Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In the Eleventh Hour

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?

Good question.

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.


Midlife Jobhunter said...

"When I’m focused, I want to stay focused."

Can you bottle that and sell it to me?

cjschlottman said...

This well written piece really speaks to me! When I was little, I expected everything I saw in TV ads would be true at my house. Like, maybe the toy would slide out of the cereal box on the first try. I thought boxes would open like they did and that the little tabs would fit perfectly into the slots to close the boxes. I was very often disappointed. I still have trouble with focus! Thanks for this post.


Anonymous said...

Oh brilliant! I remember aged three, being told we were moving to Hornchurch. I was convinced we were all going to live in a church with a hunting horn above the door.

We didn't of course. Disappointingly,'my church' turned out to be an ordinary, police house, my father being a policeman.

I did find out later that the local church had a bull's horn above the door though. This to mark the fact that the local industry used to be tanning. There has apparently been a tannery there since the 16th century. So, someone else way back then thought the same way as me.

I watched the latter part of the tennis and I freely admit I sort of thought the same as you for a split second until my 19 year old son regarded me with pity...

Sherry said...

I'm reading and I'm thinking, is she talking about herself or me? I live an odd life because of it. I go back to the studio in the wee hours of the morning with Van Morrison or Joni Mitchell while everyone is asleep.

I am a mother of a college aged son. But I am a singularly focused woman, one man, one boy, then work. It's a wonderful life.


Lynn said...

I totally get the literal-ness thing having an autistic daughter. People with autism don't get things like "raining cats and dogs". If you say that to her, she will be running for cover.

I am an attacker too…and whether or not you have kids or pursue the arts or another career, if that is your personality, then you will always find something to expend that energy on. Either way, I was destined to look like a 100 miles of bad road...

Belle (from Life of a...) said...

Thanks so much for stopping by Life of a Southern Belle. I'm much interested and cannot wait to read your novel. You are so right about finding the humor when and where you can when dealing with dementia. Sometimes I think I'm becoming a bit hard-hearted but must cope however I CAN cope. I'm looking forward to getting to know your blog better when I have time to read over the next few days. Hope that you'll come back to visit me soon.