Aging, make-up, and learning to care

We had a photoshoot at our office, for the team. With increasing requests for interviews and photo-ops coming this way, the director decided to have the key players all photographed professionally. Two of my colleagues got theirs done first, and then it was my turn. I had watched with increasing worry as I saw the brushes and the props.

Then it was my turn. The make-up artist rubbed her hands in glee and said she so looked forward to this. Her enthusiasm didn’t help my flagging spirits much. I don’t photograph well at all, and I have an instinctive aversion towards make-up. I have had make-up done only once in my life, during my First Holy Communion, and it had been ironic that the nuns had applied cosmetics on our faces on a day that should have been celebrating our purity.

“Can we just do it normally?” I tried asking. She looked scandalized and shook her head firmly. My boss asked me to get it over with so that I could go back to work on things I was being paid for. So I surrendered myself into her eager hands. It was torture. I hate people touching me when I am not the one initiating it. She was kind, but I can’t help my nature, and I felt miserable at the end of the session, hating it all a great deal. Then there was the photography, and the whole business of being made to pose here and there made me feel used. A paying job is essentially about being used, but this wasn’t one of the ways I had agreed to be used by the company, was it? It wasn’t a big deal, and my colleagues enjoyed the experience – and promptly updated their social profiles with the dashing new photos. I have only myself to blame for my misery.

When it ended, I rushed to the bathroom to wash it off, only to find that the water smudged the cosmetics to the point where I looked like a KISS groupie. Heart-sick at that point with the whole experience, I called a friend in and she took pity, bringing me a make-up remover. How was I to have known that I required one? I could not get back to work after that, stressed out by the whole experience as I was. So I went home and spent a great deal of time in the bath, trying to make myself feel normal again.

The photos look good, I hear. I hope they are happy.

I tried to think about it later, to figure out why it affected me so much. It must be that they thought my looks needed to be improved, and I didn’t agree with it, because I was comfortable with myself and it didn’t feel right to get me changed to their version. I have never had the comeliest features, but I hadn’t cared. Most people care about being sexually attractive to their preferred gender and good looks matter there. I hadn’t needed to. I was rather fortunate that way. Throughout teenage, when my friends worried about looks, I had the peace of mind and better things to occupy my time with. It ended up with me growing into my skin long before most of my peers, and that was a good thing.  There were remarks always, from relatives, from concerned elders, about how I was too thin or not curvy enough, about how I was not half as beautiful as my mother had been at my age etc. It didn’t matter to me then, because I was very well-loved by a hyacinth and nothing else factored in to my self-esteem. Even now, I have little tolerance or know-how of mating games, and mostly find them all ridiculous.

“Your hair is all brown!” an acquaintance tells me. “What is happening? Aging? Wow!”

I try explaining that my hair does its own thing during harsh summers, going brown to varying shades. Then it returns to black during the colder months. She doesn’t believe me. I don’t blame her. This is a time when most of the people in my age group are learning to face age – a frown here, a wrinkle there, a gray hair here, skin losing softness there. I am beginning to see bathroom countertops at friends’ apartments fill up with numerous products all related to battling age.

I think I would care about it all more if I hadn’t seen the signs of aging on myself long ago. Before I had even finished under-grad, family members criticised that my hands looked old with the veins surging to the surface (too much writing and typing had made that happen, and I have only looked at that as a token of many hours well-spent). Frown-lines were common after fifteen. Understandable, given how stressful life had been back then. And my hair had decided to shift between brown and black, with the seasons, long before I had been made aware of it by relatives or family-friends.

—-

“You should have said no,” my friend was telling me, when I related the whole experience with the photography session and the toll it had taken on me.

I should have.

It is a part of a larger life-lesson, I think. Learning to say no in the moment is rather difficult for me, given how I grew up in a society where an outright no is not said at all. We hem and haw, and then later try to gently let people down. I am now living in a different place, and I know it should be fine to say no outright. I should, next time, if there is a next time. Learning to care is important, and learning to care for myself is where it should begin. To care about my discomfort more than caring about making someone else only arbitrarily related to my life pleased – that is a lesson in progress.

I went to a local hip-hop concert at one of the clubs in San Jose downtown. It was a very novel experience. I am too introverted to make this a regular event in my life, but it was interesting. I had gone to support a musician I had met recently. It was a relaxed atmosphere and people seemed to genuinely enjoy being there.

I am off to a Marilyn Manson concert in October! I can’t get the Cupid Carries a Gun track out of my head.

As my friend gently mops away the make-up with a cotton wad, she tells me that it is amusing I like Marilyn Manson when a bit of eye-liner sends me into near full-blown panic. She has a valid point. Then again, my fondness for shape-shifting, androgynous artists is based more on their shape-shifting, androgynous selves than on the props they use to make that happen.

—-

I have committed to a Make A Wish novel this year. It will be my Nanowrimo too. Two birds, one stone, etc. It is coming along well, and it is a relief to have the muse back from where-ever it had buggered off to in the last three-four years.

The first week was rough, since I wanted to write badly and was prevented by the ligament tear in my hand. It has been smoother after that. I feel grounded in myself in a way I haven’t in years, grounded by typing words rapidly, by stories unfolding in my head effortlessly. It is a scary place to be, I feel, because it reminds me every moment of how it was like to not have this.

The writing itself is coarse, like a foal learning to walk. No, that is the wrong analogy. This is like re-learning to walk, after a long time of being stuck bed-ridden. I shudder at the words when I re-read them. I was a better writer, before the long stint of lost motivation. It is getting better, I can see, as can my editor, and it is a relief to see it improve in bits and spurts. I can even console myself, without too much stretching of the truth, that it will eventually be what it was. I miss the sharpness and loveliness that leap out from earlier pieces. Still, re-learning is learning too, and I must possess myself in patience.

Life had not been bleak and there had been joy aplenty, but I had felt so empty, if that makes sense. Now, nothing is particularly on an even keel, and I suspect I shall never sail on an even keel through my life, but every morning when I wake up, I feel a sense of rightness, a sense of purpose, and I can’t wait to put words to paper. I think I might be rambling, but the tl;dr of it is that I am feeling myself for the first time in years, and it is rather frightening, because I am afraid to lose this again. There is nothing to be done about the fear component, except learning to live with it.

For now, I must stop this and rush back to my story. Apologies for the meandering.