Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Clouds and ducks

Saturday, August 13, 2011

This is a comic book convention

And this is, sort of, what it looks like. A blur of people, and storm troopers, and a few too many very obese young men. "Gamers," I'm told. Thousands of artworks for sale, most of them on pirated themes which I am sure Disney, DC, or Marvel could sue about, only it's not worth their while to pursue small-bore artistic license and capitalism run amok. Much of the art very, very good -- which leads me to ask, what could be produced by these same men, if they lived in another time and drew and painted Renaissance-style original commissions, rather than endless dragons, glorious cumulus clouds, Batmans, and buxom young women with impossible thighs?

After several hours, the crowd becomes so thick that there is nothing for anyone to do but keep on circulating, keep on shuffling around booths of art and trinkets whose wares go unadmired and unbought because no one can step out of the herd to look, judge, and spend. A scientist with a camera poised far above the hall could probably look down and record all the people moving as a single unit, obeying properties of physics involving mass and volume and waves.

And who knew that tonight's fun culminates in a Masquerade Ball -- Zombie Edition, the drinks and the dancing lasting from 8 p.m. to midnight? Perhaps we two single ladies left too soon.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Guilty pleasure, highbred surprise

Make-up blogs. And make-up application and hair care tutorials on YouTube.

Seriously. That's my guilty pleasure. I grew up in the '70s, when everybody was natural and free to be you 'n' me, and we all wore burlap blouses -- or thought we admired Joan Baez for wearing burlap blouses -- and considered make-up and other female fussiness shallow and unworthy.  

Or maybe I was just none too bright. When I was a bridesmaid for the first and only time, I couldn't understand why, amid all the professional photographs being taken that day, the bridesmaids were requested one by one to come and have their pictures snapped, up close, with one hand posed (fingers extended) over their rubrum lily bouquets. It looked ridiculous. Much later I understood that the point must have been for each girl to show off her manicure. I didn't have one.    

Now, at the age when my next milestone birthday will be my fiftieth, I find it's great fun to surf the internet looking for advice on personal grooming. It all might have stood me in good stead a long time ago, more's the pity, but it might even help a little now. I still don't like to wear make-up -- too aging, especially on a face with big pores -- but the advice you'll find from happy, chirpy young women, on that and other matters, remains good and practical. My daughter learned how to French braid her own hair from a tutorial that I discovered for her on YouTube; last night I searched, and not for the first time, for received wisdom on that problematic area, the eyebrow.  

Eyebrows haunt me. When I was a little girl I used to love to draw them, great fluourishing swoops like hawks' wings over pages full of disembodied, sultry, staring, gorgeous eyes. I inspect other women's brows, and envy the beautiful, lithe leaping ones. The best description of what a good brow grooming does to a woman's face comes from a man, and my favorite author: E.F. Benson. In Trouble for Lucia he writes that when the middle aged ladies of Tilling-on-Sea discover maquillage, each choosing one feature to work on, the dumpy Diva Plaistow finds "arched eyebrows carefully drawn where there were none before gave her a look of highbred surprise." (Needless to add that the serious artiste of the town, Quaint Irene, disapproves of the frivolity, and walks down the street "with the tip of her nose covered in green billiard chalk" to express her contempt.) My own eyebrows were always disappointing. They showed no arch whatsoever, darkly and stubbornly plodded in a circle around the eye, and began their growth directly on the eyelid, like a man's. Timid attempts at plucking were painful. My frustrated '70s self reared up, à la Quaint Irene, and scolded me. "There are important things going on in the world." And I flounced off, for years.

Yes, there are important things going on in the world. But I think a philosopher might also smile and say, given what small spheres most of us travel in, that Woman doing what she can to grace her appearance and improve her feelings is no unimportant thing. Back in Tilling, "Elizabeth found that the rose-mantled cheeks she now saw in her looking glass made her feel (not only appear) ten years younger; Susan that her corrugated hair made her look like a French marquise." At one point in the series of Mapp and Lucia novels, even Georgie, surreptitiously devoted as he is to his hair dye and his toupee, earns a scolding from his friend Lucia when he balks at her suggestion that he actually dye his graying beard, too. " 'Why,' " she exclaims, " 'a woman with the prospect of improving her appearance so colossally would not be able to sleep a wink tonight from sheer joy.' " He does it.     

And bully for them all. Now, about eyebrows. Who knew that one tweezes in the direction the hair grows? "If you pull straight out, you're going to have pain," Kandee advises. So true. The rest of her six-minute video lesson is a flurry of pencils, template cards, tweezers, tiny razors, brushes, and scissors. She is happy, unhesitant, absolutely competent, and professional. After I watched it I took a deep breath, got out my tweezers and (even though the bedroom light was rather murky) followed her advice at 10:30 last night, not least because my other daughter, whom I had thought had simply been blessed with perfect brows, told me she has been tweezing since she was fifteen. More on my results later. 

The reason I find these videos and their related blogs -- Kandee has two -- so fascinating is because these women, apart from being skilled at what they do, are so giving and so transparently sweet-natured. So very natural, really, in a way that a '70s nature baby is not accustomed to recognize. They want to help you look pretty and be happy, and their joy in helping you just goes on and on. "YOU ARE AWESOME! YOU ARE LOVED!" they tweet. Apart from tutorials on specific personal beauty projects, they also give you news on shopping, home decor ideas, the occasional recipe, the latest in terrific music, relationship advice, -- there's no end to it. Recently the irrepressible Kandee has wanted you to make gold-studded glitter heels, romantic Bohemian rocker braid hair (note incidentally the fabulous eyebrows, though I did like her natural thick ones, which had a lot of character), to cook the best crepes ever, and to buy the best mascara in the world. She shares her inner cartwheel-turnings at finding herself on page 238 of this month's Glamour -- more on Kandee's fame later -- she wants you to see these great chain earrings, she wants to share her experience of home-birthing her fourth baby. Yes, she filmed herself in labor. Did I mention the word irrepressible?    

About my results. Professionals -- any self-respecting fifteen-year-old -- will hardly credit it, but what you see below is an improvement. The new:

The old.

. You may understand better when you see what I inherited. There was Dad,

who I think inherited his look from his mother, Grandma Mabel.

Mom seems to have been lucky enough to get some height to her brows and, I daresay, did some tweezing and other normal maintenance before the wedding. Women in the 1940s also may not have been so burdened by the idea of being natural.

So here I am, at long last quite happy with my eyebrows. Saved money doing it at home, too. What is left me is to make like all Kandee's other readers and viewers, and all the readers and viewers of all the other happy women's make-up tutorials and hair care and lifestyle blogs, and thank her for her instructions. How they gush. And how many of them (us) there are. We '70s-era nature babies, we artistes who tell ourselves there are big things happening in the world, must stand astonished when we scroll down to the comments forum on the make-up divas' sites, and find that they routinely garner fifty and sixty comments per post, or a thousand on a video. Kandee's eyebrow tutorial has racked up almost 530,000 views, and her blog has a whopping two hundred and nine thousand "Likes" on Facebook -- 209,210 to be precise. I'm proud to be the 209,211th. The French braid tutorial has close to a half million views, and even a short video on making up deep-set eyes (another of my problems), done by the liltingly accented Oxford Jasmine in her bathroom somewhere in Oxford I presume, has more than 56,000. All this goes far toward explaining Kandee's presence, at least, in this month's Glamour, even on one page of it, and I won't be surprised to see either of the others follow her, and many more like her afterward. Small forces to be reckoned with, all of them. If any one of them ever persuades me to get a manicure, I will totally let "you guys" know.  

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I'll weigh in

"A terrible day," according to Commentary's blog. Tantamount to the arrival of the Visigoths outside Rome, circa 408 A.D., according to the always humorously snarky and depressed Mark Steyn. (They share the classical references, but Steyn is quite unlike the more intellectual, but never humorous and always depressed Victor Davis Hanson.) Both -- all -- are talking about Standard & Poor's downgrading of the United States to a less than triple A rating, for the first time ever.

I'll weigh in. I'll agree that it's not a good piece of news. But it seems to me that reading editorials for a lifetime will teach us that most pundits are wrong about most things. When I was growing up, pundits and wise men yelled and screamed about the environment, pollution, overpopulation, the rise of Brazil and Japan and yes, China, as the world's next superpower. And so on. What they never said Boo about was the rise of Islamic terror, because they didn't see it coming. And it has turned out to be the biggest problem the modern West faces.

Now they yell and scream "Downgrade," and about all the economic woe undergirding it. Agreed. But they are pundits. What is the big picture they are now missing? -- what grave threat will we all face in twenty or thirty years, that no wise man at the moment can see heading our way?