Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

"Touch your forehead," I say to Cecilia. I want her to feel the sweat, the flesh, the weight of her forehead. It has substance. It acts. It reacts. Feel what you are made of, I think.

"Now," I say to her, offering a feel of my own to someone NotMe for the first time in my life--that I had control of. "Feel here." I guide her fingers to the fleshy, warm, wet skin of my temple. "Feels the same." I move back.

"Now, feel here..." and I guide her fingers to the thin, darker skin of my forehead. "Feel here."

I can see her face change. She moves through expressions of discovery. Realization that what she expected to feel was not what she found. The skin is smooth. It is tight. There is just skin, and then there is bone. There is no fat. There is no muscle. There are very few nerves. I do not flinch under her touch. I can barely feel it.

I tell her I was one of those people they tested skin expanders on. My hair was once one quarter of the hair on my head. We spread it. No one knew the consequences.

1.) I overheat when exercising. I have about 1/4 the pores on my head as the rest of you. When I run, play tennis, lift weights, I do not have the physiological ability to cool off through my head like you do. It took me until I was in my 30s to figure that out. Why I turned so read doing exercises my body was fully capable of handling.

It also explains why when my parents wanted me to wear hats skiing, why I said no. I wasn't losing that much heat. I was warmer inside because I couldn't lose that heat through my head.

I still can't.

2.) Head massages are useless. People seem to love head massages. There is a little patch on the back, left side, that has what I assume is mostly real feeling, and that feels very nice. Move off that one inch, and I am indulging you. Sorry.

3.) I have resisted getting wrinkles. Perhaps it's because I have lost those sagging muscles and my skin is pulled so tightly that it won't sag... Maybe it will later. I should perhaps not be shy about having that altered in the future. It was done enough in the past.

4.) If someone is operating on your face, ask to be put to sleep all the way. One of the awfulest things you can experience is the sound of someone cutting your face. The sounds it makes when they are sewing things up, when you are awake and can hear them, but you cannot feel them.

It was my last. The last I would let happen.

The last time I would live as someone who needed to be fixed.

Writing that makes me realize the strength 18 year old me had, that was lost on my own self as I grew older, thought men mattered more, thought being beautiful meant more than being me. I have never thought twice though, about that decision I made then.

I am done.

This is as fixed as I will ever be.

Take me, baby, or leave me.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

For My Grandfather, An Homage to Unconditional Love

I found this photograph going through my things to find the letter Phatiwe left me on the day she died. My best friend passed away six years ago today and left me a letter. I was going to make myself read it. And share it. And live by what she wished for me. It was aggressively loving and kind.

But what I found instead bears as much weight.

It's a photograph I took of my grandfather, with his favorite pie -- strawberrry chiffon. A strawberry-filled creamy delight with flaky doughy crust. Sublime. He is gleeful. I am as well, photographing it for my graduate school class. Photojournalism. Events. Making sure you capture "that thing". It's the thing I do best with the camera. In this he poses. But that smile is actually just for me.

We used to fight over how big a slice we each got, and I'm not sure it was always in jest.

Taking this photograph is among my top 3 memories of him.

First, when I was leaving for India and would miss Christmas for the first time, he came to me with an issue of National Geographic about a drought in India. If I went there would be no water! I'd die! I assured him that the family I was traveling with were doctors from NYU, and they would not let me die. I got some kind of parasite... But I came home safe and sound. He lived four more months. I will not write about our goodbye. I have that image seared in my brain. I hate it. I love it. I share with with some of you. I hope to never understand his quiet determination in those days. He did it out of love, I think. That impish glint in those eyes above. "My pie. But I'd give you the moon," they say.

Second best memory of my grandfather: sometime after I graduated from college... Oh. I guess there are more than those two. But this one first. Maybe they are the same memory...

The night before my Dartmouth graduation I sang my last set at the Lone Pine Tavern, the campus pub where I performed every other Friday. We packed the house. And sitting in the front was my family - grandmother, grandfather, parents, sisters. And the friends who had come dozens of times to support me because they loved me - and maybe liked what I was doing. Or they just loved me and knew how much it mattered to me. It was sweet and powerful and I was shy and shining at the same time.

I remember singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and meeting Jamie's eye, and seeing how proud my family was, me singing before my friends.

I was the only one of his 19 grandchildren that my grandfather watched graduate from college. He never did. I think I did him proud. At least I hope I did. 

Later, when I was writing or in publishing or something, my grandfather said to me "after  your graduation, I thought you'd be going into music or something, but..." I can't remember the rest. I just remember thinking he though I'd be a musician, and was proud of me, and that made me realize my own ideas about being an artist and being a success were not at odds with one another. I could be an artist and still make my family proud. He was ready to love me whatever I chose. And to support whatever that was. The least-likely supporter, in some ways, of a singer, painter, actor, writer... but that is my own prejudice about what people like. What entrepreneurs who build businesses that build stadiums should value. I thought he would think my singing was silly.

I was wrong.

I will always cherish that. And try to remember it in those times I beat myself up for this or that. Whatever failing I imagine in myself. And I will try to remember... I sang a song once, and my grandfather thought it was good enough that everyone would want to hear me sing.

And staring down my 34th birthday, I wish I could embrace myself that fully. I watch my niece, "two in June", and I see her dance. And by dancing, I mean moving whatever part of her body she thinks should move to whatever part of any song she sees fit to move to. We clap. We spin. We wave. We bounce. I adore every single move she makes. In my eyes, she can do no wrong. I adore her, and cherish her smile, with a love I didn't know I was capable of feeling.

When I am with her, we exist in a realm without self-consciousness. We exist in a place of pure joy.

Which is what I see in my grandfather's face in this photograph. That place families live. When we all just say, "Yes, I love you."

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Curate My Life Through Twitter

Twitter, when used, I think, in its greatest capacity brings together the social networky-ness of Facebook and the pervasive Interwebs roundup that is the Google Reader. I find the Google reader interface to be too overbearing and I never have the time or patience to scroll back through things. I'd rather someone give me a 140 character blurb about it with a link and I can go read it, or favorite it to go back to later.

And you can find some fascinating stuff. I got a copy of a journal called Afterzine in the mail the other day because I wound up following the man who edits it because I followed the Paris Review blog editor because my neighbor Caitlin used to work there and so I followed her too. I bought the journal because its founder said he'd give half the proceeds to a Japan relief organization. About a day or two before every retailer started trying to use the earthquake for marketing.

For an indie journal printed in someone's apartment in Brooklyn, it seemed an appropriate way to raise money for a cause. For J Crew, it just seemed douche-tastic.

But poking around Twitter unearths a treasure-trove of tumblrs and blogs and articles and journals and novels and news about Book Court and what happened when four New York Times journalists were kidnapped and the crazy shit Fahmiwrite's kids say. (They're awesome.)

And sometimes I can make y'all read my stories.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Renaissance Redux

So much has happened. So many things found and lost and my heart was broken again, but by someone from whom I least expected it.

I stopped writing.

I stopped wanting to share. The days were dark. The nights were long. It was always snowing. I was broken.

But I had weathered much harsher storms. And so I emerge. As one does. Slightly softer. Slightly harder. Not who you expected you would be. As you perhaps did, once the snow finally melted and you remembered what it was like to squint because the sun was shining.

I had a lot to say, but couldn't be bothered.

Now, I ask again. Indulge me.