"The hesitant geometry of the untutored primitive" they called our family's paintings in Life magazine in 1952. Repeated so many times in my father's retelling, the phrase has stuck for 40 years, for what use? Yes, I have loved geometry in my time: the high school thrill of theorem and proof friendly as a common cat compared to abstract algebra's always unknown "x" and "y," the happy harmony of polygons dancing round a vertex like a maypole with never a gap or overlap to break a tessellation, the elegant visual logic that reveals the way to reckon area of a trapezoid, the secrets of the triangle that make a circle's area literally sweet as pi. Nothing hesitant about this, just as there was nothing hesitant about my family's paintings. They were there, solid and bold as any polyhedron, not timid in any way, although admittedly untutored. Still the phrase stuck. And I have found a use for it now - a metaphor for life. Today I wondered if I love like that phrase - hesitant, untutored, primitively, not knowing the sophisticate's way to negotiate in graceful arcs through love's amazes, although I can't deny I feel acutely enough when spurned and ache in all my bones from the obtuse jabs of fate. Often I feel like a round peg in a square hole, touching only minuscule points, spaces all around me, lonely, about to fall through. Or I am one point in the triangle, another my lover, the third her more beloved who keeps her at a distance like she does me. No way to collapse that rigid figure like you could a quadrilateral, bring my point broadside against her smooth hypotenuse or, conversely, forever be destined to hang far distant from desired points along her line. Once I saw the three-some as a cause for infinity of pain, but in the miracle of Christmas lights suddenly the geometry shifted. Three joined hands into a circle. Six hands grasped, the angles disappeared. Like the student's experiment to find how large the angles of a regular polygon can grow, I learned that the more facets brought into the circle - 3, 30, or 300,000 - the more the space within. A whole universe opens as neighbor joins neighbor in a chain of love. How magical that circumferential image was. How bitter to find the third could not sustain it. One night I help a child with his geometry. We speak a language of complementarity and supplementarity - scribbles on his page of notes he seems to understand. But will he ever learn to really see, to make the leap across a sea of verbiage, to know the difference between unlike angles separated by another -- and the true opposite that is always equal and with a simple flip and slide can become one with the other? I crave that congruity in my life. Hesitantly I slide to see if there's a fit, flip to see if that's the trick, rotate a few degrees - or many - in search of my twin, applying the language of motion, not simply theorem and proof from high school days to find my truth. Perhaps I misunderstand this motion, mistake a Mobius strip for a road to meeting, never realizing that I and my beloved can never touch across the membrane, parallel and close though our paths may be. We may mirror but never greet. Hesitant geometry this is, primitive, untutored. Still, the Life photographer paid for a painting like that. Even a 12-year-old could feel that wish of his heart of hearts. Oh, if love were only so simple as my mother's three girls in red praying against a rectangular bed, happy as the picture of the clown on the wall all snow white billows with giant red dots on a bright green lawn under brilliant blue sky with cow-shaped cloud and round-crowned tree.
| -Mary Mullen|
revised 2-26-95, 3/4/95, 4/7/95