Saturday, October 14, 2006
Something I always meant to post
I don't have too many pictures of her, but this is mostly how I remember my aunt. She was in her twenties in this photo. As she got older, her face became rounder, and she pulled her hair off her face a little more. But her serious eyes and dramatic features stayed the same.
She once told me that when she was a child, she hated her face. It was crude and sharp. Her eyebrows were too black, and her nose was too big. She learned how to look in a mirror and only focus on one part of her face. Today her lips. The next day her right eye. Sometime in Middle School she bumped into an art teacher who taught her clay sculpture, and that teacher taught her that she was indeed beautiful.
When I was six years old, my aunt lived in a rambling Victorian farmhouse; there was a red painted barn with a rearing pony painted on the doors and a ceramics studio in the basement. Sitting in the damp basement, holding cool lumps of clay in our hands, my aunt taught me what her teacher had told her.
To start a face, you have to bring the face down to its strongest features.
Scrunch a nose.
Scrape an eye.
Pinch, pinch the lips.
Drag a thumb over the clay from hair to the eyes, pulling a brooding eyebrow.
There. Now you have a face. You can shave and scrape it later, but the strongest sculpture starts with a strong foundation. Big nose. Deep eyes. Flat wide cheeks. Prettiness is only a layer of plumping over the top. It only hides the strong features below.
My aunt handed me her mangled lump of grey clay, curled my fingers around it. "Don't only be pretty. Pretty is fat, weak cheeks, and glossy hair, and lipstick. Show your bones. They're made of ivory, carnelian, and jasper. You just don't know it yet."
When I turned eighteen, she gave me a piece of lapis lazuli, not polished, but sharp edged, and lumpy grey. She leaned in very close so that I could smell her leather-scented hair and citrus perfume. "Hold it. And know that with enough polish it turns blue. Hold it tighter until it cuts your hand. There are veins of gold in that stone. Like you. You're the gold. You just don't know it yet." She leaned back in her chair, looked around her at my large family seated in the restaurant. She picked up her fork and dismissively waved at her brother across the table, pretending to be playing with the cutlery. "They'll never get it, " she said. "They're looking for the shiny stones and diamonds." She looked straight at me and said, "When you get home, bury it. Remember the feeling of that pressed in your hand, but bury it back in the earth."
I did. But I wish sometimes I still had that stone so I could crush it in my palm and feel the pain of its strength.
I'm glad that my aunt had an art teacher who convinced her that she was beautiful, and that her beauty had power and grace. And I'm thankful that my aunt was able to teach me about strength. She was fairly terrifying in her ideals, but her words soaked deep into my soul. Because I know that the back of my pelvis, the triangle at the base of my spine is made of dark blue lapis lazuli. And I'm pretty sure that the bone which rises from the back of my left wrist is brown and grey jasper. I'm not sure where the carnelian bones are, but they'll make themselves known at some point.
I guess I don't need the unpolished lump of stone; I just miss it.