I Swear It’s Me.

May 13, 2009 at 9:26 am (Uncategorized)

It’s rather late in the day here at DoctorDi HQ… it’s nearly 7 o’clock and I’ve just finished transcribing my main interview for these articles I’m writing this week. It’s basically my dream commission – I don’t mind talking to the curator of a major Australian art gallery at all. I’m happy to shoot the breeze as long as they’re willing and able to spare the time to chat to me. Sometimes it strikes me as almost obscene that I get paid to have these private conversations for the sole purpose of making them public. It’s really a privilege if, like me, you give a damn about things that hang on walls. 

Speaking of which, I mentioned on the comment stream of yesterday’s post that I thought I had one for today, so let’s talk identity. The first time Darkling C stayed over at Chez J, she peered at a photo in our sunroom and said, “Who’s that with Llew?” I looked closely at her to see if she was kidding. Nope. “It’s me,” I said. “Obviously.” 

Nooooo,” she said, shaking her head. “No way. Nuh uh. Seriously, who is it?”

“It’s me.”

Pause.

“No, it’s not.”
“It really is.”
“I don’t believe you.”

I stared at her.

“You’re really freaking me out,” I said. “It’s me. Out the front of my grandfather’s house the week after he died.”

“That is not you.”

At this point – and I love C – I wanted to smother her with the pillow I was leaving on the foldout for her. I really did. I was irrationally upset about this wholly bizarre conversation, and I’ve thought about it since more times than is healthy and/or normal. I’ve finally figured out a few of the reasons why. The first is that Llew and I call it our Natural Born Killers photo –  our friend S took it, and it’s very cool, black and white, and we look deeply cinematic. I like this photo a lot. It’s one of the best photos of me in existence. Decent photos of me are VERY thin on the ground, so I’ll take this one, thank you very much. The second is that it’s one of the only things I have that captures Granddad’s house in all its eccentric glory. We’re standing outside the week after Granddad died, but S has put this photo at the centre of a group of other exterior and interior shots that perfectly tell the story of a man and a place very, very dear to my heart. Llew and I are at the centre in this collection of photos, but generally speaking, Granddad and his home are at the centre of me. It’s a very significant set of photos of untold sentimental value. So that’s the other reason I love it.

I’m now used to people seeing this photo seconds before they start pointing and screaming, “Oh my GOD! You look so young! You’re just so much YOUNGER! Oh my god, no way, is that really only 7 years ago? I don’t believe it! It’s gotta be soooo much older than that! It’s just, well, it’s just because you look so YOUNG! I can’t get over how young you look in this photo. Wow. Just a second, I’m just going to stand here a while longer. Incredible. Really? Was it really only 7 years ago? Boy.”

Yeah. Thanks. Uh huh. No, really. I’m enjoying this too.

My grin tightens and tightens until frankly, I feel like spitting on them, and sometimes I really have to force myself to keep playing hostess instead of kneeing them in the groin and shoving them into the bifold glass. But at least I’m used to that. I brace myself for it every time someone walks through my front door. These days I know it’s only a matter of time. But to have C insist it’s not even me in the photo – that was a new low. I thought it might have been because we’d had a few drinks, but I dragged her back over to the photo in the morning, and she remained unconvinced. UNCONVINCED, like I was foolin’ with her. Same deal the next time she stayed over. Still nothing. I of course reacted in a totally demented fashion, dragging out Photos Through The Ages, including some regrettable ones I’ve been meaning to destroy. “See?” I said, madness detectable in my voice. “That’s me too. And that one. Can you see?”

C made some concessions, probably because she could see the way I was eyeing off that pillow. 

“Okay,” she nodded. “That one sort of looks like you. Yeah, that one’s you. That one not so much. I might have flicked past that if you hadn’t pointed it out to me.”

“We need to stop having this conversation,” I said, finally admitting defeat. I skulked away with my photo albums and college log books pressed against my chest. I spent a sleepless night. 

It’s been a slow recovery, but I was nearly there. And then came C’s response to the invite: “Now she looks like the girl in the photo in your sunroom.”

I stared at the email, slowly digesting the implications. I clicked REPLY.

“Does that mean you can’t see the resemblance in the invitation either????”

The wait was unbearable. I spent the time gazing at the image, reassuring myself that it was in fact really me. Her answer? 

“Yep.”

As I said in my response, totally unable to control my mounting hysteria any longer, I find this entire exchange truly and deeply disturbing. It bothers me on an existential level, it really does. It’s like being erased from my own life. It’s like being turned into a blank. Expelled from my memories. And it’s more shocking to me than I can possibly describe. I find C’s utter inability to even countenance the idea of its truly being me – she really doesn’t see it – completely shocking. C even said she was “pretty sure” I wasn’t “messing with [her.]” I wrote back, feeling totally crazed, “MESSING WITH YOU?! Are you kidding me?! You’re really freaking me out.” 

I know these are two images from an earlier time of my life. The invitation is over 11 years old. The photograph is over 7 years old. I am older – and I no doubt look it. My hair is totally different. I’ve seen some sun in the intervening years (I never, ever sunbake, but I run, and this is Australia). I weigh more. But one of the weirdest things about this is that until this happened, in the balance, I honestly hadn’t thought I’d changed so much. HA! There goes that snug fantasy. It’s shattered in the sky like a clay pigeon. The good news is that I told this story to a friend of mine yesterday, and she found it hilarious. She said it’s just like the ‘Dead Parrot’ skit in Monty Python’s Flying Circus – so I guess it’s not all bad.

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10 Comments

  1. Lilian Nattel said,

    It is pretty funny from the outside though I can see how disturbing it would be. But what kind of story are you telling yourself? The change can be positive. You’ve become an adult in that intervening time and you’ve gained skills, knowledge, wisdom, experiences, accomplishments. I read the draft of a novel by someone who had started in her mid 20’s and worked on it into her 30’s. The sections she had written in her 30’s were pretty good. The others were dreadful but she wasn’t willing to see the difference.

    Have you ever seen those child actors who age but still have a childish face? I assume that they’re chosen for parts because they look alot younger than they are, which makes them have a leg up in learning lines and acting a younger role. But then they become adults, reach middle-age, and they still have a baby face and it is no longer cute. It is like some kind of freaky Dorian Grey thing, no personal offence to them and their genetics.

  2. Pete said,

    Hey, I think what is called for is a bit of , er, “corrective thinking”. Laser please. Danke. Now this won’t hurt a bit. …. etc. No, seriously, I can see how you would be mortally offended but I really see it as something to be curious about rather than to take it possibly as a narcissistic insult. (As in, I was so much better-looking then and now I’m just old. Which you clearly are not, since you run so fast and write so well for two obvious starters.) Think some really interesting actresses and how completely different they look in different movies. I can’t think of any off the top of my head but there are lots. You’re a chameleon, a changeling, Perhaps you even shrunk a few inches in the interim. Just be glad you don’t have Angelina for your ma.

  3. Grad said,

    Oh my God! Doctordi! We are living in some sort of parallel universe, you and I. THIS exact situation is going to be the basis of a post of mine (when I get my brain waves straightened out again). Well, not the exact situation. For, you see, the person who didn’t recognize the picture of me was…ME! Wow. Then, there are other times when I wonder who that old broad is who’s staring at me through the window, only to realize it’s a mirror. And as for your picture, you probably have added a certain allure to your current coutenance – which (ahem) only comes with age…like a fine old cheese! :>

  4. Grad said,

    They should have spell-check on comment pages: countenance

  5. doctordi said,

    I’m sort of laughing a little nervously now, because I thought this was a pretty funny situation, and so I was definitely trying to write a funny post… but gosh, Lilian and Pete, you guys sound so SERIOUS! I’m not really in earnest, you know. I mean, I’m dead serious about my feelings about Granddad and the house, and how important the photos are to me because they’re the only thing I have of him, but in reality I’m pretty comfortable with who I am, and I don’t spend any time lamenting change – change is good. And if I’m aging it’s because I’m still here – also good!!

    My sister just emailed me about a teen novel she was reminded of reading this post, and it’s a book she recently reread – Displaced Persons. I read this book several times as a teenager myself. I remember it absolutely, and on a subconscious level I think I was gesturing to this novel when I found myself feeling erased by C’s inability to see me in these images. It’s oddly dislocating, no question. But no less amusing for that.

    Grad, there are some cheeses that should be left out on the windowsill so they don’t stink out the whole house – and I have days when I know just how that feels!! Do you really not know yourself in some photos and reflections?

  6. Catherine said,

    Well I for one thought it was hilarious! But then, I was there.
    Okay, so my visual identification skills are not quite as good as my editorial eye. Hey – everyone sucks at something. Perhaps I’ll stick to the swearing.
    Loved it, Di.
    C xx

  7. doctordi said,

    Well, C, that’s a relief! I suddenly thought, ‘Shit, what if Catherine doesn’t think I was having a laugh either?!’ – phew!

  8. litlove said,

    Not to come over all academic, but I once wrote an article about photos and identity on the subjects of Marguerite Duras and Roland Barthes. Barthes’ book on photography, Camera Lucida, is one of my favourite non-fiction clever-clever books, and you might well appreciate what he says about never looking like himself in photos. The article began life as a conference paper which I showed with lots of slides (oh how times change) and while I was talking I left up my favourite – Barthes looking utterly bored to tears at a conference.

    If I find a good photo of me (very rare) I treasure it for years and refuse to believe I look like anything else. 🙂

  9. David said,

    Ya know … it was funny, but like the best comedy, it has a pretty distressing subtext.

    I refuse to allow myself to be photographed because I look so horrible when reduced to two dimensions. My own mother agrees that I do, which is never a good sign.

  10. doctordi said,

    Litlove, that article sounds right up my alley – and I read sections of Camera Lucida for my thesis.

    Oh yes, David, that is very true of me too. I avoid photo opps like other people (not mentioning any names…) avoid swine flu. My own mother never tired of gleefully reminding me that I’m really not photogenic – it’s one of many reasons I’m glad we’re now permanently estranged. She could be really, really mean about it (there’s your distressing subtext).

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