Being Tender and the Beauty Way – Reminders from Laurie Anderson

Death makes us think about life.

Laurie Anderson’s documentary/art film Heart of a Dog invites us to think about both.

These serious subjects are balanced by an approach that is both comic and courageous. Anderson is brutally, and beautifully, honest. But she’s not necessarily easy to follow.

That’s why I’m glad I watched the interview on q before I saw the film that screened here last month. Her conversation with Shadrach Kabango provides a lot of helpful context. The spoilers (they’re in there) actually don’t spoil a thing. Plus, the interview has some gems that the film doesn’t.

For example, at one point Anderson discusses rules that she and Lou Reed lived by:

Number 1: Don’t be afraid of anyone. (Easy to say. Harder to do. Great to achieve.)nofear

Number 2: Get a bullshit detector.    bullshit_detector     Use it. (Wish I’d heard this put plainly long ago.)

Number 3: Be really, really tender.


After hearing two tough minded rules, I was a little surprised by an injunction to tenderness. But the more I thought about it, what seemed like a surprising juxtaposition was actually a natural complement.

Being tender is not only a marker of softness and sensitivity—it calls for a kind of courage. Tenderness, it turns out, requires no less discipline than Anderson’s first two rules for living—fearing no one & listening for honesty.

Thoreau’s Walden can also be understood as a compilation of rules for living.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

It happens that Thoreau and Anderson agree about the importance of tenderness. Thoreau tells us why.

“The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.”

Being tender—with ourselves and each other—is not only a sign of strength. It can bring out the best in all of us. It’s a pretty good rule to live by.


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