Tuesday, September 18, 2007


A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
--Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Lose something every day.
--Elizabeth Bishop

In third grade on a sheet of fifty (?) subtraction problems I got the first one right and the rest were wrong. Reason: the first did not require me to borrow; the rest did. My mom sat me to the kitchen table in my usual seat, gave me a cup of grape punch, and had me rework each wrong problem.

My mother has always had strong cautions against borrowing, the fear being that one will ruin, or be accused of ruining, the borrowed item. Maybe she was thinking of Polonius's advice. Is that why I had trouble borrowing in math? I'm being ironic, and not so ironic. My mother-ego influenced me so that her preferences had moral value attached.

At school Mrs. Stull had a problem with borrowing, too. I have memory of her semantic dogmatism: I was REGROUPING, not borrowing. This did not make a palpable difference in how I did subtraction, but she must have thought it would help: say the right words and the right things will happen.

Back to my mother, whose consolation was that unlike addition in which numbers could be stacked like pancakes and one would be required to add them, one would never be required to subtract more than two numbers at once. Plus, one could always check a subtraction problem by adding; in adding, the only check was to rework the problem.

And here I am now, trying to master that "easy" art of losing, not on worksheets but in the works of love. If I call things by their right names, will the right things can happen? Borrowing is something that creates a sense of or a real debt; borrowing requires something outside of one's domain. Regrouping suggest everything one needs is within one's domain and possession; it requires no asking. It is difference making and difference resolution, always between two things at a time and not more: the other and the self, with a built-in self-check.


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