how i don’t like my steak.
(i like it medium)
how i don’t like my steak.
(i like it medium)
my first thought was about how often, and in how many ways, women are told to smile, and what bullshit that is. we should be able to arrange our faces however we want. i’ll smile when i feel like it, thanks, and if i don’t feel like it…then i won’t.
and yet…when i actually said the word smile to myself again (and again), i saw images of people’s smiling faces in my mind’s eye, like a slideshow. and as i lingered on these faces of the people i love, studied them, drank them in…i thought about how a truly genuine smile transforms a face: the way the eyes seem to transmit light, how the skin around them crinkles. how the cheeks lift, how the brow softens, how the mouth stretches and moves. how dimples appear (my wife has the most lovely, deep dimples, and i remember the heart-skipping, breathless feeling of first seeing her smile).
i thought about the power of a smile. how changes the face it graces, but also, can actually change the course of your day. i realized how dependent i am on seeing smiling faces, how important it is for me to elicit them, but also to receive them unsolicited. i thought about how hard it is not to return a smile.
there are so many varieties of smiles, too. beaming ones, full of delight. slow, mischievous smiles. dreamy ones. quick polite smiles. secret smiles between lovers. shy ones. sad, resigned ones. gentle ones, full of love. sleepy ones. impy, cheeky smiles that are on the brink of a laugh…and so so many more. just thinking about them all, i felt the corners of my own mouth turn up, funny, isn’t it?
then i meandered towards the evolution of smiles…how tiny babies begin to smile, at four or five or six weeks of age, mouth fully open, eyes wide, locking with yours, entire body vibrating with unadulterated delight. (as an older baby, i remember how daughter used to smile with her whole body, wrists and ankles rotating, breath quickening, eyes sparkling…it was my favourite. it felt like the best gift, those smiles.)
and then, depending on attachment between parents and baby, and the disposition of the baby and probably a million other things, the smile starts to change. mostly around the eyes, it seems…and also in that smiling becomes far more interdependent, and will intensify or decrease with the feedback the smiler receives from the people around them.
trust me to take a post on smiling down a grim path…but i keep on thinking of some of the pictures i have in my possession, as a baby, and a toddler, and then a little girl. some of the pictures are formal and posed, like at a portrait studio, and others more candid…it doesn’t even matter, because when i look, when i really look, i’m struck by how fucking sad i look in nearly all of them. how my smile, even when i was absolutely fucking tiny, was so guarded and contained.
i hate that. i hate that confirmation.
i hate seeing that same type of smile in pocketbrit’s baby and toddler photos. the same kind of eyes. i don’t know how to describe it other than to say it’s familiar and hurts my heart and makes me mad and definitely does not make me feel like smiling. it fills me with grief and sorrow.
i was also thinking about the evolution of the relationship between pocketbrit and i, how something as automatic and commonplace as a smile was something we didn’t share for ages. we shared all sorts of other things, but not that.
i mean, we knew what the other looked like via photos we shared, and daily goofy selfies, emojis and gifs, the occasional video…but in terms of seeing each other’s true, unedited, unplanned, spontaneously smiling face? it hasn’t even been a year, i feel like. and the first time we actually video-called each other (after months of talking about it, and then being terrified about it), guess what we ended up doing?
basically, we looked at each other and smiled for about 10 minutes (that’s all we could bear that first call, i think). think huge, dorky grins. i was so nervous but also so completely delighted to see her, to be with her in that way. it’s making me smile really big thinking of it now, too…but smiling’s such a simple, daily thing we take for granted, right? like such a basic way we interact with others? and yet, it is also such an intimate, lovely thing, that can convey so so much.
i remember thinking afterwards how completely odd it was, that she she knew the inside workings of my brain and my fears and my trauma before she knew what i looked like when i smiled. how backwards and weird and wonderful it was.
i actually googled how often we smile, and was surprised that it was only 20 times per day on average, according to this source. apparently happier people smile 40-50 times per day, and children, 400 times per day.
(okay but then i scrolled down and started to laugh so so hard…because apparently brits only smile 11 times per day, according to this study. so get a-smirking over there, friend, so you can keep up with us over here!)
what a forceful word.
i was all over the place with the word, thought of everything from terminating a pregnancy to terminating a contract to arnold schwarzenegger movies.
i guess what i hope i’m doing is terminating the cycle of my parents, and my ancestors…of abuse. of violence. of silence, and suffering in isolation.
i know it is still in me, all the rot…all of the horrors of my grandparents, and their parents. i am certain that there was incest in my parents’ families of origin; there was certainly alcoholism and domestic violence and mental illness aplenty, some kept subterranean, some more flamboyant. there is a quickness to my anger that scares me, that flashes and flares with a suddenness that is overwhelming and deeply triggering. the pull of addiction is strong in my blood, and i’ve been flying my cuckoo flag high for years.
i guess we’ll find out in another decade or so, when our kid is in full-fledged therapy, as to how successful i’ve been in terminating the unsavoury parts of my lineage. it’s like a really fun, suspenseful game of roulette…will it be the things i’ve anticipated that have fucked her up, or something that flew entirely under the radar?
i’m not much capable of much beyond some free association tonight, so here goes:
i have no idea why this got stuck in my head, but it was all i could think since reading the word. and there are plenty of more interesting things i could have written about, beautiful places and people and experiences i’ve known…but i couldn’t get that one line from keats’ ode on a grecian urn out of my mind: the one that goes, beauty is truth; truth beauty.
so yeah, i’m a geek. i know. just wait. it will get geekier, but only slightly, i promise, i won’t interpret it line by line or anything like that…
i remember reading this in high school, and being struck by keats’ poetry, his odes in particular, i don’t know exactly why. maybe because an ode was meant to be complex and complicated, lyrical (and i fancied myself all of those, haha) or maybe because originally, like back in ancient greece, they were intended to be sung? or coz the guy wrote like a fucking boss, and was way ahead of his time and died way too young? i don’t know exactly, but i loved this poem, and i loved learning all the hot debates about its last two lines.
like who was speaking it? the urn to him? him to the urn, or to the characters on the urn, who were going to be there beyond him, speaking to onlookers in perpetuity? or him to us? and what was the commentary, exactly?
here’s my read: art is a better storyteller than clunky, awkward words. beauty is in the eye of the beholder – for that person, the thing that makes their heart sing, the person who turns their crank – is what is beautiful, and that’s final. that beauty, what we find beautiful – art, nature, the body – is the only truth worth living.
i have so many fond memories about india, but among some of my fondest are traveling by train.
when i left canada for india, i had secured a volunteer position with an indian NGO, and funded my travels through working several jobs in university, living at home, and saving nearly all of my money. although i found out when i arrived that the organization was going to provide a monthly stipend, and despite the much cheaper cost of living there, i still wanted to be really careful with my money. i wanted to travel, and i wanted to see everything i could.
in those lonely first evenings in india, as i was bounced around from temporary place to temporary place (before i found my own flat with eight other young, single, women, all of them indian) i read my guidebook, and dreamed about where i’d go. armed with tips from friends from home, recommendations from my new friends at work, and my trusty lonely planet guide, i planned my routes.
buses were cheapest, exhilerating and terrifying at once to ride, but were completely awful for overnight travel. and from my first trip overnight on a train, i was hooked.
i was on a budget, so i travelled the cheapest way i could, which was non-air conditioned, second class. i learned very quickly that a sleeper car with an upper berth was best, because if it was a super long journey, i could have my own space, whereas the poor folks on the middle and lower berths would be forced to sit up during the day (the middle ‘mattress’ in the picture would fold down to be the back of the lower bench).
i loved, and i mean LOVED, sleeping on those trains. there was honestly no good reason for it; it was noisy, and crammed full of people and smells…there were no pillows except for the bundle of clothes or towel you rolled up under your own arms, and it was always hot…but it was the best. it was the motion, i think. it was being rocked, the little bit of breeze coming in the windows, the sweet clackety monotony of the wheels on the tracks, the darkness…i would give anything to ride a second class sleeper train again. to hear its creaks, feel the wind in my face, and be lulled to sleep with its steady, lumbering movement, leaving smoke in its wake.
i really can’t do this one justice either, tonight. though i feel like i write about her every second entry, i feel struck dumb by the magnitude of this one.
i am one. a mother, i mean.
i had one, but i don’t anymore.
there is almost nothing that fills me with more desperation than the absence of one. nothing that makes me feel more lost and bereft in the world.
i have four posts in draft form right now. i’m having the worst time trying to get the words out, especially when they feel so important.
suffice it to say that i am a master of avoidance, which 100% creates more problems and 0% actually helps me in my life.
i will have to come back to this…
the first thing i thought (and then wrote) was: never-ending.
shoulda left it there, but no, i decided to take a little lookie-loo on google. idiot idea.
(via merriam-webster): to make free from injury or disease. to make sound or whole
(via wikipedia) (i know, i know, not the best authority on anything, but…): the process of the restoration of health from an unbalanced, diseased, damaged or unvitalized organism
there were others, but those kicked me in the gut sufficiently.
to make sound or whole. to restore health from a damaged organism. fuck.
to re-establish a life, to revitalize. sure, okay.
i don’t know why it’s hurting so much to read all of that, i don’t have the words to describe how impossible it all feels. and to summarize all that has been lost, has been ‘unvitalized’ (is that a word, even?), to look out upon the landscape of what needs restoration and think, holy fuck, do i even have enough life left to do it?
where will this pain live, when i’m 50 or 68 or 91 years old? where will it have settled? will i be whole?
i am not sure i have ever experienced happiness to the point of oblivion.
but the closest i can think of is when i am floating in the water, on my back, sun on my face, eyes closed. i love that it is quiet and muffled. i love that i can let my body go, let it be weightless and held. i love seeing the sky, and only the sky. all the blue, all around.