Tuesday, January 26, 2010

That Gauguin Moment

Paul Gauguin - Nave, Nave Moe (Miraculous Source) 1894
Yesterday, I received an email from a person explaining why he would not be attending a meeting of a group we are both in:

And are you ready for this bombshell? I'm moving. To Australia! I'll be leaving very quickly, more than likely by this weekend. It's a long story. Once I get there I'll be applying for permanent residency. Yes, there is a woman involved, and yes it's a crazy but wonderful story. Hopefully you'll be able to read about it soon in my book, and then you and everyone else will understand. But I have the opportunity to go and concentrate on nothing but writing so I can get this project completed…this is a once in a lifetime thing, and I refuse to miss my chance!

Clearly my correspondent is having his Gauguin moment.

Gauguin was the French Post-Impressionist painter who famously abandoned his family, France, and "civilization" to pursue his art. He eventually pursued it all the way to Tahiti, trying to find a culture unspoiled by the modern world. Although Gauguin never succeeded in finding that pure, unspoiled world, he left behind a rich collection of paintings and other works capturing his vision.

A Gauguin moment is when someone gives up all their known ties and relationships and moves away because of…well, because of what? Because they think they are stifled in their present surroundings? Because they think that if only they were somewhere else - somewhere more remote, more unspoiled, more pure - the painting would get painted, the music would get composed, the poem would get written?

I thought about the "bombshell" as I drove home later in the day. I wish the Australian-bound fellow well. I hope he finds inspiration and love and a publisher in his new setting. But what occurred to me, accurately or not, is that about the only people I know or have heard of who ever act on their Gauguin moments, with or without families, are men.

I have a good friend who along with her four children was uprooted and moved to Ecuador for a year while her husband reveled in living far, far away from their (far from) conventional American life. By the time they returned to the United States, the family and the marriage had suffered major emotional damage. Then there was an area businessman who liquidated everything to move to northwest Montana. His girlfriend moved alongside him, happily relinquishing custody of her children on the strength of his visions of the new life they would lead in the remote West. Last I heard, he was still out west, but no longer in Montana. Like Gauguin, perhaps he moved on in search of purer settings. The girlfriend moved back here a year later to try to pick up the pieces of her relationship with her children.

I've not had a single woman friend act on a Gauguin moment. I've had many, including myself, think about it at various points in our lives, certainly. But act on it? Not one. We may walk out of relationships, including marriages, but we rarely sever every connection in our life to go to the ultima, ultima Thule.

I have no explanation for the gender gap. Maybe, as women, we are just less swayed by visions of a new and pristine life somewhere "out there." Regardless of where we live, there are always dishes to do and towels to fold, whether we share the household tasks or not. The children will whine or squabble whether it is Ohio or Tahiti. There's always supper to make.

Maybe women don't act on Gauguin moment impulses because we know that wherever we go, there we are.

Two sixteenth century poets, Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Raleigh, captured this gender gap in a pair of poems. Marlowe wrote "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," in which the shepherd implores a nymph to "come live with me and be my love." The shepherd rhapsodizes for 24 lines about all of the riches the nymph will have - "beds of roses," "a cap of flowers," "a belt of straw and ivy buds," - if she only consents to join him. With Marlowe's references to birds singing madrigals and shepherd swains dancing and singing for the nymph's delight, clearly the shepherd, viewing the hills and valleys of his world, is having his Gauguin moment.

Raleigh replied in "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd." The nymph wastes no time in squashing the shepherd's dreams, retorting that neither the world nor love are young, and that not all shepherds speak the truth. She then rejects the shepherd's offerings one by one, reminding him that "rocks grow cold," "flowers do fade," the bed of roses and pretty offerings "soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten." The nymph finishes off her rejection succinctly: "In folly ripe, in reason rotten."

I am married to someone who does not appear to nurse a Gauguin moment in his heart. That's not to say Warren doesn't have dreams and visions beyond where we are now, but to my knowledge, those dreams and visions are anchored on our marriage and our life together. And while I have dreams myself, I don't need to move or sever every tie I have to see them come to fruition.

I hope to write about my dreams and wishes sometime soon. In the meantime, there are breakfast dishes to wash.

1 comment:

I am the working poor. said...

Wow. I have to admit I move as often as I can. When my husband talks of buying a house, I will argue that I haven't found home yet. Guess I must be odd or undomestic or something. :)