beauty


i’ve always been a sucker for a fairytale.

i’ll admit it: as wishy-washy as i may seem about real-life “falling in love” and the prince who sweeps the maiden away, i crave the unreality of a fairytale with all the ardor of a little girl pinning her hopes on the Second Star to the Right and praying for the Magical to happen. if i could procure a position as a Disney princess, i’d move to that fantasy world in a heartbeat.

no even lie. tell me a pretty story, and i’m (maybe) yours forever. the more dragons and unicorns and mermaids, the more i’ll love you.

combine this fairytale affinity with my intense appreciation for all things Shakespeare, especially modern remakes of his beloved plays that add their own unique spins and interpretations, and you can only imagine my delight at winning Monday’s online lottery for Shakespeare in the Park. the play? Into the Woods, Shakespeare’s very own fairytale, starring Amy Adams & Donna Murphy (who was outstanding beyond all reasonable belief as the Witch).

photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

since i went into this summer hoping beyond all hope that i’d close it with a Shakespeare in the Park experience tucked beneath my skin, i was suuuuper excited. i expected it to be good; after all, this is a highlight of NYC theater during the summer, and set right in the heart of Central Park. what i didn’t expect was to be entirely rivted to every movement by every actor in the musical, laughing (it was hilarious!) and ultimately crying (surprisingly, at the inclusion of touching family dynamics and the realization that we need to hold close to us those whom we never wish to lose). i will venture to say this is one of the most unique, engaging theater performances i’ve seen in a long, long time. everything about it was just right.

for starters, the multi-tiered treehouse of a set was absolutely incredible. it was impossible to become disengaged for even a moment as the actors treated it like a playground, constantly drawing our eyes to all corners of the set and enacting a truly dimensional performance. i had to fight an intense desire to climb up and crawl into that hollow “tower” at the very top, where Rapunzel lounged and let down her hair.

talk about a perfect little nook!

treehouse set of Into the Woods in Central Park

i love how this play weaves together the stories of so many fairytale characters. Cinderella & Rapunzel fall in love with fickle brother princes who later leave them for Snow White & Sleeping Beauty; Jack (as in, the Beanstalk boy) is befriended by the spunky, fiesty, bold-mouthed Little Red Riding Hood (who stole the show for me, clad in an indie get-up that included knee socks and a candy-red bike helmet and admittedly almost enjoying her seduction by the Big Bad Wolf); and all the while the staple of any fairytale, the wonderful and fearsome Wicked Witch, cavorts around with her hysteria and her awesome terribleness that you can’t help adoring.

i was extremely impressed with the entire cast, as well as the song-writing (some of the lyrics were HILARIOUS). and at the ending, when the father and son had their “moment” and portrayed the indelibility of family ties, i couldn’t hold back the tears.

i kept thinking of Hamlet’s assertion that the purpose of theater is “to hold the mirror up to nature” and show humanity exactly what it looks like at its very essence, exposing the rawness of life and emotion and evoking feeling within us that might otherwise lay dormant. i felt like this play did that for me, as i sat with tears in my eyes and thought about a world where beauty and ugliness coexist; where tears mingle with peals of laughter and nothing ever turns out exactly the way we expected it would — but in the end, that’s just how it was meant to be.

and i left grateful for my little life and this small pocket of space and time, where actors on a stage reminded me the importance of holding close those who i’m blessed to love the most.

 

When I was a senior in college, my favorite band of all times played a show nearby. I’d seen the Counting Crows live before, but this show was magical for me and has remained with me ever since as one of those indelible moments of sheer beauty that seem so very perfect, you couldn’t have painted it into your life if you’d even been able to imagine it.

I hold fast to my assertion that Adam Duritz may very well be the most incredible lyricist/poet of our generation. Don’t believe me? Just read through his lyrics. It’s like Beauty, harnessed from thin air and molded into syllables and characters we just might stand a chance at attempting to comprehend. The man is crazygenius.

They ended the show with their then-new song “Holiday in Spain,” on a dark stage pinpointed with candles and lights, and the whole moment was so surreal and transcendent for me that I found myself moved, quite literally, to tears. (Yes, I was “that girl,” crying at the concert. We all have those emo moments, don’t we? Let me believe we do. Thx.)

All this, then, to segue into my most recent Wanderlusting adventure: a holiday in Spain, perhaps inexplicably forshadowed by my obsession with this song. I can’t say I’d ever held Spain high on my list of “must-sees” until I went to Paris last year, and everyone kept telling me I had to see Barcelona. Couple that with the line “Or we could simply pack our bags and catch a plane to Barcelona, ‘cuz this city’s a drag,” and I got the hint:

Spain was calling me. So I went.

 

It was a little over a month ago now, this whim of a trip, and I’m ashamed it’s taken me this long to write about it. Sometimes the most delicious adventures are the most difficult to put into words, because you’re doomed from the beginning in your futile attempts to convey the magic you experienced with mere dotted  “eyes” and crossed “tees.” You can try, but you can never fully explain to someone what you felt like when you fell into that other life and lost yourself completely.

 In Barcelona, I discovered that Gaudi built me a little nook in Parc Guell. How thoughtful!

Everything was amazing: the weather, the culture, the architecture, the food, the people — I loved it all. I’d been forewarned that I might fall in love with Barcelona, but I actually ended up enjoying my time in Madrid even more so. (Posts about each city to follow.)

So it was Paris in 2010 and Spain in 2011…I think I need to continue this European-trip-a-year thing in 2012! Italy or Greece, anyone?

this past weekend at a conference here at my church, i heard Dr. Linda Mintle speak on “Making Peace With Your Thighs.” not only was she a very professional, well-spoken, witty woman who made a great argument for society’s negative portrayal of women’s role as objectified sexual beings obsessed with thinness and the unreality of distorted beauty, she drew attention to Dove’s powerful campaign revolving around this topic. i was especially struck by her usage of 2 Dove videos that open our eyes to what the fashion and beauty industry has done to promote this obsession with outward perfection, teaching girls and women of all ages to value their physical appearance as the measure of their true worth and brainwash them into believing that their characters are only secondary to what’s on the outside.

i am no stranger to this mentality. i admit i am a slave to the mirror, most days; a perpetuator of this vicious societal norm that strangles our female mentality with nooses of self-deprecation and feelings of extreme inadequacy. if Vogue and Elle present women as they ought to be, then what does that say about me? that i am a second rate girl, getting by on wit and charm the best i can but never quite good enough to flaunt down a runway or see my Photoshopped face gloating from a glossy billboard on Madison Ave?

i see 14-year-olds with mascara-laden lashes and painted on jeans, believing their labels define their worth and forgetting that they were once little girls who believed in their ability to be more. i see 40-year-olds sweat away weeks at the gym and think if they just try hard enough, they can still be who they believed they’d be at 22. i see all girls in every girl, how we’re united by cords of lustful desire to look just-so and convince ourselves that if i only looked like her, if i only had longer legs, if i only had more self control, if i only was better, thinner, prettier, taller, more put together, THEN i’d be perfect. only then, would i think i was beautiful enough.

where does it end? maybe it doesn’t. maybe i’m just spewing out the same cliché thoughts we all hear a million times, in a million different ways, blaming the fashion industry and the media’s sexualization of women for all the body image issues young girls have today. but the fact is, it’s true. and i’m not exempt from those who buy the lies the world throws at us around every corner. Dr. Linda shared an astonishing statistic that seems outrageously high: the average female is inundated with 3,000 images a day depicting women as perfect, beautiful, thin, physically desirable beings. that’s 3,000 reasons to doubt your own self worth each day because you see yourself falling drastically short of what this world tells you you should be.

how’s that for a self-esteem kicker?

i loved these videos, and commend Dove for their efforts to bring this issue to the forefront.

i ran outside the other day for the first time since Christmas day, relishing the fresh air and the slap-slap-slap of my sneakers upon real pavement (rather than the rubbery track or unwelcome treadmills i’ve reduced myself to in this recent winter freeze). although i’m usually the first to complain about cold weather and loudly tell anyone in shouting distance that i cannot wait to live in So-Cal and be able to happily run outside every day of the year, i’ll admit there’s a certain joyful freedom in conquering the cold air by pounding it into the ground and braving January head-on. i am not one to start shying from challenges.

coming home from the run, i felt really content with the world and my own little place in it at that moment, the way fresh air after weeks of the great indoors works to revitalize any onset of the winter blues, and i was happy enough just to have gotten outside. and then, as i was turning my key in my lock, i looked up.

and it happened.

against a falling dusk of a seashell sky streaked with pinks and peaches and the fade of cold light (atypical for a season of gray), the air above my apartment suddenly burst open with hundreds of delicate black birds exploding with the deftness of a moment’s grace. i was rendered speechless, motionless for that moment in time, eyes riveted to the unexpected beauty of a world bigger than myself; a promise of kinetic magic afire with forward motion, where an ending i would never be a part of stretched somewhere in the distance and i was allowed, for that brief time, to experience a tiny portion of a journey i was never meant to understand.

this had nothing to do with me, and yet it taught me more about myself than anything else that has happened to me this week has done.

i spend far too much time grounded in the selfishness of my own footprints, and not enough time learning how to map the sky…and all i ever had to do was look up.

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
– the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other; then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

“did you dress up for Halloween?” she asked, pulling down the sun visor from his passenger’s seat and snapping the mirror up. “my eyes turn greener in the fall, i’m realizing.”
he wasn’t sure how those two statements interconnected but she amused him, the way she tilted her head first this way, then that, inspecting the hues of her Autumn-lit eyes and their chameleon-esque properties. so like her, to change with the seasons, assuming the lightness of feather-blue as Summer sunned sprightly and then sliding into an earthier existence when the thinner air cooled and settled beneath her paling skin. he’d fallen dazed into her blues, but the idea of a greener shift enticed him. he was becoming more comfortable with change, the more time he spent sharing the very air she breathed and attempting to harness her words. he loved to hear her talk, even when it was more for herself than him.
“i didn’t,” he said, hugging a sharp bend as the road climbed and the pine trees thickened. he didn’t think she’d been here before and he was eager to show her things, give her pieces of the world she hadn’t already discovered on her own. she seemed to love so much, for such a small person, and it made him want to give her things – things she could wrap her little hands around and pull close, the way cold fingers encircle steaming mugs in January freeze; the way children cling desperately to freshly-picked dandelion dreams, as though holding the whole world in their clenched fists, a flower bobbing brightly as they run to show beauty to their mothers…
“i figured as much,” she said, closing the mirror and tucking a leg up beneath her. she’d pulled her big sunglasses down and he couldn’t check her eyes for green but he believed in it, knew even Autumn was jealous of her self-sufficiency and felt the need to splash a little of its charm across her world.
“why’s that?” he asked, a little annoyed that she seemed to know him better than he knew her. he had no idea whether or not she was the type to dress up.
“you’re very down-to-earth,” she said, smiling and suddenly pulling lightly, swiftly, at the sleeve of his sweater. her fingers were gone almost as quickly as they’d appeared and he wondered if he imagined it, the little tug. “you could use a little make-believe, you know. it wouldn’t kill you.”
she was teasing him and he couldn’t help smiling at her, wishing she’d push her sunglasses to the top of her head so he could see her better.
“so what were you, then, green eyes?” he asked, easing the car to a stop as they pulled up to the look-out at the beginning of the trail. she didn’t answer and he turned, about to form a guess…
but it was too late, he saw that at once. he’d lost her already, in that split second…the way her mouth parted slightly and she pushed up her glasses, eyes fixed over the edge of the cliff and lost in the sunlight, finding something wonderful over the precipice that was hers alone, in this wildfire moment, with no tug of his sweater to suggest she felt like letting him in and walking him across her thoughts. he struggled with the silence for a second but caved and simply looked at her again – and there it was: the flecks of green she’d promised, glowing behind the un-shaded awe she saved for things she loved, and he all-at-once knew that this green would take no getting used to.