I stared. Had she misunderstood me? My encomium about imagination? “Yes,” I faltered. “I live in Brooklyn now.”
And then she turned, and cried, “Yoo-hoo, Paolo!” and made a beeline for her deeply tanned, much younger husband—her former hairstylist, it was murmured—across the busy floor.
Did I ever get out? It was a lesson in pragmatism, in concreteness and literalism, in hearing to the core human yearning in the story. I’d named a problem; she wanted to know had I found a solution beyond an entrancing escape into the ethereal. She wanted to know about reality.
Did I ever get out? No, but maybe I am slowly getting out now, now that I have taken a full-time job that forces me into the world, now that I rub up against myriad personalities, some of them challenging, mysterious, grating, unexpectedly kind, and now that my own parents are well beyond the age Lillian Vernon herself achieved, and certain specters loom, as if a scrim that separated me from actuality finally threatens to drop. I’d thought that a house of writing would be enough. I thought that writing would teach me about writing, and that all—or at least a very great deal—of what I needed could be found in a book.
No, said Ms. Vernon, there’s something better. Action in the world. Self-invention. Putting your own imprint on your life. That’s how she became a multi-millionaire: she could see to everyone’s secret wish. Vision and action, her example teaches. Action and vision. And then the canny leap.