Friday, February 09, 2007

a ninth-grade photo and a root canal, all rolled into one

See my avatar? (It sees you!) That little eye inspired this post a year ago last fall. After much procrastination and quite a bit of forgetting I whittled that baby down to 100 words and e-mailed it last month to the The Washington Post, for consideration as a Sunday Style Life is Short.

They replied immediately! With a form letter. It thanked me for my submission and said if I hadn't heard any good news in three weeks I should resume breathing. I sighed and let it go.

But then! Two days later! A phone call! "Congratulations, we'd like to publish your essay," said Mary-from-The-Washington-Post. In my mind's eye she was smartly bespectacled, with a warm smile and a pencil through her bun.

"We'll be sending one of our photographers out to take your picture next week."

Mary sprouted horns and blew a raspberry with her forked tongue.

I don't like greenbeans. I don't like suburbs. And I definitely don't like cameras.

Oh, I've got my reasons. Shyness, mixed with vestigial insecurity about my goofy adolescent face. Mostly it's about control -- I must be the first pair of eyes on any portrayal of my being, and wield veto power as I see fit. It's like the laser that shoots misshapen potato chips off the factory line: I will decide what's fit for public consumption -- and what is not.

Rebecca the Photographer phoned me the next day. I was fully prepared to tell her thanks, but I'm going to have my father take the picture because, well, I'm a little neurotic, and maybe kinda vain, and while I'm sure you're more than capable, at least if I keep this awkward exercise in the family I'll have some say over the outcome...

She was disarmingly kind.

"But I'm a designer; I'll probably try to art-direct you," I warned.

She said, "It's okay, I'm an artist too."

"I might cry."

Rebecca laughed and told me not to worry. We decided she would meet me Saturday afternoon at Cafe Deluxe, where I'd be lunching with friends.

Somehow I made it through the rest of the week without sprouting a zit. I drank two cups of diuretic tea Friday night to stave off any bloating. Saturday I spent 30 minutes applying too much makeup and another 45 wriggling in and out of every sweater I own, only to yank on my faithful black tee before launching myself out the door, shamefully late for lunch. My mirrored powder compact sat open on the table: First I fished out a rogue sweater fiber that threatened to redden my eye. Then I checked my teeth. And my lipgloss. And my pores, one by one. My friends were very understanding.

You probably expect me to say that all the apprehension was for naught; that once the clicking began I rose to the occasion and posed with the candid grace of a National Geographic gazelle. Yes, I could say that. But it would be a big fat overpowdered lie.

If you have never been on the business end of a professional camera, by all means give it a try. Not only are you painfully aware that each of your cells is being cataloged for posterity, the lens is so wide and shiny you can actually watch yourself shifting, squirming and wearing too much eyeliner -- from a distance of eight little inches. (Rebecca was going for detail.) It was like being pressed onto a microscope slide. I felt like a virus.

Rebecca was kind enough to show me her digital shots as we went along. I was inconsolable. "My face is too round! Why am I doing that with my lip? God, are my teeth really that big? Maybe I should have brought my laptop so we could see this on the screen. Do you want to come to my house so we can look at them there? No? I only live a few blocks away. Please don't let me be ugly in The Washington Post."

Rebecca seemed like a nice person, certainly a talented person, but not the sort of person who has a long fuse for high-strung persons like me. She was nearing the end of her rope so I decided to go for broke:

"Look, I just went through one of the nastiest breakups in the history of the civilized world. And let's be honest -- " I effected my best just-between-us-girls face -- "I'm all for living well, but looking hot in public is really the best revenge."

I don't know a woman alive who'd disagree with that. Rebecca promised to e-mail her top picks to me before she sent them to the paper, though after the way I'd exasperated her I half expected a shot of her middle finger instead.

Whatever the source of my discomfort in all this -- looking at my own face, or my face looking back at me -- the outcome is more or less irrelevant since I am not the intended beholder. My personal Peanut Gallery confirmed that of the three final shots, two were fit to print and one didn't look a thing like me. Which one will be published is anyone's guess.

'Til then, since Rebecca's had enough of me, I'll be bargaining with God. (Please don't let me be ugly in The Washington Post...)


Barbara said...

You were amazingly calm through lunch given the anxiety level you describe here. I watched the photo shoot and must admit there was a little angst after the last click of the shutter. But everything I saw looked fit to print. I can't wait to see someone I know in the Haiku section of the WaPo.

honeykbee said...

Wow! Congrats! Both for the publication and for surviving the photo shoot. I'll be looking for your work in the Po!

I-66 said...

I don't often read a hard copy of the Post, but for this I will make an exception.

Congratulations, Rojita.

Reya Mellicker said...

There's no way any picture of you could be ugly. You are gorgeous! But I hope she prints one of the pics you kind of liked. Can't wait to see you in the Post! It's so exciting, healing, and yes the very best revenge!

Old Lady said...

I feel your pain. I too hate/love cameras. I understand your need completely, to see all damning photos!! I have never liked a picture of myself, until a few years later. I just completed an emotional serial post, and as an afterthought posted pics of myself during that time. When those pics were taken I hated them and thought I was fat and ugly. Now that I am really fat, ugly and old I reallly appreciate them more. I have since taken the pics down, because I began to think that posting the pics was too prideful.

I will check on line and many congratulations on being published.

Anonymous said...

I thought it seemed like it could see me... I even think it winks sometimes just as I turn away.

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