Aug 12, 2010

Recycled Image, Remembered Ache

Image and "truism" by the conceptual artist Jenny Holzer.

Holzer also has a "truism" which says that the future is stupid.  That one, I don't like.  Notice I've been putting truism in quotes in reference to Holzer.  Visualize that I'm also doing air quotes with my fingers in between typing.

But this phrase, I like.  Holzer, I dig this one (which is why I searched for the image again online).  Yet the presentation itself is impersonal, don't you think?  To project the words a story high on a building just makes me feel lonelier.  It's like screaming for contact with someone, but all you've got is concrete and glass.  Not even a voice to soothe that need--just eerie blue light on something lifeless.

Maybe that's Holzer's point:  we're looking for human contact in decidedly all the wrong places.

Aug 10, 2010

On Getting Older

I’ve been talking about this a lot lately. I often find myself joking with friends about turning 30 this year, but it’s time to examine whether the humor is actually just masking apprehension.




Nope, no apprehension about turning the big three-oh.  It’s a whole new decade of my life! I’m eager to see what my 30s will bring.

But you know (still examining here)…

I’ve seen Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck in bookstores several times, and have been tempted to purchase the slim little book but never did because I can’t see myself connecting with that fear, at least not yet. And by “that fear” I mean the resulting appalled stare-in-the-mirror I imagine confronting after self-scrutiny, even if it’s a humorous self-scrutiny. I don’t feel bad about my neck, but last month I noticed three more freckles have popped up on it and the buggers prompted me to speed over to Target to buy stronger sunblock. I was apparently under the impression that SPF 50 will stem the freckles tide. Then, I looked up reviews on all those Olay Regenerist products, and it was about that time that I began joking with friends about how I need to start using anti-aging products. So, do I really fear aging?

First, I need to unpack this ridiculous term, “anti-aging.”

How on earth can anyone be ANTI-aging? A quick Wikipedia perusal reveals that obsession with the fountain of youth legend has been around for ages, so I guess people thousands of years ago were also “anti-aging.” Yet at the heart of the fear of aging I think we’ll find a much bigger fear: the inevitability of facing our mortality. We are not going to live forever. Our bodies and minds will deteriorate, and we become useless in a lot of ways. So we pine for youth, for the chance to continue living in health and vitality. I taught Hawthorne’s “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” to my juniors last year, and I looked around during their group work one day and wondered whether, a few decades from now, my own students would forget Hawthorne’s lesson about the futility (and downright folly) of searching for the fountain of youth and begin their own hopeless, desperate searches to prolong their beauty and vigor.

But youth is so foolish. Those characters in Hawthorne’s short story only repeated the mistakes of their youth. There is no wisdom to be gained from going backwards. It only takes me a cursory glance over my shoulder at my own youth to remind me how PRO-aging I am. Yet I understand why many people want to fiercely grip youth. In this case, I think the anti-agers just want to prolong living. They love life so much that they don’t want it to end. They want to continue self-reliance, they want to explore the world, learn more things, do more things, be around the people they love for longer. That, I understand.

But unpack “anti-aging” a little more, and I actually think the term has a lot more to do with physical insecurity. The beauty industry certainly capitalizes on that insecurity: Proctor and Gamble, makers of Olay products, raked in $26.3 billion last year from just their beauty products. That accounts for over a third of their total net sales. Not surprising, since we spend anywhere from $20-$300 on bottles and jars of serums and creams to magick away our lines and wrinkles. In my own medicine cabinet, I have the $38 Philosophy’s Hope in a Jar, so I certainly buy (ha!) into this madness as well.

There’s a line, however, not quite as fine as the one developing on my forehead, between wanting to take care of our skin and absolutely fearing aging. There’s a line between protecting ourselves from the harmful rays of the sun and from free radicals bouncing around in every millimeter of air space on the one hand, and on the other hand waging total war against any indication of getting older. Somehow, we’ve allowed vanity to get the best of us and we’ve allowed movie stars (and those dratted people who airbrush out every micro-imperfection) to dictate the definitions and parameters of beauty. And beauty, we're made to believe, is bosom-buddies with youth.

But take a look at this gal:

Sweet Jesus, ain’t she lovely? Beauty is NOT inherently tied to youth, ladies and gentlemen. For my part, I believe I look a lot prettier now, two months away from 30, than I ever looked before. An old friend posted some high school pictures on my facebook page, and good lord I look like the very manifestation of awkward at age 17 (hey, but don’t we all?). Oh, not to be 17 again.  No, thank you.  The skin around my cheeks and eyes are losing some of their suppleness, to be sure, but I happily surrender that if it means I get to keep all this wisdom I’ve earned—positively earned, dammit—over the years.

And besides, I have everything yet to do. There’s nothing in my past I yearn for. So, if my life meets me toting along freckles and wrinkles, well then let me make some room for all that. Some room, mind you; I’m still stocking my medicine cabinet with sunblock and moisturizer, don’t get me wrong. I will not, however, buy into the notion that I get any less worthwhile or beautiful with age. In fact, I think the trend is opposite: I feel I have more to give now and, though I growl at these damn stretch marks, I started feeling a lot more secure in my own skin once I hit my late 20s. It’s as if the older I get, the more I actually inhabit my body. And that, for someone who is constantly flitting around, is a very, very good thing.

I have a feeling things will get even better.

Aug 4, 2010

Hello Again

The more I try to learn about html, the worse I become at it. 

Stubborn broad that I am, I insisted on learning website-building myself.  So, armed with no less than three html DIY books from the library, I succeeded in utterly collapsing my previous blog (and somehow violating my Google terms of service so that they suspended my account).

So here I am again, after a day of driving myself nuts trying to recover my old account.  Ah, but it's all right.  Blogger has a ton of helpful tools for hopeless cases like me who can't but mess up my blog design and posts.  That stubborn part of me, however, is still itching to learn how to do all this myself, to break free of templates and a finite selection of colors and fonts and design options.  One day, I'll wow you all with my website-building skillz.  =)  For now, this will do.  (And it really is all right--I have my old posts saved.)

The upside is that I get to quote another lovely poetic line as the title of my blog.  This one, "the soul in paraphrase," is from the gorgeous-minded George Herbert, a seventeenth-century Welsh poet.  I remember reading Herbert as an undergrad and feeling simply astounded by the precision of his images.  I came across "Prayer" again a couple of years ago and found myself reading it over again and again.  I've revisited it many times since.  How lovely to think of prayer as "something understood."  I was getting around to just that point in my old blog--about how my conception of prayer has evolved, and is in fact still evolving.

Most of my public writing has really been just this, anyway:  a soul in paraphrase.  Dear Mr. Herbert had already said it so perfectly, and if I could just borrow it...well, then perhaps we can agree in the course of our writing and reading that something has been understood between us.

Here's the entire poem:


Prayer, the Church's banquet, Angels' age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days'-world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices, something understood.