“Keeping the Magic Alive” for the Uncannily Satisfied

by | Sep 17, 2023 | 0 comments

Before you go ahead and read this, lucky you, you have an assignment. I want you to read, “Keeping the Magic Alive,” in the Penmen Review. You can find the link in my publications list, but I’ll slap it in right here for your eternal convenience. (It is not love that makes the world go round these days. I’d give my vote for its being convenience, at least in this spoiled rotten bratty first world hike through life.) Once you’ve read it, you’ll know what the hell I’m talking about in the rest of the post. If you don’t follow the link and read the story first, well then, it won’t be much different from High School when you didn’t read the assignment but came to class hoping not to be called on. But it will be different from your High School diurnal omissions in that you fiercely didn’t want to read that assignment (pages 45-127 in your “A Guide to Good Reasoning; Cultivating Intellectual Virtues-Second edition, revised and updated” text book) and you really really do want to read, “Keeping the Magic Alive,” because it’s twisted, short, doesn’t require taking notes and there will be no test. Here’s the link: https://penmenreview.com/keeping-the-magic-alive/

Did you read it? It’s okay. I won’t call on you.

Last time I spoke with Andy, we were going over, “Keeping the Magic Alive,” the sweet story of a married couple — or at least a couple.  The man is in a frenzy hunting for a shoe, one shoe, a special shoe, and the woman is trying to calm him. She finally gets him to get in the shower and reverse the charge on his ions. While he’s in the shower, she goes to her closet, gets the shoe, puts it where it should be, then gets his car keys and hides them. 

Andy reacted the way men have reacted and one woman (my mother). “Why is she torturing him?” He went further saying she was trying to drive him out of his mind — though my view is that he was already considerably out of it — and ascribed all sorts of wickedness to the woman. Our fearless friend, Leah, laughed her head off. my daughter, too. 

In my mind the woman is not acting as she does without provocation — at least not without a set interaction. It brought up questions for me about the way the insular unit of a couple creates, over time, its own psycho-system, the private balance of habit, power, gender, responsibilities, roles that constitute the unique character of the relationship. These two people do what they do, behave as they do, react to each other, love, fight, divide the labor, and assign each other identities.  All these characteristics are what hold the couple together, day by day, even if that holding together includes a coming apart in certain ways, while observing the boundaries of their marriage — if it’s a marriage.  The two people inhabit these personalities and interact in these specific ways as it has evolved within their psycho-system. It’s familiar; it is freeing or it’s a trap. It is a complicated conscious and unconscious machinery which exists true to this insular creation, and outside of the context of their system they are not the same people.

With generosity, sacrifices, selflessness, conflicts, cooperation, triumph and surrender their history lives on and distorts the present on a frequent basis. Cruelties that would never happen outside of their marriage are possible within it. Fears, comparisons, abandonment and resilient love all clash and live side by side. The odd thing is that this somehow can constitute a sort of multiple personality, an unsettling, maybe alarming, isolated entity that can at the same time be grindingly dull, spiked with neglect, a day to day habitual terror along with committed mutual love that is perceived as lethal boredom.

So just how sick do I want Claude of the missing wingtip and the loving wife who hides his shoes and keys to be? It upset Andy that the wife, without a name yet, was, “trying to drive him out of his mind”. 

Maybe Andy doesn’t get it because he has a happy marriage and neither he nor his wife are terribly lonely or horribly disappointed in each other and their lives.  Oh! What they’re missing! There’s such a lot of depth and wisdom to be acquired from a handful of soul crushing love relationships. You learn a lot about yourself. You learn about your limitations, your psychic pain threshold. You learn about what faithfulness and devotion mean to you when you finally figure out that there is no justification for them. You are living with an enemy who had promised to be a source of support, companionship and inspiration. In that regard you learn about the wicked tenacity of intermittent reinforcement. 

If the partner/spouse is a consistent fount of neglect, rejection and animosity, it’s clear that this is the wrong place to be and the wrong company to be with in that wrong place. Then it’s a matter of imagining how to extract yourself, having a concrete plan of creating your well chosen more harmonious existence, then gathering the courage and determination to act.  Not easy. Then suppose the intimate enemy only makes you miserable on a regular basis but not always, and at times — random times; it cannot be predictable if this is going to not work — that same monster provides camaraderie, affection, sometimes fills the role originally agreed upon and may even furnish a measure of stability? You would think that would be better all around — not good, certainly not great — but at least there is something positive. You would be wrong. That is probably the worst of all circumstances because you’re given a measure of hope. Given just the right amount of hope, you can hang yourself with it.

Then it gets positively biblical. You get accustomed to it, not quite inured to it, but it all develops its own rhythm, even its own (sick) logic. This is how we got to the point that we yawned through our slavery in Egypt. Hey, you think we didn’t once in a while step back and say to each other, “Will you just look at that, Shlomo? That is one fine pyramid we built!” Remember, the Holy One blessed be He didn’t intervene until we had lost the vision to see our misery and hadn’t even the slightest inkling that there existed any other life, that there was such a thing as potential, that there was the possibility of an alternative. That was in the days of miracles and wonders when bushes burned without being consumed, when the Lord spoke to His chosen leader who enlightened us yawning slaves to our misery and got us the hell out of there.

But these new days, miracles lack the luster and awe of old. These days nothing is awesome because everything is awesome. We sense the stirring of a higher power in the unearthly materialization of a parking spot right in front. And if by some fluke we find our bashert and live our lives together in an evolved state of abiding bliss, it is a freakish accident we would never have dared risk flaunting the hubris to pray for. A parking spot right in front is more to scale. Put your palms together and bow your head for that one. 

Andy could not know because he may never have experienced the revelations that abound in the standard version of marital bliss I was writing about in, “Keeping the Magic Alive.” How do you know what lunacy you are capable of if you’ve never been pushed to the brink, surviving in a chronic state of hope like a noose?  

There is also the added complication of having children while trying desperately to save your soul, your heart, your mind and your ethics. Having brought new lives into the world, nothing is the same anymore. Very suddenly you are shocked to know, deeper than bones and beyond the puny focus on your own precious mortality, that there are these new souls, blessed and doomed repositories of your DNA who are lost in the world but for you. They are so much more important than you are — a new learning in perspective. If this spouse co-donor of DNA is any positive factor in their security, your own misery is no less torturous, but not nearly as important.

And don’t intone, “Well why did you have children with him if you were miserable?” because you weren’t miserable before the children were born. Remember I said that having children changes everything. How were you to know? You weren’t. 

And then you find out with chronic intermittent reinforcement and staggering confusion about exits, with loneliness and longing you could never have fathomed, that the definition of cruelty is vague, depending upon context. You find out what you can endure and what you are capable of doing to survive. Need and love and anguish and attachment increasingly blur around the edges, eventually encroaching on the center.

Why did he become deranged over a wing tip shoe? Why did she hide it and then his car keys? Is that whole story too painful a punishment for anyone willingly to endure who just wants to read a story?  And then how about the poor sap who’s writing it?


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