Spring is here, that fickle bitch, what with a week encompassing a prickly 92 degrees and a damp, cool 54. There are fields of weeds to be pulled up, there is yellow-green fuzz on my car and surfaces in my house near windows that I deigned to open the last nice day. We're stockpiling alright -- on claratin, flonase and the like, and I feel like printing shirts for me and Bella that announce, "ALLERGIES! NOT FLU!"
Spring is pretty coupled with problematic, and ultimately makes me feel like I should be doing more than I'm doing, and, well, feeling more than I'm feeling.
I've noticed before, but never so much until this year, that one thing I like so much about this neighborhood is spring. It seems as if every house, even the most ramshackle, boarded up, neglected heaps have something in the front yard -- be it a scraggly, volunteer dogwood tree, a few bulbs that were probably deposited by a run-away squirrel, a technicolor fuscia-hued azalea in desperate need of pruning and shaping. There is color there, as if mother nature said, "Dang, this place needs a hit of rogue," in hopes that the human passers-by would overlook the dirt-filled yard, the sunken porch, the stump overgrown with ravenous vine. And this time of year? It works. This old trick works, and my eye is drawn to the lonely clump of red tulips, or the appropriately-named weeping cherry, or the grape-like clumps of bright purple wisteria -- even if their ancient support has long-ago collapsed, and they're now slithering across an un-mowed lawn. The dilapidated that exists in a few pockets will soon be overpowered by a layer of green, and I will only come to realize how dumpy some of the nearby abodes are in late fall, when the leaves finally drop and there is no amount of snow that hides the droopy shutters.
Sometimes it's a bit whorish, but spring's a welcome makeover.
(Lest I embarrass my neighbors, this is a unkempt corner of my yard, where someone thought it wise to randomly plant azalea of varying colors in the middle of unruly, weedy groundcover.)
I played violin seriously from age four to twenty-two, and until college, studied with the same teacher. She was a Juliard-trained woman, who came of professional age at a time when orchestras were still edgy about hiring women (their stamina for rehearsal and uteri exploding with babies in need of attention were undoubtedly ticks against them in the hiring process), and -- much like me, now that I think of it -- arrived in New York City, sight-unseen, from the south. She was proper, she was elegant, and you could tell through her music that her cool and sophisticated demeanor masked a river of romance that ran through her bones.
She taught kids like me for a living, and had crazy hours -- she eventually ran a studio, travelled in order to meet demand elsewhere in the Phoenix area, worked camps and master classes, and taught taught taught, six days a week, beginning at 7:00 a.m. and often running through the dinner hour.
It was not uncommon to arrive at the studio, sometime after my school had let out in the late afternoon, 4:30 p.m. or so, and while I warmed up, she would pull out her compact, and carefully apply lipstick -- always something cheery. For years I was too young to take much away from this ritual, but at some point, I wondered why she was putting lipstick on for me, for a violin lesson, for fuck's sake.
At some point, I'm not sure whether the wondering got the best of me, or she volunteered the information, but in a late-afternoon practice room, as she focused on her mirror, she said, "If you're ever tired, just put on a little lipstick. Wakes you right up."
All this time, she was fucking exhausted, drinking coffee out of her thermos, escorting me and countless others through pouty twinkle-twinkle to stress-laden competitions and auditions and tapings, always with a freshly made pair of lips.
She taught me so much, this teacher. She saw me weekly, for fourteen years. She was in charge of selecting my music, and while my friends were put through the usual paces of Bloch and Bruch and Mendelssohn by their instructors, she sensed something else in me, and put in front of me raw and passionate, wildly-fun and painfully-aching Wieniawski and Lalo. I realized only in retrospect that she, of all people, gleaned a personality that I was only coming to understand myself. And yet I remember so clearly, things like this hot Arizona afternoon, wandering through my scales, while she dabbed her LateAfternoonDoldrums Red freshly made mouth on a dainty handkerchief.
My neighborhood springtime lipstick application and memories of Mrs. M coincided nicely with Julia's timely piece at GITW on how we take care of ourselves -- our outward selves and appearances. I didn't cut my hair in '07, in large part because I didn't want to go back to the stylist who did my hair at 39w and have to explain the whole fucking thing; and in part because I simply didn't care. My eyebrows grew shabby. My skin, already fucked over by progesterone supplements and pregnancy, exploded in a torrent of stress and hormones. It didn't help that I rarely bothered to wash it. I brushed my teeth if I had the energy, I gave up flossing. The makeup I had bought expressly for my brother's wedding, a month before Maddy was conceived, lay in the drawer collecting dust. I didn't want to buy new clothes for my new, large, ungainly, memory-laden and depressing body, so I wore sweats and big t-shirts well into summer. I looked the part, there was no mistaking that something about me was completely, totally wrong. Could be grief; could be flu.
My first foray out into groups and crowds was a local fundraiser held at a neighbor's house, in May? June? Well, it seemed awfully soon to me, whenever it was. I pulled a comb through my unkempt hair, poured my body into a cheap sundress, decided no amount of makeup could possibly do justice to my skin. But heeding some advice from the crevices of my memory, I pulled out an ancient tube of lipstick and carefully applied it.
Not for anyone else, mind you. Not to look better, certainly -- my mouth was in no way going to detract from my baggy eyes or my sorry midsection.
Just a quick coating of Wake the fuck up Pink to get me out the door.
Bella returned home from a party last week, and nestled in her goodie bag was a plastic container of lipgloss on a string. While I can still (!) pull the ol' bluff of "Hey, you don't like gum so I'm throwing it out, ok?" (much like I make a face and explain, "Eew, this drink has BUBBLES in it. You don't like bubbles. I'll find you some water." These scams aren't long for the making, are they), there was no getting rid of the MAKEUP. She seriously ground her finger into the pink goo, and mashed it on her lips, so she more resembled The Joker than any angelic child model made up beyond their years. It was depressing (she's FOUR!) and simultaneously fucking hilarious.
"How do I look?" Bella asked, with a mature downward glance that screamed for a Louis Vitton briefcase, and possibly a fan to blow some wind through the wisps of hair around her face.
Sometimes it's not about how it alters the outside, but how it makes you feel on the inside.