Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nose in a Book...

My reading group will be discussing The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives by Cheryl Jarvis next month. The basic premise of the book is 13 women share the cost of an expensive diamond necklace, and then find ways to share the necklace with each other and use it as a sharing "tool" in their community.

I was excited about this book-- anything that has a theme of "transformed lives" intrigues me. But by the time it came around to read it, I thought the timing couldn't be worse. We're bombarded with the gravity of a slumping world economy daily. How indulgent and irresponsible is it to even think about how a $37,000 necklace changed thirteen women's lives right now? Such extravagance, selfishness!

However, often while reading this book, I was touched. As these women found different ways to share with each other, I saw past the bling to the other things-- friendship, community, connection. I was especially drawn to the stories of the women who had, for various reasons, not cultivated many women friends. They had spent years attaching themselves to their work, husbands, children... and somehow the girlfriends got left behind. This group, mostly of women in their 50's, gave them the opportunity to get that back, and to remember how important those friendships are.

I was riding a roller-coaster of emotions while reading this book. The women in the group seemed to be going through the same. I would think that the women were looking past the whole materialism of such a necklace, especially with their fund-raising efforts. Then the women suddenly stated grasping for the bling yet again. They argued over loss of 'perceived value' if the diamond necklace was shared with 'just anybody' . For me, this chipped away at what the originator of the group had planned-- to have the necklace (named Jewelia) remind us of the value of sharing, not of one-upmanship.

I thought that there was a disconnect. Why did such good works have to be tied to something that is a status symbol? What about just helping for helpings sake?

I suppose that is the reason for Experiments. How will people act? Jonell got the spark for the idea while window shopping-- in the back of her mind looking for a little treat for herself for a recent real estate sale commission. In the California market, a few years ago when this started, she could really afford to treat herself. She's in a profession that can lead to good income. That income depends on people holding fast to ideas about status symbols, i.e. a big house on the beach! It's a false sense of what we Need to be happy. And Jewelia wasn't really what any of them Needed to be happy. But this is the world we've created, and this is the kind of thing that says-- it's beautiful, it's shiny, go ahead and smile.

I did. I smiled at the accounts of Jewelia being a welcome addition to special days in women's lives; I smiled at the memories that were created. I smiled most about the friendships that were created because of a strand of shiny rocks. I can't stay unnerved about the slight undertone of classism or extravagance I felt-- that's a instinctual reaction in these times, as well as my own past. After all, right on the cover, it says "the experiment that transformed their lives" (my emphasis). Just because I may feel that too much importance is placed on such a symbol of wealth doesn't mean these women didn't grow. If such a necklace were to be placed on my neck, I would feel out of sorts. These women didn't. They created friendships and obtained fundraising money from others because of it. Nothing wrong with that.

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