Eve told me to sit and be with Spot (that’s Goober behind us). We were talking and I was barely aware of being photographed, so she caught me smiling. My lips are pulled back too much, since I’m laughing and wrinkling my nose at the same time Spot flicks out his tongue. Otherwise, it’s a good smile.
I love this photo, maybe the last one where I’m smiling and it’s pretty. 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 anxious, afraid of looking ridiculous and awkward and slow and ugly and too female.
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!”
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.”
I love this thing Clarissa Pinkola Estes says in her “Wild Woman Archetype” recording: “I’m really friendly. But I’m not quite tame.”