Spending our time untethering the mind, getting the fidgets out, exploring the in-between ideas, and learning kintsugi.

The Face, a checkpoint

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My prompt didn’t match the image DALL-E generated, but it does reflect the sentiment of the overall piece.

I am not in the habit of looking at my face. I am not sure why but it is probably not one reason. As a girl child, I thought it vain. As a young adult, my gender made me self-conscious. As a busy career professional, the reflection staring back offered nothing to engage my curiosity. I have noticed some rapid changes in the last few years. The face that looks back is starting to look different from what I had imagined it to be. I find that I am avoiding eye contact with my reflection even more, I turn my back when brushing my teeth or hair.

Perhaps it is time to take on the exercise of carefully looking at my face, so I can reacquaint myself. An extensive power outage in the area gives me the necessary pause to get started on this exercise. In art appreciation, there is a practice to stare at a museum piece until you exhaust all possibilities. I decided to start with that approach, but instead of a single long shift, I decided to do the observation in phases, each lasting 20-40 minutes, each time focusing on one or two aspects.

The resting face:

My face has weathered this planet for over half a century. In my mind, I see similarities to the sun beaten face of Clint Eastwood staring afar. In reality, my face is nothing but, it is a gentle oval shape, nondescript. Bottom half of the face is starting to lose definition. I wear glasses but during the observation period, I took them off. Since the pandemic, my hair has slowly reverted to its tropical natural self. When I was younger, my hair was voluminous and gave my head the look of an Indian goddess. Now, my hair is just present. It is almost entirely black yet I often think of them as white on the inside. I have often wondered how my head would look if I shaved my hair off. I sometimes dream of tattoos on my head. Sometimes I imagine vibrant blues in my hair like a peacock. Dominant features of my face are my eyes and my mouth and it is interspersed with a lot of age spots.

My forehead is neither small, nor large, it is expressive and even a little proud of its age. My left eyebrow has a hint of shape and upbeat personality. The right one simply exists. When I was younger, I used to shape them with tweezers, one hair at a time. I had a steady hand. But now I let them take their natural form. There is fine peach fuzz above and between eyebrows. I sometimes wish my eyebrows had more character, like Frida Kahlo.

My eyes have a classic shape they teach during sketching. They are like my mother’s. Doe eyes. There is no brow droop as of yet. I like my left eye. It is my curious eye. The right one carries sadness. My eyelashes are lightweight, each lash may not have more than 30 hairs. I am a fan of iris. Not just mine, but all irises. They remind me of galactic images like supernovae. The color of my iris is milk chocolate, more chocolate than milk. My pupils are dark, I like to imagine them as black holes in the center of a galaxy. The whites of my eye are rather white. And there are a lot of broken blood vessels, they look like tributaries, like red rivers flowing through salt flats.

In the last two years, the hollowness of orbits around the eyes have become noticeable. There is now a continuous redness and puffiness under the eyes. I sometimes hear about hemorrhoid creams, but I don’t know if I care enough to try. I have a few milk spots under my right eye, my doctor says that it is from rubbing itchy eyes.

My nose is a small one, a quiet nose, a bit of a happy go lucky nose. It is somewhere between my mom’s nose and my dad’s nose. My nose is perhaps the only part of my face that hasn’t changed in the last several decades. I feel that I can recognize it anywhere. My left nostril is more classic. There is a prominent horizontal wrinkle across my nose, right at the bottom edge of nasalis muscle. There are a large number of age spots on my nose and cheeks.

The numerous scars left behind by pimples from my youth have now mostly faded. I should say that age spots have won. I must have suffered from some minor hormonal dysregulation as a young adult. But in those days, healthy young adults didn’t really go to doctors. I did every ritual one could think of to reduce facial oil production – wash face with specific things and not other specific things, eat specific things and not other specific things. I eventually got used to thinking of my pimples as rebellion. One rebel would go down and another would take it place, the rebel would shout and fight for a few days and when it died, it left a scar behind. During this phase, I was ashamed of my face. I would walk into interview rooms (India was and probably still is a land of thousand queues and hundred exams) and my biggest worry would be the angry rebels on my face. They helped me ace interviews, all of them.

The peach fuzz on my upper lip is noticeably darker than on the temples or in-between eyebrows. I have always liked mustachios. If I were born a man, I would have sported one. So, these darker fuzz don’t bother me. I don’t like my resting mouth. It is turned down and makes me look stern and angry. I am that sometimes, but I am mostly dreaming. My mouth is also a feature that I share with my dad. My lips are perpetually cracked and they make me look tired. The nasolabial fold and marionette lines are prominent and add to the look of tiredness.

My chin is unremarkable. It could have taken on a more prominent role to define my oval face, but as it stands, it is unremarkable and perhaps a little petulant for being so. Part of the problem is my significant overbite. My dentist reminds me three times a year that I should seriously consider braces. The mental crease is starting to emerge. Why is the mental crease on the chin? In the last two years, my jawline has started to lose definition.

My ears are small, like that of a child. They stay hidden and one has to make an effort to see them. The earlobes are pierced but I stopped wearing earrings several decades ago. It is customary for a girl child in India to get her ear pierced at a very young age. Mine were done by a silversmith. He simply used the end of a hoop earring. I grew up wearing my grandmother’s opal earrings. I have always been partial to stones, and opals are a particular favorite of mine due to their iridescence. Unfortunately, one of my earlobes always ached and never quite got used to the earring. I eventually gave up wearing them much to the chagrin of my mother and mom-in-law.

The transformations:

While my resting mouth is the least favorite part of my face, it is also the most transformative. When I laugh, my face changes drastically. I share this transformation too with my dad. It goes from stern to lit up in an instant. I have small crooked teeth. If I had grown up in US, a dentist would have made sure they stood straight, like well behave boys scouts standing in attention. What I have instead are little fidgety boys (monkeys?) struggling to stand straight. When I was growing up in India, my teeth used to mortify me. But here, where every mouth has attentive straight teeth, I like my mischievous set.

My laughter is full of glee. The viewer gets the full blast of my gums and my upper teeth. Growing up, mom used to tell me that I should stand in front of the mirror and train myself to laugh like a lady. No lady bares her gums. But I was a girl child full of protests and I didn’t much stand in front of mirrors. My humor gene is a bit wonky, but I laugh easily. I do not claim to understand jokes that make me laugh. A good example is “I am Cornholio! I need TP for my bunghole!”, it has me uncontrollably laughing anytime I hear this Beavis and Butthead excerpt.

My laughter transforms my eyes too. My left eye goes from curious to cheerful and my right eye goes from sad to mischievous. They also fill my face with a lot of fine lines, on my temples and around my mouth. I am under the impression that wrinkles are frowned upon. I don’t much mind my fine lines. My forehead reminds me of sand dunes, undulating, uneven. I owe my dunes to listening and thinking. The frown lines in between my eyebrows come from concentration. The ones around my mouth come from smiling. Who would I be if I stopped thinking or listening or concentrating or smiling?

Final impressions:

This piece is inspired by The Face: A time code, a wonderfully thought provoking book by Zen Buddhist priestess Ruth Ozeki. I read the book a while ago and I am a fan. Recently, my coach asked me to observe my face (face and its expressions have a deep impact on psychology), and memories of Ruth’s book came back to me. I re-read the book and then started writing this piece. Ozeki, starts her book with a zen koan “What did your face look like before your parents were born?” It is one of those mind bending questions that lets your mind wander. I think the intent is to wander without priors. This piece is an outcome of a wandering mind but it is not entirely without priors.

If I were describing my face at this checkpoint, it would be this: “Sand dunes to represent changes in life (in lieu of my forehead), galaxies to represent possibilities in the universe (in lieu of my eyes), a stone Buddha to represent steadiness (in lieu of my nose), craters of moon to represent life events (in lieu of my skin), monkeys swaying on trees to represent mischief (in lieu of my teeth), and a banyan tree to represent the support it needs to live (in lieu of my jawline).”

Written by locomotoring

March 18, 2023 at 6:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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