In the midst of a slump of a dearth of good new books on my queue, I have recently returned to some books and authors that I read during college. Oliver Sacks, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Edith Wharton have all made their way back off my bookshelf and onto my “currently reading” piles. I finished The Age of Innocence yesterday, a book taught by one of my favorite professors during college. It wasn’t my favorite book of the class, but it’s what caught my eye when I was skimming my bookshelf last week.
Wharton’s Innocence fights with the tension between “Old New York” and “New New York” around the turn of the 20th Century in the form of a young man, Archer Newland, who is trying to decide between upholding tradition and pursuing his passion. Newland spends much of the novel trying to decide whether he should remain committed to his betrothed, May, or if he should forgo the rigidity of family expectations and allow himself to step into a relationship with her scandalous cousin, the Countess Olenski. The writing is such that, despite the high standard of decorum, one wants Newland to basically throw his life away and see what could happen with the Countess. Unfortunately, he leaves her to be a fantasy in his own mind and decides to follow the ordered life set before him.
I realized last week how much this town functions the same way. ” My connections to people, both old and new, are intimately related to what my family members have done and currently do. I feel as if I cannot do anything too scandalous (not that I would anyway), but a part of me wishes that I had more courage to do something outrageous. I don’t want to be like Archer Newland and live a safe life to gain the approval of the higher-ups in society. I want to be able to look back on my life in 30 years and say that I took chances and that I made risks that paid off handsomely.
If you were to act on an impulse to change your life and you ignored the possible consequences, what would you do? Where would you go, and what keeps you from doing it now?
Sadly the most I’ve done is chopped and temporarily dyed my hair. I long to jump on a plane going who-knows-where or to move to a new place (again) and see what happens, but right now I’m staying home where my family has been for five generations, and I am known not only for myself, but for all my relatives too.