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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Olson


It might not surprise you that as a little girl, I loved to play “house.“ Admittedly I was not quite like the other kids.

I have vivid memories of a small structure in my nursery school class where we’d duck through the child-size door to find miniature furniture, windows with curtains, and a toy kitchen. I remember asking classmates, with great hope, if they wanted to play house. If they did, I’d race to my favorite place, just outside the front door of the little house. Squatting low on the ground, I'd curl myself into the tiniest ball imaginable. While the others milled about inside the house pretending to be members of a family, I’d peer out from under my elbow, shout “GO!” then tuck my chin back into my chest. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I'd unfurl my body from a tight ball shape to reveal the roundness of an emerging spine, neck, then shoulders and elbows. Bit by bit my chin would jut upward, pointing to the sky. Soon I'd be on my tippy-toes with arms stretching upward. Extending higher, my fingers would whisper open, reaching for the imaginary sunlight.

Clearly I couldn’t stay in that position for long (though I really tried). Instead I’d reach my peak stretch to the sun, take a quick breath to extend the moment a bit longer, then release.

A few years later, in a cluster of girls in leotards and pink tights, I mirrored our dance instructor as he solemnly showed us how to correctly form “ballet hands.” He explained that by dancing with softly extended fingers (never the rigid starfish fingers like gymnasts), our limbs would appear to extend beyond the limits of our bodies, into infinity. It was my first introduction to the concept of infinity, but I locked it to memory. Intuitively I understood that the audience's eye would continue to follow the gentle line beyond the fingertips, like a physical ellipsis.

Dry eyes blinking, I heard my math teacher patiently explain that algebra has a visual symbol to represent “infinity” — it looked like a sideways number 8. I smiled to myself as I gently shook my head. I already had my own symbol for infinity. I could almost feel the muscle memory of my fingers relaxed and outstretched, along with the arch of a ballet pose.

Recently I’ve realized that I’m drawn to certain sculptural shapes, even in the most mundane objects. Darned if I don’t find a consistent thread of what I think of as the “infinity shape” — in the trailing wisps of a calla lily, or the sculptural arms of Philippe Starck’s Dr. No Chair. Even the distinctive spine of skylights at the Kimbell Art Museum, designed by architect Louis Kahn, suggests my notion of infinity. The upward arch filtering the natural light elevates the gallery to a kind of sanctuary.

Many years beyond that little girl's certainty, I'm trying to remind myself to reach again, to take a quick breath as I stretch my moments toward infinity. And release.

This afternoon I found a long-hidden photograph I took 25 years ago, of my daughter’s newborn hand on mine, her rubbery fingers continuing on like an ellipsis...

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