Friday, September 9, 2016

toe-tagging the past

Strange and somehow disconcerting to watch as what was once a pleasant point of interest turn into something valued in dollars.

Carson McCullers ©Adam Fisher
Yesterday, and again today unless I am wrong, I was party to a series of emails in which a publisher was seeking to get permission to use a photo my mother took of the American writer Carson McCullers. The photo is one of several in an album whose pages are falling out after so much time. My mother knew McCullers well enough so that, based on the photo, McCullers visited the house we then inhabited in New City, N.Y.

I was only a child and my mother's friends were, of course, grown-ups and thus more powerful than I. I was to keep a civil tongue in my mouth, but that didn't mean I couldn't have an opinion and at that age I go definite wing-nut vibes from McCullers.

Still, the photo itself is a family keepsake. Who knows what chemistry passed between my mother and McCullers when it came to taking the picture. Was McCullers allowing the riff-raff some entry into her imagined heights? Was she seeking on the basis of "any publicity is good publicity?" Were the two of them simply expressing a friendship? All of that is unknown as I look at the family keepsake which a publisher now wants to use as part of a two-volume collected works publication due out next year.

It's a memory with a toe tag. Somehow putting a price on a memory is ... is ... is what? It's not bad or naughty. It just feels weird, though it does align with my feeling that if you hold on to anything long enough, someone will call it an antique or a treasure of some sort. In America, "the price of everything and the value of nothing" is rampant. Donald Trump -- the incarnation of brand-selling Kim Kardashian -- has filled one piggy bank after another with his view of the suckers out there.

Perhaps I should just be content to let others see what they want to see and price what they want to price, but it still feels weird in my book. It reminds me of a time when I went into an art gallery and was smitten by a painting ... just stood stock still and stared and stared at it. Its beauty filled me up. And then the gallery owner approached me from the rear and began "explaining" it to me. He just wanted to make a sale, but in an utterly literal sense, I was within an ace of trying to kill him. A dollar sign on beauty ... talk about a visceral heresy ... I was pissed as a hornet. Even today, I can get pissed all over again.

Not that the McCullers photo is especially beautiful. It is too clearly posed. But it is part of a soft and enveloping past. A free place about which the word "freedom" does not compute. Cozy and plain. No toe tags or price tags.

Just, "C'est-├ža."

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