Fantasy Interior with Jan Steen and Members of the Schouten Family by Jan Steen
Gallery P17, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
We spend so much time crafting fantasies. Fantasies for ourselves and others. We live so heavily in worlds of what-if's and if-only's. An old friend of mine used to say, "The What-If Game is a very dangerous game." She was wrong about a great many things, but that was not among them. Fantasizing and planning feel similar, but they're worlds apart.
I think back over my life and wonder how much of it I've wasted on fantasies and what-if's. There are the fantasies that cast our gaze back to the world we came from. What if I'd given that guy a chance? What if I'd gone to my alma mater from the get-go instead of taking three years to get there after high school? What if I'd grown up in a family that traveled abroad and learned foreign languages?
Looking back over a past that never existed can be destructive enough on its own. But what about those fantasies about improbable futures, never mind the impossible ones.What if I won the lottery? If only I had the money to buy the car I really wanted. What if I took a job somewhere else? What if I had a beach house? What separates fantasy from planning is that fantasy is based in the idea that we are not actively making our way toward that fictional realm.
Planning is purposeful. Fantasizing is not.
Jan Steen's painting is wall-to-wall fantasy. As the informational sign tells us, the statuary holding up the harpsichord would have only been present in the homes of royalty. Not even the wealthy elite would have been so blessed.
And perhaps Mr. Steen hoped to become royalty by marriage, but to cart his entire family along with him seems more than grandiose. Do we also make this mistake when weighing our plans against a backdrop of unreasonable fantasy? If only I was famous, I would have a hedge maze and two pet peacocks. If I sell everything and move to LA, I will become a famous actor and start dating Ryan Gosling. Etc...
Do we use our fantasies to inform our goals and actions, or do we allow ourselves to get lost in escapism, marinating in a life that doesn't exist until we drown.
I drowned for so long! Desperate to find a way to the fantasies that persisted in my waking life, I could not plan for something that could and would never be. But I tried, and trying to make fiction non-fiction is just trying to fail.
Oh, god. I've wasted so much of my life on fantasy. Thinking of men and places and lives I could never have. Wondering why I could never have them. Grieving over the loss of that which I'd never had to start with. Giving myself over to worlds I could not visit, much less survive in.
Fantasy is giving up on reality. It is asking for lies to become truths. In that sense, it is a death of sorts. The inscription under the painting's memento mori is translated to mean "Learn to die." Did Jan Steen also know that fantasy was death? Did he embrace the death of his reality and sink blissfully into the dense and cloudy waters of a fabricated existence? My only hope is to reject the roots that my fantasies planted within my heart. They penetrated the bedrock of my mind with little to no effort. Only by reminding myself that fantasy is just fantasy can I ever hope to build a world that draws inspiration from my fantasies but does not languish in a depressive limbo that unfulfilled dreams have a knack for coating everything in.
Details Are The Devil
I was snagged by the delicate and accidental curl of his lip. Like a hook catches fish swimming too closely as they inspect the alluring glint of the who-knows-what that dangles from a cruel snare.
It wraps around me and pulls me, without sound, into an embrace that feels as real and as undeniable as anything I've ever felt or seen.
The cold air spins and swims and sends buoyant curlicues of brown hair into dancing fits. They waltz in place and wave at me to join, begging and pleading with me, in turns out-stretching the locks like hands, warm and soft and safe and tantalizing.
His skin was of indeterminate colour, at once bright like fresh cream, and at once dark and deep like bittersweet cocoa, and at once altogether gone so that only his frolicking hair and that trap of a smile remained.
His mouth opened and spoke something, but sound did not fall upon my ears. I was deafened by how badly I wanted to be his tongue as it seduced his paper-white teeth and moist, carnation lips, full, glistening from a fresh pass of the tongue, and hotter than the fire that stormed and raged through my abdomen begging me to reach my breaking point. Soon. Now. Please.
But as much as I wanted to be his tongue, I wanted to taste it even more. To feel the textures so contradictory. Rough on my tongue and lips. Smooth on my neck and ears. Always wet. Always wanting. Always telling me secrets from within a hot, humid cloud of nothing. Nothing...like his hair. His skin. His smile. All figments and wisps of memories of dozens of men who aren't and never were mine.