Sunday, February 24, 2019

This being human is hard

I feel a vague unease. Maybe it's anxiety. I'm traveling to DC on Friday to meet with a book subject who is looking for a collaborator. I would love to collaborate on this amazing woman's book, but this is the beauty pageant round, in which she meets with several writers before choosing one to work with, and my intel tells me two of the other writers she's meeting with are local. Why wouldn't she choose someone local? I'm philosophical. If the book is meant to be mine, it will be, and if not, I will at least have met this badass, history-making woman.

So, the anxiety. It always comes when I need to show up in person, and meet people who don't already know me. I'm less worried about the subject, who seems utterly down to earth and unimpressed by mere appearances. Her agent on the other hand. He will be in our meeting, too. He is based in LA, land of the beautiful people. He and I had a warm, connected conversation on the phone; he sounds like an empathetic, sensitive man. Of course, I also googled him and he is simply beautiful, with sea-glass blue eyes, white blond hair with a perfect wave, bone structure for days. A middle aged Adonis. And then there's me with my ungainly limp and girth, awkward and introverted and frantically devising excuses to cancel having to appear altogether.

I thought I had a good one—excuse that is. I went to get my hair trimmed and colored last week in anticipation of showing up this week. My usual hair person was out of town, so I went to another woman who comes highly recommended. I didn't love the trim, but the color was a disaster. My usual color is light brown, but my hair came out almost black, with auburn red highlights at the tips. It was so stark against my face, and made me look sallow and washed out. I hated it, especially in the morning when I first looked at myself barefaced in the bathroom mirror.

I immediately bought a box of L'Oreal color that was one step lighter than my usual cover-the gray shade, and applied in that very morning. Even though the color red was coming off on my plastic application gloves as I stroked in the color, when I washed everything out the box color had made about a five percent difference. I looked ridiculous to my own eye. I almost picked up the phone right then to cancel my meeting, but instead I called my friend who does the same collaborative writing work that I do. Even as she brainstormed solutions to the hair drama with me, she insisted that I refrain from taking myself out of the running for this book that falls right into my social justice sweet spot, and which she knows I would love to write.

In time, the hysteria passed. I made peace with showing up looking wack. I tried to remind myself that the way people look doesn't really matter to me, so why do I assume my own physical self is so off-putting? I'm sure it has to do (in part) with growing up fat in a family and a culture where everyone else was mostly thin and willowy. My mother, who was slender, was always impeccably turned out, cool and elegant, while I tugged at my dresses and the lace-edged socks that were always sliding down into my shoes.

That feeling of being all kinds of wrong has never left me. I'm sure it isn't helped by my being still overweight, by aging, by being black in a society that doesn't value black skin. Or maybe these are all excuses for a feeling that is far more existential, or perhaps more mundanely rooted in simply being human. I don't really know. I just know it feels damn near crippling.

My daughter took this picture of me when we met for dinner last Friday before seeing the a cappella play Choir Boy (which left us both a little sad). My sweet girl says the picture proves that I don't look crazy with the darker hair, that I look normal and fine. The color doesn't appear as midnight auburn here as it does in life. Makeup also helps make the look a bit less stark, and me a bit less sallow. In any case, I am resolved now, I will show up on Friday. I will do my best imitation of an appropriately socialized human and stay open to any lessons the experience might hold for me. But there is no way around it, I will be all kinds of anxious until then. Nothing to do but let it be.


  1. Your sweet girl is right. You look very nice and composed in that picture. Beautiful people still look in the mirror and see their own personal warts. Many never understand how others see them. The agent may well be like that. But if you don't go to the interview you will not give them the opportunity to choose you. You simply have to go.

  2. It's funny how being outside of a person helps with perspective. It's hard to have that perspective when we are the one it is all happening to. Your sweet girl is right, absolutely right. You look beautiful from my perspective. You have gorgeous skin and never forget it. My white skin? My privileged white skin? Dead fish white underbelly with broken capillaries everywhere and of course wrinkles and age spots. Not a pretty sight. Let us all give thanks for the good things and say Pah! to the ones we don't like!

  3. You like gorgeous my friend, I am mean it.

  4. You are absolutely beautiful. You are perfect for the job. You will impress them with the depth and breadth of your knowledge. They will be LUCKY to have you.

  5. I don't know how anyone could see you as anything but beautiful. So many of us see ourselves through crippling distorted filters, often triggered by social situations. With each situation faced, we must surely have accepted the opportunity to be fully ourselves, fully human. Thank you for speaking to the fact that this is not an easy process.

    Thank you, too, for noticing that the one of the cloud formations on the day my friend died looked like her winking. I thought so, too.

  6. Oh, honey! If we aren't blood sisters in this life we sure were in the last one. And there's a part of me which is thinking, "But she (you) really IS gorgeous and just has no idea whereas I really am ugly. And old."

    I know you're going to be anxious. I know it's going to be hard as hell to walk into that room. But you'll do it and they will be dazzled by your spirit, by your talent, by your presence and yes, by your beauty too. So yeah, let it be and just do it and all will be well.

  7. You're a beautiful, smart, hard working woman. You're so hard on yourself woman. What would you say to your daughter if she said these things about herself? Say those things to yourself and be kind to yourself.