Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lipstick Cherry All Over the Lens

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.

Silly me.

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.


Inanna said...

You're a brilliant writer, you know. I hope you're doing it somewhere else, too, and someone is paying you handsomely for it.

Funny, my highlights are growing out, and I don't give a f***. My sister noticed - "I think you need a retouch." I just looked at her like she had three heads. My baby died a month ago, and I'm supposed to worry about my hair!?

But you're right... it IS how you feel on the inside. And I feel crappy inside - so excuse my outside for a while, k? :x

loribeth said...

For all the dozens of tubes of lipstick & gloss I have (most of them from "gifts with purchase"), I only ever put lipstick on in the morning. Seems like I never remember to reapply it during the day.

Brenna said...

What an absolutely brilliant post! I agree with Inanna, I hope you're writing professionally in some capacity. What a gift!

I'd like a tube of "Wake the fuck up Pink" to stash in my purse. I can't seem to get the hang of lipstick though--I'm a strictly lipgloss girl.

I think it was about 3 months after the loss of our boys before I started to care in the tiniest way about my appearance. It definitely took time, but eventually I realized -- like you said -- that paying a bit of attention to my outside was going to improve the way I felt inside, too.

Michele said...

I remember at Alexander's memorial service, a well meaning relative told me, "I know this is probably the worst time of your life, but you look great. Simply gorgeous." It was all I could do to not say something along the lines of "Thank God! I didnt want to look like a bum at my son's funeral!"

I dont wear make up but if I did, I'd pick lipstick in the color of "dont-ask-me-if-I'm-fucking-alright-red"

Ya Chun said...

maybe i'll throw on some lipstick for my afternoon gardening

erica said...

This post = brilliant. We have a volunteer tulip growing in front of our house - I keep feeling as though it should be sad and lonely, but it's one of those vivid orange and yellow things that seems to be enjoying itself, and it makes me smile to look at it.

I may have to reconsider lipstick.

Melissia said...

I like to imagine the people who planted those azaleas, maybe the tags were missing, or they were mother's day gifts from the children and she could not bear to throw them out?
I do the same with the wisteria crawling across the yard, or the few bulbs that are still coming up in those old houses in your neighborhood. Our home was build in 1902 and we still have bulbs that have been coming up since then. One family owned the house for 90 years, and she did not believe in dividing her iris so we have not done so either. She lived to be 109 and gardened until she was 100, but being a Southern Baptist, she never wore lipstick!

angie said...

As always, Tash, brilliant post. Abrazos y besos.

Beautiful Mess said...

My "lipstick" is the jewelry I got after my mom passed. I don't wear it to make me look better, I wear it because it makes ME feel better. That's what matters most. It's the "little" that get me through the day and on to the next.

niobe said...

My mother never wore make up and, while I put it on once in a while, it always feels like I'm doing it wrong.

ShastaFizzy said...

Man. This was a gorgeous post, no lipstick required.

G$ said...

Whenever I wear lipstick, my lips peel like two days later. Lip gloss, some of them, doesn't do this. I just put some on. But I think mascara is my lipstick.

I love when little girls Bella's age try out makeup. They look ridiculous but they have those silly totally happy grins.

Aunt Becky said...

I need to start taking care of myself. I've been so down lately I just don't make time for myself. It's so stupid.

Thanks for this post, Tash.

Betty M said...

Our wisteria is in fact next door's wisteria. All the blooms, hazy cloudy blue purple ones, are in our garden.

I need a haircut, a wax, an eyebrow shape and a new midriff. Miscarriage doesn't suit me. I did buy two new suits to make up for the unkempt body inside them.

Which Box said...

I love that you used the word rouge, it's so old fashioned now, but so evocative.

Hope's Mama said...

I love reading here!

k@lakly said...

Wearing a hat always did that for me. I felt like a new person, totally different from who I was at the moment and it also gave me a little license to be a tad bit braver than I felt.
Never did find the right grief hat...but I still wear the same grief shoes.
Great post Tash, as always.

Alexicographer said...

Agree with Inanna about your writing, but also would recommend you consider a line of cosmetics. I don't even wear lipstick, but I'd definitely spring for Wake the fuck up Pink

sweetsalty kate said...

"...you could tell through her music that her cool and sophisticated demeanor masked a river of romance that ran through her bones."

Tash, you're amazing. That was so great. That sentence almost beat 'wake the fuck up pink'. Almost.

What a fantastic post.

charmedgirl said...

i didn't cut my hair or brush my teeth in 07 either...cause i was pregnant and depressed (i think it was aunt beck that finally said the words prepartum depression)...and then she died.

after that, i remember getting my hair cut for the first time in a year, and telling the stylist that my baby just died, like a month ago. she kept asking me to smile, or cheer up, or some such stupidity. i went to the dentist. i went to the dermatologist. i (not only showered but i) put on lotion after i showered. i worked out every day.

i tried to start taking care of myself, because if i had been all along, she may have lived.

i hear ya on those little fibs (you guys don't like brown soda! it's yuck!). as far as the draw of the fashion, i have one that changes clothes all day long (shoes and panties included). she makes a point to tell you (and EVERYONE) if you are wearing a "beautiful" shirt or dress. basically she loves anything bright or totally whore-y looking...but didn't we all. didn't we all.

i hate lipstick. it makes me feel completely self-conscious, always has.

ms. G said...

Fabulous post, Tash. Though I don't wear makeup, it's true, it is how you feel inside. And, sometimes, its the little things that make us keep going on, and give us strength to get through another day. Love your haircut issue, because I actually have a similiar haircut issue. In fact, still haven't been back to the place that cut my hair shortly before having M, even though it is close to my house.

Oh! and I love, love your parenting techniques with gum and "bubble" drinks! May have to borrow those from you!

janis said...

I LOVE this post, on so many levels, Tash.

CLC said...

I went to a new hairstylist a few weeks after Hannah died because I couldn't bear facing my old one. But this woman commented on my thick luxurious hair (due to pregnancy) and I blurted out what happened. She was so stunned we sat in silence for the rest of the time. Not even a "I'm sorry". I guess I can see how awkward it is now, but back then I fumed. I never went back and resumed going back to my original hairdresser after I had a friend call her and tell her what happened. And she hugged me and cried with me during that next visit.

Anyway, you didn't ask for that story, so sorry. Great post. I wish it were so easy as putting on some lipstick.

Lisa b said...

I love this Tash.
I felt the same way when my girl discovered makeup.

luna said...

I also love this post, tash. sometimes I put on eye makeup just so I can project awakeness.
another brilliant one.

Kymberli said...

"Just put on a happy face" has a whole new meaning now. I might not desire punching out the next person who says something like that to me.

Now where's that damned Be Brave & Quit Your Bitching Blush that I have somewhere in the bottom of my bag?

Lollipop Goldstein said...

You have just made me think that perhaps I should get around to shaving my legs this weekend.

I love that idea of putting on the lipstick for yourself. Not for someone else, but to make you feel differently on the inside.

melka said...

I rarely wear makeup, but if I wear anything, it's lipstick. Though I've never shelled out money for a stick - I just used to collect them every time I saw my mom, getting the unused rejects from makeup packs and gift sets she gets. Colors that are wrong for her, right for me. She was always a girly girl, my childhood tomboy ways (which I never entirely outgrew) driving her to distraction. So lipstick makes me simultaneously feel more feminine, and yet that I actually have no idea how to be a real girl. Those sticks double as flashlights, shining a light to show the depth of the chasm between me and my mom. Makes me lightheaded to look down there.

A.M.S. said...

1. I have a deep weakness for randomly planted azalea of varying colors in the middle of unruly, weedy groundcover. Personally, I think it looks beautiful. I've been trying, unsuccessfully, for many years to achieve that very look.

2. I haven't had a haircut since my first trimester with the twins. Pregnancy stopped my PCOS hairloss for a long time and at first, my hair looked better than it had in forever. Now, it sports a style better known as apathy. Maybe it's time for me to consider some of that Wake the Fuck Up Pink.

Much love. Always.