Take a piece of chalk and hold it firmly in your dominant hand. Squat down and reach as far away from your body as possible. Put the chalk on the floor and start turning your body. Keep your one foot planted and push off with the other. As you turn, adjust so you do not fall. Keep turning and keep drawing. When you reach the beginning of your line make sure to match the mark so no one can tell where you began and where you ended.
That’s it. You have just drawn a circle around yourself. If you are descended from the Honi the Circle Maker, you probably can do some magic now and get God to bring rain or whatever. If you are not descended from this 1st Cent. BCE Judean, then you probably can’t. But others will not necessarily know that. Others will be impressed with your perfect circle—with no beginning and no ending. They will confer upon you powers of one sort or another. They will want to learn something from you. Get something from you or perhaps just being close to you. At worst they may want to own you, but that’s another story.
Circles, especially chalk ones are fragile. They do not withstand the assault of rain…but they may last centuries in the right environment like wall drawings in a cave that live on through multiple civilizations and upheavals: the 100-year war, the rise & fall of the Roman empire, the British empire, revolutions, new religions and expulsions…and that is certainly quite magical.
I have a piece of chalk. And with it I draw circles around myself and you and every story we have ever told. I want to cover my sidewalk with many circled stories. I come from two distinct circles and I am the resulting intersection. Since I have never been very good at geometry, I cannot tell you how much that intersection amounts too. If I am the center of the story, then that precious space should be quite large. But it isn’t. I have lived in a space that is small and confined even though it has spanned continents and oceans. Few people ever seemed to notice. Have any ever considered what it might be like to be me. “C’est tout petit chez moi”… (My home is very small.) St. Exupery’s Little Prince explained. He lived on a planet where the sunrises and sunsets could be experienced every few hours. The stranded aviator and the Little Prince came from different planets—actually and proverbially; they found it hard to understand each other.
That was me. I was the Little Prince—lost on several foreign planets and looking to tend a flower of my own and also somehow in the mess of lines and arcs and circles I looked for someone to tend to me. “Desine moi un mouton” (Draw me a lamb) he asks of the aviator. No drawing was adequate until in a stroke of genius the aviator drew a box with air holes and announced that the lamb was inside. Perfect. Our imagination is so much better than a finite graphite drawing.
There is a photograph of me at age 8 or so. Prettily dressed, as usual, I am perched on a chair and point to somewhere in the southern hemisphere of a lit globe. The countries on the map are pink and blue and represent the world we knew in the 1950’s. The globe has existed about as long as me. It has always lived in my father’s world in Manhattan, first in his library in the Madison Ave. apartment and eventually as my bedside lamp in our Fifth Ave. apartment. As a teenager I remember meeting a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice under this globe every morning. My father woke early—perhaps he did not sleep at all– and among his morning rituals like making filtered dark coffee in the Chemex, was squeezing orange juice for himself, for me and later also for his second wife. His father had died in his fifties of a heart attack on the streets of Paris, and therefore he attributed his own good health and long life to the fresh juice. He lived to age 82; I will not argue with his “science,” but I know that imagining oranges in Paris during his interwar childhood is a near impossibility. And all that vitamin C did not save him from the appalling endgame of loss of self through Alzheimer’s. I digress.
The globe is the three dimensional version of my world of circles. I point to somewhere, perhaps only as a struck pose. Someone asked me to point and so I pointed. There were many expectations in this northern hemisphere circle. In the southern circle, the one in Buenos Aires, I existed and do not remember that much was asked of me, expected of me… I was left to the care of my nanny. I called her Mémé. She lived in my little world, in the intersection of the circles… until she was sent back to her home in France.
I was 7.
At that time, I began to voyage between my parents on PanAm aircrafts. I think the trip lasted 30 hours. How do I check that piece of information? Was that just a wild exaggeration that has stuck as truth or was that really real? The flight started in Buenos Aires, Argentina and stopped at every capital going up through Chili, Peru, Ecuador and finally Miami Beach, Florida. There my father awaited—I hoped. After hours of sleeping, eating, playing, and of course brushing my teeth in those tight airplane toilets… I stared out the window toward the airport building. I was searching the roofline for my father’s sihouette. That’s where he said he would be and that’s where I looked. Anxiety, fear, and the urge to pee in my pants crowded out any other possible emotions or activities, except the nail biting, of course. That accompanied me everywhere and always and still does.
There! I see him! I know this is true because I feel it in my bones. I was able to identify my Papa simply from his form and movement on the roof of the building. Like a gosling that knows who their parent is among all the similar adult geese. Only then, did my unspoken terror subside, my nail biting moments of self-soothing are easy to explain. In the airplane cabin, with my temporary friends and caretakers, the stewardesses , I was safe. But now there came that chasm between safeties… between this and my father’s enveloping arms. There he was in his long black wool coat. It was winter in Florida. I was to miss yet another summer in Buenos Aires.
What I am reaching for, trying to explore are all those coping mechanisms we create inadvertently? They seem to see us through difficulties and then they become entrenched; the meaning or purpose lost. Why should a well-put-together woman such as I have bitten finger nails? It took years of self reproach to gain compassion and understanding. My fingers and their nails soothed me through many flights between planets, between my circles.
It serves no function now; just habitual nonsense that occasionally can be curbed.