Monday, April 14, 2014

How to Become an Edith Wharton Heroine in One Easy Step

One of the great mysteries of life is how often we mistake being in love with something with being in love with the idea of something. This is an important distinction, and the day you realize this a great many confusions of life will no doubt be cleared up at once.  

I first realized this a few years ago. I thought I was in love with cozy British mysteries. I wasn't. I can't abide British mysteries. But I love the idea of them. I love the idea of being in love with the works of the great dames of mystery, and wanted to be in love with Lord Peter Wimsey. But I'm not, and probably shall never be at this rate. 

Although I love nothing more than the idea of being home on a foggy day with a stack of cozy British mysteries, faced with the prospect I soon throw away the book with disgust. I adore England, I adore cozy rooms on foggy days, but actually reading the dry back and forth dialogues between Hercule Poirot, Peter Wimsey, or any British detective with the person you think is a victim but turns out to be the murderer is something I simply can't get through. I begin to zone out and find myself thinking about windmills, coffee, the latest episode of a nameless television show, and anything, no matter how hard I try to metaphorically shut my eyes and think of England. 

There are so many lovely ideas in the world that it's easy to fall in love with them. You may be in love with the idea of being a doctor, but when you find yourself elbows deep inside someone's body you realize with a thud that this is the last place on earth you want to be, and besides, it smells awful. You may be in love with the idea of being in love with a person, but then realize that though being in love is great, this isn't love, and that you would be better off alone than with an indecisive fish who spends the wee small hours of the night writing bad lyric poetry and posting it on Facebook for all to laugh at. You could be in love with the idea of being an indie hipster, always on the cutting edge of the next big thing, discarding the last big thing before everyone else did, always setting trends. And maybe you are. 

But it is important to not fall so far in love with an idea that you can't wake up. A great many mistakes can happen. 

This is where the tragedy lies. You make the mistake of falling asleep, and then, as all sleepers must do, you wake up. Suddenly you are a doctor, and you can't stop being a doctor because you have too many school loans to pay off. Or you wake up realizing you've made a muddle of your life and are doomed to be with the one person you would not want on that desert island with you, or have a million Facebook photos which will forever incriminate you as being the hipster girl so indie she gave up shampoo, well, at least you'll get a good story out of your life.  So perhaps all is not lost, for then you can be immortalized in a tragic novel like one of Edith Wharton's heroines. And deep down, isn't that what we all want most of all?

1 comment:

josh said...

as you write, we are usually not in love with a thing as much as its idea, but i would suggest there are two alternatives. some very rare people actually do love a thing as much as its idea (perhaps an artist who practices their instrument for many hours/day) and sometimes we are able (with a great deal of perseverance) to partially match our love of a thing with its idea (such as forcing oneself to the gym a few times/week due to a love of the idea of rock climbing or skiing).