‘This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?’
- Leo Tolstoy
Dusk had settled on the city. L’heure entre chien et loup. A masquerade ball was starting without me; an elegant man waiting in the other room. There I stood, indecisive, shivering in my pink socks, in front of a closet of dresses and masks, fake furs and heirloom pearls.
'The hour between dog and wolf […] in which every being becomes his own shadow, and thus something other than himself. The hour of metamorphoses, when people half hope, half fear that a dog will become a wolf.'
― Jean Genet
The hour of transformation, when the heart tells the eye what to see. Through the open window, down on the sidewalk, I watched the children trick or treat. Little fairies and witches paraded before me, goblins and leprechauns. Hopeful supermen, batmen, spider and iron men tripping over their capes. A miniature pumpkin fast asleep in a stroller. Twins: a cookie and a cream. Knights in shining Styrofoam armor, giant glitter-coated wings. Astronauts and ballerinas - I used to dream of that too – future scientists and explorers, Nobel Prize winners, Freddy Mercuries and Grace Kellies.
Nothing is real that is not first imagined. I was just a girl in pink socks, leading an ordinary life made of ‘ordinary instances,’ like this ordinary Monday night. But a masquerade ball was starting and there, the rules of the real world did not apply. I could be dog or wolf or firebird in the no man’s land between wake and dream.
Francis Bacon said ‘imagination was given to man to compensate for what he is not.’ Perhaps, but I think dusk was given to man to explore what he could become.
I could go to the masquerade ball dressed as the girl I was now, this Monday evening version of me. Or I could lose my socks and insecurities and try on the possibility of a different me.
I could go as a writer, cold, starving, and in love. Red lipstick, a black turtleneck. With a well-weathered, camel brown, leather notebook, aging with dignity. In it, a masterpiece stained with coffee and wine, written in a café, at the corner table, the one by the window, where one can watch Paris in the rain.
I could go as a traveler, my life packed into one suitcase. My pockets overflowing with metro tickets, plane and train tickets, carnival tokens and museum stubs. A camera, a compass, a poorly folded map, covered with infinite markings of landmarks and bed and breakfasts I had stopped at on my infinite routes.
‘Only the invented part of our life—the unreal part—has had any scheme, any beauty.’ I could go as Icarus, who stuck feathers on his back and flew on a quest the world thought was mad. Shâkuntalâ, whose name meant ‘protected by birds,’ and also dreamed her days away. Holly Golightly, in sunglasses and a black dress, searching life for a place like Tiffany’s. Sara Crewe, who rode elephants and magic carpets in her mind while she was scrubbing floors.
Some girls do become ballerinas, some boys do become astronauts. Some people do live, and happily, ever after, because both of those are a choice.
I chose to go to the masquerade ball as the girl I wanted to be. To ‘dance, laugh, eat pink cakes, yellow cakes, drink thin, sharp wine.’ I chose to imagine the possibility of a dog turning into a wolf. Of a man flying to the sun and me doing something remarkable that may even, a little, change the world.
I fastened my wings to the back of my dress, adjusted the mask on my face. My plastic earrings sparkled like diamonds in the candlelight. I sprayed perfume in my hair. I would be brave and fearless for a night, go after every silly dream I ever had, make every mistake I feared and then make new ones the following night.
And at the end of a long life of balls, if I really do not fly, in that well-weathered leather notebook I could at least write about how I tried.