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.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Dear Colon


Dear Colon,

I'm writing to you to say how sorry I am. There's no excuse for my bad behavior, and every reason to apologize. You've mostly been good to me, and I've been a bad friend.

I think we got off on the wrong foot ten years ago, back when I was newly married, that time when you just freaked out on me for no reason. One minute I'm at the mall doing a little shopping and the next, I'm at home, on the bathroom floor unable to move. You were having some kind of trouble receiving oxygen and by golly, you had a shit fit.

Interesting aside: As I lay on the floor, figuring out the best way to crawl to the phone, I wondered if anyone might get mad at me for calling an ambulance. Like, what if it turned out I just needed a fart and a beer? Was I saving my ambulance call for a time when I might be MORE incapacitated than face down on the floor, bleeding from my ass?

Anyway, colon, this isn't about what you've done, its about me, and what I've done to you. This is, after all, an apology.

People do weird things to their colons. Sometimes they put heroin in tiny balloons and store them in there for the journey. That's nothing. Me, I take about two-and-a-half pounds of roast beef , a half pound of ham, wrap it in sticky buns and casserole, roll it in about a quarter pound of butter, and some cheese, then powder it all with confectioners sugar and coffee grounds and I tamp it down into you like you're a child's Christmas stocking. I imagine you bursting with artichoke dip and yorkshire pudding in the same way those knit stockings are pointed with dollar store toys and Pez dispensers. Again, I'm sorry.

After that whole blood clot thing you did, we've never been right with each other. You've proved yourself to be a bit of a moody prick, I don't mind telling you, and as such, I've treated you like one. Take THAT! I say with a second helping of tenderloin. Nuts? Did you say you wanted nuts? By all means, have a dish of nuts over two days. I think you'll enjoy crushing those up.

You don't fight fair either. You just storm out of the room. No discussion. You decide that I will not have use of any part of my digestive system from now until...you feel like it, or I've repented with a monks diet of twigs and water. What kind of system is that? Who does that benefit? I mean, ultimately, you know I'll just have my doctor shove a camera up there on five feet of tubing and see what you're up to. So really, what's the point of the stalemate?

I want us to be friends, Colon, I really do. There's a lot of you to love and you have some fine qualities. I've seen pictures of you happy, and pictures of you sad, and I like seeing the happy ones with you all pink, looking like an upside down smiley face. The ones of you looking like a twisted piece of old shoe leather make me feel pity and shame.

So anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I am going to try to do better by you. I'm not going to be as reckless with your feelings. I'm going to remember you in my actions. A little warm water at night. Some fiber cereal in the morning - I know what you like. Some probiotics as a special treat. Don't worry, I've got your back. I promise I will not hold you open and choke you like a goose with its liver on the way to becoming a fine pate.

But in return, I'd appreciate a little consideration from you. No more of this stranglehold. No more turning over on yourself and storming off like a spoiled kid. There are going to be times when you are just going to have to take it like a man. I'm not giving up sushi, so you'll just have to take one for the team, far as that goes. And there will be overindulgences from time to time. You know me, you know what I'm capable of, what makes me happy. Don't deny me these pleasures outright.

I'm looking forward to improved relations in the new year.

All the best,
Jess