A few weeks ago at SXSW in Austin, Texas, the lovely Karen Walrond sat me down and asked me a few questions about heartbreak. Not about the sad and the terrible and the woe-is-me of heartbreak, but about the beauty of heartbreak. And it was a wonderful and, I think, important conversation, because there is beauty in heartbreak, such that it’s actually misleading to call that exercising of the heart a break. The heart never really breaks. It pulls and stretches and moves and expands, and that movement can hurt terribly, but it’s not a movement toward breaking. The heart is not bone or ceramic or glass, Debbie Harry’s assertions notwithstanding. The heart, as I’ve said before, is a muscle. Its movements are extraordinary, even when they hurt. I needed to remind myself of that.
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I said that I would let Emilia style an outfit for me. And I did.
The snow is lovely, bright and deep / but she has promises to keep / and miles to go before she sleeps / and miles to go before she sleeps.
Frost’s classic poem is, of course, haunting in its original form, but is it any more haunting than a cold winter afternoon spent trying to entertain candy-cane-jacked, snow-mad kindergarteners who have already declared that they are ‘NOT SLEEPING UNTIL SANTA COMES MOMMY YOU CAN’T MAKE ME’? Is it? IS IT?
My mother always told me that I was beautiful. “You are a beautiful, beautiful girl, sweetie,” she would say, and I would reply – with much eye-rolling and heavy sighing – “you’re my mother. You have to say that.”
I knew that I wasn’t beautiful, not in the way that princesses in fairy tales or fashion models or the older, made-up girls who worked the cosmetic counter at Eatons were beautiful. I was tall and awkward and gangly, which, yes, I know, is exactly the way that girls who go on to become fashion models and perfume-spritzers describe themselves, but I really was tall and awkward and gangly and also frizzy of hair – hair that I insisted, after seeing the movie Pretty In Pink, upon dyeing red, which did not help its texture – and prominent of nose and so I am not being coyly self-deprecating when I say that I believed, that I knew, that I was not beautiful. My mother wasn’t lying to me, but she was, I knew, viewing me through mother-colored glasses, which as we all know are constructed with tempered and tinted glass and glazed with sparkles and stardust. Of course she couldn’t see what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I was looking at myself with clear and critical eyes. She was looking at me with love.
Last month, I listened as a friend stood up in a conference session on video-blogging and told the room that someone had once advised her to never put herself in front of the camera. “He told me,” she said, “that I have a ‘far-away’ face.” A face, that is, that is best viewed from a distance. A face that one’s mother could love, and maybe some others, but not everybody, and certainly not a camera.
Everyone in the room gasped, of course. Most, too, I suspect, cringed inwardly at some similar memory – a schoolmate teasing them about their hair, a friend commenting on their weight, a well-meaning relative remarking that ‘she’d be so pretty if it weren’t for her nose’ – some memory of some statement that maybe wasn’t meant to hurt, but did, because it aggravated all those insecurities, all those doubts, all those misgivings that we have about how we are seen. We were all, I am sure, thinking that the words that were spoken to Loralee were ridiculous and wrong. But we were – many of us, some of us, I am sure – also thinking that those words could have been spoken to us. It is easy to see the beauty in others. It is so hard to see it in ourselves.