Beauty

Home Movies

My first piece of original art that I ever paid to have professionally framed was given to me as a gift by a 23 year old, divine, Canadian artist, Lupe Rodriguez, who I knew for a brief, but fun, 7 weeks one summer, 42 years ago. It’s called, “Home Movies”.

That painting has hung on every wall of every home that I’ve ever had.

When you slam the mudroom door in my house, the paintings on the walls sometimes shift.  I was straightening that painting recently when I realized that I never saw her again after that summer.

“What ever happened to Lupe?” I wondered.

In the early months of college in 1977, I started to worry about what kind of summer job I could secure so that I wouldn’t have to go back to my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and scoop ice cream at Isaly’s again.

I saw an ad in the back of the New York Times Magazine section for summer instructional counselors at a sports and arts camp in Parry Sound, Ontario.

Something about the arty aspect of the ad appealed to me, so I applied, old school, with a letter that highlighted my brief work history (scooping ice cream, waitressing, working at the college equipment checkout desk) but which also emphasized my major in Film and TV, as well as having to master an understanding of the principals of still photography. Wait. I even mentioned that I was a field hockey player in high school and could easily teach that if called upon. My 20 year old self was throwing it all on the table.

No such thing as overselling when it comes to applying for summer jobs.

A couple of weeks later, I received a letter requesting my references and asking me to call the director of the camp for an interview. (No cell phones in those days’ folks).

I wish that I had been able to record the phone interview.  To this day, it makes me think I should have gone into sales. I was offered the job as the Photography Instructor/Counselor. They would secure the necessary papers that would allow me to work in Canada and would pay me in Canadian dollars, which at the time, was about a plus ten cents on the US dollar. It was something like $1200 for 7 weeks of work and all the bug juice you could drink. I did have one small negotiating point that I brought up at the end…I had a boyfriend who was an amazing basketball player and recent college grad.  He would make a fabulous Instructor. Could they take him, too? Bingo! My summer was set.

Lupe Rodriguez was one of the first people I met. She had been hired as the Studio Art/Painting Instructor and she was, in my mind, the movie star version of an artist.  Not only was she incredibly talented, she towered over me and had this European essence that made me laugh at my plebe-y self. We would take respective breaks from our Studios and meet outside to just howl about ridiculous stuff and smoke cigarettes.lupe2.jpg

lupe1.jpg

Lupe was a few years older than me and had just finished art school. We compared notes about our dreams of what our futures would hold. She was going to be a famous artist and I was going to be a filmmaker…None of that starving artist bullshit.

When you’re in your 20’s, anything is possible.

Towards the end of our seven weeks, she emerged from her studio with a signed painting for me called “Home Movies”.  She had painted it on a piece of linoleum and ran it through the press two times. I got the first one. I don’t know what happened to the second one. I am hoping that I gave her something, too, but I can’t remember.

42 years had gone by when I launched a search for her on the internet.

The first thing that came up was her name and the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Canada. I clicked the link and landed on the exhibit Lupe Rodriguez: Radiant Passion. She did become famous and her paintings were stunning. The opening paragraph on the home page went like this:

As artist, educator, arts reporter, world traveller, cultural celebrity and serious aficionado of historical and contemporary art, Lupe Rodriguez shared her extraordinary passion and remarkable insights with thousands of people in Toronto, the GTA, across Canada and around the world. Her vivacious personality and love of art and life was infectious. Many of those who have known her have remarked that her exuberant and colorful artwork directly reflected the radiance and passion of her character.

I became aware of the Dreaded. Past. Tense. I held my breath and read on:

On October 4, 2008, Lupe Rodriguez passed away after a courageous battle with leukemia, leaving a great void in the lives and hearts of many – but also leaving behind an astounding body of artwork that embodies the spirit of a great life lived.

A wave of sorrow came over me. The only comfort was discovering that she had married, had two children and lived, what sounded like, a most amazing life in spite of it being cut short by cancer. She was cherished. She was loved, which was way better than our 20-year-old selves looking for fame.

I dug into my old black and white negatives from that summer and digitized those that had not disintegrated.  I wished I could have shared these with her.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer as to why we never reconnected.  I hate to say the very trite life happens, but it does.

This has reminded me to always be thankful for the small gifts that you receive. Lupe will live forever in my “Home Movies” and in the hearts of everyone she touched, including some 7- week friends, like myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Gloves

It’s amazing where your mind goes in the aisles of Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The other day, I was looking for a pair of white cotton gloves to wear at night to keep some super-rich, moisturizing hand cream on my dry, wintery paws. The second I found them, I had an instant, Pre-Teen-Terror Flashback.

Ballroom. Dancing. Classes.

Outside the Concordia Club, in 1969, in the back seat of a Ford Country Squire Station Wagon, with arms folded, a scowl on my face, wearing a party dress, white socks, patent leather shoes and of course, white gloves, my eleven-year-old self proclaimed to my parents that I would NEVER make MY kids take ballroom dancing classes.

Sitting next to me was my beaming, twelve year old sister, who would have worn a dress and crown everyday, if she could.

Truthfully, I was a bit of a tomboy, so being forced to put on a fancy dress once a week, comb my hair, let alone having to DANCE and HOLD HANDS with a boy, caused me more anxiety than I care to admit and to which I probably carry with me to this day. Seriously, Kenny Diamond used to repetitively take his thumb in and out of its joint as I was holding his hand. Ew.

The fancy husband and wife team who taught us were straight out of central casting. Although I don’t recall their names, I can envision her big hair, her red lipstick, her black stilettos, and her husband, who I think had a mustache and big hair, too, but I may be incorrectly recalling some 40’s gangster film. With her very smokey voice and his very crisp finger snaps, they would sashay across the floor and show us the moves.

“Balance and a, Left, (SNAP) Right, (SNAP) Left, (SNAP) Balance and a…”

WTF were my parents thinking?

My mother would tell you that this was how young children learned to behave in society. You know, the Etiquette drill. Bull shit. The only thing I learned there was the Box Step and the Fox Trot. Two skills that I’VE NEVER USED.

On the very plus side of this recounting, I’m happy to report that fifty years later, I have stayed true to my word. I NEVER made my children take Ballroom. Dancing. Classes.

As for the many other things I made them do, well…that’s their story to tell.

The Dress I Yessed

30 years ago, I had my wedding dress professionally preserved. I was told that a lot of women make this investment for two reasons: 1) you paid a shitload for the dress, so why not? And 2) if you have a daughter, she may wear it one day. At the time, I think it cost me a hefty $250.00 for this service.

It took about 6 weeks to preserve the dress and it arrived at my doorstep in a sealed, archival bridal box that immediately went into my spare closet of no return.

I have a good friend who wore her mothers wedding dress to her own wedding. When she speaks of it, you can tell that she cherished it. The possibility of that never even crossed my mind when I got married and I could have had a choice of three dresses from my mom—need I say more.

When my only daughter got engaged this year, I realized that my archival-ly preserved dress didn’t have a shot at being re-worn. Not only is my daughter much taller than me, she has a specific style gene that definitely does not scream 80’s.

“Maybe we can re-purpose some of it, Mom”, she diplomatically offered.

Well, maybe, but where was that box now?

After some digging in the closet of no return, I found it. I remembered that another friend, who was downsizing after her kids flew the coop, said that she photographed everything memorable before she gave it away or threw it out. I call it the digital preservation of clutter. Because I knew that I wanted to donate this dress, I decided to film the opening of the archival box with my daughter at my side.

A flood of memories hit me when we broke the seal.

On my wedding day, as I was getting dressed for the big event, I carefully stepped into my gown. As I was pulling it up, the elastic on the left sleeve ripped. Since it was an off-the-shoulder number, this elastic was critical to keeping the dress up.

If ever there was a need for a wardrobe supervisor, this was it. I wasn’t smart enough to travel with an emergency sewing kit…the only emergency thing I ever carried with me were tampons. Good luck with that.

I went a little ape-shit in the bathroom, because I had spent a fortune on the dress at the infamous, formally-Brooklyn-based, Kleinfelds. And now, here I was in Pittsburgh, on a Sunday morning with a teeny tiny safety pin that my sister found underneath the vanity in the bathroom at the synagogue. P.S. Major shout out to that pin.

When we opened the archival box, you could see the snapped elastic but the teeny tiny safety pin was gone…it was probably removed during the preservation process.

The dress was clean, but it had yellowed. A lot.

“OMG, Mom, it’s pretty ugly”, my no-filter daughter observed.

“It looks like you were an extra in “WESTWORLD”, my husband chimed in from afar.

I have to admit; it was kind of thrilling to see that dress again. It looked so tiny…but WTF, I was 20 pounds lighter when I got married. Nonetheless, it brought a huge smile to my face and some honest to goodness belly laughter.

We gently pulled the gown out of the box and a small silk flower that was attached to the elastic of the shoulder floated to the ground.

My daughter picked it up and with the straightest face ever said, “I can use this”.

I’ve left the dress hanging in the closet for now. Maybe some fresh air will bring it back to life before I pack it up for donation. If the air doesn’t do it, perhaps a fresh, tiny, body will.

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And here is the short film:

 

 

 

 

Aging Superpower: THE SHAPE SHIFTER

As we age, our bodies take on new shapes.

D’uh, I’m not telling you anything new. We collect some around the middle, boobs fall, asses drop, upper arms wing-out… it can cause a lot of grief, especially when you stand naked in front of a mirror and say WTF happened? The worst is when you droop-shame yourself. You got older, that’s what happened.  If you’ve ever had to get yourself out of some Spanx with a crowbar, you know what I’m talking about.

I signed up for some Art School.

Who would have thought that spending time in a figure painting class would give you a new appreciation of the human body? I want to sound like an academic painter here, but I’m not, so let me begin by saying:

Perky boobs are just not fun to paint.

If there is one thing I can take away from my art class it is that bigger is better because bigger captures light, creates shadows, adds dimension and is fucking beautiful. Period.

No offense to really thin models, but they make you feel like you’re in a medical drawing class. Pass.

The female body is amazing…shape shifting and all. We need to start a new movement. Our changing bodies are a superpower…at least on canvas.

 

 

Making The Middle-Aged Hot List

A few years ago, while building a humorous website targeted towards aging women, I filmed a short of myself trying on a pair of Spanx. I did it because I wanted to show our web developers that middle-aged women will do and share ridiculous things that celebrate a self deprecating appreciation of growing old. I really didn’t think it was that funny, but our 20-30 something developers thought it was hysterical. In fact, they encouraged me to launch the website with it. “No one will know it’s you” they promised…except of course, my friends who announced things like, “You’ve got balls sister” ,“Are you outta your mind?” and “What kind of hormones are you on?

Needless to say, we launched the site with MySpanx as our opening video feature and Kaboom, my ass went around the world. It really wasn’t the kind of share I expected. When I landed on a Danish car building site, I thought that having some “power-in-the-tank” was really misinterpreted, but that’s what happens when you release something on the internet for the public to see.

The true highlight came when BuzzFeed picked it up. I found out about the link when I received a panicked phone call from my daughter at work.

MY DAUGHTER: OMG Mom, YOU’RE ON BUZZ FEED! YOU MADE THE HOTLIST!

ME: Whaat?

MY DAUGHTER: YOU’RE BUTT HAS GONE VIRAL. I’M SENDING YOU THE LINK.

ME: Whaat?

MY DAUGHTER: You’re 7th on a list of 40 SIGNS YOU’RE ALMOST 40!

ME: Almost 40? I’m NORTH OF 50.

MY DAUGHTER: Who cares? You already have over a million hits!

I wanted to get excited about all the hits but truthfully, I just wanted to thank the BuzzFeed editor who deducted a decade.

Taking The Pledge

When I was little, this was dress-up of the highest order. With nary a rank, and absolutely no earned badges whatsoever, my six-month brownie stint made me feel like I was a world leader. Where else at the age of seven could you get a pseudo military outfit like that?

There was something very “Princess Grace” about those gloves and I remember that you had to wear them when taking the pledge or posing for troop pictures. This was the closest I ever got to the “service” and was probably my most favorite uniform (Isaly’s Ice Cream, not withstanding.)

Speaking of pledges, for all you nostalgia buffs, here it is:

On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

I take my pledges very seriously as you can see by the expression on my face. Thank goodness this one emphasized the word try. 

Droop Scoop

“My boobs look great when I’m immersed in water.” 

Advancing age, weight loss and pregnancy can cause a condition medically known as Breast Ptosis, aka the droop. Did you know that there are different degrees of breast ptosis? All sags are not the same, so to speak.

Say whaaat?

Here is how you measure yourself. You need a 12 inch ruler (make sure it has centimeters) and a mirror.

Take your shirt and bra off and find your inframammary crease (the fold line just under your breasts where they meet your chest).

Place the ruler in the crease, directly against the junction of the breast and ribcage.

Let your breasts hang over the ruler, and look at yourself in a mirror. The ruler marks your inframammary crease.

If your nipple is slightly above or directly in front of the top of the ruler, you may have Grade 1 ptosis. This is considered mild.

If the central point of your nipple is 1 to 3 cm below the top of your breast crease, you may have Grade 2 ptosis. This is considered mild to moderate.

If the central point of your nipple and your areola (the colored area around your nipple) is more than 3 cm below your breast crease, you may have Grade 3 ptosis. This is considered severe. WAIT. WAIT. WAIT. WAIT. WAIT. I tend to disagree. Severe is when you can hold a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke under your inframammary crease and pour a few drinks.

My Grandmother (may she rest in peace) had severe ptosis. When I was 10, I was staying at her house one night. While she was taking a bath, she called out to me to come in and get her cushioned bath head pillow off of the counter. As I walked in, I saw her lift her breast out of the bubbles and wash underneath her inframammary area. It looked like she was playing the cello. It would be an understatement to say it made an indelible mark on me. On the plus side, it did peak my interest in the science of genetics and the importance of a great and who-cares-what-it-costs bra.

Like grades really matter.