“Who is that?” asks a 10-year old girl in the grocery store line up. She points at a magazine cover featuring an unnamed model.
I’m not sure. Some nice lady.
“What’s she doing?”
Standing in front of a camera.
“Why is she standing like that?”
I’m not sure. She might be trying to make herself look different than she is.
“Why would she do that?”
I’m not sure. Good question.
I know. [Silence.] It’s kinda weird.
Because I’d hazard a guess that nice lady doesn’t look or stand like that most of the time. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen women at a business meeting, or women at the gym, or women in the school yard, or women at the beach stand like that. Someone else did that nice lady’s hair and makeup so she looked quite different from what she looked like when she got up that morning. After other people with big cameras were done taking photos of her with special lights, that lady probably washed her face, put on comfy pants, and went for a sandwich. Then later maybe she hung out with some friends or her family. Maybe walked her dog. Did some pottery, played volleyball or something. I bet she’s super cool and smart.
It’s just that things and people sometimes get depicted like they are not. Sometimes it’s art. Sometimes it’s trickery. Sometimes it’s commerce. Or entertainment.
Sometimes it’s fear.
And a lot of times it doesn’t feel quite right.
Like when we get our family portraits done. It’s awkward sitting there with hands on each others’ shoulders. With hair combed just right. All that smiling when nothing’s funny. Your face starts to twitch, and your eyes get desperate when you stare at a camera and hold a fake smile for too long.
Or like keeping the house clean when you’re trying to sell it. You make the house look like it never looks. And you run around every morning shoving things in closets and putting out fake place-settings. And you cannot wait for it to be over so you can get back to how you actually live.
Or the recipe pictures. The shimmering green smoothie on a white marble counter in front of the vase of yellow tulips. If you pan out a couple of feet, there’s a pile of slimy, black banana peels. And spatters of spinach and almond milk on the stove top. And probably stray ice cubes melting on the floor. The smoothie still tastes sweet and rich and glorious.
There’s a furious attempt to build castles and illusions, my dear. And I’m still not sure why. I can’t see all the way through it just yet.
The work comes in the un-layering, in finding what is real to you. Because the discomfort in the pose is real. The toil and story behind every image is real. The desire to flee the illusion is real.
As is the homecoming.