NOW I KNOW MY ABC's, esso gallery, new york 2003

From Fusion to Embeddedness to Traveling Beyond...

Story Evolution

A dialogue triggered by the intersection of
ongoing conversations in the Graduate Idea Forum
and on (Re)Writing Descartes

July 10, 2004

At the end of "Intimacy in Lesbian Relationship: A Critical Reexamination of Fusion" (in Women's Growth in Diversity: More Writings from the Stone Center. Ed. J.V. Gordon. New York, Guilford, 1997. 311-330), Julie Mencher attempts to substitute for the pathologized concept of "fusion" a "non-pejorative word, such as embeddedness, to describe the situation of identity within relationship. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to embed means "to fix firmly in a surrounding mass of some solid material."

As someone who's spent her life longing for fusion, and longing for that experience not to be an emphemeral one, I was delighted to participate in the July 9 discussion in the Graduate Idea Forum in which we searched together (correction: in which I searched, with the help of GIF and Mencher's essay) for a formulation less transistory than the one we arrived @ in our last conversation about fusion (aka "ivy"). But the alternative of "embedded" that Mencher arrives at is for me still too firmly "fixed," both etymologically and conceptually. One can be "in bed" with another and still have (in fact, because one is inbedded/embedded), be able both to travel very far away--and to return to settled (if altered, then re-settled) ground.

There's a lovely literary image for this. I received it as a gift from Gerry LaChance, a high school English teacher in Connecticut whose mind and mine have been insistently infiltrating one another this summer. Here's an excerpted/somewhat edited version of the e-conversation Gerry and I have been having this month. Called "what happier image than this?", it intersects strikingly with a concurrent conversation on Serendip about safety and risk . It's about the interactive interplay between security and freedom, between being settled and being exploratory--and begins with a passage from a book Gerry assigned me to read, a collection of linked stories, If on a winter's night a traveler..., by Italio Calvino:

if you lie down in the same bed like a settled couple, each will turn on the lamp at the side of the bed and sink into his or her book; two parallel readings will accompany the approach of sleep; first you, then you will turn out the light; returning from separated universes, you will find each other fleetingly in the darkness, where all separations are erased, before divergent dreams draw you again, one to one side, and one to the other. But do not wax ironic on this prospect of conjugal harmony: what happier image of a couple could you set against it?

The very last paragraph of the novel re-plays the same interaction:
A great double bed receives your parallel readings. Ludmilla closes her book, turns off her light, puts her head back against the pillow, and says, 'Turn off your light, too. Aren't you tired of reading?' And you say, 'Just a moment, I've almost finished If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino.'

What I relish here is the interplay between the "great double bed" and the image of the traveler on the train, the easy move back and forth between settledness and exploration....To me: 'tis the central interplay/tension/challenge of a good and growing marriage: providing the space to move, to travel, not knowing where one will end up, and/but trusting that, wherever one goes/however one develops, one knows that one will still be loved, can count still on the safety and settledness of a place to return to.

What I don't like about the book? It's a collection of 10 unfinished stories: take the risk, Italio, of consummation!

I too believe in a similar ideal: room to move and grow and always, always accept what comes in the process....also, page 252 seems to be a sufficient 'ending' for me, what with the spelling out of the 'obvious' chapter titles and the reference to the arabian nights. Wasn't it Borges who said that the trick to the thousand nights and the one night was all in the one night never quite arrived at, leaving the story infinite, circular, open?

For me, the novel takes a huge risk by not finishing the story per se, by not wrapping up the bundle neat and tidy. Like life, no?....It's more like multiplicity - in terms of the ideas explored and the ability to create a new examination again and again. The story evolves yet never quite finishes the evolution, perhaps leaving the 'ultimate' work/choice up to the reader....find it interesting to think on the challenge of writing the openings to ten novels, so to speak, all in one work..... Marquez... speaks of how it was more difficult to write short stories than a novel, how each one is like writing the first chapter of a novel, which, once completed paves the way for what follows....Might be appropriate for this situation, for a consideration of the idea that the surface of each chapter needs to be plumbed for 'exactitude' (Six Memos).

"You have only this beginning and would like to find the continuation..." (Calvino, 258)
...And (here's the punch line) give up on complete knowing/consummation....?
Reconceptualize marriage/life as a series of linked but all- and always-unfinished short stories, rather than as a fully realized novel?

Here's a concrete example:

Another friend and I have recently been discussing a shared concern: how each of us finds herself repeatedly disappointed. Thinking together about various ways of dealing with this, she suggested, first, the option of "managing expectation" by reducing it. (=If you don't expect much, you'll reduce both disappointment and joy.) But neither of us was willing to give up on the "joy" part of the equation. Then she came up with a second option, which she called "focusing on the center" (of a relationship, for instance): "allowing the peripheral to be peripheral, and so bridging the differences between us." My daughter Lily joined this conversation, saying that the divorce rate in this country is not due to the (frustrated) desire for exploration; it's due to the (always illusive) search for fusion. Let there be space between us; we'd hate anyone who knows us completely....

Lily then added a third option to our repertorie of choices: instead of reducing expectation, we might focus on it. Revel in it. Go out for the night (okay: her life, not mine) in high expectation,and let THAT be the party. Just don't insist on holding the party to that standard. Party beforehand: take a-holt, at the moment of departure/fullest expectation for the evening,what we hope to experience later....

Let the baking of Christmas cookies BE Christmas...
A paradox that works, I think: finding consummation in expectation.

July 13, 2004

Well, that was LAST week.This week I have a different thought. At the suggestion of Doug Blank, I've just been roaming around in John Brockman's 1995 collection The Third Culture. Included in the essays selected is one by Roger Schank called "Information is Surprises":

We all expect the world to work out in certain ways, but when it does, we're bored. What makes something worth knowing is organized arond the concept of expectation failure. Scripts are interesting not when they work but when they fail (168).

What Shank's given me here is another way for thinking about what to do with repeated disappointment (a.k.a. failure of expectation, a.k.a. surprise that isn't pleasing): the same thing we do w/ surprises that delight: learn from them. Look at the gap between what you anticipated and what happened, see if you can figure out why....

And move on.

Moving on.

July 14, 2004

In response to Lily: I'm not so sure I'd hate anyone who knows me completely, probably because I know that no person, no matter how wonderfully close we are, could ever know me completely, in part as I don't even know myself that well. In fact, with those rare people in our lives whom we love fully, I'd rather enjoy life if they tried to get to know me as well as I'd like them too, and the converse (hopefully) would also be true. That might not make sense so I'll say: if we reduce expectation we allow for mutual embeddedness and get to the intensely focused core of selves without making any such demand.

Finding consummation in anticipation might be another take, a way to look toward communion without expectation but instead anticipate any/all the other is willing to give - a joyful surprise much of the time.

July 25, 2004

Well, here's a joyful surprise! Emily Madsen stopped by, and from her visit evolved a new site called The Dancing Bear Will Dance No More. Come visit us there---

Judie McCoyd also stopped in; she responded to our discussion on the Graduate Idea forum , where she says, in part,

Anne's conversation with LaChance... raises the questions about an area I think about as Rapproachment- an Object Relations theory term that refers to the stage of life when children (18 months old or so) both require a secure base (generally their mom) and need to travel from her in order to needs to ask how we then define what gets allowed within the exploration that still allows the secure base to remain secure. Within the infant/toddler context, it seems the child must be allowed to wander and explore without criticism, but only to the point where s/he starts to explore a dangerous area- ie heading out into the street or eating non-edible objects- at which point mom sounds her disapproval, baby returns to be reminded that the base is still secure despite mom's reprimand, and the cycle starts over again. In our GIF context, we use one another to provide a set of relationships of trust from which we jump into new thoughts/ ideas and are able to challenge those that get a little far afield. In light of some of the language and marriage metaphors used in Anne's piece, one must wonder, too, how stable and secure a marriage "secure base" can remain when one or both partners begin to explore other options in areas remote from the secure base-hmm.

So where's the question?--how much of these developmental processes are guided (since I refuse the notion that they are "determined") by biology and how much are just feedback loops? How do social norms then get defined by the customary outcome from these processes/loops, and/or how much are they open to modification on individual and later societal levels?

A warm welcome to Emily, to Judie, and to others who might have answers to Judie's questions, either in the GIF forum or in the one reflecting, more generally, on what happens when we think, and change what we think....

| One Woman's Exploration | Writing Descartes Home Page | Descartes Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994-2004 - Last Modified: Sunday, 25-Jul-2004 11:18:33 EDT