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.