One of the first of these, a cover story in Vanity Fair, appears not to grasp the opportunity at hand. We are told that Ms. Stewart is "shell shocked," that she feels the constraints of house arrest, that this empire and empress are diminished. But there is no indication that Martha Stewart is more interesting or complex.
Perhaps she just isn’t. She may have been too busy making sure that prison did not "break her" to use it as an opportunity to think about who she is and what she wants. Or it may be that Vanity Fair was not listening with suffcient care or intelligence to glimpse a more nuanced subject. (Vanity Fair is so celebratory of celebrity, it routinely leaves nuance to others.)
C’est dommage, ca.. Here’s what Steve Jobs had to say about one of his career dislocations.
[G]etting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
Surely, this is the opportunity of a cataclysmic change in personal circumstances. It forces us to give up tangible accomplishment for mere promise, something we could never bring ourselves otherwise to do. In any case, even if we do somehow, against the odds, recreate this lost world, we are likely to appear (cliche advisory in effect) "mere shadows of our former selves."
But then Stewart was always an agent, never the object, of transformation. She turned ordinary things into glittering prizes and middle class lives into status spectaculars. There was no sense that Stewart would ever be acted on, ever allow herself to be transformed.
No, this is wrong. As long as both the object and agent of transformation were Martha, she was more than willing. She began as a Polish-American girl from a small town in New Jersey. She made herself a doyen of Connecticut grandeur. And perhaps this is the real crux of the problem. When your model of perfection comes from the Connecticut playbook, there are only one set of objectives, only one set of things to aspire to, only one path to greatness.
Thank god for the real transformational options of a contemporary culture. For most of us, they mean that even quite disasterous episodes merely wipe the slate of the present transformation option. They do not foreclose the possibility of becoming someone new. When the fates intervene, we can begin again.
Tyrnauer, Matt. 2005. The Prisoner of Bedford. Vanity Fair. August: 110-118, 176-180.
Carol Sandy, for pointing out the Steve Jobs’ speech at a Stanford commencement. (Sorry, link now lost)