January 24, 2010

You cannot get out of the game

While I was dating, while the process of discovery unfolded, before Paris, D. sent me an article about the winemaker we’d met on a vacation to Napa: Soter’s winery is Etude: a word that evokes memory and music and a type of composition that was sometimes written as an exercise: to learn from.

That’s what we’ve been doing, creating an etude.

Over a glass of wine in Paris at Café Sevigny, after I’d let him into my apartment, after we’d spent a week together, walking the streets of Paris, D. said to me, “Mary, I look at you and I see your heart. You lead with your heart. Even into battle, you lead, fearless, with your heart. The world sees, but does not understand. Your brave little heart is bruised and hurt. But again you lead with your heart, and again, and again. I want to be the person who protects that heart.”

I don’t simply recall this. I now have it in writing because I recently asked him if he recalled that moment and instead of simply answering, yes, he wrote what you have just read and sent it to me.

It is almost as if he has been in my corner while I battled the world as a single woman, new to the venue.

After Paris, we made love for the first time after a ballet performance at the Kennedy Center where I have season tickets, where I have gone alone, treated myself to a box seat. He bought a ticket in the orchestra where he could look up and see me. The ballet does not matter, but I would have liked for it to have been Stravinsky’s The Firebird, which I have seen though not with D. My favorite is the choreography by Balanchine because Stravinsky and Balanchine knew each other and collaborated. Chagall did the sets that I have only seen in photos after the two reshaped the ballet for its premiere in November 1949, the year of D.’s birth, for the New York City Ballet. http://www.auburn.edu/~mitrege/russian/art/chagall-firebird.html
In Stravinsky and Balanchine: A journey of invention, Charles M. Joseph says, “…[D]ance and music were not always considered equal partners. Later, in the hands of Stravinsky and George Balanchine, they became so.”

D. with his perfect pitch often speaks of the inability of recorded music to ever exactly reproduce the same sound waves as live instruments. He is also schooled in the sciences. I suspect that he might assert, It’s an impossibility the way reaching absolute zero, the temperature at which all motion down to and including the subatomic level ceases, is impossible to reach despite the fact that it is a fixed and precisely known temperature and the object of much modern-day effort to achieve a laboratory reading as close to it as possible. This, the Third Law of Thermodynamics, seems to me an apt metaphor for the inability of a recording to reproduce exactly.

Similarly, if events can be said to have occurred in an exact manner, perception can never capture that exactitude. I put it this way: I recall the events that happened between me and D. but I will not “reach absolute zero” in the telling, let alone in my understanding of why he left me.

I remember when I lay in bed and cried over the Second Law of Thermodynamics, when my marriage had broken and I said to D. before he left, “That’s my problem. I’m going to entropy.”

But here’s the thing, he stayed in the game, pursuing the elusive me while I dreamed of the elusive D. He says I come to him in fire and music. He says he’s no hero. But I beg to differ because he has had the etude of our dance in his head.

I listen to The Firebird. Stravinsky switches between the ominous themes in minor keys and the glorious themes in major keys, with large variations in volume for both, much of it played at the extremes. These forces struggle throughout for the upper hand, and the outcome is not clear until the end like a good movie. While we generally know which is which (ominous and glorious), things get complicated. Some of the quieter glorious passages have an ominous undertone. Some instruments serve as an “instrument” of the ominous at some points and the glorious at others. There are some steady voices—the horns repeatedly sounding caution; the oboe as the only consistent (almost without exception) expression of hope.

It’s like the movie North by Northwest, which is not so different from The Firebird—all tug between good and bad, with the good guys and bad guys clearly drawn. Deep down, we know who is who even when it seems we don’t. The only thing we don’t know is who will prevail (theoretically, if you put aside the fact that it’s Cary Grant).

A frantic battle ensues—this is pretty late in the piece—the fifth section; the sections are short and the whole piece is only forty-one minutes, twelve seconds. The next scene moves into a lush melody with a strong hint of foreboding, or even despair, with cries and pleas from solo instruments.

Now that I have found the Paris that is not on any map and the one that is, now that I have been through a long process of self-discovery that is far from over, logic tells me the Laws of Thermodynamics rule.

Once, when we had that chef’s kitchen, D. complained that the new dishwasher—a German-made product that supposedly was built to last—wouldn’t drain, “The damn thing is two years old and broken.” I laughed and said, “You forget the Second Law of Thermodynamics.” On the day I wept, when the marriage was broken, when he went away, he said, “But you forget the First Law, the Conservation of Energy: Energy can be neither created or destroyed.”

I didn’t understand.

I only understand this—and it has been a long time coming: The only path D. could follow was to leave to discover himself. But he never forgot the Laws of Thermodynamics.

C.P. Snow provided this shorthand to remember the laws: 1. You cannot win. 2. You cannot break even. 3. You cannot get out of the game.

But if you stay in the game, you can dance even when it seems that the dancers have all gone under the hill.


  1. Staying in the game was heroic, both for you and for D. You make us all hope that all Gs, Ss, Fs, and the rest of the alphabet were like D., knowledgeable about the Laws of Thermodynamics, and perceptive about the good that surround us... but this post only make us discover the enormous difference between D and the rest of the alphabet.

  2. The ominous and the glorious--what perfect terms to describe this story with all its fears and hopes along the way. And given the precise delicacy of the prose and the clarity of the thought, I suspect this account is as close to Absolute Zero as a memoir gets.

    I don't want it to end.

  3. an ending that is surprising and inevitable. remarkable.

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  6. As a poet has written:

    "Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,
    Dance me through the panic until I'm gathered safe within,
    Lift me like an olive branch, be my homeward dove,
    And dance me to the end of love."

  7. Rayna,

    My goodness. I thank you. More news tomorrow: Stay tuned!


  8. I love your last line...

  9. Congratulations on your self-discovery. I have come to realize that journey is lifelong, as you probably have as well.

  10. Reading this post and the others is not only a delight, but it provides a moving, intimate look into a person's life. It is indeed wonderful not only to share in the intimacy and to feel a strong bond with the writer, but also to enjoy the exquisite prose.
    And to add, I am simply thrilled that this writing will be published allowing so many more people to experience your insights and thoughts as well as your graceful writing.

  11. Is this the ending? Do I sense a veil of privacy here, as though D is helping to protect that heart that always leads--and yes, it always leads. Maybe I just need to read and reread, the way I always must the ending of a story that nourishes me.

    In terms of the story, I'm still not sure what brought D to you in Paris--maybe you did, through this instrument? He may have perfect musical pitch and a knowledge of the Laws of Thermodynamics, Mary, but your instrument is words, and your knowledge manifest in a marvelous ability not only to lead with your heart, but to speak and write your heart.

    Did you sense he was on his way to you, in Paris?
    I think the last paragraphs are probably answering these questions...Let me read them again.

  12. What an amazing entry. I don't want to say anything more, lest I break your rhythm, Mary (and D). Wonderful. Phil


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