Canyon Days - Part 6:
Lord, is it I?
There's a funny story in my family about my grandmother (you can read more about her in my STYLE post, The Button Jar & the Green Shoes). Sometime in the 1950s I think, when her kids were little and before there were immunizations for such things, she got a whopping case of the mumps.
She woke one morning, feeling very unwell, and in her aching and feverish state, wandered into the bathroom, where my grandfather was shaving. Observing herself in the vanity mirror, swollen and lumpy, she is rumored to have said, in a hoarse whisper, "Lord, is it I?"
On my morning run, I'm drenched. Literally dripping sweat all over the place only a few minutes in. It's not too hot, but very sticky - New York City humid - in the canyon as the late morning sun begins, here and there, to poke through a heavy marine layer.
The gray morning has made me sluggish and groggy, and as I slog along the trail, some very determined flies buzz around me, which I take to mean that either I have, in fact, perished in the canyon and just haven't realized it yet; or, more likely, that I've perhaps lately been wearing somewhat less deodorant than is technically necessary to get the job done properly.
No buzzards seem to be hovering, so I trust it's the latter.
I get home from the run and hop, sweaty and dusty, into the car for a quick and very necessary grocery store trip. Trader Joe's is fairly empty at this time on a weekday morning, so I don't worry too much about my disheveled state. (This backfired on me terribly one time when I went to yoga basically in my pajamas, with last night's mascara stuck to my lids and lashes, got real sweaty and smeared it around some more, stopped at the store and ran smack into Jason Bateman in the milk aisle.) But I just don't have time to get gorgeous for grocery shopping and write anything worth writing.
Back home, still unwashed but at least mostly dried off, I put on a comfy sundress and plunk down at my laptop with a cup of coffee. I fish my little notebook out of the fanny pack I take with me in the mornings, and start pulling together my notes into something that might possibly pass for a blog post.
I look up and it's six hours later.
Mad scramble. Must assemble provisions for romantic picnic under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl for Sinatra's 100th Birthday Celebration, which I gave to Eric for his birthday last month. (If you've never been to a concert at the Bowl, add it to your bucket list right now.)
In the morning I bought cheese and crackers, various dips and spreads, and wine (though Eric rightly pointed out, too late, that the occasion really called for highballs). It was all in the fridge, waiting to be organized, properly prepared and put in the cooler, but the day sort of got away from me and suddenly I have no time to get it - or myself - ready.
I leave on my sundress, change from flip flops to wedges, throw the food in a bag and out we go, dropping the kids at sleepovers en route. In the car I put on red lipstick. That's the extent of my primping for date night. Classy. Fortunately the Bowl is casual, though if I 'd known we'd run into Allison Janney in the parking lot I might have taken more care to be sure I looked and smelled good enough to rub elbows.
I have two favorite songs I'm really hoping to hear - Come Fly with Me and In the Wee Small Hours - they're # 2 & 3 in the lineup tonight. My life is charmed.
When the Count Basie Orchestra plays You Make Me Feel So Young, I turn to Eric lovingly and chime in, "Even when I'm old and gray, I'm going to feel the way I dooooo today," to which he deadpans, "You are old and gray."
I glower at him, annoyed, kind of horrified. Way to kill the moment, dude.
"I'm kidding!" he says. This, from the guy who is always saying things like, "Natural is beautiful."
In the second half they play a lot of warm, sexy, soothing bossa nova numbers. I love these songs, but with the starry night and the cool breeze and the wine, I keep nodding off and falling over onto Eric's shoulder and then waking up to applaud each number, acting like I remember what it was.
I simply cannot keep my eyes open.
To be fair, I've only been sleeping five, maybe six hours a night, taking long run/hike sessions every morning, writing till mid-afternoon, then starting the daily playdate with the family. We eat dinner really late, then there's baths and stories and songs, and the dishwasher to load and the dogs to put out. And then, for some reason I'm just not sleepy. I read till I drift off. I'm in love with the rhythm of these summer days - I feel tried, but productive, challenged creatively and inspired, strong and healthy, happy, fulfilled, in my element. I feel, in fact, beautiful. I imagine myself looking like some wild wood nymph or sun-streaked earth mother.
Then again, I haven't really seen myself in days.
The next morning I take a good hard gander in the mirror. We're having dinner with old friends tonight, and I simply must be presentable.
My face is tan, with white raccoon eyes where the sunglasses have been. I like my rosy glow, but at my age the tan is very naughty. I'm maniacal about sunscreen, but I can see crinkles where I've been squinting. My eyes are puffy because I ate a lot of salty potato chips at the concert. My legs are scratched and scabby, and I have all sorts of bizarre tan lines from sports clothing - the worst of which is very bronze lower legs and glowing white thighs. Not a look.
I take my hair out of the messy bun it's been knotted into for... how many days? At first it doesn't move. It just sort of stays up on it's own, like the Bride of Frankenstein. It's stiff and resists heartily when I attempt to manipulate it downward; maybe it doesn't want me to see its truly shocking roots. I AM old and gray! The California sun does a number on hair color. But it's not just that; my head, at what was once sort of my part, is crusty with Malibu sand, sea salt, sweat, and just general scalpishness.
Lord, is it I?
I look crazy! What has happened to me? I'm hardly high-maintenance, but I've been so deep in this project, I seem to have neglected every basic tenet of personal hygiene and good grooming. I love what I'm working on, and even though I don't know exactly what it's meant to be in the end, it feels right. Maybe this is a necessary part of the journey, but the path, literal and figurative, seems to have led me far away from my image of myself... at least the one I want to present to the world.
I bust out a box of hair color and really go to town. I give myself a right loofah-ing. I deep condition. I put on mascara. Use one spritz too many of perfume. Pull a real outfit out of my suitcase, accessorize. Don the peep-toe booties that trumped proper trail shoes when I packed.
I look like me again.
But from time to time throughout the evening with our dear and lovely, sophisticated, accomplished, creative, generous friends, I find myself distracted, wondering if the crazy lady I met in the mirror this morning is showing. I don't want them to see me that way, unkempt, au naturel, out of control. These are people who happily made a mindful and absolutely reasonable, respectable decision not to have children; I feel an immense amount of self-imposed pressure to demonstrate that as a mother/artist I can do it all, have it all, keep it together, and look damn good doing it. Which it's clear to me is simply not the case.
I feel a little jealous of their house and two car garage with two cars in it. Their quantifiable careers. Their dishwasher. I cover by acting just terrifically bougie, discussing real estate I can't afford, and throwing around the names of cuts of meat I've never tried.
Then they ask me about what I'm working on and I'm unusually inarticulate... though unfortunately that doesn't make me less talkative.
Describing my blog I sound, in my own ears, like a blithering idiot. Worse, like I don't really know, at 43, what the hell I'm doing in my life and work. All my projects, these things I'm losing sleep over, come across as unformed, cockamamie, boring and hopelessly twee. I think one screen-fatigued eye is twitching. I'm not the least bit drunk, but what difference does it make? I'm acting like I am. I giggle nervously and also feel like I might go in the bathroom and cry. Is it this morning's canyon fog hanging around me, clouding everything?
We have an ironic conversation about some "reality" shows for which reasonably normal people make themselves out to be genuine weirdos just to be on TV. (Of course it could be argued that that itself makes one fundamentally not normal, but you get my point.)
I said, "Oh, I could never do that, I'm way too vain! I couldn't humiliate myself by putting on some truly ridiculous persona just because I thought it would make me famous."
And yet - I have to laugh - for some reason I'm perfectly willing to reveal all kinds of embarrassing actual things about myself, not because I think it'll make me famous, but because I'm trying to zero in on what it is to be a "regular Jenny," to maybe get closer to something that might ring true in an everywoman way. And ironically enough I called this iteration of it, Summer | unscripted.
I love funny and honest, I hate precious. But I can't concern myself with that here. I just have to tell the truth.
One of the things I loved about Sinatra's 100th Birthday concert (I was awake for this part) is that Seth MacFarlane -- a prodigiously talented writer, comedian, voice artist who has made a career out of his hilariously sardonic point of view, and who it turns out is also a wonderful musician -- sang a bunch of "charts." Now, as way cool as the Rat Pack were, their music was never cynical; it was heartfelt and schmaltzy and vulnerable, and I love that Seth totally went there, revealed something, waxed sentimental in song. I love that he puts himself out there like that. It takes more guts in a way than being a smart ass, even a brilliant one.
I think, if I may be so bold, that if I have a strength as a creative person, it's in seeing the connections between things that aren't obviously related. Little by little, that's what my encounter with the canyon is revealing itself to be about. And sometimes it's dirty work -- uncomfortable, vulnerable, embarrassing, even a little precious -- to reveal, in words what the canyon has to "say." Sometimes I come away muddy and bleeding, with bad hair and sunburn. Sometimes it leaves me with a mump-sized lump in my throat, and I don't look good doing it.
I have to be okay with that
It is I.