Our county fair started Thursday, and that evening on our way to the free concert in our downtown (thank you Ellensburg Downtown Association, terrific bands Better Day and the Dusty 45’s), I met the fella whose pickles won the grand prize at the fair. He and a buddy pickled together, then each picked a jar to enter. The only two jars, as it wound up, and he picked right – his jar won first, his buddy’s took second. He seemed to quite enjoy his brief moment of fame.
Earlier that afternoon, after an awesome set by Americana rock-roots-blues band Cody Beebe and the Crooks, I reacquainted myself with the obsession that began at last year’s fair: the green bean judging. I adore living in a world where green beans form the basis of profound competition. I still cannot grok what makes one crop of a dozen or so beautiful beans deserve a blue ribbon, while another only earns red. They are all green, long, lovely, and delicious. (I didn’t sneak a taste of any on display, I promise. Hey, there might be cameras! I’d only risk antagonizing the fair police to try a bite of the prize-winning apple pie. Trust me.)
I suppose judging anything is at least as much art as science. Most of this week I spent grading student papers, and even though I apply pretty clear and rigorous criteria, there’s always that moment – a hesitation when one point in either direction hangs in the balance. In that moment, it’s not the specific standard that sways me, but my sense of the paper as a whole, of the person’s intention and worthy execution.
You might not view pickles, green beans, or academic papers as works of art, but they certainly are creations, crafted by diligent and often loving hands. Judging should remain mindful of this.
The next day, a piece I’d written for this blog (The Joys of Waiting) went up on Freshly Pressed, accessible to a huge audience, thanks to the judgment of a WordPress editor. It made her laugh. My brief moment of fame led to hundreds, instead of the usual five or ten, hits on the blog and scads of nice and funny comments from readers. I know I’ve written better (and certainly many worse) pieces and published them all here. What made that one stand out? Like the green beans, or a jar of pickles, or any work created by humans to share with others, the determination came down to something quite basic, I’ll bet: a moment of connection, a click, an “aha,” a chuckle, a sigh, a “yum.”
Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder – all sources of wisdom share this teaching (including The Twilight Zone, so you know it’s true). I guess that also means we can choose to see beauty – in a jar of pickles, an academic paper, a silly blog post, or even in a gorgeous green bean.