Thursday, July 23, 2009

Waking dreams of beauty

Ever looked at someone and guiltily wondered how they bear up looking like that? Some years ago I contracted a severe case of chicken pox. It was so bad that within a week I would need plastic surgery. Until then I still, periodically, had to come out of my hiding place for food and other such necessities. But since I'd depleted my strength in recovering, and because I cried every time I looked in the mirror, it took hours to get ready, hours to gather up the nerve to show my face in public. Once a double take in my direction was enough to make my day. Now I devised ways not to be seen. But when I was, my survival instincts would kick in in the form of acceptance and defiance. Because to react otherwise meant a short walk into the ocean with some rocks in my pocket. Yes, I would think whenever my face caused the dreaded look in a stranger's face, this is what I look like for now, this shell, this mask you take to be me. What of it? And, oh by the way, eff you.

I counted the days to my surgery. That was when everything would magically return to normal. Well, hopefully not everything. A few weeks prior to all this my sister rang me up simply to tell me that her misery was all my fault. Afterwards, my fuckwit of a brother, the person who gave me the pox, only laughed at how much more severe my case had been compared to his, which, in his mind, proved how much better he was than I. Such dysfunction had to change. Physically, emotionally, I couldn't handle it anymore. So I wrote them an eff you both letter, an impassioned and thorough explanation of why they would no longer be a part of my life until I decided, if I ever decided, that they could again consider themselves lucky enough to know me.

Surgery day the doctor cut around my facial scars, seven in all, then sowed them back together. Despite the painkiller he'd injected all over my face, I still felt nearly every cut and stitch. But I didn't care. Every slice of the knife, every prick and pull of the needle meant hope, long life, renewal. For the next two weeks I had to keep my face as still as possible which meant no laughing (not that there was any danger of that) and chewing (protein shakes morning, noon and night. I haven't had one since). And now, except for a few minor scars, there's no sign I'd ever been struck by the pox. And my relationships with my brother and sister - especially with my sister, thank goodness - have been reset to a course more to my liking.

What brought that up? Only this...
an etching by Max Klinger (from his On Death, Part 1 series) I saw at the SF Legion of Honor last Sunday. I know, I know. Just be glad I didn't dwell on any of his other images. Like the sleeping mother unaware Death has walked off with her baby. Or the live and very bewildered looking baby sitting on his mother's grave. Fun stuff. Anyway, this image, to me, is a reminder against the attachment to youth and beauty and all things ephemeral. And how detaching from these things is inevitable and necessary if the normal cycle of life is to continue. (What would I have done if I'd been unable to let go? If the doctor had said there was nothing he could do? Would I still be here?)

Still, who wants to think about such things when you don't have to? Here are images to counteract any possibly negative effects from the first part of my post, images of pure loveliness. Careful! Don't get too attached...
This painting (Jose Jimenecz y Aranda, Holy Week in Seville, 1879)) takes my breath away, it's so gorgeous.
This one too. Oh, those textures and colors! I love the expression of the woman in this portrait (Portrait of a Lady, 1591). And the way she proudly proclaims her age, 54, for everyone to see. This should be every woman's conception of growing older.
Here's a couple of works, both by Monet, I could get happily lost in ... Sigh...if only one could camp out overnight in a museum. I'd sleep under this painting...
Oh, and here is me in my new dress that I mentioned in my previous post...This is how it makes me feel...
Thank you God, universe, whatever, for Ann Taylor dresses, plastic surgeons, beautiful paintings, museums my art will one day be in...brothers and sisters...


  1. I hope now that your confidence is renewed and I'm proud that you stood in the face of doubt and that you stood up to your siblings. Congrats on the renewal of a great life and I hope you live it to the fullest!!

  2. Thanks Yet, I don't walk around strutting like a peacock, but I'm fine with how I look now. I don't beat myself up anymore for not having a perfect nose or not being as tall as I would have liked. I'm lucky to look the way I do.

    And standing up to my siblings has definitely changed everything. Not that there are times we don't get along. But it's no way near as contentious as it used to be. I consider my sister one of my closest friends. My brother...we get along but he needs to do this thing for awhile. I can respect that.

  3. I have given you a blog award, come on by the cafe to pick it up :)

  4. Hooray for Cheryl! Well done you for deciding what you want from your journey and going for it. The paintings are also lovely. They make me sigh...

  5. Another award!!! Thank you T., I really appreciate that.

    Thanks Sophia, you're right - hooray for me! And the paintings make me sigh too. Oh, so lovely..

  6. Your posts like your comments on my blog are always so honest & optimistic, I love them. the works of art (including dress) are amazing too. Thank you.xx

  7. Sorry I haven't been around for awhile. Time gets away from me.
    Thank goodness that we live in a time when you don't have to live your life with a pock-marked face! How awful!
    Your outlook on life is so optimistic. Thanks for the lovely paintings. Love your new dress!

  8. Look at you, Cheryl, in that gorgeous dress. You look wonderful! And, oh yes, to sleep beneath Monet's painting. I'd love to spend a night in an art gallery and just dream big dreams. Much love xx

  9. What an ordeal you had. It's so difficult to remember that our beauty shines from the inside out, especially when we are barraged with images of what beauty is supposed to look like. Good for you for sticking up for yourself.

    I love Portrait of a Lady too. Always been one of my favs. And your new dress is spectacular. I love AT and one of her stores just opened here in North Vancouver. I have to stay away most of the time because I want to buy everything. There is an outlet store just north of Seattle that I prefer to go to -- everything at least 50% off. Oh oh, feeling an need coming on (lol).

    Have a great weekend.

  10. Hear hear! I'm glad you are feeling good about yourself again. Oh, and you look perfectly lovely in that dress!

  11. Thank you Helena! You're most welcome, I couldn't ask for a better compliment. I'm glad because I did worry this post might be a downer. Not the best of memories I'm dredging up here. So, thank you, I do really appreciate that. xx

    Hi Dedene, no problemo! I've been doing the same thing more and more lately. Yes, thank God, thank God for the miracle of plastic surgery! I honestly don't think I could have gone on if the surgeon had been unable to do anything. Or I might have gone off into the woods. Oh, what's the point of dwelling on what I might have done? And thanks for admiring my new dress (and the paintings) along with me! Pleasure increases with sharing.

    Hi Carol Anne, thank you! ditto what I just said, sharing increases the pleasure. And wouldn't that be a wonderful idea? I've heard of Natural History museums letting boy scouts camp overnight. I think art museums should start to do the same thing as an alternative to a night in a fancy hotel or a spiritual retreat. What an experience that would be! xx

    Hi Lianne, you too!? I love how Ann Taylor dresses fit on a woman's body. They seem to flatter every size and shape, and being as short and kinda chubby as I am, it's not easy to find clothes that fit well. was an ordeal, but I think one that was beneficial for me in the end. I did not at all enjoy turning thirty. In fact it was a major trauma and I was trying hard not to think about how difficult it was going to be for me to turn 40, 50, etc. This experience forced me to confront my attachment to being young and looking a certain way head on. And I had to either loosen my attachment I said, I would have walked into the ocean with a bunch of rocks in my pocket. And, it was about time I stood up to my siblings. They really and it coming.

  12. Hi Maya, ooooh, just the thing I wanted to hear! Thank you!

  13. I'm so glad you got the dress! And you look gorgeous in it!

    Plastic surgeons are not all like the despicable doctors on Nip and Tuck, are they? And the majority of their patients aren't vain air heads wanting bigger boobs and the like either.

    I am happy that you patched things up with your siblings. My brother has what we have called "Docial Tourettes Syndrome" he has said so many cruel things to me over the years, to add insult to injury he's 8 yrs my senior and had a habit of throwing insults my way. My point is, he loves me more than anybody on this earth besides my husband, and as I matured I would call him out on the carpet about his silly jabs. As he gets older he's getting better, or I like to think so.

    If you had walked into the ocean with a bunch of rocks in your pockets I think you would have emptied your pockets and swam for safety. Figuratively, by standing up to your siblings and sticking up for yourself, that's what you did do. Yay!

  14. Thank you for your honesty Cheryl. I'm glad that the plastic surgeon was able to remove your chicken pox scars.

    And I really like that Ann Taylor dress! You look sexy. I would walk around strutting like a peacock if I was you :) If you got it, flaunt it!

    Have a nice weekend.

  15. Wow, good point Elizabeth! I guess I did want to live more than anything, no matter how I looked. And under my own terms.

    Your brother sounds like my sister used to be. It seemed like her role in my life was to completely destroy my self esteem. It's a deeply ingrained role, she still falls into it now and again out of habit. But now I'm better able to call her on it.

    And thanks! I am sooo glad I got the dress too. If a dress can give a person this much happiness I say it was worth it whatever the cost. And thank goodness this was almost half off the original price.

  16. Hey Dutch Donut Girl, no problemo, I hope it wasn't a bummer of a story. And maybe I will strut my stuff tonight! Just maybe going to a poetry festival but never know if a sexy poet'll be somewhere nearby. Or! This Sunday at the Fireman's breakfast I'm going to! It's a casual enough dress to be suitable for a Sunday morning.

  17. You're so right about the appearance thing. I really hate that the feminine ideal is being shoved down our throats every day by the media at large.
    I love the dress! xx

  18. boy, you sure went through hell. i am glad that the doctor was able to assist you. it is interesting (and very scary) to think about how different life would be if things we needed to be fixed could not be.

  19. Cheryl, I bet you look amazing. And that dress does look gorgeous on you. I'm so happy for you.

    And good for you and your siblings for trying to start over. Family is so important. And good for you for standing up to them.

  20. Hi Cheryl! Your blog is very nice. The images are very beautiful. God is Great. Best wishes.

  21. Hey, a photo of yourself ... you look cute. :) I really need to get myself into dresses more, I always end up in jeans and tees.

    Getting older on the one hand is crap, but on the other, I feel more confident and self assured than any other time in my life (er, I am in my 40s). And I have heard others say this too, that you don't really care what others think about your looks.

  22. . . . is a reminder against the attachment to youth and beauty and all things ephemeral.

    Yes, it is just that! : )

    I'm proud of you & agree that far too much of life is spent on such attachments when everything is fleeting, nothing is permanent, not beauty, not youth, not life.

    As for your siblings' behaviour, reminds me of mine! *Hugs*

  23. Hi Fiest, Yeah, the focus on a perfect and youthful appearance is a strange, strange thing causing men and women, but esp. women, to somehow feel they lose their value as they get older, or are less than if they don't fit the ideal. My sister is a good role model for me. She seems pretty impervious to the pressures most of us feel so keenly. And thanks! I love the dress too. I wore it this last Sunday and I felt v. cute in it, let me tell you!

    Hi Drollgirl, hell yeah. A good lesson though...if I could only remember it all the time. It never occurred to me to be grateful for what plastic surgeons do until that happened.

  24. Your writing is always very moving.

  25. Thanks Theresa! And I'm so glad we started over too. It was painful at times, but worth it. Now I count my sister as one of my closest friends. And my brother, while we're not always close, we do get along so much better than before.

    Hi Mahmood, welcome, thank you and best wishes to you too! I love the purpose of your web site and am so glad you're putting it out there to share with all of us.

    Hi Sharon, one good thing about getting older I guess, one cares less about pleasing others. Since I'm looking another birthday in the eye - in six months or so - and at times waking up in the middle of the night full of anxiety, I'm glad to hear it.

    Thanks Shaylen, is one lesson after another it seems sometimes. One lesson down, a thousand and two to go.

    Hi Chris, thank you, that means a lot!

  26. You know - I've always thought those things. People get SO incredibly obsessed with their looks and their body image and it will all fade... all of it. what is left is who you are... the beauty inside. It is so true.

    I'm glad things are better now and you had surgery because that would be a tough cross to bear... I'm not sure how I'd hold up if I was disfigured? But you can bet I try really hard to live with my imperfections and not dwell on them because you will never be young forever and the best of who we are is on the inside, not in the packaging.

    Lovely paintings!

  27. Hi Shanster, you sound like a very wise woman. This particular lesson, learning the essence of who you are and not letting it get covered up with packaging is a tough lesson to learn. It's a wallop of a lesson. I haven't completely learned it yet. But I'm getting there. It helps to surround oneself with wise people.

  28. The more I read of your posts and somehow get to know you, the more I appreciate them ... and you, you attitude to life, your love for art...!

    Wonderful paintings you show. If you want to see a maximum of Monet maintings, the adress is Paris and the Marmottan museum (must check if it's possible to stay overnight :-)) which has the world's largest Monet collection including the "Impression Soleil Levant" which gave the name to impressionism.

  29. Wow, thank you Peter! I wish everyone appreciated me but never mind that, thank you!

    And thanks for telling me about that museum. I didn't know about that. Next time I'm in Paris I must see it. maybe you can accompany me there!

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