Beauty

The Exhortation Proclamation

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The peacock that sits on my desk to remind me to display my feathers

Once upon a time, in the days before voicemail or texting or the Internet, I kept a box filled with handwritten letters from boyfriends. The box was inked red and white and once contained a small, boombox from Radio Shack that played my New Wave cassette tapes. The empty box became the depository for letters I received from boys, and it housed them safely until I needed a walk down memory lane or a reminder that I was worthy of love. Some of its contents were pages long, penned in perfect cursive and detailing elaborate stories as if letters written by a soldier during war time to his sweetheart back home. Some pages were filled with song lyrics or poems. Some were hastily scrawled notes on scrap paper recalling someone came by to see me. Some were actual store-bought cards with a sweet handwritten sentiment inside. And some were missives written from all the way across country that arrived weekly in the mail because writing was far less expensive than long distance phone calls and miraculously made the 1500 mile separation seem shorter. As a collection, those letters told a story of a young woman I didn’t recognize, a young woman who somehow garnered attention she didn’t understand.

When I became engaged to my husband and we were in the process of moving my things into his house, he asked me to get rid of the box. In his youthful insecurity, he felt there was no need for me to keep letters from old boyfriends; after all, he was my future. And in my youthful insecurity, I decided to acquiesce rather than risk a fight over a past that was long gone and could not be recovered. At 26, I had no idea tossing that box into the dumpster that sunny afternoon would be one of my only regrets and, at 47, my husband feels miserable for having asked me to do so. We live, we learn.

Even though that box and its beautiful expressions of youth were buried in a landfill in 1994, pieces of those penned creations had been read often enough they were indelibly etched into my memory. One sentence from one letter in particular struck a chord.

“If you came across a beautiful peacock with its feathers kept tightly closed, exposing their brilliant iridescence to no one, would you not exhort it to do so?” 

He had written it while sitting at the main desk in the University Memorial Center on the University of Colorado campus during the Odyssey of the Mind conference, noting with humor that the youth in the competition might be better termed the “oddities of the mind.” He had been trying to coax me out of my shell, and I had been railing against the notion that I even was in a shell. He was an incredibly bright, friendly, funny, and confident young man, and I thought he was the greatest thing since the invention of the Sony Walkman (look it up, kids). That he liked me enough to spend any time with me was an anomaly. Yet, he sat there, writing this note to try to convince me of my worth while I sat in complete denial and thought to myself with naive pride, “I know damn well what I am worth and there is nothing wrong with me the way I am so stop telling me how to be.”

As I continue to inch my way towards my fifty year milestone, I find myself drawn once again to that unforgettable sentence. It has taken me almost thirty years to understand that young man was attempting to hold a mirror up to me, to force me to look into it, to see how much I had going for me, and to help me understand what I was missing. Alas, I was not ready for that message then. Hell. Even though his sentence runs through my brain on a loop these days, I’m still not sure I’m ready to hear it. I spent so long being afraid of failure that I couldn’t even fathom reaching for success. It’s a sobering thought made worse by the current understanding that my inability to hear what he was saying cost me decades of ignorant struggle against myself. Some of us are slow learners, indeed.

Still…I’ve been thinking about the peacock I’ve been hiding and I’ve been working on relaxing those feathers a bit, fanning them out a little at a time before pulling them back in to keep them safe. Every time I sit down to practice my drums, they open. Every time I allow myself to entertain the notion that I could write a book, they unfold a bit more. When I think about going back to college and pursuing a new career, I feel them display a little more. And each time the sunlight hits them, I come to becoming the me I was destined to be before I learned to be fearful instead. With each flash of their brilliance, I get more encouragement from those around me and I warm to the notion maybe there is something to me worth appreciating.

So, if you ever come across a stubborn peacock who is acting like a chicken, please write them a letter and exhort them to embrace and display their beauty. You never know when those words might be just the thing needed to open their eyes to their own possibility — even if it takes them nearly thirty years to get there.

 

Magic Mirror On My Wall

Magic Mirror versus Mean Mirror

Magic Mirror versus Mean Mirror

There are a lot of dated features in our new, 1964 home. Terracotta-colored ceramic tile covers the walls in the full bath. The living and dining rooms both showcase half walls connected to the ceiling with carved, wooden spindles meant to open things up while still keeping them appropriately and decorously separated. And the dining room light fixture, which is a perfect cousin to the hallway wall sconce, is an antique bronze monstrosity with frilly, white, opaque glass covers over the bulbs. As I walk by these outmoded design relics now, I cringe with the realization that everything has a time. Someday, the updates we give this home in 2016 will look as garish to a family circa 2056 as these 1964 features appear to me now. To everything, turn, turn, turn. Nothing is immune. Well, almost nothing.

There is one piece left behind by the original owners that I have no intention of removing. At the end of the bedroom hallway upstairs, there is a full-length mirror held in place by wall brackets mounted flush with the top and bottom of the mirror. It is a simple piece, glass encased in a quiet, wooden frame with curved sides and a hint of metal for adornment. When we were originally looking at the house as it was staged for sale, it was one of the few accoutrements that I genuinely appreciated in the interior. I hoped the sellers wouldn’t take it with them and was glad to find after closing that they had left it for us. I realize now it would have been a bear to remove, which is probably why it was left behind. Besides, who wants to risk breaking a large mirror right before signing the final sale documents, right? A mirror that size has to be worth at least 14 years of bad luck.

It wasn’t until we had taken possession of the home and I began spending time there working on plans and painting that I came to fully appreciate this mirror that I walk by daily. You see, it’s a magic mirror. Just like the one the Wicked Queen kept in her castle in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it tells me what I want to hear. In it, I feel nearly the fairest of them all. While waiting for the wifi installer one morning, I took a photo of myself in that mirror and shared it with my husband hoping for validation of my discovery.

“Look. It’s a skinny mirror,” I told him handing him the photo.

“That’s what you always look like,” he said, unfazed, while handing back my phone.

I looked at the image again.

“Nuh uh. This is NOT what the mirror at home makes me look like. The mirror at home is mean. I look bigger in that mirror. This mirror makes me about 5’7″, I figure.” (I am actually a statistically shorter-than-average 5’4″.)

“The mirror at home is the liar. This mirror is how you really look,” he said, adding, “I’ve been telling you for years that you look much better than you think you do.”

My mouth twitched sideways while I considered his words, which of course were well intentioned but totally wrong.

“I don’t think so. I think this is a fun house mirror. It stretches you. I am sure the mirror at home, mean as it is, tells the truth. I like this mirror a lot better, though. It makes me feel good. It shall be mine forever,” I resolved.

Now, it wouldn’t matter if the mirror was held in a god awful, neon pink, plastic frame that clashed with the muted and modern decor I have planned for our new home. I would still keep it. Every time I walk down the hall, I marvel at how good I look for 47. That mirror is a gift at a time when gravity is not my friend and wrinkles and gray hairs appear with increasing speed and unkind ferocity. That mirror does something no one else has ever been able to do for me; it makes me feel good about myself one hundred percent of the time. Without make up, with unwashed hair, in sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt splattered with wall paint, I still look fabulous. I have pointed the mirror out to every woman who has entered our house. They have all agreed that it is a surprisingly flattering mirror, and this proves that my magic mirror is a bit of a fibber. I mean, when do women ever look in a mirror and feel happily satisfied with their appearance? Almost never, that’s when. It is, without a doubt, a magic freaking mirror.

I have spent most of my life battling poor self-esteem. I have never felt like I was good enough, smart enough, talented enough, or pretty enough. After years of self-flagellation and denial, I’ve started therapy and I’m working daily to appreciate my positives instead of focusing on the negatives. I’ve put some distance between myself and situations that only fostered greater self-doubt. I am operating from more of a “why not?” posture instead of a “who are you kidding?” stance. And, little by little, I am feeling better.

I’m not sure why the previous owners left the magic mirror behind, but I am grateful. Everyone should have a mirror that reflects their best. We all deserve that daily affirmation. As for the mean mirror in my current house? I’m walking by it with my arm outstretched these days, telling it in my sauciest tone to talk to the hand. I’m not interested in its nasty temperament. It will stay with this house when we move because I’m not packing that shit with me. I’m moving on, lighter, happier, and suddenly three inches taller.

The Ponce de Leon Syndrome

Ignore the facial hair and focus on the balayage brilliance.

Grey? I don’t see no stinking grey.

“If I can challenge old ideas about aging, I will feel more and more invigorated. I want to represent this new way. I want to be a new version of the 70-year-old woman. Vital, strong, very physical, very agile. I think that the older I get, the more yoga I’m going to do.” ~Jamie Lee Curtis

I was sitting in the chair having my hair guru, Danielle, work the miracle of balayage on my way-too-quickly-greying tresses when I came across an article about a growing trend of women shaving their faces. One of my joys in going to see Danielle is that I get to check out all the latest copies of People, US, and In Style without actually having to buy any issues. It’s how I get to act like a typical female without having to admit to a grocery store clerk that I am typical. But I am going to have to stop reading these publications if articles like this continue to pop up. Why can’t I just read in peace about Bruce Jenner’s transformation to woman without realizing I’m failing as one when I already have all the right parts?

As I battle the march of Middle Age, a battle that becomes more arduous and gruesome as my forties pass, I can barely make time for whitening toothpaste, moisturizing sunscreen, and a daily appointment with my Clarisonic (which is really more of an every third or fourth day meeting if I am being honest). Now I’m supposed to add shaving to my already overtaxed routine? Apparently, this is the latest resurgence of an old exfoliation trend. The article claims that mens’ skin is much less wrinkly and smoother because they shave, thereby removing dead skin cells each time they drag a razor across their face. You can have this dermaplaning done at a dermatologist’s office or spa for between $85-150 a month or you can buy razors and attempt to master the technique yourself and repeat it every four weeks. The more I thought about it, the more it began to make some sort of sense. Most men age pretty darn well. But, still, are you kidding me? Is this what it’s coming to? It’s almost like there’s someone out there trying to see what wild things they can get American women to buy into. The beauty industry does quite well for itself.

I’m not thrilled about getting older. In a few months, I am slated to hit 47. Forty-freaking-seven. And as much as I am trying to be all zen about it, I am not even remotely there. Am I glad I’m still on this planet after nearly a half of a century? Absolutely. Living is much better than dying. But long life comes with aging and aging isn’t pretty. I struggle with the reflection in the mirror. I notice the wrinkles, the blossoming jowls, the dark circles, and the skin imperfections earned after too many days at high altitude without sunscreen because when I was a kid it was SPF 4 tanning lotion on my redheaded body at the pool. It freaks me out. Maybe I should skip the shaving? Honestly, I might be better off with a full beard, now that I’m thinking about it. A beard could hide all sorts of stuff. Wonder if I can grow enough chin hair for that?

I’ve tried all sorts of things to make myself feel like I don’t look my advancing age. My latest insanity is micro needling to improve skin texture, but even poking myself in the face to increase collagen production doesn’t seem to be helping. No matter what I do or how much I invest, time’s gonna keep right on marching across my face. And even if I enlist every treatment known, from Botox to fillers, from laser skin treatments to facelifts, I’m never going to look 20 again. I could spend the GDP of Lithuania on anti-aging treatments, but it won’t stop the inevitable. The years will take their toll.

So I am now trying to discern what aging gracefully might look like for me and how I might achieve it. I think every day about my friends who are on the backside of 50 and who assure me that all my insanity over my appearance will decrease. Eventually I will become more comfortable in my own skin and won’t care as much how I look. I won’t give a second thought to staying younger looking by adding a close shave to my routine. I’ll strive for good health. I’ll focus on drinking lots of water, eating my greens, getting restful sleep, practicing more yoga, and cultivating bigger smiles. And I’ll stop reading stupid articles about how shaving will make me look younger.

Truth is that I am much happier with myself now than I ever was at 20. Would it be nice to have my 46-year-old wisdom in my 20-year-old body? Sure it would. Just like someday I will wish for my 70-year-old wisdom in my 46-year-old body. But I’m not a Disney fan and I don’t live in Fantasyland. This idea we have as a nation about women staying and looking young into our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond is a bit Ponce de Leon. If we’re smart enough to acknowledge that the Fountain of Youth doesn’t actually exist, we should be smart enough to know we can’t wish it into existence either.

We spend our youth looking forward to being older and our adulthood wishing we were younger. It’s a horrible paradox. I’m working on becoming more zen about aging, but I have a feeling I’ll be working on it until the day I die.