Register Wednesday | March 21 | 2018

Two Walls


1.For most of the time I'd known her, she had been an ordinary woman. She liked her cappuccino with lots of foam, and she took the stairs two at a time. When she became a pelican, I was at once suspicious and for several months I avoided her. At Carol's dinner party, though, I could not avoid her because she was seated right next to me, and so we had to have a conversation about it. I admitted to her, partly because I was a little drunk and partly because I was annoyed by it, that I thought it was an indulgent gesture. I told her that she couldn't have had any idea what it was like to be a pelican, so to use the excuse that she felt like a pelican and had always thought she was a pelican was hardly helpful. What do pelicans feel like? How is anyone who has not been a pelican supposed to know? And finally, didn't she see that it would alienate and confuse her friends and make the usual things difficult for them, as they had never had to deal with a pelican before? For instance, how Carol had to serve sardines. Was it really worth that? Of course, I regretted my words the minute I finished speaking. Who was I to presume to understand her experience of the world? I had never been her. Perhaps if I had been, I too would have become a pelican. I realized the minute I finished talking that I had sounded arrogant and narrow-minded, and I hated her even more violently for putting me in that position and making me feel like a jerk. She explained, very politely, folding her napkin over her lap, that the last thing she wanted was to make her friends uncomfortable, but that life had been too unbearable as a woman, and she'd been uncomfortable for so many years. Yes, perhaps it alienated some, but others, like Carol, were very understanding, and that made her see what people were capable of, and realize what friendship could mean. She continued to eat, not looking at me any longer, but talking to the person at her left. Carol's maid took away the soup and brought out the main course. I felt queasy. I excused myself from the table and went upstairs to wash my face. I looked at my pale face in the mirror, and then I threw up in the toilet. I must have been there a long time because there was a knocking at the door. I wiped my mouth and answered. It was Carol. She was worried that I was unwell and apparently the whole party was waiting for me before beginning their next course. I said to Carol, Please, start without me. I just have a touch of the flu. I think I'll just go home. Carol looked regretful and worried. Was it the food? I assured her it wasn't, and I followed her downstairs and announced to everyone that I thought I had a touch of the flu and that I'd better get going. I didn't make eye contact with anyone, I just pretended to. Then Carol escorted me to the door and gave me my coat and, still concerned, offered to call me a cab. I assured her that I was fine to drive, and besides, I didn't want to hold her up any longer. Then I walked down the path and went into my car, where I just sat with the motor running for fifteen minutes until I felt well enough to drive.

There comes a time in the life of most sailors when they have to decide which it's going to be: a woman or the sea. Most true seamen pick the sea, but the rare few who pick a woman can be assured a happy life. It's not every man who gets to taste adventure and marital bliss. It's not every man who gets to live out his childhood dreams and the wish of every old man: to age and die in the arms of a woman who is quiet in the morning, gracious in the evening and accommodating at night. Some who are not seamen but bankers or businessmen might find that through their years the interests of home and career run concurrently, but only the seaman who has chosen a woman can say that he has lived two lives, not one.

2.It was three in the morning as Tom and Jackie were walking home from the party when they came upon a porcupine. How strange, said Jackie, to find a porcupine in the city. She was delighted. She did not speak of it any further, but when she arrived home she did not go to sleep. Instead, she went straight to her studio and painted a porcupine. This began three years of infatuation with the porcupine, and during that time she created a large number of sculptures and drawings and oils to the glory of the porcupine. Tom would often tell friends about the night when they saw the porcupine in the street, and he would always say, I wish I was an artist and could make use of my life and surroundings in that way. But no one liked the porcupine phase. Everyone who saw the work thought it was mediocre, and preferred the paintings and sketches from before the obsession with the porcupine. Tom should not have been jealous. As a restaurateur, he pleased many people.

It is a common enough story, this story of an artist finding something mundane so inspiring that years of her career are devoted to it. Any collector will tell you that periods are important to the financial success of an artist, and textbooks and critics will agree. But what of the opinion of the real world? Most people are envious of obsessions and so find them ridiculous. In the real world, all things are weighted equally. It is the task of art to throw everything off balance.