Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tall, Dark and Handsome. Size 0 Supermodel. Hot? Meh. Not So Much.

I’m not what you’d call a fan of Jessica Simpson. I think her music is garbage. I think that the reality show she did with Nick Lachey was an embarrassing pile of excrement. I think she’s a curse on the Cowboys. And her acting — Lord, I’ve seen porn stars take better stage direction. So, I was kind of surprised to find how defensive I was on her behalf recently when everyone from Fox News to Perez Hilton blasted her for having gained a few pounds. For calling her a moo cow and worse. It made me bristle at these sideline spectators for criticizing a woman who, while clearly not a rocket scientist or an Oscar contender, is an objectively beautiful woman. Even with a bit more meat on them bones. Even if she were to add a whole lot more meat on them bones.

Why on earth is Simpson’s size news? Who cares? Does her public identification with beauty entitle society to dog on her for gaining weight? Even when it’s so much more forgiving of an actress like, say, Kate Winslet, whose primary worth is in her thespian skills and not her Good-God-She’s-Gorgeous-ness? Apparently, Simpson’s “lost” a bit of what made her famous in the first place. And unfortunately for her, hotness is a quality that we, as a generally non-hot society, revile publicly and covet secretly. Which is perhaps why her having “lost”* some of it gives us fodder and permission to revel in collective Schadenfreude. And to be disappointed by it. It’s that incongruous duality, plus, perhaps, an extension of self — of projecting our own wants onto an individual— that causes commentators to grab onto nonsense like her increasing, leather pants-clad assage and call it current events. Why they excoriate her so viciously. So gleefully.

I don’t know. It may just be that people are shit.

But all of this made me think of physical beauty. And its more interesting cousin, physical attraction. What makes a person beautiful? What makes a person desirable? Can these qualities be measured? Be plotted on a graph and scientifically determined? Pick up a book, and chances are that the heroine will be pretty at the very least, described as beautiful or striking or some synonym to that effect. Its hero, more often than not, will be tall, dark and handsome. The hot guy that the cute heroine will fall for. Why? Well — because. I mean, let’s be real. Physical beauty is currency. It’s power. It’s a doorway to opportunities otherwise foreclosed. It’s forgiveness amplified. Leniency commodified. It sells. It attracts. This is America. That’s how it works.

But it’s also incredibly boring. To me, at least. And because this is my blog, I get to talk about what I think is attractive. And I’ll tell you, it has nothing to do with how one’s features line up on the face. Or how chiseled one’s abs are. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. What I do care about — what I notice right away — is how a person’s smile will light up a room, how it will change the air instantly. It’s what drew me to my husband in the first place, what made him absolutely arresting even though he’s short and fat and has terrible taste in clothes. I notice the way a person moves, the confidence and purpose and economy of her steps. I notice the merriment in one’s eyes, the friendliness of a wink, the warmth of a look. I gravitate immensely and immediately toward a hearty laugh, one that conveys in all of its magnanimousness how much a person delights in the funny. And if someone can make me laugh, that right there is 95% — the embodiment of intelligence and mental quickness and cleverness and the ability to pinpoint the absurd. It’s the intrinsic nature of a person that I find so appealing, one’s generosity of spirit and heart, his or her empathy and kindness. Her talent and ambition and ability and drive, his easygoingness and affection and desire to be a better human being. It’s all of these things that make the outside completely irrelevant. And completely beautiful. Take some of these qualities away, and I’ll never find that person attractive.

So, to Jessica Simpson, who I still think is a not-so-great singer or actor or shoe designer or comedian, who I will likely mock in the future for the idiot things that you say and do, take heart that you are nonetheless a beautiful woman, not because of what you look like, but because of the kind things you do, the caring words you utter, the empathy you show for others. No matter how much weight you gain.

* I put “lost” in quotes because I reject wholesale that a woman larger than a size 00 can’t be beautiful or hot or gorgeous or anything else. And I don’t agree that a woman who is a size 00 is disgusting or necessarily skeletal or worthy of contempt, either. She may just be small. An elf, say.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Insomnia—Oh, Sleep, One Day, I Will Find You and Make You Mine. Or Maybe Not.

I once read a magazine questionnaire where the interviewer asked random celebrities how they sleep. Some answered with what they wear to bed — the fluffy flannels and sexy nothings and bedazzled eye masks and whatnot. Others shared their rituals pre-sleep — yoga, meditation, Bible-reading, drinking a full glass of water (really?) and so on. My favorite answer, though, came from Tom Ford, who said that he lays in his bed, awake for six hours, and then gets up. Now, I love Tom Ford for a number of reasons (as the creative director for Gucci, he made the brand awesome again; he’s got a brilliant line of his own now; he’s ridiculously easy to ogle). But his response made me like him even more because I was so acutely able to identify with his answer. So much so, in fact, that I would’ve become a fan of his had I not already been, based on that one quality alone.

On average, I sleep about three hours a night. Often, I sleep less. A lot less. And when the moon goes blue or when Hell’s temperature dips a degree, I sleep more (I couldn’t tell you the last time I slept a full eight hours). That’s not to say that I’m up and about and putting words to my Work-In-Progress or drafting brilliant legal briefs or even catching up on this blog. No, I’m in bed in the pitch dark, letting my mind spin. Day job, family, the WIP, TV shows, current events, what I’m going to wear tomorrow, what we need for the house, the inexplicable popularity of Rachael Ray and overextension of Ryan Secrest, the Supreme Court Justices, in descending order of judicial conservativeness…

Absurd, isn’t it? My husband often asks why I can’t just shut it down for the night and think about things tomorrow in the shower or at work or on the toilet like a normal human bean. Why I can’t focus on sleep with the same intensity as I have for the thousand goals I tend to during the day. Frankly, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s stress or worry or simply the fact that I come from a family of non-sleepers. Maybe it’s a curse that afflicts some of us the same way that diabetes or hypertension or male pattern baldness smites others.

What I do know is that the effects of lack of sleep aren’t that far off from those of drunkenness. That my reflexes are too slow when they shouldn’t be; that they overcompensate and accelerate when a situation requires a steady hand. I know that my emotional antennae perk into overdrive, causing a moderately humorous situation to feel like hilarity on crank, or a nominally disappointing moment to feel like hopeless despondency. I know that unexpected kindness breaks my heart as violently as an unkind word does, that frustration might as well be the same thing as anger, and anger jealousy.

Or my senses shut down altogether, slow time and space so that I feel lethargic and apathetic. So that I feel like a spectator in this game of life, given a front seat to the happenings around me, even as they involve me. If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia, maybe you know what I’m talking about, this detachment that allows you to see everything, but not permit you to react or respond. This notion that you’ll tuck everything away and ponder them at three a.m. with a bit more clarity, only to find that you can’t make sense of it then. That you’re too busy wondering if you’re starting to go insane.

It’s horrible, this inability to sleep. One for which I’ve not yet found a remedy (believe me, I’ve tried. Tylenol PM. Benadryl. NyQuil. Chamomile. Valerian. Tryptopham. A little bit of bourbon. A lot of bit of bourbon. First Chronicles. Second Chronicles. Combos of all of the above. For reasons I won’t go into, I really don’t want to try prescription drugs).

But here’s the kicker. For all the crap that is insomnia — and it would be a huge disservice to ever discount its nefariousness — I don’t really mind it. I’ve gotten used to it, I suppose. Or maybe I’m eternally optimistic, a perpetual ball of Sonshine as a lot of my friends call me, able to see the positive aspects of it. I appreciate the visceral nature of hypersensitivity. The tools that it provides to feed the emotions of my novels, the words and scenes that paint in detail exactly what my characters are going through. The empathy necessary to give a character depth and substance and a real emotive quality. And in the same vein of that sunny optimism, I find that for every one negative, overly dramatic event I experience, I find at least twenty-five silly things to delight and bask and revel in. Maybe it’s why I’m constantly laughing. And why my writing, which often deals with serious subjects, has a whole hell of a lot of funny in it.

Which leads me to my final point. And perhaps the most important one. Sleep deprivation imparts a strange freedom, the “I’m so tired, I don’t give a shit” kind of attitude that allows me to write as if no one is watching. As if no one is judging. I can let my story go the way it was meant to, on instinct and intuition and the gut impression I had from the start. For me, there’s something dissatisfying about a novel that is too careful, too formulaic, too afraid to offend, one that an author might have drafted with her editors and publishers and audience in mind. Not that I’m immune to these, of course. And I certainly don’t mean that I’m uninterested in my audience. But there’s an authenticity inherent in abject honesty, and with authenticity comes the natural ability to identify with the writing, with the characters and their situations. It’s that connection, I think, that causes me to remember books years after I've read them, to recall how a particular made-up person felt so real. How a figment of an author’s imagination was able to transform my perspective, and perhaps my life.

Hell, to be able to do that — yeah, I’ll take a sleepless night or two. I'll even take ten thousand.