New Year's Day this year knocked me on my ass, in ways that I probably needed it to.
In some ways it seems that the New Year really begins the night before. Whatever you decide to do on the evening of December 31 -- get all gussied up and go out to a big fancy shindig with several hundred other revelers (that's what my boyfriend and I did), hang out at a more intimate house party with close friends, stay at home with your significant other/kids/pets/self, meditate on a mountaintop and watch the sun rise -- I'm guessing that, in most cases, this choice reflects something about the tenor you're hoping the coming year will take on. You want to live life big and adventurously, in a riot of music and new people and sensations and swirly lights; you want to spend time with the people you love, deepen your friendships, have conversations that you can actually hear; you want to cocoon yourself in your safe, warm home and be a sensible grown-up, give your liver and wallet a break and stay off the streets jammed with champagne-filled motorists; you want to live in the moment, be enlightened, shit like that.
Or not. I guess this is the year I shrug off any vestigial superstitious attachments I might have once had to what holidays are supposed to mean. I didn't hope or expect my New Year's Eve plans would have jack-shit to do with the tone of the following year. I just so happen to have nightclub-event-organizer, DJ, and belly-dancer friends who just so happened to all be putting on a party at a club not two miles from where I live. (Wow, that sounds really braggy when I put it that way, but I promise you, having a social life is new for me.) It was a no-brainer.
I sprained my ankle at the New Year's Eve party, dancing in high heels. Right now as I type this, I'm sitting with my left leg resting on this big turquoise bouncy ball that my boyfriend sometimes uses as a desk chair (so he can get a tiny bit of ab/core exercise in at the same time that he's putzing around online; and also because he's a tiny bit eccentric). On New Year's Day, I sat here and watched the ambitious joggers and dog-walkers bounding past my window to the trail entrance just across the street. I tried not to think of this as in any way symbolic, but I'm a writer, so of course I thought of it that way.
I've been hobbling around OK -- a trip to Starbucks this morning, a jaunt to Whole Foods just now, both by car -- but I probably won't make it to the short-fiction writing group/workshop that I've been looking forward to for weeks now; it's in DC, would require me to do a bit of walking to and through Metro stations and along city streets, and if the local Starbucks parking lot has been a struggle to get across, traipsing around DC trying to find a building I had trouble locating two years ago might not be the smartest thing to do right now. It's not a huge deal if I miss it this week -- they meet every week, and had only taken December off due to all the holidays -- but putting it off makes me feel like the procrastinating loser that I've been struggling to metamorphose from. It makes me feel as if that first week when I started this blog was a blip, an anomaly, and that everything I promise you is a lie.
Worse, my sister called later in the day and we had a sort-of fight on the phone -- our first fight in, wow, years and years. (My family isn't the best at communicating directly -- we tend to say things between the lines, be polite, bottle things up. Fights are pretty rare, even when a spirited debate could be good to clear the air about some long-simmering issue.) Here's what sparked that: In a rare bout of Facebook sloppiness, I had neglected to block her husband from viewing some non-family-friendly fare I'd posted on there. (A link to an online album of nude photos that some of my photographer friends had taken of me in liquid-latex body paint, plus a link to a related and confessional short writing.) I had blocked her from seeing this content, to protect her from it, the way I normally do with anything not overtly family-friendly -- but her cell-phone battery had died yesterday and she was using her husband's phone to check Facebook.
She was troubled, thought the images were pornographic, thought I wasn't respecting myself, criticized my "whole lifestyle." She brought up the night a couple years ago when I went out drinking and some guy at the club picked up my purse and phone, thinking he was doing me a favor (I'd walked away for a sec; he thought I'd left it at the club). He called family members in my phone's address book, saying, in his accented English, that he had my purse and phone, leaving my family members bewildered and worried that I'd been abducted or something. To my mind, the incident with the Indian guy and the phone had almost nothing to do with the nude photos or confessional writing, but to her it was all related, and you know, she might be right. ... OK, yeah, she was totally right, the more I think about it.
It was a bad way to start the New Year. Something she said a few times resonated with me: "Why do you do this?" My sister is a model -- an honest-to-God model who's been paid to model clothing, and hairstyles for salons, and jewelry, who's walked New York City runways wearing haute couture with photographers clamoring to get a shot and rows of people in fancy clothes clapping. I am not a model -- I have a few photographer friends, mostly male, who mostly ask me to pose nude for them, because I'm willing to do so. She has her beauty -- I have my willingness to do what other women won't. A few times on the phone, she mentioned that there are "other kinds of photo shoots." I'm sure she was thinking of the kinds of photo shoots that she does -- angelic photos of her in wedding dresses, pictures she can show to our mom or granny. And I tried to tell her: No one wants to take photos like that of me. I don't blame them; that is just not what I do.
And here's the weird thing: It's not what I want to do. I'm not supermodel-beautiful or hot; I'm not pretty, not cute. To quote the Ani DiFranco song, "I am not a pretty girl -- that is not what I do." In too many photos I look like Hatchetface from "Cry-Baby." I've got dark sunken pits beneath my eyes that no amount of sleep or concealer ever seems to get rid of. My skin sucks so bad that I've got anti-breakout and anti-aging stuff in my bathroom. (I thought that no longer having to buy Clearasil-brand anything was a little reward the universe gave you for getting through your teen years, but as it turns out -- nope.) I don't even have a nice or characterful or heartwarming smile; in many photos, I have the vacuous gray stare of a dead fish. My jawline in most photos is either weak or mannish, depending on whether you photograph me from the left or right. I mean, I don't even have a "quirky" or "soulful" kind of beauty. I have no kind of beauty at all.
The images I've been in are not high fashion, not angelic representations of "classic beauty," not commercials for make-up or earrings. They're not selling something; they're not supposed to be serene or pretty. My favorites are the ones that are a little ugly. Ugly, to me, is interesting. At the risk of sounding cliché, or like some pervert trying to justify his porn collection... they're art.
OK, not all of them are. But some of them are. Enough of them are for me to feel good about the rest of them, the ones that were misfires, the ones in which I could tell the photographer was going off in a sleazy direction but I felt as if I had to go along anyway because my asset is my willingness. I don't have the bone structure, I don't have the complexion, I don't have the cover-girl smile or the ethereal gaze of a blue-eyed angel. Without willingness, I'm no longer of interest to anyone with a camera.
Here's a snippet from a short story called "Willing," by Lorrie More, from her story collection "Birds of America." In this scene, a has-been actress is telling a male friend that she has no talent, only willingness to do things other actresses won't:
"...I think willing yourself to do a thing is brave, and the very essence of talent." ...
"But I don't will myself," she said. "I'm just already willing."
So to go back to my sister's question -- Why do I do it? Why am I willing?
I think it's futile or a waste of time to look any further than the basic need that drives anyone to do anything: I want to be loved, I want to be desired, I want to feel that I'm appealing, that I'm OK. I mean, in my mind this is just evolutionary biology manifesting itself in a sort of drunk and slutty way.
When I'm naked in front of a camera and a photographer is saying complimentary things about me -- hey, I'm feeling desirable, I'm feeling loved. When I drink, I feel confident, I dance, guys tell me I'm sexy -- and hey, I'm feeling loved. Or a passable substitute for love. Yes, I get all of that from my boyfriend; no, on some level, that is not enough for me to stop doing all of those other things. It's not his fault; I'm going on something like thirty years of feeling sub-human, somehow intrinsically of less value than other people. No one person's reassurance is going to fix that, not any time soon. He has done more for me in this way than anyone else has been able to, though.
I am telling myself that finding an answer to my sister's question is somehow related to all the stuff this blog is supposed to be about, all the things that are wrong with me and my life that I want to fix. I am telling myself that I have not gone way off into the outer reaches of the tangent galaxy like I did with my post about OkCupid. I am quite possibly lying to myself.
More fragments, and then I promised I would report some action:
-This morning I happened to be home when the recycling guys came by for the plastic bin full of my pre-gaming trunk-booze bottles. I stood on my non-injured leg and peered through the blinds upstairs like some kind of recluse or neighborhood witch, listening to the satisfying clank of the bottles going into the back of the truck, watching the truck go through its churn cycle, clearing space for the next batch of recyclables.
-On New Year's Eve, the fun party I went to was slightly crowded at the venue's two bars, which were short-staffed. I stood in the throng, my voice tiny and meek, squeaking out my orders, first a screwdriver and finally just some vodka in a cup ("on the rocks" sounds less outright alcoholic than "just some hard liquor in a cup, please... please oh please"). Not having pre-gamed, I was too sober and hyper-aware of myself and everyone around me, second-guessing everything I might say or do. I felt that shrinking-in-the-spotlight sensation I get when I'm out and sober. And this is the truth: I fervently wished that I'd had a bottle of booze in my trunk. So help me, I would have marched out into the parking lot and drunk all I wanted from it for free, no starting a tab or leaving a tip, no waiting or worrying that my voice would never rise above the fray. So help me, I wished I had a bottle.
-I sent two e-mails to the temp agency for creative people this week, on two different days, to two different reps who'd given me their cards when I visited their office last month. I haven't heard back from either. I know it's only just past the holidays, and people are still digging out from underneath the pile of e-mails they got when their out-of-office messages were turned on, but I feel like a real dope for getting so excited about that before. I'm going to start applying for every full-time job I see that's even remotely related to what I do. (Yeah, I should have already been doing that.) I'm tired of being in employment limbo. I'm tired of being in lots of kinds of limbos.
-OK, here's some action: On December 30, with only one other day left in the month, I wrote a check for my $500 share of rent/living expenses to my boyfriend. I just barely had it in the bank after my final temp paycheck of the year went in. So far, I've been able to pay him this $500 every single month since I quit my last full-time job in August 2011. It's not much action -- just me pulling my checkbook out of the desk drawer, finding a pen, scribbling a few lines, same as every month -- and I gave the check to him with a little more than 24 hours left in the month. But I was able to do that. Sometimes it feels like that's my last handhold on this wall I'm trying to climb -- like if I let go of that, I'll fall. I don't feel as if I'm climbing up right now, but I haven't fallen yet.