Monday, April 25, 2011

Plastic Surgery

When my book was published five years ago, I had to get an Author Portrait taken. I went to a studio and posed and then watched the photographer as he worked on my photos on his computer. It was my first experience with the possibilities of digital photography. I loved that he could remove an errant hair that had blown across my face and that he could take out the reflection from my glasses. But then, he started to remove the laugh-lines and dark circles around my eyes, smoothing out my skin tone.

I made him go back to an earlier version. "I'm not 20," I said. "And furthermore, I didn't look like this when I was 20."

My oldest son has a passion for photography and he loves to doctor photos on our Mac computer. He'll saturate a photo with colour, make Warhol-like images, crop, enhance, blend and more. He loves an audience so sometimes I sit and watch him tinker. Generally, my vote is for the essentially unaltered image and his is for a better version of reality.

There's one place we agree.

When I ask for a photo of me, any close-ups in bright light, I have him remove the vertical line, the frown, that sits between my eyebrows. In an instant, he airbrushes it away, and I look like I did when I was 30, like I wish I still did now. I wouldn't go under the knife -- or the needle -- but I'm willing to squint a little (or erase the burden of frequent squinting) when it comes to Photoshopping my frown away.

Only today, he showed me the photo I've included here. He took it last night and he touched up absolutely nothing. And my frown was missing.

Sure, maybe it's the half-light. Perhaps it's my expression. Or, just maybe it had to do with where we were.

We spent this weekend at my parents' cottage, perched high on a cliff above Lake Huron. From the back porch of the cottage, the lake extends out like a half-moon of unbroken horizon of blue water. We had begged the cottage of my parents. The last time we had tried to go away, our daughter had been sick: truthfully, we didn't want to waste money again on a failed family vacation.

The forecast was for solid rain all weekend, so we decided to do our chores first of all when we arrived on Good Friday. My parents had not had a chance to rake the leaves off their treed property. We picked up sticks and limbs and tossed them into the gully that runs beside the property. We scratched at leaves and ripped out last year's dead flowers. I had told my mother that my goal was to "be a bum all weekend." This bum found it deeply satisfying and extremely apt to rake on Good Friday - letting go of the old, dead life to say yes to the life that was and is to come.

The wind moaned all night, and then we all slept in, and woke for pancakes. The sky brightened and we set out to visit an odd little flea market we had passed many times before. Our daughter grew tired, still not entirely well, and so we came back to the cottage for an early lunch. Revived, we set out again and found a hiking trail above the neighbouring town, one that took us to a converted railway trestle bridge. Some of us crossed and some sat on benches quietly and watched the world below. We found a beach and walked into the warm sunny wind.

We played board games, we watched a little hockey on the six-inch-square television, we introduced the kids to 'Waking Ned Devine.' We ate prepared food - both food we had prepared ahead of time and easy store-bought food. We read books that reflected each of our passions. Our daughter brought Steve, her stuffed llama. He slept on an ottoman. Our oldest took time-lapse photos of two brilliant, unpredicted sunsets.

I wanted to go to the Easter sunrise service in the nearby town, but it started early. I wasn't sure I'd be up. When I woke, spontaneously at 6:21 am, I decided to watch the sunrise alone and I quietly dressed and slipped out into the early morning dawn. The sky was brilliant salmon, but it quickly turned to grey cloud. I could see intimations of glory but never the blinding ball of fire. I walked the kilometre of road connecting the cottages. I brought the account of Mary Magdalene who rose early and went to the tomb and found it empty. But I wasn't alone. Not only in an Emmaus Road sense, but I was accompanied by a chorus of all sorts of songbirds. It was a noisy sunrise service. It was lovely.

We went to church en famille at 11 after we had hunted for chocolate eggs. We had never been to that particular church before but my parents said they had an amazing rummage sale each fall, so we made our choice. The sermon was good and there was a decent choir and friendly people. What stunned us all though happened at the point in the program when a solo was indicated. A woman of about 55 who looked like every churchgoing stereotype you can imagine stood up at the front of the church. She was to be accompanied by violin. My expectations were low. And then she opened her mouth -- and my jaw dropped as she belted out a slightly modified version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah in the most fabulous, powerful contralto voice.

In the afternoon, we went into the other nearby town for an Easter egg hunt. Our pockets filled with chocolate, we split up - my husband taking our photographer to a nearby conservation area to hike, the younger kids and I staying at the cottage. We set up blankets on the grass at the top of the cliff and brought out fruit and cookies, and I read aloud to them for an hour or more, playing Uno between chapters. The sun was intense and I needed a hat. There was no hat to be found so I put a cardboard box over my head and kept reading. We worked together to make a ham and scalloped potato casserole, thickening the sauce with pancake mix. (It worked!)

After the others came home with hundreds of photos and sunburned noses, I sat outside alone and listened to my iPod. I let it pick the songs and I must say, it knew what it was doing. The sun rippled on the water below, everything was pastel for Easter - the still muted early spring colours of the landscape, the soft sky and water. Eventually I could stand it no longer and I took off my shoes and socks and danced alone on the lawn in the sunlight.

So, last evening, after the scalloped potatoes and before Ned Devine won his millions and we ate popcorn, my son and I walked down the lane again, to put boxes in the communal recycling bin, to talk about the world and his life, to take photos of the sunset and the trees and every beautiful thing.

And somehow, my wrinkles had disappeared, and I too was one of the beauties of the day.


1 comment:

  1. Photoshop does mean instant plastic surgery in one plane. And somehow, subtle changes like that do improve people's self-esteem. I think it's okay for people to go for surgery if it means their happiness. And it's also okay if people choose not to go for it for their happiness.