What Our Feet Tell Us

She was given so many chances, but in the end Hortense failed macroeconomics.

In a way she was glad.

In high school, she had loved literature and science. She had played clarinet in band, her shoulders swaying, right foot tapping, feeling joy and release as the lilting notes filled the auditorium. In art class, collage had been her specialty. Juxtaposing found objects, pebbles, shells, with fragments of photos, ribbon, she would lose herself in the process of telling a story that she alone, perhaps, would understand, though often her teacher or a classmate would say: That reminds me so much of a summer I spent in Maine, or, Why does that make me think of the day my grandmother died?

Mathematics had never been her strong suit, but there was something about economics that intrigued her. Her father, when he was alive, often quoted as he read the newspaper, filling her ears with the ups and downs of the Dow, acronyms like GDP and IPO, how the yen was doing against the dollar. It was a world she glimpsed, but into which she never set foot.

It was a road she felt compelled to take.

So when it was time to declare her major, she abandoned the insouciance of freshman year and elected the challenge of economics.

Over the next two years the mysteries of the Dow were explained. She could toss off “Keynesian” and “Greenspan said” with aplomb. Now it was she quoting stock market vicissitudes, as she perused the Financial Times, marveling at the growing power of the euro.

Then she took macroeconomics. The early weeks went well. Geopolitics had always fascinated her. But as the semester rolled on, the arcane theory stayed just beyond her reach. As the professor flashed slide upon slide onto the blank white screen that nearly filled the wall at the head of the lecture hall, her toes would tap with impatience. She wanted to be somewhere else.

Ultimately she had to accept the reality: macroeconomics forever would be a world she could glimpse, but into which she could never set foot.


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