I needed some photos of me working for a thing. They needed them by tomorrow. So, a few weeks ago—when I was still working and not ensconced in this postage-stamp cottage, watching the sun rise (trying to keep my jet lag going for when I go back to work) and listening to the screaming wild chickens all around me and wondering which beach we should go to today, and if I should have a papaya or a lilikoi (passionfruit) or banana from the back yard to eat for breakfast—we took some photos.
And that was the day I realized that someday I will die.
None of the photos came out right.
We were in the middle of the busiest holiday season of our lives. I had roped in all the employees I could find, Jacob plus any of his family members who happened to be circulating the area at the time, and even passing friends to help with the deluge. “Do you have a second? Can you put packing tape on that box and put that stack of boxes in the car? Then if you wash your hands and put on gloves and put those truffles that Pippa’s making into those red cups, you can eat as many of them as you want.”
That’s pretty much how my December went. I didn’t sit down for a meal for the entire month, and I remember vividly thinking that undoing my belt and pants and long underwear and underwear underwear was way too time-consuming and I should just get one of those things David Sedaris got so I could just pee in my pants.
It was a very successful month. But it didn’t allow much time for elaborate photo shoots. And we don’t have any professional lights or anything, our one trick for taking good photographs is to move the thing you want to photograph to the chairs by the window and remember to shoot it in the 4 hours between getting the shop open and the sun going down. But when someone says they need photographs of you, you give them photographs of you, because it’s for a good cause, and it’s good for business, and all that. So I brushed out my hair and hoped that everyone seeing the photos would know IT WAS ONLY DOWN FOR THE 10 MINUTES OF THE PHOTO SHOOT, and put on lip gloss, and Maresa fixed my skirt so it didn’t look bunchy, and then she and Casey and Pippa did work out of sight and giggled at me and I told them to shut up or I’d kill them, and Jacob took the photos.
We looked at the first few after we took them, and everyone agreed: they sucked. My favorite was the one that only showed pretty people, like Maresa and my friend Nelly.
Everyone else agreed that the lights on that center island, which I myself designed particularly for chocolate-making, and which are super eco-friendly and dimmable and otherwise great for *work,* are just awful for photo shoots because they cast terrible shadows on a person’s face and make everything a bit sallow and yellowy. Also my ensemble, which I had hoped would look sort of Mary Tyler Moore vintage-work-lady, looked dowdy and blah.
But mostly what I noticed is that my cheeks are atrocious. Why were they creating that horrible line on my face? Why were they so puckery, so chipmunky? I kept saying, “Hold on, my face is being weird.” because IT WAS. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror.
Truth be told, friends, I’ve always been on good relations with my body. I’ve mentioned this before. I’ve had (here comes the standard lagusta-blog sob story…) some hard times in my day, and my body, my self, my innermost and outermost two beings, were always there for me. When I was a kid and things were bad, I sat in my bedroom and hugged my knees because, truly, my knees were the only huggable, lovable, friend-able thing in my life. We had to stick together, this body and me. We were all we had. So, mercifully, I didn’t go through that awful thing most girls go through during puberty, where their body becomes an other to be hated. I didn’t mind, terribly, anything my body did. Hairs and blood and all that, what can you do. We’re still in this together. My body has always been my pal.
But looking in the mirror that day I realized that I’m going to get wrinkles, and my skin is going to sag, and everything is just going to shit, and this photo shoot is the demarcation line between something pure and wonderful—my relationship with my beloved body—and THE FUTURE, which is going to be hell.
And of course I stopped myself to ask myself what the hell was wrong with me—I’m some kind of feminist, even if I was being a horribly shallow one that day. Older women are beautiful! Don’t I love older women? Aren’t I friends with so many of them, look up to them, make them my mentors and my confidants? Yes yes yes. But they are—older women. It’s OK for them to look, ah, older. They are. But me, I’m just this little kid, messing around with chocolate, and I shouldn’t have weird cheeks that I can tell are going to get paunchy when I get older…
…What the fuck? Right about here is where, still looking in the mirror with everyone working in the kitchen all cramped because I was hogging the center island and Jacob holding the camera in one hand and playing Words with Friends on this phone in another and packing up boxes with his third arm, I realized I’m more insane than I thought. A kid? Is that really how I think of myself? I’m 33 years old. I have three mortgages. I own the building I was standing in.
I need to make my peace with growing older. That’s what those damn, annoying, yellowy, chipmunk-ckeeky photos taught me.
I put back my hair. I put my apron back on. I tried to smile.
I changed my hair again. I put on a necklace.
I did weird little dances.
I stood up straight.
I took off my work apron and put on the cute vintage apron that matches the kitchen that Veronica found for me at the vintage shop where she works. I tried to make sexyface at the camera.
I stood up straight, pushed my boobs out, AND did sexyface.
It was all getting to be too much. I was starting to get loopy.
No matter what we did, those photos just did not look good.
We tried again the next day, even though the photos were due right away.
My face still didn’t look like what I ordinarily recognize my face as, but I kept on plugging away.
I put on lipstick. It made me look garish. All that work I’m doing? It’s real work. I needed to get all those boxes finished and shipped off in like, 1 hour. But we kept on keeping on.
I was getting desperate.
We didn’t get anything we loved, but Jacob tried to do some Photoshop fiddling that helped things slightly. It wasn’t his fault, but my face still looked pasty and shadowy and strange.
I sent them off because they were all I had, and I’ll point you to whatever comes of them when it comes of them, but I’m not holding out much hope for intense awesomeness. My contact at the place who wanted the photos very adorably tried to get the graphic designers to use this little number instead. I hope he was successful.
And now I’m hiding out on my annual sabbatical, and I’m realizing what I re-remember every year: Jacob looks good in winter clothes, and I look good in summer clothes. I can’t work a cowl-neck sweater the way that man can, that’s for sure.
But for a 33-year-old who couldn’t do a pushup if you forced her, I can work a bikini with a pair of short shorts like nobody’s business. A little sundress—yes. Tank tops and tiny mini skirts? I stockpile them like gold. Salvation Army girls’ dresses repurposed as swim coverups that don’t quite cover my ass but I’ll wear them to a post-beach lunch because a child’s dress is the only thing that makes my boobs look poppin’ and bikini bottoms are basically pants, right? I AM THAT ANNOYING PERSON.
In the winter climes I look schlubby, let’s just admit it. To look good in a sweater you’ve got to wear a bra, and that’s where I draw the line at how much I want to look good in winter. I refuse to be cold, so I wear (amazing! organic!) long underwear from September-April, which means I can’t wear my beloved tight jeans, so there goes my lower half. Once in a great while I get up the energy to pull on leggings and leg warmers and my beautiful Hunter boots and a long sweater dress thing and a “statement necklace,” as the ladymags say, and that’s about the best I get in cold temperatures.
The other day, as Jacob and I were heading out for our every-other-day (bi-daily?) hike, I asked him, half-jokingly, “How long do you think I can maintain my good looks without doing anything whatsoever to keep them up?” (Yes, we were hiking, But our hike is a quickie, just 45 minutes round trip, and after that I spend the entire day lazing on the beach, eating Mexican food and drinking what I horribly now refer to as “margs,” reading food magazines on the beach for a few more hours, then going home and spending hours cooking and eating lavish meals inspired by those food magazines—as well as drinking concoctions made from farmer’s market fruit and sake, or vodka, or champagne, or all of the above all mixed together. That’s my day. The hiking is not exactly the focal point of the day, let’s say that.)
Jacob said, half-jokingly, “Hmm. You’re 33. Ten years or so, most likely.” And we laughed and made our way up the mountain. But it’s true. In ten years he will be an accomplished curly-headed dude, with a lot of grey in his 44-year-old hair, but with a pleasantly craggy face and rather professorial mien.
And I will be a middle-aged woman.
No matter how much feminist work you do, no matter how much you pretend not to care what the fuck the patriarchy says about you, you’ve got to admit that in the mainstream of our culture, there’s pretty much nothing worse than being a middle-aged woman. Young women are worshipped, old women are ignored. Middle-aged women are MILFs, if they’re lucky. I, of course, don’t live in the mainstream, and will no doubt continue being just as incredibly rad at 43 as I am at 33. But my long legs will get veiny, and my cute arms will get saggy, and my chipmunk cheeks will turn into permanent creases.
My feminist training tells me I can’t care, but as a women who moves through the world that actually exists I know that’s ridiculously impossible not to care.
That day in the mirror I saw it all. The decline and fall of my little civilization.
First time, friends. First time it’s happened to me. Mortality.
That’s some deep shit, that right there.
A week or so later I went on vacation, and brought with me a painfully ludicrous stack of books to read. One of them was a book I wasn’t even going to mention here because of its insane non-vegan-osity, but it’s SO GOOD I have to.
Blood, Bones, and Butter [I have restored the title to the proper, Oxford comma-containing grammar I find more pleasing, yes], while not only boasting a title that will freak your fellow vegan friends out on a level heretofore experienced, is, easily, the best food memoir I’ve read since the astonishingly wonderful/touching/teaching/fascinating/pleasesleepwithmeGrantAchatz Life, on the Line by my pretend boyfriend Grant Achatz.
[Oh god. Every time I think about Grand Achatz and that book I feel guilty for not cooking more, for not writing a cookbook, for deviating from my mission of putting my stamp on the world for even five minutes. Grant wouldn't be sitting here on his ass writing a stupid blog post! Lets wrap this up.]
Back to Gabrielle Hamilton!
Gabrielle Hamilton is the new pretend BFF of every cheffy woman in the land these days, but she’s my pretend BFF most of all. Except for a very few parts a vegan-type of person has to elide containing unfortunate descriptions of things having been done to animals unnecessarily, her approach to the cooking profession most closely resembles my own—in short, do your own thing, and fuck what everyone else is doing. She’s another woman-loving-woman-sleeping-with-a-man (hey, I recognize that kind of woman!), and she had a difficult upbringing, and she’s a kickass woman making her own way in the world. It’s a good book.
She opened her restaurant when she was older than I am now, and the food world is insanely obsessed with her. She’s a middle-aged woman! It’s possible.
I’m glad I read the book when I did. It made me realize that the photo shoot wasn’t the beginning of the end.
It forced me to step away from the mirror.
Go to the beach, you with your short shorts that don’t cover your cellulite as much as you pretend they do, you with your margarita-powered muffin top and stubbly legs. Go for it. It’s your body.
You’ve got to love it most of all.