or standard. Both, probably.
Then one night I was up on top of the Federal Reserve Building at a supper benefiting a charity, Recordings for the Blind, Inc., and I had noticed Rose Fales, one of the wheels, in great tension. There had been a crisis over the tablecloths (they didn't show up) and she had missed a cocktail party at the Bushes, to which she had been asked, and one way and another she had been going full steam and full of anxiety. I saw her late in the evening, over at the side of the room, her head thrown back, laughing. Rose in triumph. I still cannot think why I was so enchanted by that fleeting moment, or why I remember her that way. Odd.
But then images are. But then people are. But then we are.