A Few of My Favorite Lines

When I was in college, I used to head downtown to McDonalds during lunch hour on a regular basis. I’d recently become a vegetarian and had no interest in ordering anything off the menu, but I’d also recently developed a somewhat panicky distaste for crowds and thought that by standing in those jam-packed lines, I could learn to distance myself from my body by focusing on my breath, learn to live outside of my own experience.


A few years later, in the Peace Corps, I was desperately waiting in line for the bathroom at a bus stop when an older British tourist asked me: is this the queue to the loo? It was such a musical phrase that I found myself chanting it, as the pressure on my bladder grew more and more intense – and afterwards I thought about the power of language to frame, even transcend, our experiences.


Don’t get me wrong, there are limits, too, to what a line can transform. Back when we were single, my friends and I used to head to the bar and see who could come up with the best pick-up line. We were amazed by how easily women saw through our lines – all that wit and cleverness barely clothing our most primitive desires.


In geometry, a line is considered a primitive term – a concept so intuitive that any attempt to define it would be circular.


In drawing, the line is much more complex – it can control the viewer’s eye, define form and indicate movement, even offer the illusion of light.  It is the variation of lines in a work of art that creates dimension and texture.


I was once in a play with someone who used to vary his lines every performance – the words stayed the same, but the tone, pauses and inflections changed each night. I was flustered at first but grew to love his approach – what it taught me about the ambiguity and flexibility of a line, the need to be entirely present, the difference between replying and responding.

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About the Author

Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters.

See other articles by Ben Berman
by Ben Berman


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