Friday, February 13, 2009

What You Said
Happy 1234567890 Day!

The Roll of Film digital portrait post was an experiment to explore self portraits and how I feel about seeing my own face/body and to look in to some of the issues that entwine themselves with this subject. Scientific experiments start with a hypothesis, and I did not, and I am kind of glad about that, because I realize my experiment is really more of a conversation, an explore, and I am really enjoying the dialogue that is warming up. Please read the comments.

First of all, thank you. Thank you for commenting and thank you for saying nice things about how I look. Blush.

The compliments feel good, and I also got to think about something new... I brought up the subject of "beauty," and now I am wondering about other qualities that appear in portraits... things like, intelligence, wisdom, maturity, grace, gentleness, relaxed, comfortable, strong, innocent, athletic, old, funny, creative, demure, artistic, serious. How many of these things might appear in a person's portrait, and how many of them can be construed as flattering remarks to make about a person? I am thinking about the adage that if you say "She is smart," then by omission, you are saying "She is not pretty." Maybe it goes back to my concern that we are witnessing such tremendous filtering of the qualities of physical beauty, that like in refined food, we have lost all other substance and quality. Sugar is sweet, but how far will it take you? Beauty is wonderful, but why have we diminished the value of age, experience, intelligence, strength, humor, and those elusive things we call character?

To be kind, to be sensitive, there is an instinctive compulsion to say something nice about prettiness (and I am trying to be tactful and delicate as I talk about this, because I don't want anyone to take offense about Me or You being insincere.) It's interesting that if people looked at a picture of me and said smart, rested, happy, shy, kind, gentle, humorous... I probably would hope to hear just 1 more remark about my looks. Even though "smart, rested, happy, shy, kind, gentle, humorous" are all great or interesting qualities, I would still crave that little ego massage that comes with a 'pretty, gorgeous, beautiful,' kind of compliment and I would even fretfully assume I must be unpretty if no one said "pretty." What is up with that? Is it because I am insecure, or co-dependent? Is it because I am conditioned to believe that an omission is an indirect statement? And here is what really concerns me: Is it hard to omit "pretty," because we do not appreciate, value all those other qualities?

I don't have answers.

I have an anecdote...

Our family was together in a waiting room, as were other families with children. Another boy, about 7 or 8 years old, was talking to my boys, and that boy's mother and her friend/sister were nearby. So, the little boy asked Max and Alex the usual kinds of questions about age and schools and favorite toys, and he kept glancing at Geoff, my husband.
After a bit, the boy asked Max, "Hey, is he your dad?"
Max turned to Geoff, his dad, and answered the boy, "Yeah, he's my dad."
The boy dropped his jaw a bit and said, "Whoa. How old is your dad?"
Geoff was 39 at the time.
The boy looked surprised, and he said, "Man, your dad's only 39? My dad is old. My dad's 65."
At this point the boy's mother turned on her heels and in a tone of admonishment, slightly embarrassed, said, "Your dad is not old. He is not old." She moved swiftly and with a fervor that was lioness, to defend this man's honor. As though the 65 year old father had been maligned and reproached, publicly disgraced, she stood to restore his dignity and youth.
Touchy subject, I thought. The lady doth protest a bit much, yeah? I mean, where is the insult in recognizing that 65 is old? It is certainly older than 39 or even 50. Old does not mean at death's door or decrepit, right? Her son's description did not leave me picturing his father on a feeding tube, in a rocking chair, mumbling about the Civil War. I thought it was a sad example of how we allow our words and beliefs to diminish worthwhile traits and characteristics. She could have said so much more by emphasizing the man's virility, his intellect or career, his good health or even good looks, but what was the point or truth in insisting that her 65 year old husband is young?
Why don't we appreciate Old? More to think about.

I love how every conversation can have many angles and approaches. Judy, in Kentucky, brought up the decorator phenomenon and all those granite countertops! I totally agree, just like the look alike faces of cosmetic surgery, people seem to have surrendered personal taste for the HGTV-master-suite themes that are so common and expected, they have become positively dull. Houses and people should look like themselves.

And ourselves look so good when they project a Whole person, whether we are old or innocent, brainy or athletic, brainy and athletic, tired, funny, eager, reserved, pretty, strange, unique, encumbered, struggling, liberated, confused, in progress. I wish I had more time to say more and really put my thoughts in order, so that I can be certain I am saying what I mean and meaning what I say, instead of just clucking around, scratching the surface, like a hen. And I hope You have more to say, more to share, because it's the exchange and discourse that make this enjoyable, which is why I was so happy to find Peacebang's thoughts about portraits and self image.

The images I am sharing in today's post are a mix from way back and from recent days. They are another kind of portrait of me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Whole Roll of Film

The self portrait.
Tricky business.
Technically, not an easy shot... at least not without a tripod.
Tripod? The tripod is the least of my challenges. I need a make-up artist and a stylist, and imagine the wonders Photo-shop could do. Let's leave Botox and Clairol out of the equation, and you can still see my point: Self portraits are tricky. Emotionally, technically, self-esteemedly tricky.

Many bloggers challenge themselves to explore who they are and how they present themselves to the world, by facing the camera and *click* posting that straight out of camera shot. SOOC It's an experiment in self acceptance. Other bloggers adhere to a strictly cropped version of themselves... shoulders down, hands only, in the distance, from the side... anonymous, shy, discreet, subtle. Some bloggers post severe criticisms of their faces, the lines, the spots, the colors, the too much here and not enough there... derisions we are probably all guilty of making when we stare too long. And if you have not learned about Photoshop and other editing tools and what they can alter, enhance, diminish, replace, smooth, soften, slim, inflate, whiten and brighten... then you are missing a fascinating web of lies and deceits... it's sad or scary or weird how we can be manipulated, how our ideas about beauty can be twisted.

Whoa... I just took a Youtube-Photoshop journey that steered my thoughts way off course!

Where was I? Oh, yes. I saw Pioneer Woman's post about "What Women Do" and her own experiment with her self portrait. She has a healthy sense of humor, and it's not easy to tell where her joking ends and her actual self image is showing. I can't think of a woman I have ever met that didn't know her "flaws," that didn't have a mental list of fixes she wished for. Maybe that's even healthy to an extent... sort of. Hmmm... must ponder. When does our self criticism go too far? At what point are we being unkind or simply unrealistic? I think it gets harder to appreciate our physical beauty, our real selves,when the media is saturating our views with fabrications and glossed over interpretations of beauty. It creates something of an avalanche too... If I lament my appearance, either verbally or by neglect, then what am I saying to my daughter about me and my looks, my size, my pretty quotient and hers? How much of my self-worth is dependent on the image I can project? What truth or value is there in thinking our eyes are not blue enough, our noses not slim enough, our abdomens not firm enough, our skin not smooth enough, when many of the images we compare ourselves with, or just frequently see, are created by airbrush artists and less ideal visionaries.

Yeah, so I thought about all that stuff as I steadied the camera and pointed it at my face. I thought about the uneven texture of my skin and my crowded teeth, the grey hairs. I was really disappointed to see that the lower humidity made my sassy do less sassy... I liked it better on the rainy days, when it kind of curled a bit. I thought about how to smile and how to not smile too much. I am vain. And I am insecure. And I am hoping that I can grow old gracefully, but I still half kinda whole heartedly wish I could see a beautiful me... a cover shot, with the right light and some subtle airbrushing, an hour with a make-up specialist and someone who knows which glasses will make me look smart and sexy. Of course all of that is a secret, and not something that I would admit out-loud. It's not what I put in my profile, you know.

I also thought about my friend Anne and her "Low Maintenance Photo." She looks like my friend. Like that smart and lovely woman I know, with the gorgeous blue eyes and... and she's pretty. I know her. I don't want to take it apart and examen the photograph like a Cosmo editor... I just want to hear her laugh and go on a hike with her and reflect on all the good and wonderful things she does. Her portrait is like a window, a small view of a bigger picture and it is beautiful.

We cannot all of us be iconic, or maybe we can have fun trying. Around here there are way too many people that can't possibly be having fun trying... trying for an iconic look of beauty, or youth. Around here Youth = Beauty. I see the taut, stretched, lifted faces, the over polished brows and detail obsessed clients all over our fair city, and it's sad and kind of creepy. Yeah, creepy. They don't look like unique beings... they look like a subset of our species all bearing the same appearance of someone that traded experience and character for a worked on mask ... I say this sympathetically. I find it curious, and wonder if I will feel the tug to try and reverse time and life.

I cannot deny that beauty is amazing. It has a kind of power and undeniable allure. Beauty makes us catch our breath, draws us closer. I say this, and then I get sad again, thinking of the generation of people growing up with a steady diet of magazines, ads, Internet, CG, and manufactured beauty that is increasingly served universally, and too a younger and younger audience. I'm not going to Google the statistics or find the articles, but they are out there... mounting evidence that boob jobs, and other nips and tucks are increasingly popular with children, very young adults. What a tragedy that children believe they are not beautiful, that beauty requires certain shapes and sizes, that there isn't time to develop inner beauty and lasting qualities that will exude beauty over a life time.

Anyone looking for magazine-supermodel-Internet beauty in my face, can look elsewhere.

There's a joke that goes like this:

I would do anything to look like that.
Except diet and exercise.

I used to think it was funnier when I was younger, slimmer, fitter. It's less funny because I see the truth of it. An airbrush and push-up bra could go a long way to giving me a great self-portrait, but I would still walk away as Me. I think a good self portrait has to tell some truth. I am older and rounder. I have less of this and more of that, and it all reflects where I've been and it's sticking with me, unless I change Me not the pixels on the screen.

I wanted to see the back of my haircut. It feels a bit too short. I never like to have my hair layered, because even when I like my short cut, invariably I will fall back on my fantasy of being like Dorothy Lamour or Salma Hayek. Sigh. I told Daniel he had artistic license . Is it too short in the back? How long before I can pull it in to a braid again?

Oh yeah. It's kind of short. I mean the length is okay, but he layered it, so their are choppy bits near the crown. I still like it, but it's a long way from the fantasy.

I remembered to put on lipstick. I have a favorite tube of L'oreal, and I think it makes a nice difference. I look less parched when I wear Makes Me Blush 250. I forgot earrings. My mom reminds me that earrings are a great asset when sporting a short do, and I agree they are fun to wear now that they show.

I own make-up. I bought it in October? Pretty sure it was October. I keep meaning to go back to the store to ask them about the small container of Medium Beige and how to make my eyes look dreamy, but not actually asleep. Probably for a good self portrait it would be worthwhile and not too phony to wear make-up. I worry about looking made-up or over done. I feel uncertain about what looks right on me. I should wear make-up for a nice portrait.

How do you keep from feeling goofy, then self important, then embarrassed?
How do you feel good about yourself without obsessing about yourself?

Uh. Could we lose the sleeping bag?
Okay. So a self portrait can reveal things about yourself that you may not even realize... things like setting and camera angle and crap articles in the background... these elements tell part of the story, part of the this is Me of the portrait.

This is Me. I kicked the sleeping bag in to the hall. (Remind me to tell Max to put it away when he gets home.) And I thought this cleaned up setting would be more flattering, but the raised arms are not working for me, and... ? Geez. Are those Christmas ornament boxes under my right pit? Yes. I was so proud of myself for carefully and efficiently packing Christmas this year, that my swollen head caused me to completely overlook the job of putting those packed boxes in the garage.

This is embarrassing.
But why? Consider how often we close our eyes... to blink, to sneeze, to sleep, so why does it look so weird, so bad.
Plus, I can still see that sleeping bag.
So embarrassing.
Did I say something about "honesty, telling the truth in a portrait?"
That's not all together true.
I look bad in many photographs and I would never post a bad picture of myself or anyone else. No blinkers, no mouth-full and talking, no muffin tops, bad colds, rashes, bad hair days... none of that.
Except to make a point. Now look away. I feel ugly.

Thank goodness for digital. This experiment would have taken a whole roll of film, and I would have thought it was a waste. I would have been disappointed that I didn't get the focus sharp enough, and because I wasn't wearing earrings and never bothered to set up a tripod or a stack of books, didn't use the self timer. Maybe the mirror was the difficult part... I didn't even think of that. It shouldn't be so new, so unfamiliar, but sometimes I really feel as though I am still getting to know myself.

Work in progress... in the middle of my journey... looking for answers... asking questions, and taking pictures along the way.

Meow. Look as long as you want. I am beautiful. SOOC.

Tap and Ballet

She brought Ballerina Bunny to her dance class. We were early. On dance day Maria is always ready. Ready, ready, ready. She's ready all week long for the one day a week when she joins other 3 and 4 year old girls in the neighborhood studio. The children are on their toes, swirling and gliding, correcting their posture and holding their arms in graceful poses for a full hour. They begin with tap shoes. I found Maria's in a thrift shop about 2 years ago, and I am so glad for that find... they are a perfect fit now. Oh my gosh!... a dozen or so girls in tap shoes... it's the cutest cacophony in all of creation! After tapping and warming up, they slip off their clackity little black shoes and slide on their ballerina slippers.

Maria, do you like tap or ballet?
And she replies, Boes, which means "both."

Speaking of mispronunciations and adorable childspeak, ballerinas are beanerinas and with tears in my eyes, I cannot tell you how hilarious that is... seriously, there are some terms that smart of inappropriateness and discrimination, but uttered with affection and innocence, they become funny and dear. It's a Beaner thing.

She keeps her shoes in the pink princess bag I made for her birthday, and reminds me to put her hair up before class. I love how comfortable and confident she is. She is happy dancing, moving, following her teacher's instructions.

I cannot think what else to say... just seeing her and thinking about it makes my heart flutter and swell, and I am filled with tremendous gratitude. We are so blessed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An Empty Nest

Betty has a calling... a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action. I cannot say whether her calling is accompanied by conviction of divine influence, but I can say that she wants to set on eggs. She wants it real bad. She has hardly left the nest in 4 days. Even when I come by with good eats, she just hums softly and nestles in to the straw, where she has been gradually lining the box with some of her downier feathers. She is determined and certain of her purpose, and it makes me feel so sad to take the eggs in. No rooster, no chicks... no matter how long she sits on them. Poor Betty. Poor Amelio, our would-be rooster was a gentleman and gentle suitor to his lady love, Betty.

You mustn't think I am overly sentimental. You have only to hear Betty croon and coo, to see her dedication and look in to her maternal chooky eyes, to know her intentions are sincere. Our 3 chicas of El Rancho were sweet ladies, but none of them displayed mothering instincts. If they had behaved the way Betty is, we would have had the space to bring in a sweetheart... no paramour, but a real partner and companion, but Betty is not in that fortunate situation. She will have to find some other hobby or outlet. Her Valentine's Day will be without chocolates and flowers. And she will have no Mother's Day. Poor Betty.

Monday, February 09, 2009

My Favorite Vegas

Vegas is not my favorite, but I have discovered my favorite version of Vegas, and it's at Legoland California.

We were there, the real Vegas, once in '97, maybe it was '96... yeah, '96. Alex was a toddler, William was fascinated by pirates and Geoff had a conference to attend. He must have been working for a healthy company, because they sent the 4 of us, all expenses paid. Arriving in Las Vegas with 2 children, one does not hope to catch shows or learn blackjack. I went for the clean sheets, fresh towels and a 2 day break from dishwashing... sweet!

What was the conference? It had to be a tech/gaming/graphics/electronics theme... whatever it was, it booked the whole town, which was quite awesome, because all the geeks were in meeting rooms and convention halls and all the pools, buffets, freebies and rides were practically empty. The boys and I walked all over the place and enjoyed the last days of the ill-fated "Vegas is for Families" campaign. We stayed in the Luxor, which was mind-blowing for William who was also a huge Egyptology enthusiast. While Geoff did his thing, we traipsed over to the MGM and discovered they had rides and shows for children and families, so besides the superficial glitz and glam of the hotels and general environs we had actual activities and entertainment, and no one was there! It was exclusively ours.

The pyramid is the hotel and inside the rooms are on the perimeter, overlooking the interior. It was an impressive layout, but kind of nauseating when staying with young children... it was hard to resist hanging over the railing to look down and from many floors up, it was a long way down. And there was so much to see! Every hotel has its theme, and before you get jaded looking at yet another slot machine, you can have a good time being engrossed by the lengths they go to fill the places up with eye candy. The Luxor was brimming with ancient *artifacts* and replica treasures, so cocktail waitresses aside, it was kind of like visiting a very glamorous museum.

I believe this, New York-New York, was what we were watching under-construction from our Luxor room, but maybe it was the Venetian. All I know is that I really love watching stuff under-construction. I love the earth movers and the cranes, the dirt and dust. I marvel at engineering and coordination and design. It's no less amazing when achieved with Lego bricks.

Vegas is strange. Everything is fake, but of course very real. It's right there in front of you, so it has to be real, but I see the superficial qualities and half expect the walls to evaporate, and everything to disappear, like a mirage. I had a very good time, because I had no expectations, no illusions. Someone was kind enough to make our beds and serve us 3 generous meals and I never had to scrub a pan or change a bulb.

What really struck me though was that look of disappointment and boredom I kept seeing in people's faces. Not every visitor was a geek, there was room for a few pockets of regulars, tourists, dreamers. They were drifting in out of buffet lines and sitting dutifully at slot machines. Even out in the light of day, they looked like unhappy investors in a fool's paradise. They looked like they wanted more stimulus, more glitter, more, more, more, and they wanted it served to them... they were not going to go traipsing and exploring for their fun. I thought it was hilarious, especially the kind of Farside characters in the casinos... cigarettes dangling from crestfallen lips, glazed expressions on made-up faces... lots of leisure wear and high hair, big rings, and bedazzled accessories, but every one of them defied their shiny exteriors and exuded profound sadness, loss, and disengagement. They lacked gratitude, awareness, joy. Vegas is strange, baby, very strange.

How many bricks to make Camelot? I do not know, but it must be in the millions. Can you imagine designing, planning and constructing something this elaborate and assembling it with Lego bricks? Amazing.

Legoland has a section in the park called Miniland USA and it's quite a sight in terms of construction and creativity, and it is also interesting when you know the places, towns and regions they are representing in bricks. Vegas looks just like Vegas. They go to great lengths to include the details and regional flavors of D.C. and New Orleans, New York and California, so that if you have been to those places you have the delight of rediscovering that place on a whole new scale.

Cars and buses are moving around, and a recording plays the kind of ambient sounds you might expect to hear in a bustling city. I love the landscaping... lamps and bridges are all made of Legos parts, but the trees and lawns, gardens and flowers are all achieved with live plants.

...Okay, twist my arm... I will boast for a moment. When we sold El Rancho, one of the buyer's family members was a landscaper from Legoland, which we thought was really cool. He had a lot of praise for the landscaping design at El Rancho, and you bet I swelled a bit when he spoke in such glowing terms of the layout and plant selections. We got help putting everything in, but the entire design and every plant choice was mine. Good memories. Sigh

This is where Vegas puts on a glorious fires blazing,seafarers dashing, 2 ships and cannons blasting, pirate show. Even after all these years I can recall the heat of the fireworks and feel William absolutely quivering with the delight of live theatrical spectacle. The pirates were manly and swashbuckling, with open shirts... you know, to be authentic, ahem. It was all so real and so fake, and so fun and maybe we'll go back and see that again.

I call this one "Pink vs. Vader" Pink is totally going to win, every time.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Dropping In

Periodically I contemplate quitting blogging, and usually it is only a matter of needing a break or a fresh view. I appreciate the archives too much to totally dismiss the point of making regular posts. But this latest break, the week since my last post, has proven 1 thing to me... blogging is really easy to walk away from... whatever void or absence perceived is soon forgotten and very quickly filled in by other events, other stories. Nature does not like a vacuum and neither does the Internet.

I love to come across other people's posts about the why's of keeping a web log, a public journal. I find it reassuring to be reminded that I am not alone in trying to understand, justify and clarify what I share and why I share and how I share... I am not alone in trying understand my labels and how I relate to the world, the patterns I repeat, the journey... it's so good to know other people are trying to figure themselves out too. But I did need to take a break. I did not want to face, in bold printed words, my petty thoughts, my destructive ideas, my self-defeating patterns... I really needed to step away from the chance I might make too many regrettable, out-loud statements, which is kind of odd... I really admire and appreciate open, honest, whole truth kind of posts from other bloggers.

The good stuff... let's see.

1. Janece asked to be interviewed and she poured her heart in to the 5 questions, answering them in 2 posts. Post #1 rekindled my wanderlust, and I am ready to make a long, winding, sight-filled road trip to Washington State. I need a month and I am prepared to never return to dry, dull, overpriced So Cal. To be fair: it is not dry at the moment, and not really all dull, but it is certainly overpriced. (Hold on... did she answer all 5? I think one more answer is still coming.)

2. Maria is enrolled in a dance class. She loves it. She wants to be there every day. She loves pink tights and tap shoes and having her hair put up and held with clips and bows. She loves her teacher and following directions and the music they dance to. Maria is very happy in her dance class. (I wish parents were allowed in the studio every class, because I am only mildly amused waiting with the nannies and manicure moms. No, not snarky, just real.) Where does the time go?

3. William is making a donation to Locks of Love! I gave him his last haircut, on the deck at the Treehouse... that was at least 3, maybe 4 years ago, so you can imagine the great lengths he's reached since then. At the website for the nonprofit organization, we learned that he had to donate a minimum of 10", so we were very pleased to see that he had 15" of thick, healthy hair to donate and he still has just enough to pull back. Here is their mission statement: Our mission is to return a sense of self, confidence and normalcy to children suffering from hair loss by utilizing donated ponytails to provide the highest quality hair prosthetics to financially disadvantaged children. The children receive hair prostheses free of charge or on a sliding scale, based on financial need.

I know... how about a picture, right? No. Nope. No way. He says I can take a picture of the ponytail in the ziplock bag. He's got a big heart and he's modest.

4. Alex and Max got haircuts too. Three handsome boys and a wonderful afternoon in the company of Daniel. Daniel has been our friend and barber since 1998, (D is for Daniel) and even though he retired, he still invites us over for cuts and catching up. We are so fortunate. I really cannot imagine having to go any where else, and the time spent there is reflective, happy, comfortable and good... maybe that's why I got a haircut too... I guess I didn't want the nice visit to come to an end. I gave him creative control, and a picture of a dazzlingly beautiful starlet, and he transformed my limp braid in to a sassy new do!

I know... how about a picture, right? No. Nope. No way. Just kidding. As soon as anyone cares to take my picture, I will post it.

That is all. I type slowly and the day is slipping away.