I’ve always loved things – beautiful things, luxurious things, expensive things. In my essay, In Pursuit of Beauty, I ask myself why. Here are some excerpts. . .
The biggest decision is where to start. Jaipur, for hand-embroidered paisley cashmere shawls that add glamour to a simple black dress? Istanbul for statement jewelry that slays, investment-quality rugs and perfect linens? Or Venice, for a Murano glass chandelier and as much velvet and Fortuny silk as a girl can handle?
It’s 3:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. I’m lying in bed in my one bedroom rental apartment in San Francisco. I left my lucrative tech industry job six months ago and am living on savings until my business takes off. But I have been wide awake since I got into bed at 11 p.m., imagining each perfect, potent object and planning the most epic shopping trip of all time.
Sometimes it felt like the only reason I had a career was so I could keep shopping. Even though I did well at work, each promotion made my professional life more demanding and unpleasant and my life outside of work narrower. But shopping always enlivened me and made me feel like myself, no matter how much my work demanded.
The acquiring occurred in an unconscious, reptilian delirium. I was choked to the point of breathlessness by irrational need. Once I got the right number of the most perfect objects, everything in my life would be OK, wouldn’t it? All of the soul-destroying work and exhaustion would be worthwhile, because I would be bathed in beauty.
Even though shopping myself deep into debt was the opposite of empowering, I felt so powerful when I was doing it. Shopping was the only thing that made me feel breezy, empowered and happy. Angry? Bored? Lonely? Shopping for something beautiful and expensive solved those problems immediately.
These exquisite, almost canonical objects I hunted were proxies for feelings I wanted to feel, for experiences I didn’t have. I missed my man, who was killed in a helicopter crash two weeks after we got engaged. He’d died years ago, but I was still trying desperately to fill the hole he left in my heart.
It took me years to understand that when I felt a ravenous hunger for a gorgeous antique Indian bracelet, I was actually craving the meaning I felt in a loving relationship. Jewelry is rare and precious and ravishing, like love, but jewelry doesn’t die and leave you bereft. Being wrapped in a cloudlike handwoven cashmere shawl wasn’t as comforting as being wrapped in my man’s arms, but it was close, and the cashmere shawl didn’t ask me to be vulnerable or change my life the way a new man would.
Finally, when the Great Recession began in late 2008, my eyes opened. I cut up my credit cards, got help and started creating a new relationship with shopping. It took time to accept that there was no combination of exquisite objects that would fill the hole in my heart, but when I did face the truth the blind and frantic hunger began to fade.
My breath still catches in my throat when I see something lush and gorgeous – whether its a peony, Daphne Guinness’s collection of YSL Le Smoking ensembles or an Italian mannerist painting. I think it always will.
Every day I teach myself that I don’t have to acquire to be sated, that I don’t have to spend money to find meaning and that beauty is omnipresent, just waiting to be recognized and valued.