Posted in Inside Lane

Permanent Press Forehead


Years, and years ago, I started a new job, and I was sure that my coworker hated me. Sure, sometimes she would smile at me, but the smile never reached her eyes, and most of the time, she just watched me with a moue of disdain. It was weeks before I realized she smiled and looked at everyone that way. If I’m completely honest, I’d started to think she wasn’t very bright because she never showed even the slightest expression of interest in anything, and even when her voice was laughing, her face was saying, “Whatever. Next.”

It was another couple of weeks before I realized the culprit was Botox, and not the public education system.

She was smart, and funny, and had a wide range of interests. She just couldn’t express anything with her face, and because I relied so heavily on those visual cues, I had quit talking to her before we could connect.

So, when the cute crease above my left eyebrow rolled into a shallow sine wave across my entire forehead, I blew it off with some glee that I had retained at least one mathematical term from college. I wasn’t going to give up my ability to make Mom Face out vanity. No. I cut bangs out of vanity.

That was almost a decade, three house moves, five years in retail banking, and a tween ago. Any one of those things will age you, but together? Well, that charming brow line eroded into a groove that became the only thing I could see when I looked in the mirror.

I started researching neurotoxins to inject into my face. I thought, “I’m 45 now. I’m old enough that it’s not just vanity. My eyelids drape, and this will help lift my lids up from my lashes. I’m 45. That’s closer to 50 than to 30, so that’s a reasonable age to consider upgrades. This is a midlife crisis. I can buy myself a nicer forehead. Or, I could buy this really expensive cashmere sweater from the catalog send to the previous owner of our new home.”

Cashmere makes me itch. So, a month ago, I marched into the dermatologist’s office and said, “Please look at this weird mole, and also, please make my forehead not gruesome.”

Four needle pricks and one dime-sized bruise later, I had 40 units of Dysport seeping through the muscles that control my Surprise Face, and a headache.

Y’all, I should have bought the sweater.

Now, your mileage will vary based on your own face and how you feel about it, but outside of that one big groove, I like my face fine. I like having big expressions. I like that I can look warm, or silly, or interested, or repulsed. Well, I like that I COULD. Now, all I can manage is either “Whatever,” or “Haha. That’s funny. Whatever.”

My forehead is as smooth as a river stone, but my face is also a flatline. I feel like I need to apologize, or explain my apparent disinterest, or disdain to everyone. I have said, “I am listening to you, and what you are saying is so sad, and I want you to know that I am empathizing. I apologize about my face.” I have also said, “That is great! I am so sorry my face will only telegraph that it’s mildly interesting.”

Aside from having become les yeux sans visage, I’m having some interesting physical side effects. For one, the paralysis of the forehead muscle has pulled the upper portion of my face to the sides, away from the center point of my eyebrows. This has pulled my eyelids sideways, rather than up (as I had hoped–thus lifting my lids), and means that my round eyes are now almond shaped. Pretty shape, yes, but that’s had an effect on my vision.

Pull your eyelids sideways. Look around. It changes things!

My eyebrow shape has changed too. Those were always fairly well curved. Now, they are Vulcan straight. I’ve had to relearn how to draw my eyebrows, and how to apply my eye makeup because the shapes are so different. The struggle…so real.

Maybe worst of all, my forehead hurts. I have a near-constant headache just in the paralyzed muscle area. I don’t know if this is because I am trying too hard to make expressions and it’s like turning over the transmission while the car is still running, or if it’s just a reaction to the toxin. All I know is that I already look bored with life, and the headache makes my forehead feel heavy, and it is exhausting trying to keep my eyes peeled open wide enough for my prescription lenses to do me any good, which makes me look even more tired and angry. I’m like Ebenezer Scrooge’s prettier cousin.

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This is as happy as I am able to look right now.

I admit to you that I miss the face of my youth. I miss being smooth and pretty. I miss people remarking on how perfect my complexion is. I miss people wanting to look at me. But really, right now, what I miss most of all is being able to look sad about getting old in the face.

And that is why I’m going back to wrinkles, just as soon as this stuff wears off. Youth is wasted on the young, and I want to be able to fully express that with my eyebrows.

 

 

Posted in Inside Lane

Thanksgiving Wish


Thor and I were talking about friends, and I said, “I know this is a silly question, but I know my answer, and I’m just interested in yours. How do you know when you’ve made a friend? What does ‘friend’ look like?”

He thought a moment and said, “I think you know you’re friends when you start spending time together on purpose, and start sharing things because you want to.”

I thought that was an excellent definition, and much better than my own.

According to Thor, you don’t need to have a lot in common, save for the agreement that the company is good, and the interest is mutual.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I wish you good company, with mutual levels of interest, and plenty of good food.

 

Posted in Inside Lane

What Leon Lett Taught Me


In 1992, Superbowl XXVII was a blowout for the Cowboys against the Bills. It’s a game that I will never forget, not for the win, but for one play in particular.

Toward the end of the game, Leon Lett recovered a fumble and ran it toward the goal line. Just yards away from a touchdown, he slowed, lowered the ball, and started a celebratory shuffle, cut short when one of the Bills slapped the ball out of his hand like your mother slapping the sass off your face. He crossed the goal line in a tumble, rose, and looked around in confusion. What had happened?

I think I’d have slunk off the field, out the stadium, and never shown my face again. But you know what Leon Lett did? He lined up for the next play. (When it was his turn.) You know what his teammates did? They lined up with him.

That has stuck with me, and framed every goal I’ve chased after since then. Don’t celebrate too early. Don’t let embarrassment defeat you. Be a team player, and even if you mess up, show up to fix it.

The night before the Presidential election, Thor was trilling with excitement about the probability that his candidate of choice would win. I told him the story of Leon Lett’s celebratory fail. “Don’t start celebrating until it’s done,” I told him. Then I told him about the Truman/Dewey election.

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We also had a very quiet conversation about assuming that everyone around you shares your political leanings, and why it is important to be polite and respectful, and not use the term “idiot” to describe someone who doesn’t agree with you.

It’s been an interesting year of quiet conversations with him, mainly regarding the election. We’ve listened to a lot of NPR in the car, and after listening to candidates speak, I’ve asked him questions, hoping to help him unpack the rhetoric, and learn to reason his way into an educated decision of preference. I’ve tried to be the training wheels as he’s come to his own conclusions, rather than being the driver at the front of a bicycle for two.

We’ve talked about things like healthcare, and immigration, and human rights, and fiscal responsibility. We’ve talked about where the money for social services comes from, where the money for public education comes from, and why we have a budget for military spending. We’ve talked about NATO, the UN, and a bunch of things that have mostly dripped out of the holes celebrity gossip has punched in my brain, and I’ve had to say, “I don’t know. Let’s look that up,” more than once.

If nothing else, 2016 has given us a lot to talk about, and when he woke up the day after the election, we had a lot more fodder. How to conduct himself with people who might be feeling vulnerable. How to be gracious in defeat. How to be an ally. How to find the good.

He seems to get it. He seems to understand that even when there is a fumble on a play, or even when the ball gets slapped out of your hand, it’s more than just the individual, or the moment. There is a whole team, and regardless of whether or not you get the W, you still play together. You still work together. You take your lumps together, and you move on together.

You protect the weak. You defend your principles. You uphold liberty. You look at the people next to you, and you either work with them, or around them.

Over the past few weeks, he’s mentioned Leon Lett in conversation. Today, it was with my mother, watching the A&M/LSU game. “Never celebrate until you’ve finished,” he said, nodding at the television. “You know what happened to Leon Lett.”

 

 

 

Posted in Inside Lane

Trusting Fear


The other night, I got into an Uber in Marietta, Georgia, and settled in for a ride back to my hotel in Atlanta. I thanked the driver for picking me up, and he adjusted his rear view mirror and said in the kind of low, reverent voice reserved for television serial killers, “Thank you for calling me, and for allowing me this blessing for my family.”

The way he said it, he might have meant dinner on the table, or me as dinner on the table. Who knew?

Then he said, “I’m going to give you a really nice ride. I’m going to play you some good music, and we’ll have the windows down for the night air, and you’re going to just relax and enjoy.”

A couple of years ago, I bought the book The Gift of Fear, but I never finished reading it because it caused me so much anxiety. I was afraid of the book, so I took the book’s advice and avoided it. I was a little afraid of the Uber driver, but I figured if he did anything worse than turn Anita Baker on full blast with the windows down, I could throw myself out of the car. After all, I was in the back seat, and the doors weren’t safety locked.

I started texting my mother. I told her the nice part–about the soft Georgia night, and that I was enjoying it from the backseat of an Uber. You know. Just in case.

The man tried to talk to me a little more, but Anita and the 40 MPH wind drowned out his voice, so I told him I couldn’t hear him, and he turned the radio up louder, so I couldn’t hear him better.

I have a hard time deciding when I am, and am not afraid. I accuse myself of hyperbole and histrionics. Mainly, because I’ve had some bad shit go down, and I have a hard time believing worse might befall me. Also because I have an over-active imagination, and I always assume that I’m just assuming the worst.

In the back of that Uber, I started thinking about that time an elementary school bus driver decided he wanted to keep me.

Today, I called my mother and asked her to tell me what had happened–again. I wanted to tell her what I remembered, and have her fill in the gaps.

What I remembered was the driver not even pausing at my stop, and saying to me, “It’s okay. I’ll take you back last.”

When last came, and he didn’t take me back, I asked when he was taking me home. I remember how he was watching me in his rear view mirror, telling me that it was okay, that my mother had said it was fine, and that I should stay on the bus. He wouldn’t say when I would get to go home, only that everything was fine, and I was going to be okay.

It seemed wrong, and it made me nervous, but he’d been my bus driver for a long time, and if my mom had said it was okay…

But, then he headed onto the highway, and I knew she would never be okay with that. I knew something bad was happening. I remember that I kept talking to him, and telling him he needed to take me home. He kept saying it was fine, and watching me.

My mother first realized something was wrong when the staff at People’s Drugstore at Ward’s Corner, in Norfolk, VA, called and told her that the bus had gone by without dropping me off. I always got out of the bus on the People’s Drugstore side, and they would keep an eye on me (me unaware) as I crossed the intersection to the Dominion National Bank side, where my mother worked. They watched for me, part of the village helping raise an oblivious 3rd grader, and made sure I was okay.

When they called her, my mother started making phone calls to my school. They confirmed I had gotten on the bus. I just hadn’t gotten off. My mother offered (that’s understatement!) to call the police to help track down the bus, if they couldn’t find it, and the school dispatched a search party.

Police were called, as were the bus driver’s parents–a local minister and his wife–and somewhere between the two, he was convinced to turn back home.

I don’t remember where we were, and I have only a very vague recollection of him talking to people on the CB radio. I honestly don’t remember how I got home, only that I was afraid I was in trouble for not making the man take me to my bus stop, and for letting him drive off with me–like I had a choice.

I remember being afraid of him getting into trouble, and I remember feeling responsible when he lost his job. And I remember how stridently, and seriously my mother talked to me about what to do if anything like that ever happened again. We set a password, so I would always know if she was truly the one who had said it was okay for me to deviate from the plan.

My mother talked to the man. Then, my father went to his house and did his own talking.

That was the end of that bus driver.

It hit me as the Uber driver turned out onto the highway, “You could be taking me anywhere.”

Fortunately, he just took me back to my hotel. When I thanked him for the ride, he told me again what a blessing it was to his family. I was glad he hadn’t eaten me.

Then, I worried that I wasn’t afraid enough. I had made light of my own anxiety.

I don’t do that with my child. I listen to those fears when it comes to him. I know I’ve looked like a complete jerk to more than a few people, but I’d rather have people hate me, than have something happen to that boy. I’d rather people think I’m a lunatic.

For me? I need to learn to listen to myself and say, “I’ll pay the $5, thanks. I’ll be waiting for another car.”

 

Posted in Inside Lane

Invisible Women


I waited a week to write this because I didn’t want to accidentally spoil anything. Now, you’re on your own. If you haven’t seen Ghostbusters, just know that you might get slimed with story points if you read further.

 

I was halfway into Ghostbuster, getting elbowed to death by my excited son, who kept reaching up with his greasy, pizza fingers to grab at my arm, or my shoulder, or my leg (because we went to an eatie theater, as we call them) to share his amusement, or delight, or actual sheer glee, when I realized I’d never seen anything like this before. Not like Ghostbusters because I obviously saw and loved the originals, but like THIS. I was watching an action/comedy with four women—my aged women—who weren’t built like Megan Fox, with hair like Blake Lively, and faces like Jennifer Lawrence. I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

 

This wasn’t Denise Richards playing a Daisy-Duke-wearing physicist, whose very name was chosen because it could be the punchline of an orgasm joke.

 

This wasn’t Angelina Jolie running through a video game plotline, boobs bouncing in a tight tank top.

 

This wasn’t even Rebel Wilson making jokes about how gross she is because she’s fat.

 

These were four women I could plausibly meet on the street, wearing clothes I might find in my own closet, doing science-y stuff with believable intellect and interest in the subject, who never once made a fat joke, or worried about having too many cats, or went and had a makeover before finding enough inner strength from their new outer beauty to ask a man to help them solve a problem. It was…I can’t really tell you how it felt because I’ve never felt it before.

 

I kept waiting for the fat joke. I kept waiting for the cat-lady joke. I kept waiting for the lesbian joke. I kept waiting for the biological timeclock joke. I kept waiting for one of them to lament her romantic loneliness. I kept waiting for one of them to apologize to a man for being awesome, or to have to go home to cook dinner for someone, or to break a heel. I kept waiting for the wink to the audience, to let us know that they knew they might be playing Ghostbusters, but they understood that they were only Lady Ghostbusters, not real ones.

 

Those jokes never came, and the only wink was Kate McKinnon’s gloriously daft scene-stealer. It was almost like riding up to the top of the roller coaster, only to have it curve gently and carry you back to the station without the usual drop off. Weirdly, I felt like something was missing.

 

At first, I thought it was the grounding in reality to the Sigourney Weaver, Dana, character. The character, who in the original is possessed by Zuul and does much the same as receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth and his biceps). But other than being possessed and rebuffing Venkman, Dana doesn’t play much of a part. And Kevin gives us both of those—his possession is as crazy ride as Dana’s, and his cool response to Gilbert’s drooling is exactly the male flipside of Dana’s exasperation with Venkman.

 

Then, I thought maybe it was in the character building. Maybe it was because we didn’t have a backstory on anyone other than Gilbert. But Venkman was the only original Ghostbuster who got any kind of work-life-balance story. (I have seen the first two Ghostbusters around 70 times, as those were the only movies the kids I babysat in the 80s ever wanted to watch. And don’t even get me started on the cartoon.) The Ghostbuster characters of today were exactly as fleshed out as the ones of old.

 

Then I thought it might have been because they never “crossed the streams,” and I wasn’t feeling the thrill of the original bromance, but they did their own version of the streams, and these Ghostbusters are immediately sticking out their necks for one another.

 

I finally had to admit that the problem was me. The problem was that I didn’t know how to watch a movie about middle-aged, average looking women, who wear work appropriate gear, do work appropriate things, and are hyper-competent without having to ask a man (or a better looking woman) for help. I didn’t know how to watch that movie because I’ve never seen that movie before.

 

The only other movies I could think of that even came close for comedy, action, or just saturation of female characters were my favorite Drop Dead Gorgeous, but that’s about a bunch of nubile teens after a beauty title (and the reason I forgive Denise Richards for any awful thing she ever makes because—please. Just watch Drop Dead Gorgeous), Thelma & Louise, but that’s all centered around a man, and men, and good lord does that end badly for everyone, and Spice World, which has comedy, action, and is nearly all women, but is hardly a movie. I’m sorry, Spices! You know I love you! Girl power!

 

Something like scales fell off my eyes. What was missing from the movie were the tropes, and the cues I’m used to following, telling me how to watch a woman as either the ingénue, the mother, the lesbian, or the crone. No one was telling me how to see these average women, who in reality would be socially invisible. There were no hooks, so to speak—no reason anyone would normally want to look at these people. I was watching invisible women do incredible things—how does that work?

 

How does it work when we’ve been trained to ignore fat, homely, too-tall, too-dark, too-pasty, bad-haired, poorly made-up, sadly dressed, average women over the age of 35, and suddenly, they are starring in the movie, and are the only people to watch? How do we watch them? No one has told us.

 

So, I’m going to go see it again. This time, I’m going to watch it with new eyes. I’m going to go watch the Ghostbusters vanquish their foes. I’m going to go watch the Ghostbusters do weird science. I’m going to go enjoy an action/comedy, and I’m going to enjoy watching invisible women doing the work. And I’m going to take my kid with me because he’s still talking about it in a way he has never talked about, or responded to the original.  Because these ladies are wicked cool.

 

And when he puts his little, greasy paws on me, laughing, I’m going to enjoy it even more because he’s growing up in a world where a woman really can be anything without apologizing for it. Even a Ghostbuster.