Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fragile House : Mirth, Optional

Frank Lynch via Flickr

I work in a business park not unlike a long corridor. Down the corridor, there are "exhibits" on either side displaying curious goings-on all the day. I've dubbed one particular exhibit "Fame, Cruel Mistress Factory." That may mean I have an overactive imagination but that is beside the point for the time being. I've dubbed the exhibit such because each time I pass by, there is a precarious new dream being documented; a hopeful starlet being minted before the camera's watchful eye. Blond, brunette, auburn, raven black - the tossed-about tresses change hue from hour to hour, but the poses never do. The click-click-clicking of the photographer's lens marches on dutifully, indifferent to its recently transplanted subjects. Rushed along by a late winter wind or sluggishly plodding in the cloying heat, I've passed this exhibit to find the exhibitors unchanged: stand here, kneel this way, tilt your head left, smile brighter, touch-up please!

I live in the land of the stars so the endless parade of wannabe celebrities isn't new -- but for some reason I've a bit more empathy for the possible emptiness that awaits the hopeful these days. Their peripatetic existence makes me a little wistful - imagining from whence they came and if they'll have a home to return to should their big break break down. Maybe the need for sympathy isn't there and this isn't really so sad an exhibit. I'm sure the headshot-takers aren't all crushed beneath the weight of giant ambitions; maybe they've very few expectations at all. Maybe their real priorities are quite grounded. But in the event landing in the stratospheric echelon of a very thespian few is everything to them, I have an Edith Wharton-induced tenderness for the any machine's sacrificial cogs. Poor Lily Bart. Forgetting to mention my imagination can be dramatic in addition to overactive, I can see a parallel or two...

It was no longer, however, from the vision of material poverty that she turned with the greatest shrinking. She had a sense of deeper impoverishment—of an inner destitution compared to which outward conditions dwindled into insignificance. It was indeed miserable to be poor—to look forward to a shabby, anxious middle-age, leading by dreary degrees of economy and self-denial to gradual absorption in the dingy communal existence of the boarding-house. But there was something more miserable still—it was the clutch of solitude at her heart, the sense of being swept like a stray uprooted growth down the heedless current of the years. That was the feeling which possessed her now—the feeling of being something rootless and ephemeral, mere spin-drift of the whirling surface of existence, without anything to which the poor little tentacles of self could cling before the awful flood submerged them. And as she looked back she saw that there had never been a time when she had had any real relation to life. Her parents too had been rootless, blown hither and thither on every wind of fashion, without any personal existence to shelter them from its shifting gusts.

She herself had grown up without any one spot of earth being dearer to her than another: there was no centre of early pieties, of grave endearing traditions, to which her heart could revert and from which it could draw strength for itself and tenderness for others. In whatever form a slowly-accumulated past lives in the blood — whether in the concrete image of the old house stored with visual memories, or in the conception of the house not built with hands, but made up of inherited passions and loyalties—it has the same power of broadening and deepening the individual existence, of attaching it by mysterious links of kinship to all the mighty sum of human striving.
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905)

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