02 May 2010

Yes, You May (part 4)

Last installment!

The dress-up direction I received from Justin in preparation for the 30 Strangers shoot was (and I'm paraphrasing him very loosely here): Dress dark and come as you are, unless you're a slob. Fair enough. I went a-thrifting to see what sort of new-to-me black beauty of a top I could hunt up that would work with jeans. I figured if I couldn't have my mom there with me too, I could at least carry on her indigo legacy. Symbols—I like them. What I found instead of the perfect shirt was the perfect dress, retro J. Peterman, in mint condition. Eight bucks. And just right as an expression of the classic style handed down to me by my mother and her mother—one I love but often lay aside. Finding that piece of them felt like a particular blessing. And the dress paired well with the shiny red slingback pumps I'd picked up for I think six bucks during an earlier second-hand spree. I bought those shoes with two special people in mind—my darling vivacious gram, known throughout her life as Lady Bug, and my dear friend Caitlin, who once convinced me that every woman needs a pair of red shoes. The shoot was my first time wearing them. A red bracelet my mother bought for me years ago and enough red lipstick to last me a week completed my simple ensemble, and then it was, "Alright, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup." Well, more or less. Mum told me as we drove to the studio that she got married in red slingback pumps. That's a nice connection.

On the way to our appointment, I revealed a secret to Mum, one that went right along with the generational theme of the day. Now I'm ready to tell it to you too, the nutshell version. On Wednesday of this week, Rob and I will go to an adoption orientation and intake meeting with LDS Family Services. We are laying down real money. Non-refundable money, even. Who knows if anyone will choose us as adoptive parents, but we are determinedly heading down that road of searching. I feel very emotional when I think of it. Inspired. And absolutely terrified. I'm forty-what? (Don't answer that.) And I know how much? Next to nothing? I guess we'll find out if the opportunity presents herself or himself. Anyway, you are all very cordially invited to celebrate the  strange and wonderful step we're taking on Cinco de Mayo 2010. Wherever you are, if you'll include us in your prayers and/or thoughts, and if you'll eat some beans and rice and dance a little salsa in solidarity that day, we will be much obliged.

I still sometimes can't believe I'm saying and doing these things. That we are, Rob and I. It's so surreal.

Isn't life one surprise after another?

So, here we are, finally at Hackworth Photography ready to shoot some photos. Mum and I creep up the stairs and slip into Justin's office and... well, he is just lovely, as I knew he would be. So gracious and engaging. There was nothing forced or difficult or irredeemably awkward about the experience. Justin put the two of us as much at ease as two camera-phobes can get, I believe. I can truthfully say that I had fun, in spite of myself. Plus Mum struck me as just so beautiful, and it touched me to get to do this with her.

But this is the thing I most want to say about Justin—and whether he meant to do this or not probably doesn't matter—he shot my bad side. I mean after he'd been snapping us a while in different positions both together and apart, he sat me down in a chair and aimed that camera right at my beaky half. Do you have a good side that you try to position to face the world? If you do then maybe you know what I'm talking about. It's funny, but if you check out my nose from the left the line of it is clearly my dad's, and not bad at all. I look more like my idea of myself from the left. It's the side on which I part my hair and open my face to view. Check out that same nose and same face from the right, and it's my gram's nose, completely different, a stranger's profile. How can the two sides be or at least feel so different? No one thinks about it but me, I know that. And that's why I imagine Justin didn't consciously make a choice about good side/bad side. He merely shot the side that showed when he sat me down in a chair by the window. I felt my anxiety rise immediately—Oh, don't shoot her! She's the stranger, and she's got a wonky nose! I even laughed out a mild protest, but Justin paid it no mind and kept on shooting. Good for him. And I let him. Good for me. For that hour and a half that he and Mum and I worked together, I let him shoot into my bad side all he wanted. I let him really look at me, and approve of me, and I looked back at him, through his lens.

It was an oddly liberating experience. Something akin to surrender on my part, but a positive kind of surrender. It reminded me of the time, years ago, when my then-boyfriend's sister paid for the two of us to attend an Impact Training course. In those meetings we did a lot of things which took us beyond our comfort zones, but one evening especially made me cringe. That was the time I was assigned to sing a solo in front of the entire class of strangers (except for my boyfriend, of course), a capella. The National Anthem. For me at the time, it may as well have been a command to parade naked down Center Street, I dreaded it that much. I clearly remember though the way I felt once I began to sing, not as melodically as I wished, but not as monstrously as, say, Animal from The Muppet Show. Something began to happen inside me, likely the thing my boyfriend's sister paid too much money to have happen: certain fears shrank in size, leaving space for feeling brave and beautiful.

I suppose I'm actually offering kudos to two people. First, to Justin, for being the sort of interested observer and sensitive responder who subtly encourages his subjects to allow themselves to simply be beautiful. Second, to myself, for permitting someone—a stranger at the outset—to get close enough to take a long analytical look at me, then get closer still by peering into and capturing my foreign, so-called bad side. Somehow my "sides" don't feel as divided after that experience. On May Day, when Rob and I went out for a drizzly afternoon walk by the river, we snapped a few pictures of us together, and I felt a greater sense of ease with just being, and just smiling.

I wonder if any of this sounds sensible to anyone other than me, or if it reads rather like an endless flurry of narcissism. Can't worry over that too much; it is what it is. And part of what it is, is a metaphor for the rest of my life. I love patterns, and here I have a nice personal one to consider: Let go of fear, and beauty naturally increases.

After the shoot, I went to sleep that night and dreamed till morning that I was painting one canvas after another—large, loose, creative, vibrant, saturated images. Hour after hour I painted. I can't clearly recall now any specific subjects; I only remember all the wonderful color.

I felt so ready for May Day this year. I woke up with the words "beauty" and "joy" flying, untethered, in my mind. I felt ready to claim my queendom again.

And this is where I stop. I think I won't write any more serial posts for a while. Back to bullet lists for me, maybe.


Jamie said...

about 11 years ago, i stopped by to visit heidi with a then-boyfriend and "mum" was there (yay!) and we had the loveliest visit and when we left, boyfriend said, "I think Ellen is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen." we talked about her beautiful eyes and her pure, totally natural beauty/voice/smile, and the lovely genes she handed down (how heidi looked so much like her at certain moments, how their faces would probably sport the same lovely lines someday, etc.) I always remember that convo when i see "mum", so when I clicked over to the photos on facebook, I was struck by the same things again. and also YOUR amazing beauty--the fabulous dress & shoes--Justin did such a nice job capturing your gentleness. love, love, love it in every way. thanks for sharing this story and thank you for overcoming your shyness so the world can see your smilin' face! and thank you for inviting us to celebrate and pray for you as you begin your new adventure. our tortilla soup will be dedicated to you and we will raise a jarritos toast to babies! love you!

c-dub said...

of course i am thrilled for your news. and if i were in a position to choose adoptive parents i would choose you and rob in a heartbeat!

as for this: "Let go of fear, and beauty naturally increases?" words to live by. i shall ponder...


p.s. i still have $$, fresh eggs and some birthday soap for you. when can we meet for a walk or a ride or a yoga?

Melody said...

Georgia, this is so clear and real ... makes sense on every level.

I am gushing in short form here. I could say much more. You write beautifully, share your unique experiences that feel universal, share your bad side, share your best side (the inside) with all its celebration and joy and fear.

I started praying for you and your new baby about 10 days ago.. . in the shower, asked God to help you adopt, didn't know you were working on it.

My oldest child was born on May 5th so it will be easy to remember to add an extra prayer that day for your oldest child. My youngest was married on May 1st. Believe it or not, I thought of you and your children on May Day at the Manti Temple.

And the red shoes, the dress . .. don't get me started, Mr. Demille.

God bless you. I love you.

Kalli Ko said...

The thing about shooting with Justin is that I felt like perhaps he was seeing me as people do everyday. I didn't wear a lot of makeup on purpose, I didn't fix my hair out of the ordinary, and that's kind of how I wanted it to look. Me and Connie, mostly as we are, my one snaggle tooth and all.

And hooray for adoption!

Geo said...

Jamie, Jamie, I'm so glad you shared that. I will have to see that it reaches Mum's eyes. It's so very true—she is a beautiful creature all the way through. And as for the rest, dear, thank you, and I can't wait to squeeze your guts next time you're here.

CW, thank you, thank you! That's a real encouragement. Eggs & stuffs? Come any time, or see me at yoga this week, or both. Or let's meet. Or. I'm ready. (And I also have a serious goal to get better acquainted with the rec center this week. My reasons for being healthy are on the rise.)

Melody, your comment is the most incredible gift. My appreciation goes beyond words right now for your love and inspiration and sensitivity. So much strength you've given me. Thank you, dear friend. That was a lucky Cottonwood you loved so long ago....

Kalli, I believe you nailed the spirit of the project, and of (if I can say this without being too presumptuous) Justin's approach. I thought you and Connie were divine, truly. And contrary what some folks want to think, divine isn't glittery. What a relief that is. I never noticed a snaggle-tooth. Just beauty. xo

Jennifer B. said...

So beautiful. I'll pray too.

Geo said...


Becca said...

You are beautiful from every angle. I loved this post and hooray for your happy news!

Geo said...

A thousand mwahs, Becca!

suzanne said...

Happy. For you. With you. Happy.

AzĂșcar said...

This is NEWS!

Justin Hackworth said...

You have a bad side? Bull honkey.

Rachel said...


I saw your pictures on Justin's website and loved the beauty of them---of you!---of Ellen. I also LOVED your dress and shoes and wanted to go out and buy that exact outfit. I'm a thrift-store junky, but right now I'm wishing those items weren't thrifted so I could go right out and copy you.

Geo said...

AzĂșcar, true dat. It is such big news that I can hardly eat.

Justin, I'll say it again: I love your swear!

Rachel, you're very kind! I looked up the dress and shoes to see if they can still be purchased new. I couldn't find the shoes—Naturalizers, of all brands!—but the J. Peterman dress is still being produced, if you don't mind red or blue instead of black. Here's the link:
If you do a search for red pumps, you'll easily find some beauties that fit the bill. If you're a thrift shopper like me, you'll hate the prices, but who knows? Maybe you'll get lucky!

Mary said...

Oh, I'm so excited for you. I've often wondered if you'd ever consider adoption but it seemed too personal thing to bring up with someone who is essentially a bloggy buddy. Adopting Naren was easily one of the most beautiful and wonderful things in my life. I wish for you the same.

Geo said...

Mary, someday I want you to tell me as much as you're willing about Naren's adoption. I would LOVE to hear.

And, a buddy is a buddy in my book. Some of my best friends in this life started out as some version of pen pals.

Angela said...

I love this: "Let go of fear, and beauty naturally increases." I think I should get that quote framed! Much love to you on your exciting journey ahead.

Geo said...

Thanks, Angela!