What I Learned from Michael Corleone, Part II: It’s Not Personal

Continued from Thursday, March 15

I got an ugly phone call yesterday as I was driving to Santa Fe for a workshop. It was a you-can’t-win kind of conversation that ended with the other person screaming at me and me in tears because I don’t know what else to do when someone with whom I have worked closely, someone I trust and respect, screams at me. How dare you … You don’t know anything about … I don’t give a … It wasn’t unusual for us to disagree. What was new was the vitriol, the venom spewed in my direction. I felt ill when the call ended. I wanted to sleep, throw rocks, drink a beer, do anything but spend the next hour getting a room full of sixth graders to write. Without knowing it, the sixth graders helped. They always do. And still the drive back to ‘Burque was slow. All I could think of was the call. I felt ambushed, the attack so sudden and jarring that already I was losing details—what was said, how the conversation began, when it turned from discord to assault. I thought about my first and only trip to Paris, a sunset picnic turned fight with my then-boyfriend along the Seine, how I left him sitting there with our rage and wandered up and down the river until I remembered that I don’t speak French, and I had no money, and he held the only key to our apartment. So I walked back, and we made up enough to get me to the airport the next morning. Somewhere over the Atlantic, I decided that I would never again walk back, no matter the consequences. If someone who was supposed to love me yelled at me, talked down to me, or treated me as less than, I would leave. Yesterday, when the call ended, I already knew what I would say to the caller the next time we spoke, “I’m not ready to talk to you.”

But no calls came the rest of the day. No email. No repentant soul on my doorstep. How could I walk away if I was carrying all this crap?

This morning, I debriefed with Henry. I told him about the Seine, that same feeling in the pit of my stomach. What if this person never calls to apologize? What do I do with my feelings? He reminded me that this isn’t the same thing. The caller wasn’t a close friend. The fight wasn’t about our relationship. We argued about a project. And the day before, this person made a similar call to our other partner. If I can put the personal stuff in a box and focus on the work, then I know exactly what to do. I walk.

“It’s not personal,” Henry said. “It’s business.”

Winter has ended. It is the time to prune. Cottonwoods on the acequia take care of themselves; dead branches break and fall for the good of the tree. The cherry trees, locust, and desert willow in our yard needed help. They are still small, and Henry and I can crack the dry limbs with our hands or an old pair of gardening shears. Last year we hired a crew to trim back the tall Chinese Elms* lining our property. Their firewood has lasted two winters. We chipped the thinner branches and spread them on our driveway to cut down on dust. Light passes through the open space high on the trees and falls onto our garden where broccoli starts have spent a season under row cover waiting for warmer temperatures and water to grow. The fallen limbs, the wood chips and firewood, the leaves in the compost seem to understand that this is what they do. It’s not personal. It’s nature.

I’m not a violent person. Though I appreciate their humor, Quentin Tarantino films give me nightmares. I’ve never seen an episode of The Sopranos or Game of Thrones. And I’ll often turn my head and bury it in Henry’s chest if I know someone on screen is about to get shot or stabbed or attacked. I just can’t take it.

But I love The Godfather. A few weeks ago, I saw it for the first time from start to finish. It played one day only on the XD screen at Century Rio 24 to mark the film’s 40th anniversary. I can’t get it out of my mind. The horse. Diane Keaton’s teeny tiny waist. Carlo’s feet kicking through the windshield as Clemenza strangles him with a garrote.

When Don Vito Corleone is shot in a failed assassination attempt, his eldest son Santino steps in as the acting boss while Don Vito recovers. For “Sonny” everything is personal. And this eventually leads to his violent death.

Michael is the younger brother, the “college boy” who was to be spared an active role in the family business. But the attempt on his father’s life, Sonny’s murder, and his father’s death push him to become the new Don and solidify the family’s power. He is focused, single-minded.

The baptism scene that cuts back and forth from Latin, holy water, and incense in a shadowy church to the elevator, massage parlor, cheap hotel room, revolving door, and street where Michael’s assassins knock off the other New York dons and a business rival has to be the finest five minutes of storytelling on film.

The other dons are those volunteer positions I just couldn’t keep, the contract I won’t take, the collaborative project with an abusive partner. I’m walking away. It’s not personal. It’s business.



*We didn’t plant the Chinese Elms. They came with the house.

Published in: on March 27, 2012 at 6:02 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. tough knowing when to walk away… what I believe, however, is that business is personal, that people do business with people. What that means for me is that I have to do business with people I respect and who respect me. The scenario you describe sounds more mean than business 🙂 and it sounds like you’re making the right decision.

  2. Being that I’m on an Everything Italian kick, I LOVE this post and that you’ve chosen to take a page from the Michael Corleone playbook when dealing with this verbally abusive person. Eccelente!

    • Grazie! I loved your post yesterday. Please keep writing about Italy.

  3. You love The Godfather?! I love you more now than before reading this post! You make me laugh and think and write and…Grazie, grazie.

    • And I love you more after reading your comments. 🙂

  4. (i wrote a comment or thought i did. here goes again…)

    I’m not sure about personal/not personal or business vs. personal, but you love The Godfather?! I LOVE YOU more after this post! seriously, you can’t go wrong trusting your gut–walking away, staying and duking it out, returning later,…also, that person’s vitriol is about that person and you’re reaction is about you. i really do like that you found comfort in Godfather, amiga mia.

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