In the last week I've read two great novels, both English: The Other Side of You, by Salley Vickers, about the relationship between a woman, her dead lover, and her psychiatrist; and On Chesil Beach, by Ian MacEwan which I swiped from Carla when I was over there.
Both books deal with unconsummated love. The woman and her psychiatrist achieve an intimacy he has never experienced with anyone else. The man in On Chesil Beach loves a woman so intensely that he drives her away. On Chesil Beach is the first book I've ever read which takes for its theme sexual ineptitude and ignorance. Reading them is helping feed and water the seed of an idea I have to turn the hot tub play into a novella.
Both books reinforced something I've been thinking about lately--what a big deal ignorance is, how constantly we misunderstand each other. C makes a point of teaching his kids in Juvenile Hall basic math and money counting because so many shootings occur when people feel they've been shorted in a drug deal. Literally, people lose their lives over errors in addition and subtraction.
How many more break-ups and rifts in relationship occur because one or both parties lack the right words to explain themselves--or don't know how to make the crucial gesture at the right time? Of course the question remains, is this ignorance innocent or willful? For example, I can claim that I don't know exactly what is going on in Iraq, in Darfur, all over the world. And that's true. I don't know exactly, there's an overwhelming amount of information out there, too much to sort through, and plus which I've got an absorbing private life to attend to.
But do I not know enough, or do I not care enough? Do I not care enough to take the effort to get to know? Not only world affairs, but the problems which occur between people. It's easier to remain ignorant. It's harder to work to see it from someone else's point of view--such hard work that it makes my head hurt sometimes.
(As I write this blog, five new email messages have come in; each from a different environmental or political group urging me to do something, write something, etc. If I responded to each of them I would never get anything written. So--true confessions--I delete them unread.)
Reading these books I felt how impatient with them I would have been ten years ago. "Just do it!" I can hear myself yelling at the page. "Just reach out and grab her--grab him, for God's sake!"
I remember how, in college, I threw Portrait of A Lady across the room--I had to read it for an English Lit survey class. I was so pissed at Isabel Archer for being such a naive wimp, and so pissed at Henry James for naming the only kind, competent woman in the book Henrietta Stackpole, which I thought was a way of making fun of her. Now, I'm not so sure. After all, Henry was the author's own name. Hmm...someone should do a research paper on this. Or better yet, name a press Henrietta Stackpole Press. Henrietta Stackpole Productions.
I got to spend some sweet quiet time with Carla yesterday. We got to just sit in silence together, on the couch, just being.
I remember a therapist telling me, years ago, when I was in my twenties, that I needed to learn about subtlety. At the time, I was so emotionally frozen and yet desperately hungry for contact, for feeling, that I needed great dramatic gestures to show me that something was real: wild love-making, sobs and tantrums, big risky adventures, like hitch-hiking across Canada.
I think my true nature is quiet and peaceful enough to appreciate subtlety, but at the time my desires were louder than my essence. It was as if I couldn't understand anything unless it were shouted in my face, or delivered to me in a crushing blow.
I couldn't have been with C then--he would have run from me in terror. And I would have made up some big tragic story about it. And it all would have been a huge misunderstanding, and very sad, because we are so well-suited.
I'm grateful he came along when he did, when I was mature and tired enough to stop the drama because I realized it was killing me. I'm so grateful I had the wisdom, finally, to appreciate what is quiet and good and real between us--the undrama of daily life, making a good meal, a small considerate gesture, lying in bed reading our separate books, a look or a touch that says more than words.