My tendency to interpret things literally was particularly pronounced when I was a kid. I wrote about it in a previous post, and I will write about it again. In the meantime and as an example, I’ll share one short anecdote: During my “Wonder Years,” I lived in a small Virginia town that was home to both a GE facility and a DuPont plant. Accordingly, many of my classmates’ fathers were engineers. But I didn’t understand the connection, and so I always felt baffled. With so many engineers, why were there so few trains?
When a five-year-old interprets something literally (based on the information she has), it’s pretty darn cute. When someone my age is incorrect in her literal interpretation, she just looks stupid. At the very least, she seems quite gullible.
I was reminded of this fact last week when, hearing news of an 11-hour Wimbledon match, I believed – quite sincerely – that the two players had actually played tennis nonstop that whole time.
Okay, once I heard follow-up news and read follow-up copy, the reality made sense. The 11-hour match did not take place all at once. Rather, it was divided into a few sessions that were ridiculously long in their own right.
… Even the subsets of the full set would boggle the mind of some. But no, not me! I was willing to believe that the full match was played without a break!
Where the hell am I coming from?
A part of where I’m coming from probably reflects my love of tennis. My parents played it a lot when they were in their late 30’s and early 40’s, and they encouraged my sister and me to play as well. My sister obliged their desires, which left me in the position of rebelling. Always and insistently the family’s “other member,” I wanted no part of the game.
So I stubbornly sat on the sidelines.
But I picked up a racket when I was 16 or so, and I enjoyed the opportunity to play at my prep school, where four or five tennis courts across the campus allowed pick-up games throughout the afternoon. Having learned just enough to understand scoring, I was ready to compete, and without a teacher telling me what I had done wrong… without a team on which I would have to do right, I hit those balls like nobody’s business. I came to love tennis, and had I not also become an urban-dweller, I probably would have continued to play for years on end. I’d probably still be playing. But, that’s not how things turned out. These days, the most access I have to tennis is through the television, where I can watch a tournament for hours, enchanted by the game’s powerful rhythms and possibilities, by its capacity to reveal individual strength and stamina.
What will seem unrelated to these musings on tennis is an observation my sister once shared – an observation that I cannot dispute: “You know,” she said, “I think it’s a good thing you never had kids, because everything you do, you do thoroughly.”
I get her point. And while I don’t think I would have become the type of mother whose intense approach to parenting is ultimately depicted in a movie-of-the-week about murder among cheerleaders, I believe that if I had had children, there would have been a death in the family. My own.
The fact of the matter is, I need complete and utter freedom to attack what I do.
When I’m focused, I want to stay focused.
Whether I'm making a bunch of long beaded necklaces or writing a novel, I attack. And I can stay in that mode for extremely long periods of time.
But what you also need to know is that, in spite of my using the word “attack,” those hours I put in are relaxing and magical. There is absolutely nothing aggressive in that time. It is natural, and it is beautiful.
Yet, I’ll admit, it takes a physical toll. Not so much on my stamina, but on my appearance.
… I remember – more than 30 years ago – back when I was waitressing at the Hungarian restaurant near Columbia on Manhattan’s upper west side, a woman came in to ask for a table. She was expecting a dinner companion who had not yet arrived. And because we were quiet that night, I was permitted to show her a table where she could wait for her friend.
None-too-busy myself, I was able to inquire about the woman’s friend. “What does she look like?” I asked, offering to keep an eye out.
“Oh,” the woman said, hanging her head a bit (some guilt, perhaps, having its way), “she’d probably hate me for saying this, but… she just looks… tired.”
I was too young then to appreciate what that woman had said, but today, I feel a special bond to the dinner partner who eventually showed up that night. Was she tired or simply an artist? And if the latter was true, was she perhaps an artist who had reached a menopausal plateau whereby the concept of bedtime is nonexistent and the idea of an 11-hour tennis match seems realistic?
I’ll never know.
But with any luck, I’ll sleep on it.