June 15, 2009

Square the circle?

Heard on the street: “If you can’t solve the problem, prolonging it will make money.”

Read in The New York Times: “In the latest installation of the soap opera gripping Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 72, on Monday demanded an apology from wife, Veronica Lario, 52, a day after she told Italian newspapers that she wanted a divorce. Mr. Berlusconi said he did not think the couple could reconcile. ‘I don’t think so. I don’t know if I want it this time,’ Mr. Berlusconi said in an interview that appeared Monday in the leading Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, ‘Veronica will have to publicly apologize to me. And I don’t know if that will be enough.’ In recent days, Ms. Lario has criticized her husband for cavorting with younger women and for his center-right coalition’s plans to nominate a slate of attractive women to run for the European Parliament.” World Briefing, Rachel Donadio, The New York Times, Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Read in The New York Times Critics Notebook: Alessandra Stanley, the television critic, comments on John and Elizabeth Edwards. “Mrs. Edwards star turn on ‘Oprah’ doesn’t quite fit the template of na├»ve New World idealism; it looked more like an exquisite form of revenge, the kind of well-oiled comeuppance that Marquise de Merteuil concocted in ‘Dangerous Liaisons.’ ” “More Than One Way to Skin a Cad,” Alessandra Stanley, Week in Review, The New York Times, Sunday, May 10, 2009

Read in The New York Times Magazine: “The diagnosis was staring her in the face for years, but she did not see it. Psychologists call this inattention blindness—instances when we don’t see something because it’s not what we are expecting to see; it’s not what we are looking for. Sherlock Holmes has a somewhat different description. ‘I trained myself to notice what I see,’ Holmes says. Arthur Conan Doyle, himself a physician, imbued his character with the kind of keen observational skills so essential to a good physician. This ability consists of casting a wide net to see the whole picture—even when the complaint that brings the patient to medical attention is commonplace, like insomnia.” “Sleepless,” by Lisa Sanders, M.D., The New York Times Magazine, 5.10.09

These are the headlines in my mind as I roast a chicken on Sunday and hold in memory the dinners I laid down on our mahogany table with its gold inlaid border that had begun to show the table’s age—now gone—like all the Sunday dinners, the weeks and months and years, in soups I had simmered, made fragrant with carrots and onions, bay leaf and peppercorns, in roasts I had crusted with pepper and salt, with leaves of rosemary grown in my garden—now gone—in buttery pie crusts I had rolled on my marble board in the kitchen—I still have the board but no room to lay it down—filled with blackberries from the bushes by my fence—gone—sprinkled with sugar and covered with strips of dough woven over and under each other like our lives.

Is what I do in these pages revenge? I worry this thought. Meanwhile the headlines point me like a compass that tries to square the circle:

Prolong the problem.

Demand apology.

Humiliate spouse.

Or analyze: In her book Dreams of Love and Fateful Attractions, psychiatrist Ethel Spector Person notes, “Many tentative forays into love are aborted either because they pose real or symbolic threats to selfhood. Even when the integrity of the self is not at risk as it is in enslavement, pride, and self-esteem may be (or appear to be) endangered. The lover may become frightened at the strength of his impulse toward surrender and the lack of autonomy he thinks it implies and he may make strenuous efforts to disengage. Or, out of self-protectiveness, he may pick an Other who does not reciprocate his feeling, and consequently, one who sets external limits to his attempt to merge. Fearing merger, he thus sets up a situation which will prevent it. Similar motives dictate the behavior of the lover who after moments of great intimacy, particularly sexual moments, reasserts his separateness by withdrawal or by starting a quarrel. The more soulful and intimate the love-making, the greater the dread of loss of self, of dissolution (or emptiness) afterwards, and the sadness or distancing that surfaces in response to that dread.”

Or see: Two children have figured out how to dance, a performance. They are in a hospital because I have been in two hospitals in three weeks (see “Double Doors” and know that I have been to Chicago where my grandchild was born in the love of my daughter Sarah and her husband Ryan.) There is an elevator in the hospital and the doors to the elevator open onto the children, a boy and a girl, who are on the bed. The performance, the dance—had they been rehearsing?—was going to be at eleven in the morning. A third person, the observer who catches them at the dance in an inappropriate place, wants to help them. She says, “No one will come at eleven in the morning.” But she has come. She watches the dance, a ballet: the boy lifts the girl who is on point. The angle of her body defies. Why, before he lifts her, while she stood on one toe, while she extended her leg back, her arm forward, did she not fall?

The observer knows this: If you can’t solve the problem, look. Do not try to square the circle. The circle will square itself.