In the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, in the middle of the continent, I take my pen and wonder on paper if it is reasonable to spend your entire life wiping counters, moving laundry, and painting pictures of random objects.
I fear that my own habits, while hugely satisfying to me, are, by any objective measure, repetitive and dull.
Giorgio Morandi’s(1890-1964) paintings of subtly coloured pots come to mind.
While the art world was bubbling with abstraction, Giorgio Morandi led a quiet life, painting representational subject matter.He spent his days teaching art.
Every night he came home to paint the same ceramic pots.
Morandi lived his entire life in the same house with his three sisters.
Presumably the sisters did the counter wiping and laundry and rolling out of pasta.
“I can’t work at that Bridgehead anymore,” my husband laments. “It is the location of choice for all the internet dates. I can’t ignore people’s stories and their partner checklists.”
Our daughter Frankie, a high school student, works at café in town. She laughingly nods; she gets to witness the occasional four hour date.
She works shoulder to shoulder with a staff of twentysomethings.
Some barristas have finished a degree, maybe a master’s. Others thought they knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Then they found out they were wrong and left their studies scratching their heads.
The 23 year olds pull shots of espresso, hoping for clarity on next year. They carefully trace hearts in the foam.Some wipe the counters jovially and are not vexed about living with their parents, or the mystery that will unfold.
Romance and heartache abound.
My attention to the unfolding of their lives seems excessive.I question my vicarious interest as Frankie holds her eye on life’s next chapter. She scopes for patterns and learning, empathizing with the plights of her co-workers.
I concur; options for vocation, location, partners, can be paralyzing.
When I was 23, being a grown up was not seeming to be a 360 degree view from a mountaintop, with paths leading in all directions.
Adulthood seemed an Everest for which I was utterly ill equipped.
I was standing on the rubble of my parents’ recent divorce. Psychically I was holding up my mother, whose lifelong commitment to domesticity had left her crunched, cuckolded and bereft.
She had weathered 35 years of marriage to my father, along with enormous losses—by any standards.
As a twentysomething I assuaged myself: my parents, with more zest than wisdom, had gotten engaged two weeks after they met.
I calculate: they had turned 18 at the end of the war. Class mattered. They were alive and good-looking.
The checklist were short.
At 23, I had my eye keenly focused on the hearth. In retrospect this was a reasonable response; I needed one.
I too was surprised to find myself already weary of a dating merry-go-round, which was getting less merry. I was done with school and done with moving. I was even weary of travelling.
In the interest of stability, I decided I was going to have an arranged marriage, organized by me.
My interviews were constructed on a thick file of rigorous research.
As I lie in the darkness I imagine Morandi’s life.
Surely spent skipping along cobblestone streets thinking to himself, Damn, being Italian really rocks. (Dannazione, essere italiani davvero rocce!).
Perhaps, after his sister Maria Theresa had poured his morning espresso, Morandi arrived at his teaching post thanking the lord that he’d never seen a strip mall or a slice of processed cheese.At night, emptying a bottle of Bolognese wine, he might have had a satisfying flash of insight; Tomorrow I will shake things up. "I will include in my composition a pound of butter!"
I laugh at my ridiculous glorification and revise my fantasy of this man's life.
He could have been more serious, marinating in his mind how a smudge of alizarin crimson behaves in a grey. Perhaps, as he touched his middle-aged head, he noticed his hair thinning and had sober opinions about his chosen forks in the road.
The truth is; I can’t imagine Italy through two world wars.
I look it up.
Alongside the measurable facts of his life, I find that at age 25 Morandi was discharged from the army. A breakdown. Likely he turned to the pots for safety and sanity along with holding potential for his lifelong learning. Maybe put in his 10 000 hours to keep his head above water.
As I hold these images in the darkness, I hear the ice on the roof above my head shifting.
My teenagers, my husband, sleep softly in adjacent rooms.
This 1860’s house has strong bones. It holds us in its container.
It is the wee hours of February 29th.
Someone’s special birthday.
Perhaps less is required of us than we imagine.