How not to argue with your spouse about money - opera style


I recently learned how to avoid arguing about money with my spouse from an unlikely source: composer Phillip Glass. Not Glass himself - I'm hip, but I'm not that hip. No, I got marriage and money advice from Glass's setting of the classic Jean Cocteau film Orphée, which is having its West Coast premiere at Portland Opera this week. Starring me.

Okay, not starring me. But in this setting of the Greek myth, Orpheus travels through a mirror to the Underworld to rescue his wife, where he finds a glass maker who likes his job so much he can't stop working, even though he's dead. That's me. If you buy the CD that's being made, you'll hear me sing the words "glass maker" in French a whopping three times. But what the role lacks in actual length it makes up for in symbolic depth, so much so that Cocteau himself played it when he first wrote the piece as a play.

I'm not sure what idea the French writer had in his opium-addled mind, but the notion of clinging to your job and going to hell and back in your relationship has made me ponder how the recession has affected our psyches. My own marriage has certainly been challenged, making my partner and I dance the dysfunctional two-step of Resentment and Regret. Like the characters in Orphée, we often feel lost in time - simultaneously coping with a future we can't predict while arguing about a past we can't change.

At the risk of stating the obvious, arguing about money is the symptom of relationship issues, not the disease.

According to counselor Steven Sosny in Psychology Today, "Resentment is a way to blame powerless feelings on someone else." He goes on to explain that "the continuous nature of resentment creates a self-linking chain, whereon past resentments attract present offenses, forming an ever longer and heavier chain. If you pick up a chain by one link, you hold not just that link but the weight of the whole chain."

Put another way, resentment is a poison you take that you hope will kill someone else.

Sosny says the solution is compassion, but I think that's only part of the answer. Which leads me back to Phillip Glass and Jean Cocteau. You see, I can't help but view the story through the mirror of my own experience -- a writer in mid-career looking to reinvent himself. Even the set, which is a modernist New York apartment, looks uncannily like the one I'm currently buying in Manhattan in order to pursue new opportunities.

So when Orpheus returns from the Underworld with his wife on the condition that he not look at her, I don't see a man controlled by mysterious mythic forces making him do something arbitrarily difficult and cruel. I see a man like myself, someone whose only hope of moving forward with his life is by not looking back. And since Portland Opera's entire season is about love and marriage, I know there's still more to learn.

And that, my friends, is The Upside.

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