Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Revealing Selfies

Thanks to Timehop and Facebook's "On This Day," I see a lot of my past Facebook posts and pictures.  There's obviously a lot less photos of me from years ago, because smart phones weren't around.  I didn't even have a iPhone of my own until about two years ago, so most of the photos I took before then have been lost to dead phones.

Therefore, when interesting old photos of me show up in my Timehop, I usually share them.  I've recently reshared a photo from my college graduation, from a year I worked at Show Me Burlesque Festival, and from my first adventure with Katie to see the BatTumbler.

Exhibit A.
Exhibit B
Mark and I were sitting at the table having dinner the other day when he said, "I was noticing how young you look in all those Timehop photos."  And he didn't mean that I didn't have the, ahem, smile lines that I do now.  He meant that I just looked so much younger even a few years ago than I do now, post-divorce.  Going through that half a year of hell aged me more than I might have expected, and the evidence is there in my selfies (and other photos).  I might dress the same and look the same (minus the occasional bangs), but there's a world of difference if you're looking for it.  I don't know if I'm actually older and wiser, but I at least look like I've lived far more now than I did before.

The other difference is how noticeably happier I look in my newer photos.  And it's not just one difference.  It's countless differences.  My smiles are bigger now, my eyes are wider and brighter, and my whole way of posing has changed, which is something I didn't even notice until Mark pointed it out.  Starting from right before I got married until shortly after my ex moved out, my chin started to drop in photos.  My head is tucked down in most posed photos.  I'm rarely looking directly into a camera, more peering at it almost suspiciously from under my eyebrows.  I frequently look vaguely uncomfortable.  I seem to be hiding.

Really, I was hiding.

I was hiding the fact that I was miserable, the fact that I'd made a very big mistake by insisting on marrying a person I just felt like I could tolerate.  I was hiding from the inevitable truth, from the lies, from the dodged questions about how I was doing and how great married life was.  I was hiding from the depression that thoroughly knocked me on my ass almost immediately after the wedding.  I was hiding from the near constant thought during the first two years of my marriage that I would come home to find my husband had killed himself.  I was hiding from a life that I was only half-living.

Looking over my Facebook photos today, I can pretty easily pick out the times when I was more genuinely happy, just by how I look in the photo.  Then I can place the picture to the event and realize that it was something that my ex wasn't at, or someplace where I had drank a lot.  Or both.  Usually both.

I thought I was doing a good job.  I thought I was happy.  I was smiling, wasn't I?  That meant I was having fun.  Everything was fine.  Now, looking back, I can see I wasn't hiding anything if I had cared to look for it.  In spite of my colorful vintage outfits and red hair, I didn't want people to really see me.  Because they might see the truth.  And that would have been terrible.

Now?  Obviously, I don't have much to hide anymore.  And I take a lot more selfies (both for work and for fun).  Now, as Mark said, even if I'm not grinning ear to ear in all of them, I look more confident in who I am and what my place in the world is.  I'm not hiding.

The past several years have taught me a lot about who I am and what actual happiness was.  Which is a good thing, since I think I had almost forgotten.

I'll be keeping an eye on my selfies, though, since they apparently reveal a lot more than I ever could have imagined.

So far, I think I'm still doing good.

Exhibit C, smile lines and all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Seeing Art vs. Being Art

It's an unusual feeling to have a stranger ask to take your picture.

Sometimes it's expected, like at Comic Con when everyone is dressed in costume and taking pictures of everyone else. Or when I'm dressed to the nines (or in rather less than the nines) for a pole or burlesque show.

But when I'm walking around Art on the Square with my boyfriend and his daughter, wearing my favorite pair of jeggings and a vintage top?  It's not usually something I'm expecting.

Yet, there she was, an adorable little newspaper photographer from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, telling me she just loved my outfit and asking if she could take picture of me looking at the various art vendors.

Obviously, my vanity knows no bounds, so getting gushing compliments on my outfit from a  photographer and a request for essentially a mini-photoshoot went straight to my head.  And made me incredibly self-conscious.  I couldn't pose in my usual stance of hand on hip/one knee bent, after all.  How do I look natural?  Was I standing up straight?  Should I smile?  I wish I had lipstick on. What the hell do I do with my hands?

A few days later, there I was online, looking not-too-shabby and pensively considering some appropriately modern art that I wouldn't mind one bit actually owning. (I definitely want the piece behind me in the photo!)

It's not the first time my world has crossed over into art.  A few years ago, during a particularly chaotic time of our lives, Mark and I spent the day at the St Louis Art Museum.  It was one of several turning points in our lives and, even though we didn't know what to do, we knew we wanted to spend the day together.  So we ended up at the Art Museum, wandering around looking at art and holding onto each other.

At one point, we were sitting on a bench in the modern art wing, silently entangled with each other for so long that a group of women came up and told us that they had thought we were art.

All this makes me wonder... what does it take to be art?  If I qualify, then it certainly isn't being flawless, since I can never at any point claim to be that.  In the photo above, my hair is windblown, I don't have lipstick on, and I'm nervously touching my hair because I know I'm being photographed.  In everyday life, my hair is usually falling out of its curls before the day is halfway over.  Sometimes my makeup is smeared, my lipstick is worn off, my shoes are scuffed, or I'm in desperate need of my hair being dyed.

In the first season of Mad Men, Betty Draper imparts some of her mother's insane words of wisdom on how to present yourself to the world.  "You're painting a masterpiece," she says. "Make sure to hide the brushstrokes."  In other words: be flawless.  Don't make a mistake.  Don't have a hair out of place.  Don't let anyone know something is wrong.

This is not my motto.  (At least, not anymore.)

I don't spend hours every day on my appearance.  While I rarely leave the house without makeup, I have the application down to a five-minute science.  I don't touch it up throughout the day.  I don't stare at myself in my compact when I'm out at a bar with friends to make sure each detail is perfect.  I have better things to do, really.  Like living.

Do I get a lot of comments and compliments on how I look?  Yes.  Usually several a day.  But I think that's because I wear things that make me happy and not because I'm as perfect as a pin-up.  I usually dress to please myself, not others.  (This has, as I've discussed, taken many forms over the years.)  And maybe the fact that I'm happy in what I'm wearing makes other happy as well.

Maybe that's what being art is.  Maybe that's what art is.   It's getting a reaction, whether it's making others happy or triggering another emotion. It's reminding others of how they or their parents used to dress or look.  It's standing out from the crowd.  With this hair, that's hard not to do.

My favorite art has always made me feel, or reminded me of something.  Mark and I talk a lot about art we see and how some of it is simply flat and doesn't make us feel anything at all.  But then there is the art that I'm physically drawn to, the stuff that makes me want to reach out and touch it, be a part of it.  It's not always the perfect art, either.  But there's something to it that pings at my subconscious and makes me react.

That's the kind of art I want to be, the kind of life I want to live.

I'm not painting a masterpiece.  Maybe from a distance, or to the untrained observer, it looks perfect.  But close up? There are brushstrokes everywhere.  There's rookie mistakes and smudges and wrong color choices.  There's whole sections I'd like to whitewash over.  Most artists would toss out the canvas and start over.

But I'm enjoying the hell out of my life, mistakes and all.  It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, and it makes me feel more emotions than I ever thought possible.

So I guess that's art, in a way.  And I, for one, think it's beautiful.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My Kind of Town?

This past weekend, Alexis and I took a truly whirlwind trip to Chicago.  The reason?  Fish Eye Fun, of course!  I had a wedding to work and dragged Alexis along to keep me company on the 5 hour drive.

Now, it's been possibly five years since the last time I was in Chicago.  If there's been a more recent trip, I can't remember it.  Five years with no Giordano's.  No Gene and Jude's.  No Portillo's.  No Sub-T's.  And even though Mark and I will be going for a whole weekend in July, I wanted to take advantage of my brief time there and get some food.  I was, needless to say, excited about the prospect.

We drove up Saturday morning, leaving time to spare for dinner.  I decided that we should go to Mickey's Gyros, so that I could hit up one of my favorite Chicago food places.  It would be perfect.  We'd have at least an hour to get food.

Or so we thought.

We were cruising along down Harlem when disaster struck.  Well, maybe not disaster.  Maybe more like a train.  And it didn't strike anything.  Instead, it just... stopped.  We stuck around for 20 minutes before I decided to try to find a way around it.  Because surely that wouldn't be so hard.




Alas, we were wrong once again.  We headed off to try to find an underpass or overpass or any kind of pass at all.  What we found was the front of the train, stopped a few hundred feet before a road.

A road!  It was right there, tantalizingly close.  I could almost smell the gyros.  There were just a few cars between us and a straight shot to dinner.

And then?  Then the train started to move.

And we started screaming profanities.

(Honestly, I wish there was video of this.  Never underestimate the fury of two hungry girls who have been in a car for five hours straight and suddenly had their chance for delicious, hot food run over by a goddamned train.)

By the time we found an actual underpass, we were so far away from where we needed to be that we gave up and just headed towards the venue.  Through Chicago traffic.  So.  Much.  Chicago.  Traffic.

At this point, I'm not just hungry.  I'm full out hangry.  I hate that train.  I hate all the people in all the traffic.  I hate the person trying to merge in front of me even though the merge lane ended a good while back.  At this point, I hate Chicago.

As I said, it's been five years since I was in Chicago.  I really had nothing but fond memories of the city.  I loved the skyline, the food, the sights, the people, the food...

Not anymore.  At that moment, I was regretting the fact that I already had tickets bought for our July Chicago trip.  Why would I want to come back to this god-forsaken place with no food and toll roads and too many trains and ridiculous traffic?  This whole experience was surely some kind of sign, like Mufasa whispering to Simba, "Go away never come back."  Chicago had it out for me.

Or I was just really hungry.

One of those.

Anyway.  We got to the venue, unloaded, set up, and Alexis went to find food before I strangled a bridesmaid or something.  We were in such a ritzy neighborhood that the McDonald's didn't even have a drive-through.  I know this because that's what we ate for our big Chicago dinner.  McDonald's.

It wasn't what I had in mind, but it was food and it kept me from murder.

And, overall, it was a great Fish Eye Fun event, in spite of all the reasons it might not have been.  Any wedding where I manage to get the bride and all the bridesmaids in one place for pictures can be considered a success.  For this wedding?  Nine bridesmaids.  And I got them all.

And, at the end of the night?  A food truck came to the venue and I got myself a Chicago-style hot dog.

So all was not lost.

We stayed the night with Anne and Jeff and in the morning they graciously made us brunch.  And Anne let me steal some of her books.  Add to this the fact that she let us in her house at 1 in the morning the night before and it's obvious that she's a wonderful human being and a great friend to boot.

In the end, was it a bad trip?  No.  It wasn't the best, naturally, but anything that ends with a homemade brunch and mimosas can't be all bad.  And, thanks to Chubby Wieners (yes, that's the name of the food truck), I got to eat Chicago food after all.

I guess I'll go back for another attempt in July.  I mean, I already bought the train tickets after all.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Do You Love Me?

Popularity in the social media age is a strange thing.  At least, it's strange to me.

Last night I had a Fish Eye Fun bride-to-be follow me on Instagram.  This is actually a first for me (at least that I've noticed).  My followers are mostly people I know as friends or at the very least people in the St. Louis wedding industry.

Does this make me popular?  I don't know.

I've been writing this blog for almost a year now.  I have over 40 posts, with almost 3000 views overall.  One post has over 200 views, which absolutely amazes me.  People (not just my boyfriend and best friends) are actually reading this, for better or for worse.  They don't just scroll by on their way through their Facebook feed.  

That's incredible to me.  Does it mean I'm somehow popular, that I have a social media "presence"?

And speaking of Facebook, there's the ubiquitous "likes" that my endless posts and selfies and shared memes receive.

Does that make me popular?  Do people like me?  Do they?  

Do you?

I'm all-too-guilty of reading into what it means when certain people "like" what I post on Facebook, by who likes my blog, by who comments about what.  Do we all do this?  Probably, at least to an extent.

Overall, though, I'm not great at self-promotion.  I never have been.  I don't want to seem needy or pushy or, worst of all, desperate.  I don't have thousands of Facebook friends.  In fact, I generally don't make friend requests and don't accept requests from anyone I don't actually know.  I don't have many strangers who know who I am (though that is changing, thanks to my job at Fish Eye Fun).  I'm not famous by a long shot.

I don't think I know how to be popular, really.  I still wonder at how many people genuinely want me to hang out with them.  Hell, I'm still in shock that my own boyfriend hasn't gotten sick of me yet.

So, the question is, am I writing this blog to be popular?  Do I post on Facebook to be popular, to get that little boost to my self-esteem?

I like to think not.  I can't lie and say that I'm not pleased every time someone likes my blog.  And I certainly can't say that I'm not vain.  But I don't write specifically for those likes, for the comments, or even for the blog views.  I write because I need to write, because I need the practice, because I need the weekly deadline, and because it helps.

It helps me, and I hope it helps others.

Fame and fortune and a weekly paid column wouldn't hurt, and I certainly wouldn't turn them down (hint, hint), but they're not what I'm doing this for.

I'm doing this for myself.  (And because Mark insists that I do it.)

I'm doing this because I think it's important to be honest about my life on the off-chance that someone needs to hear it.  When I was married, I didn't know anything narcissists, about gaslighting, or about emotional manipulation.  I didn't know that he had the ability to lie so smoothly that I questioned my own memories.  I didn't know that I didn't deserve to be treated like a servant, that I didn't deserve to be blamed for everything that was wrong with his life. 

I didn't know.

Now I do.  And I don't want to keep it a shameful secret anymore.  I want to talk about it, whether it makes me popular or unpopular, as the case may be.

So... do you love me now?