Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reading. Greenman.

There are a lot of books I bought simply because I loved the title, books I have loved for the title alone, even though I would find that loved what I found inside as well (for that part comes later, after the book is bought, taken home in its plastic bag, the receipt tucked inside, left abandoned in the front hallway or on the windowsill or under the couch until it is rediscovered hours or days or months later, and you fall in love with the title all over again, open the cover and slide inside). Sometimes you find a title that leaps out at you, dazzles your eyes so you have to blink and look again, make sure that you are really seeing what you think you see, feel your heart give a quick leap, your pulse quicken, your fingers eager to reach out and grasp what your eyes already have.

A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both: stories about human love caught my eye at the bookstore the other day, a promise of something, perhaps, a reminder that love makes us feel both that we are floating in air (the balloon) and that we are finding our way with a certainty that we had never known before (the compass). Or most simply that love might both set us free and guide us. The introduction by Marie Palermo, who taught Ben Greenman art when he was in second grade and was his substitute teacher when he was in tenth grade, tells us that the title "holds together the opposites of orientation (the compass) and escape (the balloon), not to mention the way the title conflates the zero of nullity and the O of orgasm." (Taking my own interpretation of the title one step further).

(She also tells us that the reason why we create is "to keep our demons down without banishing them entirely," something that will now stay with me for the rest of my life).

Included in the introduction is a short story that Greenman wrote for Marie Palermo as a tenth grader, in response to an assignment where they were not justifying "one choice or another, but the process of choosing," revived and revised after a distance of twenty years. A man - or perhaps a boy; he is simply referred to as "he," - lives his life on a platform that contains everything he needs, "a phone, food, companionship. He was happy." And then he looks to one side and sees another platform, higher than his own, that contains everything he has, only he convinces himself that everything there is better than what he has - the phone, the food, the companion.

This man - perhaps it is the teenage Ben himself - keeps thinking about this higher platform, persuading himself that if he makes that leap to that other platform his life will be better, that he will be happier, the way we all look at something we don't have and think that it will make our lives somehow better. Finally one day, he makes that leap, up to that higher platform, and sees that everything is the same - the food, the phone, the companion. But at least, he thinks, he is higher up, until suddenly he realizes that he is sinking, and the previous platform is rising; "he had forgotten to figure in the effect of his own weight." And then he looks at everything around him, a phone, food, a companion, all he needs to be happy.

Greenman, Ben. A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both: stories about human love. MacAdam Cage, 2007. pp ix-xii.

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