Friday, October 18, 2013

The Vision of Self

I've been having one of those weeks which leads to contemplation about self perception. Over the weekend  I was at Mermaids's helping to replant window boxes and containers for the Autumnal season. Once, when I looked up from my happy duties  I saw she was preoccupied with her phone.
" Tell me you did not just take my picture!"
" I did".
"Well then please discard it. I wish for there to be no recordings of me half covered in mud with my nose down and my fanny high."
" I won't be doing that. I want a record of this day of us together. Doing simple things with happy hearts."
"Hit the trash icon! There is a reason God gave us memories and not cameras."

I suspect mud dauber mother is still in her phone gallery. Sigh.

I am one who has never been fond of being a photographers subject. In fact my record for missing picture day at school was positively stellar. I am certain no picture of me exists in my high school yearbook. There was a reason I was on the yearbook committee. In the box of photos my mother kept under her bed there were many of me with tear stained face from being forced against my will to be in a staged photograph. I disliked those only slightly more than the ones of my mouth cranked open to the max for a drooling anticipated bite of real fried chicken. I still feel the horror of those images.

I have, on occasion, wondered if my dislike of images of me stems from an inability to accept reality or just the fact most of us have an image of self which differs greatly from how others, or cameras, see us. If we accept how we "see" is more than visual then  this makes sense. We see ourselves from inside out not outside in. When we do "see" ourselves it is either reversed in a reflection which brings a degree of distortion or, in a photograph which often does not showcase the person within so how can it actually portray us?

A phone call with a friend on Monday went like this,
"Dear God Fishy! Pictures of me from this weekend tells it all. I am now an old hag"
Since I am a decade older than this self declared "hag" I could sympathize. A little. Not a lot since
I was pretty sure no one had taken a picture of her in the classic old mother in the garden stance.

"Well, don't obsess about it. Here's how this works, you get old or you get dead."
To me, this friend lamenting her "decline" is not in decline! I know her to be a smart, beautiful, vibrant woman. Is there some character showing on her? Sure, but this is not how I see or perceive or value her. I hope the image of her from a picture does not negatively effect her vision of self.

There are however days when I succumb to  self criticism because of
the "character" showing on me. On these days I sometimes think there is
an argument for Muslim women having an advantage.
On those days I think being swathed in dark yardage would be great. I could go forth and none could recognize that bundle of cloth and veiling as me. There is a certain freedom in being able to go forth as the "unseen"!

On Tuesday I went for my scheduled haircut.
I was Aimee's first appointment of the day. I was there by 10, she was not. I did not mind since Ted makes a great mimosa. Aimee has a son who is two who does not like shoes. His daycare program requires shoes so his mother  is often delayed,  arriving  frazzled and  apologetic. On Tuesday she was so frazzled she misplaced her mute button.
"What happened to you?"
"Yes you! What happened to your hair?" As she was asking she began picking through my hair like she was a monkey looking for nits. We were in the  reception room  with an audience. I turned to Ted and asked him to make a mimosa for Aimee too. Clearly she needed one. Before he could respond she was saying,
"Up! Get up Fishy! This is horrible!"
I sort of got the impression she did not want to be in her reception room with me because it might be bad for her reputation. While being hustled out of there I wondered if I looked as bad as her response indicated? How did I miss that? Was it my perception that was off ? Or was Aimees?

Once we reached her station she continued her inspection, mumbling to herself and looking very disgruntled. Eventually she took in  a steadying breath and said,
"Well we best get busy".
We headed off to the wash stations where she used an inordinate amount of "product" while maintaining a running commentary on the state of my appearance. It was about as bad as one of those photographs. While she was still thumping my head around on the sink notch I said,
"Really Aimee? Do you think the day will never come when more than your hair is dehydrated and grizzled too?"
She did not even pause for thought before saying, "No!"

I understood.
One of the pictures I do leave on my dresser is one of Mermaid and I when she was two. I am sure on the day that photograph was taken I was not thinking one day  my waist length, lustrous,  thick, curly,chestnut hair would be the frizzed, broken stranded, wiry  halo typical  on  apple dolls.

In truth my hair is, according to Aimee, only at the 30% gray stage. But, it has a tendency to overwhelm the remaining 70%. Since  I am sensitive to chemicals and my hair grows fast I do not color it. I do add a clear glaze made for  brunettes to make the remaining brunette hairs look richer.
Sadly, there is no "glaze" for my also aging face. Reality on this day was tough since back at the styling station I was swiveled 'round and 'round for numerous views of my decline. Even after all of Aimees talents being applied to my appearance I left there wishing I had indulged in another mimosa to soften the impact of reality.

On my way home I gave thought to the concept of beauty. In the salon there had been books of hairstyles. There was even a section on "mature styles". I had flipped through these while awaiting Aimee's arrival. Some where candid photographs of the glitterati.

This one caught my eye.

I do not know Vanessa Redgrave's current age but I thought it wonderful her hair looked more natural than processed. I also had wondered if  she still felt like Guinevere? Or really, just herself. The herself of her own perception not the self of that photo. What if she had hated that particular image and it was in salons around the world? How awful for her. I found myself wondering if we all still have our own "Guinevere" within or if time and wisdom had slowly eliminated our true selves? I pray not!

This Issadora cover is probably more famous than all the "Guinevere" photographs of Redgrave.
It is beautiful. She is beautiful. I sincerely hope she feels as wonderful today as she did on the day of this photograph. The Vanessa within has seen a lot of life; some good, some horrid, some mundane.
As do we all. But do we all remain ourselves to ourselves for ourselves with love?

Maybe not.

There are days when  I suffer a severe jolt when I pass by a mirror. Once, in a sort of reverse Peter Pan moment I thought " Dear God! Is that shadow really me?" I certainly was not elated to the point I wanted to dance with my shadow. There are other days where I feel like "me" which usually means I am pleased with whatever creative challenge I am pursuing. On those days I am doubly surprised the confident, eager, energetic, happy me of my thirties is no longer who I am on the outside. On the days when all of me hurts from one misery or another I think,"Damn! Hagatha is back!" So I have come to understand the self that is my perception of me is not about my physical self. In truth it never has been. I will admit I had my day in the sun on that measure but it was never my measuring stick. Now? When I am confronted with that me I am shocked. Does this mean I actually have kept my "Guinevere"? Does this mean I succeeded by the terms of my own measuring stick?

Or does this just mean I  am in full retreat from reality?

Often friends or clients will make comments which confirm their perception and my perception of me are not on the same page. Recently one said, "I wish I had your confidence".  I discounted this as not being valid because her reference was about me "the designer" not "me Fishy". Like all of us I have areas of confidence and areas of no confidence. For instance, I cannot do math. Arithmatic, certainly. Math? Just say the word and I become jello!  It is comforting to know my areas of "no confidence" are not usually visible to others. I am reminded of the song lyrics from The King and I. The 1956 version with Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr.

" Whenever I feel afraid
I hold myself erect
and whistle a happy tune
so no one would suspect
I'm afraid"

In a later stanza:

"The results of this deception
are very plain to tell
for when I fool
the people I fear
I fool myself as well"

When I was a design student I did a summer internship with a Frank Lloyd Wright disciple who had earned his architectural education at Taliesen West. He was exacting, impossible to please. There was many a day where I had to take a time out as I struggled to not see myself as something lower than a cockroach. Before starting the internship I had been so proud to be the chosen one! I was reeling with the excitement of the opportunity. To have been chosen to learn from one of the "greats" in our region. By the second week in Hell with this "great" I was singing those lyrics on the way there every morning and crying all the way home at the end of the day.  It was brutal. A daily struggle to make it through his scathing rants. While he would be spewing oui vicious versions of his take on me I would be silently reminding myself I was a talented, 4.0 scholarship winning honor student at our nations number one school for art and design and this man was not going to take that from me. Some days I won that silent battle, some days I lost. At the end of the 4 month long internship he told me I was the only architecture or design student  who had ever lasted an entire Summer. That now I was probably going to be tough enough to "make it" in a field fraught with difficulties thanks to him.  I hit him. With all my might. A right punch to his left bicep which he did not even feel but which  made me feel a lot better.
The following Summer I did not accept his invitation to return. The following year I declined  his job offer upon graduation. I could never have withstood the onslaught of those daily rants.

 I learned so much that Summer! The most important thing I learned was not about design or architecture. It was about me. That internship forced me to be the "me" of my own perceptions or be the "me" he projected onto me. That was the Summer I learned  to protect and defend my core self . Perhaps it was the Summer I found the grit my friend  describes as "confidence".

I know this now.
 Facing "Hagatha" in shadows, photographs , mirrors, daily realities and perceptions takes grit.

 I read somewhere your true vision of yourself is the one your mind shows you in your dreams.
 For years I wanted to look like my beautiful mother. 
I don't.
 I never did.
 But when she looked like this

 I dreamed of one day having those perfect cheekbones!