Sunday, April 29, 2012

All the Ugly Bits

Photo Courtesy of Dawn Meehan

I'm guilty of it -- bending into the magnified vanity mirror to squeeze out infinitesimal blackheads, swabbing over blotches with layers of foundation, powdering away blemishes blown into relief by such microscopic scrutiny.

Just in case someone sees me.

Just in case someone out there is walking around with magnified mirrors for eyes.

Like poor Mr. H.M. Wogglebug, T.E. (Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated professor of L. Frank Baum's creation in The Marvelous Land of Oz). The poor tiny wogglebug got stuck like that. Magnified a hundred times his original size, all his jaunty arrogance forever on display.


A friend asked me today what I've been reading lately. "Literary fiction," I told her.

Her face scrunched up. "Still the one with the pee baby?" I'd read a passage to her during last week's coffee date -- a most stunning description of a baby covered in her own urine: "a little white sardine still fragrant with briny pee."

I shook my head. "I finished that one. This one's not so magnificently wordified." She gave me a look and I smirked, then grew serious again. "I'm not sure about it yet. Very clever, very smart."

"The style? Like John Green?"

"No, not like him. It's like ... " I pulled the book out and had her read an excerpt. "Do you see? I'm not sure I can like it. It's almost too real."

She handed the book back, nose wrinkled. "It's good but it's sort of mean," she suggested.

"Right? I mean, parts of it are really funny. That bit about tapping out the cigarette ash into her food--"

"Into the rice pilaf."

"Yes, exactly. Not just rice, either, or vegetables. Rice pilaf."

We took simultaneous coffee sips.

"All the specifics," I added. "I think that's what makes it like you said, mean. Maybe even cruel. Fiction looks closely at the world and reflects it back ..."

She was on the same page as me now, nodding. "But this is like putting everything on display. Shining a light on all the ugly bits. It's shocking and so we read on -- and it is real. But too real, and so maybe not really real after all."

"It's a balance, like everything in writing of course," I mused.

We fell into a contemplative silence, and after a minute I started searching on Google Images for a woman's face -- not the glamorized magazine type, but the real self-taken kind -- reflected back too closely in a vanity mirror.