Happy Halloween, all! I got so many nice formspring questions from all of you – asking about tips for costumes, questions about what my plans were, that I thought I’d make a whole blog all about my favorite holiday!
I particularly enjoy Halloween because it’s all about “taking on a character” and “becoming someone else” – even if it’s just for one night. Being a model, that’s what I do every time I’m getting ready for a photoshoot, and so Halloween is so much fun because you get to see EVERYONE doing it. Plus, even the most camera-shy people usually are okay with you taking their picture as long as you emphasize the importance of the COSTUME. 😉
Earlier this year, Christopher introduced me to World of Warcraft (WoW), and I fell one hundred percent in love with the game. So much so, in fact, that I decided I wanted to dress up as one of the types of characters in the game – a blood elf. (Nerdy, I know.) Blood elves are actually really popular Halloween/Cosplay costumes, so there was a lot of information available online – if you knew where to look, that is.
I had first intended to make my costume by hand – at least most of it, but having gotten ill with strep 😦 a week or so before Halloween – I found myself strapped for time, and needing to go find pieces elsewhere.
My costume is made up of some separate pieces:
1. The first, is a dress I found at a thrift store. Thrift stores are usually always my highest recommendation of where to look when costume shopping, as I find that they usually offer the best deals and provide the greatest variety. It appears to have been part of perhaps a princess costume, or maybe some kind of Egyptian “priestess” outfit. It’s not very good material – a kind of shiny nylon-spandex that tends to cling, but with the rich red color and the gold ribbon – it was too perfect to pass up. It has a one-shoulder dress portion, and an off the shoulder half-cape that makes it look more regal. (Similar in style to the guards in Silvermoon City, Falconwing Square, etc. – which, unfortunately in the game – are all male – but eh…whatever.)
The dress could also have been hand made without much difficulty. A basic red material (if I’d had my choice of material I would have gone with something of a richer quality – silk, velvet, etc. – depending on how heavy you want this piece to be), a basic dress pattern and voila. Sew on some gold decorative ribbon by hand – and there you have it. Joann Fabrics often offers discounts on fabric/trim near holidays, so if you have any skill with a sewing machine – a basic dress could be created in a matter of an hour or two. http://www.joann.com/joann/home/home.jsp
A great book for basic instruction in how to make your own pattern (if you really want to go the homemade route) is called ‘Design-It-Yourself Clothes: Patternmaking Simplified’ by Cal Patch. You can find it on Amazon, along with a bunch of other related books!
2. The second piece of my costume is the head scarf/wrap. I used this alternately as two different things, as needed. As a wrap, it resembles a cape – seeming to fit in more with the more aggressive “warrior woman” look of a hunter, mage, or warlock. As a head scarf, it seems to fit in more with the more stereotypically feminine and delicate style of a priest. To use it as a head scarf, you would have had to cut two holes in it for the ears – which I chose not to do, but it definitely could have looked great either way!
3. BRACERS. I did make these. I cut some red gloves (really poorly, I might add – I did it about half an hour before the start of our costume party) and threaded some gold sequined thread through them to resemble laces. Gloves are from Hot Topic (lol) , sequined thread is something I already had – but could be easily purchased at any craft/fabric store.
4. Ears! I got mine from Aradani Studios http://www.aradanicostumes.com Mine are the Large Anime Elf Ears, which worked perfectly! They attach using spirit gum and are really well-made latex prosthetics. I also found Etsy to be a great place to look for non-latex alternatives (if you’re allergic or just not comfortable using a prosthetic).
5. Bow. I used a light plastic hunting bow as the accompanying weapon for my costume, even though there are some more traditionally “blood elf” weapons out there – depending on class, of course. Rogues = daggers, priests = staffs and wands, etc.
Christopher went as a satyr, and these are some photos I took of him:
All Satyr images taken by me.
In July, I modeled for Nick Johnson – both a test shoot in the Oregon Wetlands and an on location shoot in a ghost town featuring themes of abandonment and old/new juxtaposition. Christopher Moorefield took some great behind the scenes shots of my ghost town shoot, so I’ll be sharing those and some of Nick’s shots – as well as discussing the experience of being the model for someone else’s camera!
Considering most of my flickr portfolio is self portraits, sometimes it seems like that’s all I do. But I actually was a model long before I ever got behind a camera as a photographer. It’s a completely different experience – modeling. Modeling when you’re taking self portraits is totally personal. You’re trying to do fifteen different things and be everywhere at once. You’re focusing on both the technical elements and the character that you’re attempting to portray. Expressions can often be difficult to achieve because you’re thinking about the timer or the angle of the camera or the light behind you.
But when you’re modeling and someone else is taking care of the technical elements (lighting, focus, angle, position, setting, backdrop)… you get to really focus.You get to develop a character to its utmost potential, which although occasionally possible with a skilled self portrait artist is often much more difficult. I think of modeling like acting. When acting, the goal is to take on a character to the point where the audience forgets to make the distinction between you as the actor and you as the character. You don’t just act, you become the character. When you’re modeling for another photographer, that is a part of the process. Whatever your character is – a high fashion diva from New York City, a rebellious Catholic school girl, an 1800’s mining town girl – you have to leave yourself behind one hundred percent and step into their shoes.
A photographer who asks you to do this IS asking a lot of you. This isn’t something that everyone can do. They’re asking you to be completely vulnerable and open with them by exposing your self completely in this way. So many people are self conscious in front of a camera because it really does take courage to put yourself out there. And a model can’t be self conscious in that way. If a model is thinking in terms of, “Are my thighs looking too chubby?”, “Is my hair mussed up?”, “Are my lips chapped?” – the picture won’t be filled with the same kind of emotion as a model who throws herself into it disregarding her own body.
Modeling for Nick was such a wonderful experience because he’s such a skilled photographer. He allowed me to completely disregard the technical side of what was going on (adjusting lights to fix overblown highlights, getting down to capture a different angle, etc. etc. etc.) and focus solely on who my character was and what my body was doing. For the ghost town shoot, my focus was very simple. I was there to contrast with my landscape. I was there to be aesthetically different than my surroundings – young vs. old. I think part of what is so cool about abandonment in photography is that including a model in these surroundings brings new life to places that people have literally forgotten about.
Nick is also extremely talented at capturing natural expressions and reactions. The reason why so many photographers create images that appear stilted, generic, or boring – is because they’re actually providing too much direction. By telling a model every specific hand placement, expression, and pose – you’re eliminating the element of collaboration inherent in good photography. To achieve a good photograph, you have to work with a model, rather than attempting to create around the model. Nick’s images are filled with such life and vibrancy because he was constantly telling me little jokes to get me to laugh, or encouraging me to put my own expression and movement into the image. A lot of the best photos that he took were because we were working as a collaborative team – I was getting into poses that felt expressive and comfortable to me, and he was finding the right light and angle with which to capture them.
One of the things I love to see most in a photo is a laugh. Laughter is so spontaneous and real – that whenever you see it in an image you know that the photographer is capturing a real moment, not a staged planned out rehearsed moment. Laughter brings life to an image, it takes you on a journey to that place and time – it puts you into the scene with the model. You find yourself asking, “What’s so funny?”
When the photographer captures a genuine expression in that way – it’s both the mark of a talented photographer and model, but also a sign of the strength of their collaborative partnership. If I’m not comfortable with a photographer I model for, I won’t be able to be free and real around them. I’ll feel stilted and awkward. I’ll look for more direction from the photographer because I won’t feel comfortable doing anything on my own. If I’m in a situation like that – where I don’t feel comfortable creating – I have to ask myself what needs to change. Usually, all it takes for me to get comfortable with a photographer is a nice chat about goals and meaning. I want to know what the photographer has in mind for the shoot – what their idea is. I want to know what characters I’m going to be creating and have the time to work on developing those characters to the fullest. I find that the best images from any given shoot are usually part of a series – the photographer and I trying to find what works best as I develop a sense of what I’m going for as the model in an image.
I’ll start out with a certain pose and expression, and then adjust it (according to feedback from the photographer and my own sense of what needs to be changed) to create a stronger image that conveys the idea in a clearer way.
So, my overall thoughts on the photographer/model partnership:
As a photographer:
- Know – going into a shoot – what you expect from a model and what you expect from yourself. Don’t hold unrealistic expectations in a situation where it is obvious they won’t be met – for example, expecting a model to do something she’s uncomfortable with (nudity, holding a pose for longer than is physically comfortable, etc.) , or assuming you will have the perfect light and arriving at the location to discover it isn’t what you had planned. Be prepared to adjust your vision as necessary.
- Offer direction. If a model seems out of place or simply unclear of what to do, offer up some advice. Suggest a pose, or an idea. Toss words out like, “Haunting”, “Imaginative”, “Saucy”, “Rebel” and capture the model’s interpretation of the word. Be clear and concise about necessary changes to accommodate lighting or more clearly show the meaning of the image.
- But don’t be afraid to let go of the reins, either. It takes two to have a partnership, so be open to the model having creative ideas of her own! 🙂
- And ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS be ready to capture a spontaneous moment.
As a model:
- Let go of yourself. Don’t think about how you look, or your paycheck, or what you’re going to cook for dinner when you get home. Try to clear your mind of everything but this moment, the idea behind the shoot, and what you’re attempting to portray. This is absolutely essential when becoming a character because it puts you one hundred percent into the image, instead of being distracted or absent emotionally.
- Be receptive to direction. If the photographer tells you to shift head positioning, get more into the light, alternate one foot in front of the other, or turn slightly away from the camera – try to implement that direction as best as you can. If you’re not sure about what the photographer’s looking for – always ask! Clarification of vision is always a great thing, because sometimes people will have such a clear image in their head that they think the other partner does too. But that’s not always the case, so simple checking in with one another can really help produce the best results!
- Be creative. If the photographer’s studying the scene and you’re free to play – do so. Strike a crazy pose, make funny faces, pick up a flower to use as a prop, be imaginative. Sometimes just playing around in front of the camera can inspire the photographer to create an amazing spontaneous image.
And finally, here are some more images:
You can find Nick Johnson’s work here:
“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life…You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like ‘maybe we should be just friends’ turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.”
It’s nine PM and I’m sitting here waiting. I’m writing “fuck fuck fuck I hate this” in red ink across every single page of my soft-cover journal. I’m chain-smoking a string of poison and I feel with every breath I take that I have lost you. It’s easy to fall into patterns of loneliness. I know it’s coming, so I train myself to expect nothing more. Supposedly that’s to protect me from the heartbreak of moments like this. I don’t feel protected. I feel vulnerable – like I want to pack up my suitcase heart and run away from here ’till there’s nowhere else to go.
Regardless, the ink is smearing on page after page as I flip them against each other – like a flip-book of agony and anguish. This is embarrassing. This is my pain documented for everyone to see. My instinct is to rip. To rip and tear, to sink my teeth into the pages and pull, to destroy every last shred. To make sure there’s no evidence of my weaknesses.
But I just keep on writing. And smoking. I blow smoke rings at the ceiling, at my feet. I blow smoke rings at the door, and I imagine them floating their way to you. Wherever you are. Maybe one will find you and settle around your finger, a ring binding you to me. Could it fix the cracks here?
It’s ten PM and I’m still waiting. This one song has been going on repeat for the last three hours. Since right after dinner. I turned it on thinking that I’d have to shut it off when you got here at 7:30 because you didn’t like this group. You always said they were “unoriginal” any time that you heard them. Originality was always important to you. It didn’t matter how good someone was, as long as their stuff was new and their own and no one else had ever even had a similar idea.
But I liked them for their unoriginality. I liked them for their predictable almost bluesy chords and their silly heartbroken lyrics. I liked them for how easy it was to sing along, and for the way they inspired me to sway my hips. But this was the way. I always liked things you didn’t.
Regardless, the song was engraving itself on the kissable curves of my black vinyl record grooves. I felt as if I’d hear it in the back of my head every day for the rest of my life, and I almost wanted to cry. I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t cry. You’d expect me to cry. I didn’t want to be predictable. Another in your string of cliches. “Straight from that one film,” you called me when you kissed me. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me.
Would I cry?
I would not.
Red eyed, I stayed awake all night, waiting for you. I guess you decided not to come. It isn’t like in the film. I’m trapped inside the smoke ring you blew of me, and we never had a single dance. I should go to bed. Only sleep could lick my wounds now.
Through half-closed lids, I blow one more smoke ring and I whisper it to you.
The questions people seem to ask me most often when discussing my photography are probably, “What do you wish to show through your images?” and “Which do you prefer – being the model or shooting models?” – so the goal of this blog entry is to address both those questions as fully as possible (and show off some behind the scenes shots taken by Christopher Moorefield from my photo-shoot with Dedra Demaree while we’re at it).
I began my interest in photography through self-portraits MAINLY out of necessity. I had no one else to photograph. I’m an only child, so in high school (which is when I first started thinking about photos) I had no siblings to take pictures of – and most of my friends/family were all camera shy. Plus I’d always get ideas kinda on the spur of the moment (i.e. wake up at three in the morning thinking, “Boy, I really have to go take a photo in the backyard laying down in the snow with rose petals all over me”, etc.) and there would really be no alternative other than using myself. Plus, to be totally upfront, I’m horribly shy and asking someone to model for me is always a challenge – even if they’re totally thrilled and positive about the experience.
Also, with my background in modeling semi-professionally – modeling tended to come more naturally even than taking pictures did. It took time to learn about light, shadows, and angles…but when it came to expressions or poses – I knew exactly what to do. I was experienced having other people taking photos of me, so why couldn’t I just take photos of myself? More convenient, all around, right?
And then it just started to take off. Even when I could have begun taking photos of people other than myself, I became really comfortable being both in front of and behind the camera. Being on both sides starts to really teach you about what works in an image and what doesn’t. You learn which angles to use, what light is best for certain complexions/hair, what poses are striking and which are boring, etc. These are things that some photographers find it difficult to explain to models, but which I find quite simple – because I’m as experienced being a model as I am being behind the camera.
And on the most personal level, self portraiture allowed me a form of expression that I really hadn’t found anywhere else in my life. Through my self portraits I could express emotions that I didn’t have the courage/voice to express anywhere else. Pain, anger, joy, frustration, exhaustion. These are all things that you can pour into art of any kind, but which come across especially poignantly through self portraits. I like to think that I use every photo as a chance to say something. A thought, or an emotion. An idea. It’s truly cathartic.
And yet, even though self portraiture is well-respected in some circles and has its own dedicated following – there are others who attack it. I think it’s easy to attack a self portrait photographer because it’s only “one person”. When you’re insulting a photographer’s work of a model – you’re attacking two people. The most common complaints raised against self portrait artists are that their images are narcissistic, boring, or self-involved. And of course, I’m not defending all self-portrait artists when I say that this is often an unfair criticism. I think everyone can say they’ve seen some pretty shitty self portraits. The same pose one hundred times, fake emotion, poor knock off replicas of other photographers’ work. I’ve seen a girl take an image from another photographer and copy it – expression, pose, props, lighting, setting – one hundred percent and pass it off on her own. I’ve seen another post fifty-seven photos of the exact same pose, with just varying levels of bedroom eyes and slightly different angles. And yet there are some truly amazingly talented photographers out there who get belittled because they choose to take photos of themselves rather than of others. I believe that is unfair.
I recently attended a gallery opening that was displaying my photos. I was a little nervous about attending because I was so afraid that I would have to defend my work against those who call it “nauseating narcissism” and the like, but I was ultimately so flattered and downright almost in tears when listening in on various audience member’s conversations – I heard nothing but praise. I overheard the photos described as “full of innocent vulnerability”, “brilliant slices of female Americana”, and “honest portrayals of human emotion”. These positive reactions are what give me hope for the future of the self portrait. There will always be those who see it as solely vanity and nothing else. But then there are those who can see the expression, emotion, and passion that so many photographers put into their work.
Yet I eventually started working with models other than myself. It was a really hard transition at first – hard to let go of NOT being on both sides of the camera, because I was just so comfortable with that solitary process – that adding another person into the mix seemed like the perfect way to ruin it! I was honestly afraid the first few times I worked with models that something would go horribly wrong, that they wouldn’t be able to carry off the same expressions/emotions that I knew I could because it was my idea, or that we just wouldn’t click well as a team. So far, most of my worries have been completely unfounded. It is a different experience working with a model rather than working with yourself. It requires patience and the ability to do more than be a visionary – you have to express your vision. Sometimes it does take longer to get a shot with a model than it would if you were doing a self portrait.
BUT the benefits of working with models are numerous as well. Models can lend personal expression and attitude to a shot – lending it quality that you wouldn’t have seen on your own. They can be better suited to certain poses, clothes, hairstyles, or looks than you are. They can take a vision and turn it into something even grander.
At least for now, I still prefer shooting self portraits. Maybe because I have so much emotional stuff to get out through images and I find it lessens the catharsis when working with a model. Maybe it’s just because I find some of my ideas almost impossible to communicate properly to another person through anything but a finished image. But I’m learning – slowly but surely – how to give life to an image whether I’m in it or not.
So I choose not to make the mistake of judging those who use models and those who take self portraits. Both are equally difficult and can provide lovely results. Working with models requires a clear sense of purpose, excellent communication, and the ability to take charge of a situation. Taking a self portrait is difficult because it’s a lot of touchy-feely guess-work. It requires trial and error – running back and forth between the camera and your pose, trying to keep in mind every single little detail that needs changing – to lift your chin, position your hand one inch over, not squint your eyes, and cover your hip slightly with your other hand – all in the ten seconds before the timer goes off. It’s putting yourself into the role of whoever/whatever you are portraying – whether it be an emotional instance from your own life or a completely made up scenario. It teaches you technical skills, modeling skills, acting skills. It develops you in so many ways – and I look on the art of the self portrait as a way to become a more rounded individual, not just as a method for creating art.
So, whether you’re a self portrait junkie or a photographer/model expert – at least you’re taking photos. I think that’s what it really comes down to…simply taking the images. I know, personally, I have to occasionally push myself to just get out there and take ONE image because I know that if I don’t, I’ll start to feel trapped. I believe that photographers really truly have this wonderful gift of expression in a medium beyond words…and that they should use that gift however they best see fit.
All images in this post taken by Christopher Moorefield.
Model: Dedra Demaree (and me – see the new red hair?)
“Claire: But I mean…what is success? Is it just money? Or fame? Or is it, like, the critics, loving you? Or is it…is it you knowing that you’ve done good work? Or what?”
Watching ‘Six Feet Under’ tonight (I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it), I was greatly moved by this quote. To me, it seems like we all go through phases where we ask ourselves this very question. We ask where it’s all headed, what we want out of life, what we need to achieve in order to feel “successful”. And when we can’t settle on an “easy answer”, we think to ourselves – we have to escape. It’s easy to live our lives for other people, to walk a pre-determined path and do everything by the book, and some people really do live those lives. Some people never make their escape. Maybe they plan it in the middle of the night, staring out the window by their bed into blackness. Maybe they think about it on their lunch break, as they sip a mocha and slip their shoes off to rest their aching feet. Maybe they think about running away – just packing everything up in a car and heading off on a road trip to an undetermined destination. But most people never go.
I think when we’re young we all tell ourselves that we’ll NEVER let that happen to US. That we’ll always stand apart from the crowd – always be an individual – always stand up for what we believe in and never sell out. That we’ll escape. But it’s my personal philosophy that one can never say never, because you don’t know what’s gonna happen or what’s gonna change. It’s easy to be influenced by the idea of “fame” or “success” and I’m just as highly susceptible to that influence as the next person. It’s a personal goal of mine to try to avoid it as much as possible, to not care about what other people think or allow their opinions to change my thoughts or behavior, but like another quote from six feet under illustrates, “Everybody your age cares what other people think. You don’t even know what you think yourself.”
I think that’s very true. It’s sad, but it’s true. When you’re young – it’s so easy to allow the ideas of others to shape what you think. I think we’ve all been there – or maybe some of us are even still there. It’s a hard place to escape. In high school, especially, it’s hard to have any opinions of your own because everything is oriented towards this “herd mentality”. We only know what we know because someone told us about it. We only do what we do because we saw someone else doing it. We only say what we say because we heard someone else say it first.
Youth is such a unique thing because it’s the easiest time to convince yourself that you’re different. That you’re nothing like anyone else, that you’ll never grow up to be another stuck-up priss in the suburbs with four perfect children in boarding school, and another baby on the way. That even if that is your life, that your thoughts – your taste in music or movies – your dreams – they set you apart. Everyone in their youth wants to BE someone, they want to DO something, they want to GO somewhere. They want to escape. And when you’re young – it seems so possible.
So, I think the real fact of the matter is that you can’t wait. You can’t tell yourself you have to grow up more or that your escape has to wait for time or money or the right opportunity. You just have to GO. And you have to do it now. Because if you don’t step outside of your head and make a change and get somewhere, it’s possible that you never will. And I don’t think we CAN really know what success is until our lives are over. I think the mark of success is a life lived without fear, without regret, without boredom. Make your escape, and you’ll find success. Make your escape, and you’ll find happiness. Whatever you’re waiting for, stop waiting and go.
I have been a reader since a very young age. My mother taught me how to read, line by line, word by word – until I could put the fragments together and form a complete picture. It was, like she said, “Like magic.” I was stunned and thrilled by the whole world which opened up to me – a world where I could escape.
Escaping is such a cliché concept. At least, I believe it to be so. I don’t know a single person who isn’t running, escaping, from something. Everyone’s always turning their back and throwing up their heels. Some do it faster than others. Some really accomplish the escape – fleeing to a foreign country, or a new life. I’m trapped in a lifelong escape, but why it’s taking me so long is, I can’t figure out what it is I’m trying to run from.
I’ve always loved the feeling inside you when you’re in the middle of a new book, and you’re so caught up in their story, in what’s taking place with the characters, that you forget that you’re hungry or cold or tired. Your own body isn’t even there, for those moments, in your head. The word for it in film is “suture” – the idea that the camera takes you into the world of the characters to the point where you forget that you’re not part of the story. I see that in books. There’s magic in that. In reading. It transports you.
And so, from the age of four, I was mouthing words to myself and escaping off with Babar or Madeline. With Madeline, I could tour France. I could go to the circus, live with nuns, go through the pain of having my appendix removed. It was beautiful.
And as I grew up and the stories got longer, I could escape for more and more time – until finally, I walked around in a haze of plotlines and heroines, letting characters live my life for me. Until a single day, when everything changed.
It was a day of bright sunshine. This was ironic in so many ways. It was April, for God’s sake. April showers? Clearly, today’s sky had never heard of them. And it was a funeral. Funerals were, in my limited experience, always gray and tired. Everyone looked exhausted, the black darkened the moods of even the happiest newlyweds, and it was ALWAYS raining. That was what black umbrellas, not that I even knew where you’d find a black umbrella on this side of the country – the west coast wasn’t exactly known for dark colors- were made for.
Regardless, it was the kind of day that makes you think of beaches and sleepy seaside towns and hair blowing and clinging to cheeks and lips. It was a day of early tulips and daffodils. A day of smiles. My father would have loved it. He would have laughed, and joked that even in death, he thwarted the system. His funeral was happy. Bright.
I remember standing over the casket, the flowers perkily and jauntily displaying their colors in the beam of sunlight flickering through the stained glass. I, on the other hand, was reminiscent of a different kind of funeral. Clad in black, my head drooped wearily. I was tired. So tired. I’d stayed up the night before – all night – with the casket, as was tradition in my family. I’d sat beside my father in the dark of our family room, waiting for the next morning, when the casket would be brought to the church.
I remember vague pieces of what I told him. I mentioned little details of my life, things I hadn’t had time to tell him before his death. How it felt to be about a month away from graduation. The way I was already mentally planning out my fall schedule at the community college in my head. “I want to dance,” I remember telling him. It was true. Then, at least. I had wanted to take classes in ballet, in modern, in jazz. I’d wanted to let my body free of the confines I’d always held it in – and I wanted to step out of the books and into the sunlight.
“I want to live,” I whispered to his silent body – his eyes closed, his hands folded across his chest. It was ironic, sitting there, telling him I wanted to live, when he was dead. Perhaps it sounds sacrilegious, but I was just explaining. And I knew that he understood. Wherever he was, he was listening, and he knew just what I meant. Because my father had been a man who lived.
And I knew that he would have been so pleased to see me without my ever-present book in my hands. He would have been glad to know that I was going to stop hiding.
But as I leaned over his casket, I felt none of that same fire that I’d felt the night before. I felt nothing but this heaviness, creeping inside me, settling itself into my chest – snuggling up and preparing to stay. And so I walked out of the church after the ceremony and went home.
In the sunshine in my bedroom, I stared at my face in the mirror and questioned motivation. Questioned God, not that I believed in a God. Questioned my father, who I did believe in. The mirror looked back at me – challenging and silent and terror filled.
I was there for hours. I didn’t attend the wake – the celebration of my father’s life. I couldn’t. I couldn’t celebrate. I couldn’t think about joy in life. Instead I talked to my mirror – words and words and words – about dance, about the future, about the escape that I had planned, but could not follow through with.
And then I broke the mirror.
I cried as pieces of glass shot from the frame and pierced my skin, but I didn’t care. I was feeling something other than numb. I thought this was my escape, like Alice, through the mirror. I was above my own body, looking down on red tear-stained streaks, not feeling the searing aching pain that spread through her chest, where a jagged piece of glass had penetrated. I was moving on.
I had escaped.
Photo by Christopher Moorefield.
The leaves are this big blur of colour, he tells me. He puts a leaf in my hand and I feel the veins between my fingers. My hand is a fist and the leaf is nothing but dust. And all of that which should be so real is just a mirage, out of focus and black and white and I am tumbling down the rabbit hole towards an unknown end and when I scream, nothing comes out. I am falling and maybe flying with stolen wings, and there is nothing but this blackness falling around me.
Fall is a blurry of activity, as though I am expected to be in ten different places at once, tutoring and smiling and acting and laughing. Although I no longer am the girl of previous years, I am expected to live up to her standard – that of perfection, and sometimes when the pressure is too much – I find myself crumbling.
Folded and unfolded and unfolding, I curl into myself.
Pull me out from inside?
Eating is what breaks me, and seeing myself in the mirror is what destroys my ability to stay strong and confident. I cannot be confident when I cannot even control my own body. If I don’t have control over that, how will I ever control my grades, my family, my future?
Another morning rest spent crying on the bathroom floor.
He never notices, perhaps because he thought that the girl of the summer would continue into the fall, and that she would be triumphant over adversity. He thought he could send me on my way, and I could succeed – that I could wear my heart-shaped glasses on the bad days to scorn the rain clouds. This simply isn’t how things work – I cannot flounce and smile in my medieval gown through the work day, when math and Spanish and school in general threaten to loom over my head and crush my every naive dream of a chance at something better. Something bigger. “I am ready,” I scream.
But I am only me. Once, in his arms – Lola, Dolly, Alice – it was enough. I’d whisper my hot readiness into his ear, and he’d take me at my word – pulling me into his arms, perching me on his knee. I was a tiny wisp of a girl, a toy, disappearing. Tiny dancer, and he’d take me out to the forest and watch me dance. A carefully rehearsed routine, every tilt of the head. I felt that I could fade into the darkness – and he was the only thing keeping me there. But now I am too solid and I hate it. I dig in to that persona and try to tear her apart, because without him I feel like nothing but I am also too much.
I am in my own head too often so I sneak time for myself – running into the school bathroom and gazing into the mirror, getting out of class to stand there as if I am in some kind of trance – a trance that allows me to only be negative, and never positive. I wish he was here, but I’ve left him behind when I moved to the city – like an abandoned toy. He can’t call, he can’t visit, so I only see him on the off chance. A meeting on a street corner, he woos me at a back table of a restaurant lit only by tea-lights. He kisses me and I hide my shadowy nature. He caresses my ribs as though he suspects the truth, but he has never accused – and I lie blatantly to cover myself. He doesn’t need that many lies, he is so easy. His time with me is coming to a close. But I can’t stand to have my memory tainted, so when I go to the bathroom after our dinner and cough up everything I forced down, I wipe my mouth so clean I’m afraid my lips will bleed. He is the one person who I could not stand to see my only way to survive.
For yes, this disease, this curse, this is my survival, this is my life.
I am fine. Say it over until it rings true. Say it till your throat bleeds. Whisper it on the bathroom floor. Feel the pain in your chest and know that you’ve lied. You’re not colorblind, you’re only crying.
Model: Jemila Spain
Song: Colorblind – Counting Crows
You are in my arms, and the tips of my nerves are brushing against the hair on the back of your neck – through my fingers, my arm, my soul.
I breathe you in – sweet notes and a tinge of smoke, a bit of hope and a lot of unknowns. You are all the factors I never learned, never experienced, and when I take your hand and spin out – I am spinning into mirror land.
I meet a dozen of my reflections. I know no one. Everything is strange. They are all me – these girls with rosy cheeks and messy hair, biting their lips, holding their skirts up off the ground between sweaty palms. They are all me with redwood crosses and off-kilter hearts, glittering eyes and complete admiration. Yet, they are different. I feel – in that spot between stomach and heart – the middle ground – a beat. And then another. And then another. A constant steady pulsing rhythm. A heart-beat.
I have never discovered this part of my body before. The part that feels regardless of consequences or thought. The part that is real – no matter who we think we are, or who we are trying to be – this is the part that lets the world into the real us. I press my hand to my chest, and you pull it away a second later – replacing it with your own. Your hand against my skin, I am shivering in your arms – your body is tight to mine to keep me warm. To help me smile. We are passing the TRUTH.
“Do not be afraid,” you whisper. And I fall into that graceful back dip without a breath of hesitation – my lips slightly parted, my eyes almost closed – and through three-quarter lowered lashes, I catch your smile. Touch my mind, and I will shift the lace curtain so that the candle light shines outside and we can beckon in a stranger. Show them this world. Enlightenment, freedom, dreams. Dances. We are flying with every breath and the rare occasions when our eyes catch and click – a hushed pause – and I am soft cloth caught on a nail, and I worry about being ripped to pieces.
I will not be afraid of midnight blue wings or sea-glass keys to doors beyond the mirror. I press my fingers to the middle ground – the core, and I step forward as you step back – and the exchange is complete.