My Struggle with Hiding in Photos and Writing

eves-pic-of-spot-and-me
From a book called ANIMAL ATTRACTIONS

Eve told me to sit and be with Spot (that’s Goober behind us). Eve is amazing, the way she uses a camera. We were talking and I was barely aware of being photographed, so she caught me smiling. My lips are pulled back a bit much, since I’m laughing and wrinkling my nose at the same time Spot flicks out his tongue. Otherwise, it’s a good smile.

me-age-10
Me around ten

I love this photo, maybe the last one where I’m smiling and it’s pretty. I can count on one hand –actually, I can’t even locate good photos of me smiling after I turned ten. The photo just below of me at twelve is so self-conscious and sad. You can see that puberty is hitting me and I’m breaking out.

awkward-me-2
Me around twelve

Since puberty, the minute the camera comes out, I stiffen. And when I write characters who are older than ten, I stiffen. I don’t mean to. I didn’t realize until I started writing a memoir that it has to do with hiding part of me/the character.

A lot of people freeze when the camera comes out. We’re all self-conscious to some degree. I think most of us love-hate having our picture taken. (There’s the tiny hope that maybe this time, the photo will reveal a beautiful me.) We say, “Oh, I look awful!” and our friends tell us, “You do not, you look great.” Sure.

I haven’t had a clue what hiding means, or how it affects my writing. I struggle to show myself, but I can show lizards. Martine read some of my pre-memoir stuff, and she said, “I don’t even like lizards, but you made me love them in these parts.”

Imagine if I could achieve this when I write about human characters (including me).

When I face a camera, or write about a me who is more than ten years old, I retract like a rattlesnake coiling into her den, or a lizard trying to camouflage herself in the trees. Hiding the me who is vulnerable. Anxious, afraid of looking ridiculous and awkward and stupid and ugly and too female. What does that even mean. Any book on craft will tell you that Reader wants to see character vulnerability. Have I really been that scared? Why am I always the last person to know what I’m up to. The voice in my head says, “Get over yourself!”

sebastian-me-4
Author photo

I like my “author photo” well enough. No awkward smile; my chin isn’t too clunky. And Sebastian is there to help me.

But I’ve been told, “You’re not smiling. Readers might think you’re not friendly.” It’s been ten years since that photo was taken. Time for a new one. I’ll try my best to let go, open up. Smile, even.

I love this thing Clarissa Pinkola Estes says in her “Wild Woman Archetype” recording: “I’m really friendly. But I’m not quite tame.” I’m hoping for a photo of me that will show this. It won’t be without a lizard, though.

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