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It’s time once again for another excerpt from Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape with Figures:

“It rained off and on all night and left the birdbath too full. I noticed it from the window and while I was trying to decide whether to go and spill out some of the water, I noticed something else –  a pine reflected in it, black against the gray of the reflected sky. My eyes must have rested on that branch dozens of times this summer; it is the lowest branch on that particular pine, and the warped growth of the tree has made it stand out from the other branches. Birds often pause on it before fluttering down tot he bath. Yet I never really saw the beauty of it – I think I’d rather say I never saw the truth of it, meaning the ‘is-ness’ of a pine branch – until I saw it as a picture within the round frame of the birdbath’s rim, detached from its natural context.

Similarly, I’ve noticed that sometimes when I look out the window I can’t really see the view. I can recognize it, of course, but it makes no impression. I have looked at it so many times  it has gone stale. If I look at it, however, as if it were a picture framed by the window, then I see it freshly again.

I can think of several other examples where what might be called an oblique approach has been more effectual than a direct one:

  • Often at an art exhibit I have felt frustrated because I could not ‘see’ the paintings, no matter how hard I looked at them. On the other hand I have often been astonished at the vivid impact a painting made on me if I was just passing it casually.
  • Sometimes when I have settled myself comfortable to give my undivided attention to a book, I have found myself reading the same sentence over and over without taking it in, whereas I can open a book in a library, perhaps standing up uncomfortably with a heavy coat on, and take in the contents of a page at a glance.
  • I loathe and fear firearms of any kind and have never handled so much as a BB gun, with a single exception. Once I went to a party where it amused the guests gathered on the terrace to shoot at a target set up at the far end of the lawn, with an air pistol. When my turn came, I nonchalantly took aim, fired, and hit the bull’s-eye, much to everyone’s astonishment but particularly to mine. The explanation was, of course, that it was of no concern to me whether I even hit the target. I quickly handed the pistol over to the next person, knowing that I could never in a lifetime repeat my performance because the tense effort to succeed would get in my way. Just as the harder you try to fall asleep, the more wakeful you become.
  • Then there was the time long ago when I had come back here for  visit and Father took me to a friend’s putting green, gave me quite a lengthy lecture-demonstration on the art of putting, and then invited me to see what I could do. I couldn’t have cared less where the ball went or how many strokes it took me to get it in the hole; I was simply going along with the game for his sake. I placed the ball on the edge of the green, lined it up with the hole, gave it a good tap with the club, and watched it roll straight into the cup. Father was properly impressed. So was I, and that was my downfall. My desire to show off had been aroused by my success and I tried again and again to demonstrate my putting skill, growing steadily more inept.
  • Probably every woman has discovered that when she takes special pains to put her lipstick on smoothly, it smears; a couple of quick strokes more often brings about the desired effect. It’s the same principle as drawing a circle: the more quickly it’s done, the rounder it is.
  • When children insist they can study better with the radio going, they may be right. The music distracts them from the feeling of laborious effort.

I’m sure there’s a more in all this as well as a common denominator. I think it has something to do with getting oneself out of the way.”

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