Mirror mirror on the wall

Antique mirror

Ursula Le Guin’s Dogs, Cats, and Dancers: Thoughts about Beauty (1929) is the most spectacular write-up on “beauty.” We are left with a bone-deep awareness of “beauty” that rings true inside of us all. As I watch the greys become more pronounced than the blacks in my hair, and the traces of time draw deeper lines on my face, I look at the young and see how we differ in our versions of understanding what is beautiful. Or maybe time has helped me remove the veil and go into what is truly a bone-deep experience.

My first encounter with the dissociation of what stands on the outside and what needs to be visited on the inside came as I walked towards my English 101 class. That moment in time resembled a movie scene when there is an explosion, and for added effect, the director mutes everything on the screen and zooms in on the characters and the chaos that ensues. Everything is moving, exploding yet everything is quiet and still. You are on the outside of the screen experiencing everything inside of the screen. It’s real and yet unreal, and you know it. Time slows down! You take everything in including the broken shards and broken people.

Now that I’ve given you the analogy let me take you closer to looking at the experience of aging from my perspective. As you age, time slows down. Things begin to move in slow motion like the movie screen. You take everything in including the broken notions and past delusions.

We must play the part or as Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage. Men and women are but actors.”

Youth or youthfulness while we are in it, is stifling. It’s stifling simply because it demands from you an exuberance of perfection. Physical perfection.

Perfection looks lean, hard, taut like a twenty-year-old. I remember when I was in senior-high what that meant. Supple skin, voluptuous breasts, a lean waist, long hair, mascara, a hint of lipstick, and if all went well at home and at school, one could have waxed legs and arms. I was boney, athletic, dark and sported short hair. But that got me nowhere with the boys. The long-haired, supple-skinned girls did.

I hated the beauty game. I wasn’t willing to play it, so I got left behind. I saw what it did to me inside. I despised feeling that way. I saw what it did to the ones who held the power. It starved and poisoned us both. I was ruffled and riled by the constant nagging inside my head as it starved me of my true self. The ones who possessed the beauty were self-dissatisfied that they starved and deformed and poisoned themselves.  I saw anorexia and bulimia, and distortion of real beauty. Something that lay within, and something that remained untouched.

So what does it look like? This whole notional thing called a beautiful being?

Well, to go to the end, one must start at the beginning. All of it begins at childhood. It is so easy to live as a child. All of us long to go back for it was a simple time. And before long, our bodies begin to transform into the freckle-faced or lanky adolescent to only change again into a slightly chubbier, rotund adult. The constant nagging question of who we really are never seizes to stop. Each time we look in the mirror, the same question haunts us. Am I who I think I am?

And in looking through the mirror through space and time, and over and over again, we begin the gradual process of looking beyond everything that is skin deep. Here is where Le Guin’s is at her poetic best when she says, “And yet I look at men and women my age and older, and their scalps and knuckles and spots and bulges, though various and interesting, don’t affect what I think of them. Some of these people I consider to be very beautiful, and others I don’t. For old people, beauty doesn’t come free with the hormones, the way it does for the young. It has to do with bones. It has to do with who the person is. More and more clearly it has to do with what shines through those gnarly faces and bodies.”

When that moment arrives, where things fall into place, you see yourself for who you are. And you realise you are again where you were at 16. At 16 you look for your identity, and later, much later, you’ve lost it. Growing old is anguishing. You slip through the cracks of your own palms. You try to hold on and realise, your bones and knuckles can’t quite keep up.

So you sit with yourself again and try to find again who you really are. It is a confusing and complex phenomenon. You discard layers, and many different kinds of layers until you get closer to the naked truth. You discard along the way people, relationships, things, possessions and everything that kept you from getting bone-deep.

Here is when the radiance of the morning sun reaches you before the light. You commune with your aging body and a youthful spirit. Your spiritual self, you realise, has remained untouched and vibrant. So begins the journey towards discovering the beauty that is bone-deep.

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Kiss me like it is the last time!

Today I post about the oft talked, imagined, laughed and fantasized about topic–the interlocking of lips!

From Here to Eternity, 1953

So pucker up and hold tight (entirely possible if you’ve locked lips!) Yes, ladies and gents! What’s all the furor about osculation (that’s the scientific name for kissing) you ask?

There’s a story, albeit a real one that got me thinking about this topic. My little boy, all of 5, came home with a diary note that read, “Dear parents of N, please ask your son to stop kissing girls in class!” We were tickled and annoyed at the same time with the teacher’s report. So like soldiers on a mission, we marched off to school to find out more about the ‘kissing’ affair.

We called our little man into the conference and asked if he was indeed kissing girls and his prompt reply, “but I kiss boys, too.” This made us laugh harder. When we asked him why he did that, his response stumped us all: “Amma, you kiss me all the time, dada kisses me all the time. When I go to see grandma and grandpa, they do, too. When you do, it tells me you love me. So I love my friends, and so I kiss them.” The teacher of course was left speechless.

Voila! What an incredibly straightforward way to tell someone you love them! This, of course, is a child’s version of how he sees the world of love. It’s unsullied. But what about adults, and how do we profess love? There are myriad ways of course to declare love, yet nothing comes close to an honest kiss. It tells all!

Casablanca

For starters, my favorite kissing moment is wrapped in those immortal lines of Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca when she says, “Kiss me. Kiss me like it’s the last time.” Ah! The beauty. The lines, the people, the romance. It’s just there for generations to see and feel. Truly immortal. Then there are the preposterously beautiful Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun, where the camera pans closer and closer, and they practically talk themselves into an orgasm.

There are apparently 100 different types of kisses according to the author Sheril Kirshenbaum. Should I go into the details? Nah. That’s for you to discover. So what’s special about what on the outside seems like the most disgusting thing to do? I mean at the end of the day it is sputum aka saliva, getting transferred from here to there. If you bring science in, you’ll realize that little beasties ride the wave when oral fluids are exchanged. Shudder! Who in their right minds would allow for an invasion of disease and bacteria to enter their bodies willfully? But say that to two lovers who now have a flush of cortisol and oxytocin charging through their veins! Disease be damned.

From what I’ve understood, kissing is like a homing device. Once it’s locked on its target, there is no looking back. 90% of people kiss, which means 10% don’t. How’s that even possible you ask? Well, some Sudanese believe that the mouth is the window to the soul, and by kissing, you stand to lose your soul with mouth-to-mouth. Eskimos and Polynesians touch their noses instead of their lips. So there, 10% of the world’s population doesn’t know what it is like to lock lips!

All of these are anecdotes really, but what is the real reason we kiss? Science tells us that it has to do with evolution. It is like a litmus test to scope out a potential mate. When two noses touch, things get serious since it lets you ‘sniff’ the potential mate out. Since kissing allows you to exchange saliva, it becomes a subtle decoder for assessing someone’s biological profile. If you have ever been attracted to someone only to dislike them after you kiss, the reason may very well be that he or she didn’t have the right hormones in his saliva. So, it really does come down to chemistry after all.

Lovers will say, science be damned, too! Why boil all of this down to serial logic when it is perhaps one of life’s most magical experiences. The point about the perfect kiss is that it defies logic or reason. A first kiss is always something that stays with you like nothing else. People go in and out of relationships, but that very first kiss will still be the first and last of its kind. There is anticipation, which drives desire, and the heady few moments before leaves one in such a fuzzy, hazy state that you’ve lost all your bearings at once. Gary, in The Velocity of Gary, says, “Gary dreams about kissing someone so hard his mouth hurts. He dreams about kissing someone so soft his heart hurts, so long his neck hurts, so deep his throat hurts. Gary dreams about kissing someone so completely that nothing hurts.”

Interestingly, all of what Gary says is true! To be kissed while its hurting and then to feel like nothing hurts, is at once paradoxical as it is surreal. But that is life! A mystery for all to figure. So go figure!

A kiss, like the Sudanese believe, is the window to a person’s soul. It tells you everything you need to know, so guard your lips against the invasion of everything else lest your lips lose their dipstick for a soul mate. And while you reminisce a good, ol’ long kiss from a time gone by, let this Doris Day song wash over you: It’s been a long long time