Everywhere I go, I am bombarded with “I” statements and close-ups taken at arm’s length. These days, it seems like everyone is taking pictures of themselves and writing memoirs, large and small, from tweets to status updates to blog posts to self-published tomes. We used to wait politely for someone to ask us how we were but now, we announce every detail as though life was an open microphone. In the last ten years, new technologies have allowed us to see ourselves from the outside and project an intimate view of ourselves out into the world and we can’t seem to get enough.
I have a “friend” on Facebook who takes a picture of herself every day. For years she has posted a daily self portrait, usually taken in her bathroom in the morning just after she’s showered and applied her make-up and sometimes in her car, presumably on her way to work and hopefully before she’s actually on the road. This is a girl I haven’t seen since sixth grade but, after years of seeing these posts (Liza with a flower in her hair; Liza wearing a new blouse that shows a bit of cleavage from this angle; sleepy Liza who didn’t have time to shower this morning accompanied by a long string of comments reassuring her that she looks great anyway) she has become familiar to me. I don’t remember much about Liza but her face has become an old friend, a comforting touchstone, and a part of my daily ritual.
Another “friend,” a writer whom I’ve never met, writes lengthy status updates at least six times a day on average. She also has an alter-ego (to whom she refers as her agent) who goes by the same name with the first and last letters transposed, who posts nearly as often. This writer always writes things that are witty and fresh. Plus, she engages in lengthy repartee with many other writers online and, as a result, my feed is dominated by her writing. Truth be told, I have never read any of her books and, now that I think about it, I’m not even sure she has been published. Nevertheless, she will always be a clever, funny, and Famous Writer in my mind.
There is a part of me that feels shocked and mildly embarrassed by these egocentricities. That part of me wants to lean close to you, point at her and whisper, “My god, can you believe the self-absorption!?” That part of me wants you to agree so we can roll our eyes and smirk a little and decide that she deserves our pity. But while I’m being honest, I must admit that part of me is a vestigial puritan, stuck like a fly in the sticky psychic residue leftover from junior high school, the ugliest, tightest, churchiest aspect of my personality.
Thank god there’s another part of me, a bigger part, that feels admiration and a touch of awe when I see a woman who isn’t afraid of being seen. The older I get, the more I suspect that the source of a woman’s visibility is her ability to see herself.
In other words, it’s time to grow up and it’s time for us to take charge of our own publicity.
For years, I waited for someone to notice, someone to ask me to dance. I have waited for submissions to be accepted and literary recognition. I waited for compliments, validation, and thanks. In conversations, I’d ask a lot of questions and wait patiently for my turn, which didn’t always come. If asked what I did for a living, I’d explain about my kids and the teaching or the bookstore but I didn’t call myself a writer– to do so felt self-aggrandizing and possibly untrue. After a wedding or a vacation of some other photo opportunity, I’d pore over the pictures hoping that this time, the camera had magically captured my good side.
What the hell am I waiting for?
HELLO, WORLD. THIS IS WHAT A WRITER LOOKS LIKE.
Step #1: Make Your Own Picture.
- Charge up the digital camera and put on your best shirt.
- Take a picture of yourself and then really look at it. Think like an artist: How is the background, angle, composition, light? Think like a writer: What is the story? What is the mood? What’s interesting? What do you want to say?
- Move to another spot. Adjust the depth and angle. Turn on a light. Try a different character. Will you be a smiler or a serious type, a dreamer or a doer? Look right into the lens like you’re looking at an old, dear friend. Gaze up at the light, try a profile. Think thoughts.
- Hide the parts you want hidden. Make it as real as you want it to be. Experiment with putting feelings on your face. Can you make your soul shoot out of your eyeballs? Can you tell a story without moving your mouth?
- Keep taking pictures. Keep looking at the pictures and evaluating. This is just part of the editing process. Nobody else is here, no one is looking, it doesn’t matter what they think. Take a million pictures. Do not stop until you have one you like.
- Go to http://pixlr.com/o-matic/, upload your photo, and play with the effects.
- Put the photo somewhere where you can see it and remember.
What are you waiting for?