Excerpt #1 - How We Judge People:
“It’s exciting, at first. You think at first that you’re different, that you have something special to offer, and that can even be true. Then you remember you’re the same person you’ve always been; the only change is that suddenly your picture is everywhere and columns are being written about who you are and what you’ve said and where you’re going next and people are stopping to look at you. And you’re a celebrity. More accurately, you’re a curiosity. And you say to yourself, I don’t deserve all this attention!”
She thought carefully. “It isn’t you that matters to people when they turn you into a celebrity. It’s something else. It’s what you stand for, to them.”
There’s a ripple of excitement when a conversation turns valuable to us, the feel of new powers growing fast. Listen carefully, Richard, she’s right!
“Other people think they know what you are: glamour, sex, money, power, love. It may be a press agent’s dream which has nothing to do with you, maybe it’s something you don’t even like, but that’s what they think you are. People rush at you from all sides, they think they’re going to get these things if they touch you. It’s scary, so you build walls around yourself, thick glass walls while you’re trying to think, trying to catch your breath. You know who you are inside, but people outside see something different. You can choose to become the image, and let go of who you are, or continue as you are and feel phony when you play the image.
“Or you can quit. I thought if being a moviestar is so wonderful, why are there so many drunks and addicts and divorces and suicides in Celebrityville?” She looked at me, unguarded, unprotected. “I decided it wasn’t worth it. I’ve mostly quit.”
I wanted to pick her up and hug her for being so honest with me.
“You’re the Famous Author,” she said. “Does it feel that way to you: does this make sense to you?”
“A lot of sense. There’s so much I need to know about this stuff. In the newspapers, have they done this to you? Print things you’ve never said?”
She laughed, “Things you’ve not only never said, but never thought, never believed, wouldn’t think of doing. A story published about you, with quotes, word for word, made-up. Fiction. You’ve never seen the reporter . . . not even a phone call, and there you are in print! You pray readers won’t believe what they see in some of those papers.”
“I’m new at this, but I have a theory.”
“What’s your theory?” she said.
I told her about celebrities being examples that the rest of us watch while the world puts tests to them. It didn’t sound as clear as what she had said.
She tilted her head up to me and smiled. When the sun went down, I noticed, her eyes changed color, to sea-and-moon-light.
“That’s a nice theory, examples,” she said. “But everybody’s an example, aren’t they? Isn’t everybody a picture of what they think, of all the decisions they’ve made so far?”
“True. I don’t know everybody, though: they don’t matter to me unless I’ve met them in person or read about them or seen them on some screen. There was a thing on television a while ago, a scientist researching what it is that makes a violin sound the way it does, I thought what does the world need with that? Millions of people starving, who needs violin research?
“Then I thought no. The world needs models, people living interesting lives, learning things, changing the music of our time. What do people do with their lives who are not struck down with poverty, crime, war? We need to know people who have made choices that we can make, too, to turn us into human beings. Otherwise, we can have all the food in the world, and so what? Models! We love ‘em! Don’t you think?”
“I suppose,” she said. “But I don’t like that word, model.”
“Why not?” I said, and knew the answer at once. “Were you a model?”
“In New York,” she said, as though it were a shameful secret.
“What’s wrong with that? A model is a public example of special beauty!”
“That’s what’s wrong with it. It’s hard to live up to. It frightens Mary Moviestar.”
“Why? What’s she afraid of?”
“Mary got to be an actress because the studio thought she was so pretty, and she’s been afraid ever since that the world is going to find out she isn’t that pretty and she never was. Being a model was bad enough. When you call her a public example of being beautiful, it makes it worse for her.”
“But Leslie, you are beautiful!” I blushed. “I mean, there’s certainly no question that you’re… that you’re… extremely appealing....”
“Thank you, but it doesn’t matter what you say. No matter what you tell her, Mary thinks beauty is an image someone else created for her. And she’s a prisoner of the image. Even when she goes to the grocery store, she should be all done up, just so. If not, somebody is sure to recognize her and they’ll say to their friends, ‘You ought to see her in person! She’s not half as pretty as she’s supposed to be!’ and Mary’s disappointed them.” She smiled again, a little sad. “Every actress in Hollywood, every beautiful woman I know is pretending to be beautiful, she’s afraid the world will find out the truth about her sooner or later. Me, too,”
I shook my head. “Crazy. You’re all crazy.”
“The world’s crazy, when it comes to beauty.”
“I think you’re beautiful.”
“I think you’re crazy.”
We laughed, but she wasn’t kidding.
“Is it true,” I asked her, “that beautiful women lead tragic lives?” It was what I had concluded from my Perfect Woman, with her many bodies. Perhaps not quite tragic, but difficult. Unenviable. Painful.
She considered that. “If they think their beauty is them,’ she said, “they’re asking for an empty life. When everything depends on looks, you get lost gazing in mirrors and you never find yourself.”
Excerpt #2 - Care for Some Sex?:
“I had an hypothesis, almost a theory, well on its way before you stopped my research: beautiful women, they don’t much care for sex.”
She laughed in surprise. “Oh, Richard, you’re not serious! Really?”
“Really.” I was caught in contrary pressures. I wanted to tell her, and I wanted to touch her, too. Time for both, I thought, time for both.
“Do you know what’s wrong with your hypothesis?” she said.
“Nothing, I don’t think. There are exceptions and you’re one, thank the Maker, but generally it’s true: beautiful women get so tired of being seen as sex-things, when they know they matter so much more than that, their switches turn off.”
“Nice, but no,” she said. “Why not?”
“Sexist goose. Turn it around. I have a theory, Richard, that handsome men don’t much care for sex.”
“Nonsense! What are you getting at?”
“Listen: I’m defended like a fortress against handsome men, I’m cold to them, I keep them at arm’s-length, don’t let them be a part of my life, and somehow it doesn’t seem as if they enjoy sex as much as I want them to…”
“No wonder,” I said, and in a flying shatter of broken conjecture I knew what she was saying. “No wonder! If you weren’t so cold to them, if you’d open up a little, let them know how you feel, what you think—none of us really handsome men wants to be treated as a sex-machine, after all! Now, if a woman shows us a little human warmth, there’s a different story!”
She moved her body very close to mine. “Class?” she said, “What’s the moral of this story? Richard?”
“Where intimacy is not, is not the finest sex,” I said. “Is that the moral, teacher?”
“What a wise philosopher you are becoming!”
“And if one learned that, if one found someone whom one loved and admired and respected and for whom one had spent one’s life looking, might one find the warmest bed of all? And even if the one that one found was a very beautiful woman, would one find that she might care a very great deal for sex with one, and might enjoy sweet carnality as much as one might, oneself?”
“Fully as much as one might, oneself,” she laughed. “Could be, more!”
“Teacher!” I said. “No!”
“If you could be a woman, you might be surprised.”
Excerpt #3 - The Letter:
Wednesday evening 12/21
I finally struck one little thought, a musical metaphor, through which I have been able to think clearly and find understanding, if not satisfaction, and I want to share it with you. So please bear with me while we have yet another music lesson.
The most commonly used form for large classical works is sonata form. It is the basis of almost all symphonies and concertos. It consists of three main sections: the exposition or opening, in which little ideas, themes, bits and pieces are set forth and introduced to each other; the development, in which these tiny ideas and motifs are explored to their fullest, expanded, often go from major (happy) to minor (unhappy) and back again, and are developed and woven together in greater complexity until at last there is: the recapitulation, in which there is a restatement, a glorious expression of the full, rich maturity to which the tiny ideas have grown through the development process.
How does this apply to us, you may ask, if you
haven't already guessed.
But beginnings cannot be prolonged endlessly; they cannot simply state and restate and restate themselves. They must move on and develop—or die of boredom. Not so, you say. You must get away, have changes, other people, other places so you can come back to a relationship as if it were new, and have constant new beginnings.
We moved on to a protracted series of reopenings. Some were caused by business separations that were necessary, but unnecessarily harsh and severe for two so close as we. Some were manufactured by you in order to provide still more opportunities to return to the newness you so desire.
Obviously, the development section is anathema to you. For it is where you may discover that all you have is a collection of severely limited ideas that won't work no matter how much creativity you bring to them or—even worse for you—that you have the makings of something glorious, a symphony, in which case there is work to be done: depths must be plumbed, and separate entities carefully woven together, the better to glorify themselves and each other. I suppose it is analogous to that moment in writing when a book idea must be/cannot be run from.
We have undoubtedly gone further than you ever intended to go. And we have stopped far short of what I saw as our next logical and lovely steps. I have seen development with you continually arrested, and have come to believe that we will never make more than sporadic attempts at all our learning potential, our amazing similarities of interest, no matter how many years we may have—because we will never have unbroken time together. So the growth we prize so highly and know is possible becomes impossible.
We have both had a vision of something wonderful that awaits us. Yet we cannot get there from here. I am faced with a solid wall of defenses and you have the need to build more and still more. I long for the richness and fullness of further development, and you will search for ways to avoid it as long as we're together. Both of us are frustrated; you unable to go back, I unable to go forward, in a constant state of struggle, with clouds and dark shadows over the limited time you allow us.
To feel your constant resistance to me, to the
growth of this something wonderful, as if I and it were something
horrible—to experience the various forms the resistance takes, some
of them cruel—often causes me pain on one level or another.
Away and apart or together and apart, it is too unhappy. I am watching me become a creature who cries a lot, a creature who even must cry a lot, for it almost seems that pity is necessary before kindness is possible. And I know I have not come this far in life to become pitiful.
To be told that canceling your date to help me when I was in a state of crisis "wouldn't work for you” brought the truth crushing down on me with the force of an avalanche. Facing facts as honestly as I can, I know I cannot continue, no matter how much I might wish to do so; I cannot bend further.
I hope you will not see this as the breaking of an agreement, but rather the continuation of the many, many endings you have begun. I think it is something we both know must be. I must accept that I have failed in my effort to let you know the Joys of caring.
Richard, my precious friend, this is said softly, even tenderly and lovingly. And the soft tones do not camouflage an underlying anger: they are real. There are no accusations, no blames or faults. I am simply trying to understand, and to stop the pain. I am staling what I have been forced to accept; that you and I are never going to have a development, much less the glorious climactic expression of a relationship grown to full blossom.
I have felt if anything in my life deserved departure from previously established patterns, going beyond all known limitations, this relationship did. I suppose I might be justified in feeling humiliated about the lengths to which I have gone to make it work. Instead, I feel proud of myself and glad to know I recognized the rare and lovely opportunity we had while we had it, and gave all I could, in the purest and highest sense, to preserve it.
I am comforted by this now. In this awful
moment of ending, I can honestly say I do not know of one other
thing I might do to get us to that beautiful future we could have
At this late juncture, it occurs to me that a chess metaphor might also be useful. Chess is a game in which each party has its own singular objective even as it engages the other; a mid-game in which a struggle develops and intensifies and bits and pieces of each side are lost, both sides diminished; an end-game in which one traps and paralyses the other.
I think: you see life as a chess game; I see it as a sonata. And because of these differences, both the king and the queen are lost, and the song is silenced.
I am still your friend, as I know you are mine. I send this with a heart full of the deep and tender love and high regard you know I have for you, as well as profound sorrow that an opportunity so filled with promise, so rare and so beautiful, had to go unfulfilled.
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