Friday, December 30, 2011

The older I am, the Older I Get


I think everyone, even those who love the sound of their own voice - musicians, politicians, radio hosts - have had the terrifying experience of hearing their recorded voice played back to them unexpectedly. It's other-worldly and mostly awful. The disembodied howl you hear on that cassette from 1980, those phone messages, that video of your trip to cancun - that's all you baby, that's what you sound like to others. Imagine all the years you've subjected the universe, including the people you actually love, to the screeching torment of your vocal range. Yes, that squealing bellows of sound is your human voice and it's what you give off. We're not really meant to hear our own voices in that way. That realm of sounds should be outgoing only.

Seeing your own photo is like that too. There you are, living a moment so beautiful, glowing in conversation and laughter, when everything makes sense, feels right. You are funny, you are in charge of yourself and you are actively enjoying your time on earth. Your connection with souls, sunset, music and food is positively vibrating with silent harmony. Perfection.

The next day you are shown a photo of that merry moment and what you see staring back at you is something else entirely. You are a malformed, hunched succubus of fat and wrinkle, roll and flake. Your hair looks like you molded it from corn husks and balanced it atop your tiny, tiny cranium, itself a shrunken apple on stooped shoulders. The circles under your eyes are slices of plum, floating in the porridge of your skin, sprinkled with chicken lips.

You stare at that writhing, rippled, loose-skinned, chinless, belly blob, with its gelatinous tits sliding into its corpulent armpits and you think, my god, who is that person and why wont they get a better bra?

The Iphone has that reverse photo feature, so the user can hold it up and shoot their own photo rather than the person out front. Sometimes that little icon gets pressed by my giant ham thumb, when I am, say, crouched over, trying to take a photo of a chair, and suddenly there I am, by accident, all of a sudden, at the worst possible angle, in ruthless light, and I will literally gasp at my own image.

This all sounds like false modesty. There is some serious, sad, ugly out there - people in crowds and lines that documentary films could feature. I gratefully acknowledge that I'm not in that neighborhood. Ugliness-wise I'm not even ringing that doorbell and running. What I'm talking about here is the grotesque discord between the person you feel yourself to be and the person your iPhone reflects you to be. Or the cassette, for that matter, portrays you to be.

These things don't matter, of course. Our physical beauty? Feh! We are but fleshy vessels for the love we feel for others. We are vehicles in which to transport our passion, our vision our silly walks and our lungs, like duffel bags to be filled with laughter.

But, from time to time I am allowed to forget, to indulge in vanity - I'm looking fine today, I think. Look at me go, all fresh and foxy. Then the universe sends me a cosmic jpeg, and, cue balloon-fart noise - there I am again.

Age, too, is funny in this way. Our perfect sense of self is expertly bubble wrapped for all eternity, vacuum sealed in a brine of self-recognition. You feel the same at five, as you do at forty-five. But the box your identity comes in gets quite damaged in life's shipping process. What you do, or don't do, over the years leaves its crumpled marks. The scars from poor hammer aim, or hasty interaction with the toaster over, leave your hands looking like oven mitts for the grim reaper. That zit you picked in 1990, isn't looking much better in 2011.

How is it we can become so loose, while also becoming so brittle? Once, while laying on my side in bed I had to ask my little boy, to "Please, move over honey, you're kneeling on my nipple." That same day I realized I couldn't even touch my kneecaps, let alone toes.

I know everyone has their personal doubts, their individual barcode for shame and self-loathing. I'm not sure it's comforting or just plain sad. It would be nice to have evolved more gracefully, and more completely, into light, fluffy clouds of self-actualization, instead of being perpetually earthbound by the corporeal full-nelson that grabs you, gives you nuggies and stuffs you in the locker of your own disgrace.

Only a few months after I'd had Lily, when I was pretty newly patched from her c-section, when I had a deep, red, raised gash torn across my belly and while my breasts were hot, hard and prone to activate like pre-dawn sprinklers on a Bel-Air lawn. I decided I'd pose for the photographer Spencer Tunick, whose images involve hundreds, and in this case, thousands, of naked bodies, posed in public spaces. I like to do things I think I can't possibly do.





Being naked alone is the worst. Nude with three thousand people is sublime, and here's why: Everyone is beautiful, all are hideous. In that random sampling I saw exactly one youngish woman with a magazine-worthy body that was lovely in both directions. I wasn't there to judge, but I was there to observe. And what I observed was this: Great boobs, terrible ass. Gorgeous face, coarse back hair. Picturesque bottom, zit-peppered face. Soy latte skin, pattern baldness. Giant belly roll, shapely legs. Bra roll, flat stomach. Toned arms, stump legs. Scars, birth defects, tattoos, dye jobs gone Mr Hyde. Crossed eyes, gnarled toes, alarming asymmetry, limps. Mocha, Vanilla, Chocolate, Shitake mushroom, prune. The family album of humanity depicts a comforting sameness in its vast variety - we are desperately flawed and perfectly resplendent. We are malformed and mutant, statues of David, all.

So, when I become too focused on my outsides, I like to give myself a little pep talk. It goes something like this: Shut the fuck up.

And I do, mostly, sometimes.


35 comments:

  1. That was excellent- well said.
    Neither the camera nor recorder are my friends, and I steadfastly avoid them. I don't even want to talk about images taken on phones or webcams... I always feel better when I go to the beach and see how damned VARIED we all are- only in Hollywood and in magazines is the world one big homogenous toothy, waxed, bleached twig of humanity. A good post for the edge of 2012...

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  2. Someone at a party or a job or a progressive school in massachusetts once expressed that collectively, the value we place on what's inside a person vs outside is proportional to how we treat disabled people in society. If we didn't value minds, we'd have no DAV, no ADA, no Section 508, no curb-cuts. Of course, if we valued them more, we have a lot less craptastic bs to wade through.

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  3. Ditto Naomi. That's an awesome ending to a comfortably masterful post. It doesn't feel like you're trying hard to write .... and I mean that as a compliment. Thanks for a sentiment I needed to hear.

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  4. Once again -- gene-yuss.
    Looks like you got over your writer's block.
    Way to bring in the new year!

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  5. Schickel... all I can say, is... you rock my world, woman! You have just un-isolated me AND made me laugh. What a great way to start a the New Year. Let the re-posting and Likes begin! From this 40+ , approaching 50 mom, with gray and gravity dominating, THANK YOU!

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  6. Thank you--unfortunately quite picturesque. I feel my reflection in the gaze of all the 20-somethings I go to school with, and the subsequent invisibility I endure, so I can really empathize.

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  7. Wait, there's another brilliant Schickelwriter? You're like a New Year's gift from Erika.

    Loved this post and the few before it, which I just gobbled down like potato chips (and I'm talking about the good ones, the salt-and-pepper kind from Whole Foods, not that Pringles crap). I laughed. I cried. It was better than Cats. I'm going to start at the beginning and work my way forward.

    Also, I completely relate to the horror that is iPhone reverse photo. I always think, Jesus, if that's what I look like I'm never leaving the fucking house again.

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  8. Way too true, Jess.

    I'm so fortunate: I don't have an iPhone. But I have mirrors. Lots of them. Pretty, pretty mirrors. Everywhere. Which is why I crawl like a marine from room to room - so they can't see me.

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  9. Oh my gosh, this was just fantastic, especially the line about the personal pep talk.

    Well done, you.

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  10. Fan.TAS.tic So great

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  11. Funny, well-written and oh! So true!

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  12. This is an absolutely lovely post! I have now added you to my blog roll. Also, that first picture? That's me every single morning and sometimes all day long. I hate having other people take pictures of me but don't mind doing it myself. I remind myself when I'm not feeling hot that I am by far one of the coolest people around and people love that. I don't need to wear a 3" skirt to get that.

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  13. Jessie--You are such a great writer!! So well observed, perfect tone, so wise! I am going to try to figure out how to subscribe so I will get a more regular fix of your gems. Your fan, Jenny

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  14. I am always surprised to see that although I feel young, fresh and slim I seem to appear on film as oldish, fat and bearing more than a passing resemblance to a weasel. So disappointing!

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  15. Thanks so much for this entry. It will be my anthem into the new year.

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  16. Wonderful and precise! Thanks for the chuckles and I love your style.

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  17. Absolutely brilliant and utterly liberating.
    -Deb Polansky's cousin thru marriage and a HUGE fan

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  18. As my mother approached her mid-80's she shared that it was shocking to see herself in the mirror and wonder who that old woman was staring back at her, in shock. I so get that now, and have decades to go until I approach that shocked-old-lady-in-the-mirror phase.

    And that surly woman in the mirror is so FAT, too! Jeez. Who IS that bordering-on-gifted-soprano's-body person? Sure, the foam and wire is a gift to the breasts, but honey, them Spanks aren't even offering an assist anymore.

    You hit it on the head, sister, and expressed it perfectly. Keep going !!!

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  19. "shitake mushroom" classic.

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  20. Purely genius and perfectly said.

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  21. i am grateful to be a friend of a friend of yours. i wouldn't have scrolled over to your blog. it's sublime.

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  22. Perfect! I'm so glad I checked out your blog - I am forwarding this to some friends immediately. I love what you wrote so much...I could only love it a teeny tiny bit more if it was: "Shut the fuck up...and have some red velvet cake" but that wasn't really the point of your writing I'm just thinking about how grand it was to have some cake today even though I am just as judgmental about my outward appearance as pretty much everyone else and I am still nursing a dream that I will get my 20-year-old college body back some day if I really work at it (I really will - I just know it!) ...but no matter what I will always have some cake or even a slice of pie if things get too harsh and it comes down to that! xoxo

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  23. You're gorgeous and brilliant!

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  24. Great writing. Fantastic article.
    But for a WRITER - don't you think your TAG line should be grammatically correct?!! There needs to be an apostrophe between the "its"!! How did no one else ever point that out? lol

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  25. CJ - It's been nearly three years and I've never noticed the error. Thanks for being a good editor. And, you know, think of it as wabi sabi.

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  26. I knew you a lifetime ago. I liked you then and like you even better now! When I look at my 63 year old face, I now know who I see. It's my MOM! The old lady in the too big glasses, that are smudged with food and the ever present crumbs on my lips. I am growing so familiar with that reflection, I hardly remember the me I longed for...for so long. Thank you for the great words and for the daughter that sent me your Blog! I will keep on, keeping on...

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    Replies
    1. P. From where do I know you? Do tell.

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  27. I laughed so hard I cried. I live in an apartment that has one whole large wall that is mirrored so I can relate to this shock at one's reflection so much. This wall has been the worst thing for my self esteem each morning!

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  28. Can you drape it in black gauze?

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  29. So well written and so true. If you had self-esteem at one time it is gone by now.

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  30. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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