It was a Wednesday afternoon at 5pm; I left the office early to get my hair cut. I arrive early and my hairdresser is late. I don’t mind. One of the perks of coming to this nice salon is the waiting room. It’s filled with comfy chairs and has a coffee bar and snacks and best of all, the latest women’s magazines. I get a fill of junk food in every sense. I hand my coat, and sit down with some tea and cookies and I pick up the new Town and Country magazine.
If, in that very moment, the second I crack open this glossy magazine, you could see me and see into me, you would see a woman who is happy and content. My day was busy but not too hard. I have an interesting job. My home life is good. All is well. In that moment frozen in time all I need is to get my hair cut and buy some milk on the way home.
But in the next 90 seconds my experience of myself changes. I open the magazine on my lap and I am looking at a photo spread of the actress Renee Russo wearing a pretty necklace. The necklace is distinctive. Rather than having a full strand of pearls this necklace is strung and knotted in such a way as to keep individual pearls about an inch away from each other. The effect is that it gives the appearance that the pearls are floating on the wearer’s skin. It is called “The Illusion Necklace”. By now you have seen these…the expensive and costume versions are ubiquitous but that day it was new to me.
What was different for me that day as I sat in the salon waiting room was that I was oddly aware of myself as I read about Renee and her necklace. Maybe because it was a good day, or because I was tired, but for some reason that day, in that moment, I was aware of my body and mind at once. And what I felt was a series of physiological changes as I was reading about The Illusion Necklace.
The article says that the necklace is also called the “Tin Cup” necklace, because Russo wore these pearls in every scene in that light romantic comedy. I remember the movie. Had I noticed the necklace? No, but I look at the photos in the magazine and it is lovely. Do I care? Well, yes, inexplicably and suddenly I do seem to care. What I feel however is my body changing; I feel my respiration and heart accelerating while I am aware of what is going through my head: “This is a great necklace; This is the best necklace; This is the perfect necklace, and then I hear myself think: I WANT THIS NECKLACE.”
Absolutely no more than three minutes have passed from sitting down content with my life, to reading a few words and now—Wham!-- I feel myself wanting this necklace. The message in my head is subtle but it’s there just like background noise that’s always there humming behind my thoughts and what it says is this: “My life will be better, improved, or fixed if I get THIS; and in this case the “this” is a few pearls artfully knotted on a silk string.
Now, you may be well ahead of me, but it was not until I sat to write this that it struck me: the name of this necklace is perfect. It is an ILLUSION.
I tell this story not because this was the first time my mood was changed by an ad but because this was the first time that I was aware of it while it was happening. I was conscious of the process as it penetrated my body and mind. I also saw that my response to this self observation was not necessarily “Oh silly me”. No, even as I watched myself discount my own good life I began to believe that I had to have this necklace. But I knew that something had just happened inside me.
I flipped through a couple of pages in this magazine, wanting to look as inconspicuous as possible. I felt like a prisoner awaiting interrogation who looks down to see the key to her escape at her feet. I was breathing hard. But, as if it was nothing, as if it were no big deal, I tore out the page and picture of the necklace, coughing to cover the sound of my theft.
A few days later at home I looked again at this photo. This was not about a necklace. But what was it and why did I want this then? I made a deal with myself that if I still wanted this necklace so badly in 30 days, then I would give myself permission to buy it. And so the illusion necklace became the beginning of my study of wanting.
I still have the magazine page. Every now and then I get it out and look at it closely. When I find myself NEEDING a certain new red purse or a special shimery gray eye shadow or the perfect—and one more--pair of shoes I first take a look at my photo of pretty Rene and the Illusion necklace.