Monday, August 04, 2008

Dare to be Fabulous: the Life of a Fictional Muse

Let’s face it. Being fictional definitely has its advantages.

Being young, thin, rich, brilliant, and glamorous hasn’t gone to her head because I haven’t let it.

Her accomplishments are plentiful, her options endless, yet her soul remains grounded and sane. Intelligent, introverted, generous, unassuming but never shy or falsely modest, and whatever faults she has only add to her depth and charm: such are the qualities of my heroine because such is the power of the auteur.

Too bad I can’t so easily wield similar transformational power over my own life… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As a fashion designer, it’s good to have a muse. As a novelist, it’s good to have a main character.

Several years ago I turned my sixth-scale, glamorous fashion doll muse into a fictional story character… or maybe I turned my novel-in-progress’ character into a fashion doll? I'm not sure which way it happened, but never mind; what’s interesting is the vividness of this persona in my imagination, and her role in my creative life.

Even more personally intriguing are the ways she reflects parts of myself (as so many muses—and main characters—do, if we’re truly honest), yet the ways she is different than I am, and any possible relevance this has to my so-called Real Life. Could I be more like her? Should I be more like her? What about her do I envy and admire? Does her imagined life contain any cautionary anecdotes?

Would it ever be worth my asking in a challenging situation: What would Reverie Larke do… and what would she wear while doing it?

* * *

A few years ago, I began writing an elaborate work of fiction, escapist fun yet also serious. This was roughly around the time I was first taking fashion doll couture seriously, but at that time the two activities were separate.

There are few things quite as fun as creating a character.

The man who recently repainted my deck has a bumper sticker on his truck: The older I get, the better I was. Too true! Although I'd never want to go back again, certain aspects of youth have grown better with time. Making my novel’s main character in her mid-thirties was an appealing choice, a no-brainer for me as a fiftysomething dreamer. And one of the story’s themes is that being rich doesn’t equate with being evil, although it does have its own set of challenges. As the old joke goes, it’s tough having a personal crisis, but less tough if you’re going through it in the South of France. Considering all these things it's small wonder that I made Ms. Larke in her mid-thirties, and bestowed on her an enormous and unexpected inheritance while I was at it.

Because she is a travel writer, with a stroke of my virtual pen she lives in New York City, all the better for wearing basic black and dropping by to see her editor. Here in my Real Life San Diego, by way of contrast, there is very little hustle, let alone bustle. It would be a lot harder for me to present Reverie as a so-called serious businessperson if I had her living in a beach city embellished with palm trees, where everyone is either at a Pilates class, or sipping on a fruit smoothie while getting a pedicure. So Manhattan it was. And since the cost was only time and research, off we flew (in a private jet, of course) to many exotic points beyond, when her adventures really began.

Doll-wise, it’s great fun having my muse be a wealthy, sophisticated young New Yorker who never changes her dress size and always—always looks fabulous and intriguing. She can have a thousand gowns, suits, coats, and shoes, all of the world’s finest fabrics, in any imaginable style. This combination of looks, money, persona, and residence makes her the sort of woman Hermes designs handbags for, those iconic bags that eventually end up with waiting lists even though they retail for as much as a small family car.

The clothes, the handbags, the custom-made luggage… the multiple homes, the endless boxes of outrageous jewelry, the room-size closet filled with the latest in glorious runway fashions… If I don’t insist on these things belonging to me personally at 1:1 scale, it’s all very attainable.

And it’s not just the clothes, either. In sixth scale, as in novels, endless bright and dark dreams are waiting to come true.

It’s obvious this is part of why we read, or write, or dream through fashion dolls. We give ourselves over to the magic, suspend our disbelief, touch our most luxurious dreams, and embrace the unknown. We can play endlessly with impossible options, none the worse—and possibly enriched—by our elaborate flights of fancy.

Yes, I enjoy the idea that Reverie Larke still works hard at her chosen profession, even when her significant wealth would make this unnecessary. Whether it’s the clothes or the intrigue, I love putting myself in her situation. Her lapses and mistakes seem oddly familiar, even though the scenarios themselves are not.

Guilt free, I can put her in danger… and put her in couture while I’m at it.

What I’ve probably known all along is my muse, my heroine, really does hold up a mirror... and not just while primping for opening night at the Met. Through her, I’ve exaggerated some of my imagined attributes and several flaws (best left unsaid), and I’ve placed her where I probably will never be (a palatial Art Deco townhouse). I sit at my computer in worn jeans and a baggy sweater, writing about spy gadgets and Prada shoes.

If Reverie Larke were real, she might actually envy me my calico cat, my devoted husband, and something that approaches wisdom of my years. She might even envy me my dreams, or at the very least, my fashion dolls.

Do I wish I were her? Well, I guess I don’t really want to be kidnapped by a sociopath, get exploited by tabloids, or have perplexing memory gaps.

If I want some of her luxury, I can remind myself to squeeze fresh orange juice and drink it from a champagne glass while listening to Vivaldi instead of grabbing a Diet Pepsi and watching another Law and Order rerun. And instead of doing another load of laundry, I can (finally) write the last few chapters of my heroine’s adventures and lose myself in them, or get to work pulling out fabrics for my next sixth-scale collection.

Life and art: Viva la difference; viva la fantaisie.

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