Tuesday, January 05, 2010

What do you want? What will you give?

There's a great scene early in the book Stardust by Neil Gaiman, where we get a glimpse into the realm of Faerie through its magical market. There are many wondrous things for sale in the faerie market; few are to be bought with money, but all have a price. As with many such markets throughout the world, the fee is negotiable, but it is bound to be something dear to you:
"I could take the colour of your hair," she said, "or all your memories before you were three years of age. I could take the hearing from your left ear -- not all of it, just enough that you'd not enjoy music or appreciate the running of a river or the soughing of the wind."
Most of us say we would never give up such things to obtain some relatively worthless bauble, and perhaps we would be right to say so. And yet I wonder what things we really do want, and what we end up giving for them in return.

What things do I want, for instance? Well, I want to be attractive, slim and healthy. I want to finish my degree. I want to travel to England, and to many other places as well. I want to meet some of the people whose work I admire: Jane Yolen, Ray Bradbury, Robin Williams, Gerald McDermott, and half a dozen others (I've already missed the chance to meet Trina Schart Hyman and Lionel Davidson; Death is apparently an autograph hound). I want to gain a better understanding of how to make friends, since that skill has largely eluded me. I want to vanquish my fears, to become less concerned about what people think of me.

Some of these things can be bought with money (including the upcoming trip to England -- AW YEAH! WOOHOO!

*please hold while Soozcat has a five-minute spaz break*

ehem, back to business), but I tend to forget that the other wants, those that can't be bought with money, have their price as well. That price, more often than not, means giving up part of who I am right now in exchange for becoming who and what I want to be. And it's a price I too often seem terrified to pay, even when I'm being offered the better part of the bargain.

I don't think it's just me, though. If you've ever clung tenaciously to a crappy job, or stuck with a boyfriend/girlfriend even when you weren't sure you were really in love with that person, or failed to reach out for a longshot opportunity even though you had nothing to lose by trying, you know what I'm talking about. You want to be safe, even when safety means settling for mediocrity or worse. It's a very human tendency to want to keep to the known quantity, the tried and true, the status quo.

It's also impossible. Because just living from day to day has its price as well. You pay a price for simply traveling through time; each day you exchange who you were yesterday for who you will be today. The price of this change is visible in your hands, your face, your posture, the color and amount of your hair, the pattern of your stride, the sound of your voice. It's also in things unseen: the way you think of yourself, the way you think of others, your sense of hope, of fear, of love, your response to change. There's even a price to be paid when making the ultimate journey; there are still places in this world where they lay coins on the corpse's eyes so that person can pay his fare into the land of the dead. It isn't really possible to escape this exchange, and those who make the attempt -- with expensive spa treatments and plastic surgery and the like -- pay another price altogether for trying to put up a barricade against time.

Recently I had the chance to look at a few pictures of people with whom I attended high school, and to compare them to more recent photographs of the same subjects. It's clear just from the photos that they're not the same people any more. Oh, you can see some things haven't changed -- the particular curl of a smile, the color and brightness of an eye -- but as they've moved through time in all different directions, the merchant of each new day has exacted its particular fee, has changed them incrementally into what they have now become.

So I ask myself: OK, Soozcat, of the things you want, what price are you willing to pay to obtain them? (Can't just wish to be thin, for instance; trust me, years of personal experience there.) What are you willing to give up in order to get what you say you want? Are you sure you want it that much? How will it change you, and will it be for the better?

What will you choose from the merchant of this day?


Wendy Jean said...

All I know is that sometimes we don't even know what we want or realize it when we get what we want.

Soozcat said...

That's very true. Furthermore, what we think we want changes over time, which makes things even more confusing.

tlawwife said...

I'm afraid I haven't figured out what price I would pay to be thin. Therefore I'm still not. Still trying to figure it out though.

You will love England.

Soozcat said...

Oh, I'm pretty sure I will at that! Soooo excited.

Working on the whole being-thin thing. I'm trying something new this year... lost 40 lb. last year but haven't been able to keep it all off. And, sadly, I have miles to go before I sleep.

Michael said...


i wish you were still my laundry faerie--and my cleaning fairy. i guarantee i paid (and will pay) more than your family does.

seriously, you write quite well--you've got a nice touch.


Soozcat said...

Well, the pay may not be great, but the benefits can't be beat.

Thanks for coming by and taking a look, and also for your very kind words.

Dori said...

I adore Mr. Gaiman. Stardust is such a sweet fairy tale.

What price to pay for having what we desired with all of our hearts? Giving up every single comfort zone I had--my own identity for a while there. But the return is above and beyond what I ever imagined.