Monday, August 1, 2016

FRACTIONS

Here's another one of the recurring themes in the boyhood memories I have been receiving: our problematic relationship with our fathers. Michael Provart is an artist, film production designer and teacher who is based in Los Angeles. You'll find out more about his professional life and some examples of his work on his page at Saatchi Art. His story is a beautifully written description of a moment that focuses all the complex, contradictory emotions that our fathers can inspire in us: admiration, respect, love, but also bewilderment, fear of rejection or disparagement... and a longing for more; for approval, for encouragement; for a manifestation of love which too often eludes us.


FRACTIONS
By Michael Provart

There is an empty round dinner table dressed with a cotton gold table cloth and four black chairs around it. There is a black Chinese abacus hanging on the wall to one side. I sit in one chair and my Dad brings in a whole pie and a knife and sets them in the middle of the table. He tells me, “I’m going to explain fractions.”

He says, “There is a whole pie in front of me and if I take the knife and cut the pie in the middle, I’ve cut it in half, leaving two parts of the whole pie."

He takes the knife again and cuts the pie, perpendicular this time across the first cut and says, “There are now four parts to the pie, or four quarters. These are each fractions of the whole pie. In this case, each piece represents a ¼ fraction of the whole pie.”

He continues now, taking the knife and this time splitting one of the four parts, and dragging the knife through the intersection of the previous cuts; and then repeats the maneuver with the knife, splitting the last of the two parts equally in the opposite direction. He says, “Now I’ve made eight parts of the whole pie; each piece now represents an 1/8th fraction of the whole pie."

And I say, “Yeah, but Dad the whole pie is still there.”

He shakes his head and looks at the knife. He gets up, leaves the dining room and comes back with a plate and two forks from the kitchen. He maneuvers a piece of the pie with the knife onto the plate and eats some of it and offers me the rest. We eat the pie and he says, “Now we’ve eaten an 1/8th of the pie and there are 7/8ths left.”

And I say, “There are seven pieces of pie left?”

He shakes his head again and looks down for a moment, takes the knife, wrangles another piece of pie to the plate and eats it quickly this time. He says, “Now there are 6/8ths of the pie left, or three quarters, since we’ve eaten 2/8ths.”

I say, “Three quarters?”

“Yes. Do you remember when we cut the pie in half once and then again, those four parts were each a quarter of the pie, right?  Now we’ve eaten 2/8ths of the pie, which is the same as one quarter.”

And I say, “But Dad, It’s just a pie and now we’ve eaten two pieces of it.” Not getting it.

At this point I remember my father’s impatience with me as he took the pie, plate and utensils away to the kitchen, went to the fridge, poured himself a pre-mixed Gibson Martini from a gallon plastic milk jug, and went and sat down in front of the TV, clicking it on and steaming, taking a drink.

In his prime, my father designed the parachute systems for the Apollo space program. He had little time for the small fractions of life.


    


1 comment:

  1. Michael, so poignant and funny! My thoughts to you as you go through your father's passing. Take care my friend. Keep painting and keep writing.

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