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"A Spinster is an Unclaimed Treasure" 


Friday, September 24, 2004

That quote was in a 1970s book on cartoon collages made using tree leaves. I sought out knitting books again in Vancouver's public library Roman Colisseum Central Brach. I was just minutes away from having seen the first movie of this year's Vancouver International Film Festival, In the Realms of the Unreal about Chicago outsider artist Henry Darger. You know, the guy who wrote the 15,145 page epic about the Vivian Girls and the Child Slave Rebellion.

Director Jessica Yu's questions - Can one's imagination be enough to live on? Can one replace real human relationships and community with those invented in one's mind? - haunted me afterwards and through to this morning. Reduced to another, more selfish question, it asks, will I ever find someone and will I be spared from an old age of typing out my fantasy world alone?

Certainly, I will become a crazy pet person if nothing else. At one point, Darger asked his landlord how much it cost to keep a dog. "Five dollars a month," the impoverished Darger observed, "is far too much for me." Me, I'll have a hamster, a rabbit and a guinea pig, or perhaps multiples of each. Even more so than becoming a multi-pet George Herriman, I dream that, like Quentin Crisp, I might have youthful human admirers to sup with me.

Darger's drawings now fetch $100,000 US a piece, there is a whole wing in the American Folk Art Museum devoted to Darger and Hollywood plans a film on his life. Now that we all welcome Van Gogh into the pantheon of established art circles, Van Gogh's spirit, we smugly assume, might feel less bitter over the fact that he could not sell paintings during his life. Manet, though he tasted some fame in his lifetime, surely has the last laugh now that prints of his work decorate even the most artistically devoid of houses. All this serves not a whit to erase the ostracism and shame in any of these lifetimes. It might help cure our pity at his sadness yet this newfound fame hardly helps alleviate any of Darger's loneliness.

In the end, a spinster is not really an unclaimed treasure. She is a piece of trash best avoided until she is safely dead. Imagination, in the end, is not enough to live on.

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