Sometimes I write short stories. I wrote this one in response to a painting as part of a celebration of the artist's work. It was fun. And I like the woman in the story and in the painting.
“It would show off your cheekbones,” said Marie. “Your cheekbones and your collarbones. I mean, if you do it, you gotta commit, like really commit to the idea that you might have to wear lipstick more often then you do now. And like, really good lipstick. Capital L lipstick.”
“Is that like LESBIAN lipstick?” said Sarah.
“Ha ha,” said Marie. “No, you’re going for the opposite effect. Actually. Unless you were going for the lipstick lesbian kind of lipstick look. But that’s a totally different look. That’s not like this picture at all.”
They both peered down again at the photo in the magazine Sarah held that had prompted this entire scintillating conversation. The movie star with the pixie cut was pretty but not stunning—she was an ACTRESS, on the cusp of maybe a big deal career but still reassuringly foreign and classy. A good source of fashion inspiration—for someone like Sarah, anyway, Marie assured her.
“I guess I’m just saying, its hard to know until you do it, what it’s really gonna look like. I mean, I think you basically have the bone structure for it, but it’s not like a sure thing. And then when you do it, it’s kind of done. So I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying that maybe you should buy the lipstick BEFORE. So you have it. As a back up. Wait, aren’t you going to buy the magazine?”
Sarah froze. She had been about to return it to the shelf, Marie was right. She should buy the magazine, and take it with her when she went to visit her hairdresser. Then she would present the hairdresser with the picture and say, “Make me look like this.” Nevermind she didn’t have an appointment yet, or actually even a hairdresser. Never mind that not so long ago, she would have simply ripped the page from the magazine and pocketed it. There was a chance, of course, she might have been caught, and forced to buy the magazine anyway, but if alternative was actually buying the magazine, it seemed like a pretty good gamble. Besides, people at the Borders were unlikely to make a scene, so she’s likely be safe. In those days, she would have crammed the picture in her pocket, just because she liked it, and likely have forgotten about until after it had gone through the wash. But that was one of those behaviors she had decided to leave behind.
Deciding things was very important to Sarah. In fact, she had decided that DECIDING things, that making DECISIONS was something she needed to get better at, to sharpen her skills, to practice. She was going to decide what she wanted to be, and will herself into being that person. And the first step would be to will the rest of the world into seeing her that way, into seeing her as that girl. She needed to her head to be indomitable so that the rest of her might follow. Her body would have to follow.
The body was an important part of her DECISION. Her body now, well it worked okay, but it wasn’t quite right. Not yet. It wasn’t really lean, but it would be, she felt sure, once she had the right haircut and everything in her life began to fall into place. Her body would follow her hair and become hard, well, not Susan Powter hard (NOTE TO SELF: tell hairdresser not to me look like Susan Powter, avoid being both bleached AND manic simultaneously). No, she wanted to be ballerina hard. Lithe and indestructible and yet still held aloft. Though if she stopped to think about it, she had never seen a sugar plum fairy with a boy’s haircut.
“You might look like Mia Farrow, like in Rosemary’s Baby. That’s good, right?”
“Yeah, that would be cool.”
“Then you wouldn’t even need the lipstick. You’d be like a hot little girl or something.”
Sarah knew she wouldn’t look like a hot little girl. Unlike Marie, she knew what she had looked like when she really was a little girl and it wasn’t hot, and she wasn’t altogether unthankful for that. She had looked...it was hard to find a word for it. Maybe, messy? No, that was too charitable. She had looked dirty. She had looked like the kind of little girl who would grow up to be a teenager who ripped pictures out of a magazine.
She looked at the price on the magazine: $5. Not so long ago, that would have seemed crazy. She looked at her friend Marie, the kind of friend who you walked over to a Borders with during your lunch break. Who gave you advice on haircuts with absolute confidence and insulted you while doing it. She liked Marie because Marie was so decisive she plucked her eyebrows. Not even the tiniest hairs on her body were left to chance. Sarah thought it would do her good to have lunch with someone like that.
She looked at the picture of the actress one more time. It was undeniably pretty but it wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t quite what she had in mind. And she did have an image in mind, an image of the girl she wanted to be. Someone with strong dark hair, cut short and brutal above her ears. The kind of girl who wore deeply scooped necklines and took very deep breaths. The kind of girl who had banished almost all color from her wardrobe out of a deep sense of sartorial discipline. A girl who found peace in that kind of rigor. Who could tip her head back, even in a public space, close her eyes, and make a wish.
She smiled at Marie and headed toward the checkout counter. She would buy the magazine, even though she knew it meant one less beer this weekend, a purchase which would give her infinitely more pleasure. She would buy the magazine because she liked its weight, liked its resolutely shiny cover, liked the cover model’s brave teeth. She would buy it because the magazine felt like a decision, heavy in her hands. She would buy it even though she knew that she would never show the picture to a hairdresser. She would buy it even though she knew that tonight, after work, she would go home and pull the kitchen scissors out of their drawer, go into the bathroom, take off her shirt, stand in front of the mirror in her bra, and chop her own hair off. Then she would shake the dead hair from her shoulders, look at herself in the mirror and take a very deep breath.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
So it seemed like a good idea at the time to lock myself in a theatre overnight with a group of aspiring young playwrights. And, spoiler alert, it was in the end. Because sometimes, not often, but sometimes, everyone is their best selves. Sometimes the students push themselves to do some hard work and even then, know when to edit themselves. Sometimes the grown-ups (ie TEACHERS in my universe) are there for said students and help them make their ideas into something legible to the wilder world. Sometimes actors actually learn their lines and sometimes jokes actually work. Sometimes ideas mush together and become more than mush, become more than the sum of their parts and give real meaning to that mysterious word “inter-disciplinary” which only a few people care about but they care about it very much. Sometimes the stoner jokes are really funny and watching who are people not yet 20 struggle with their secret thoughts on a public stage is actually not cringe-inducing but sweet and honest and a bit brave. I had a good weekend, and I drank a lot of coffee and got to be glad, once again, that I am a teacher. But since I suspect that the very witty and black-humored teenagers who I spent all of Friday night with would cringe at that last statement, let me just say that my lesson learned is really this: put a kid in a tiger suit and let him pretend to be high and the humanities come to life.