Yearning for Wonderland
Ma always says, “The devil’ll find work for idle hands to do.” So I work from the second I roll off my old quilt to the last bit of light before it disappears behind the mountain. I sweep the uneven boards of our two-room house, stomping bugs as I go. I take the clothes down the stream and scrub till my hands are raw. In the winter, the wet clothes freeze to the line.
Some days, I don’t even wash. Ma don’t care much if I do. In fact, Ma and Pa don’t talk much ‘bout nuthin’. I’m too big to go to school anymore, ‘cause Ma tole ‘em she needed me ‘round the house. Only thing that makes life okay is Reenie next door. Reenie’s a little older than me, ‘bout eleven, but she’s small for her age. She’s got three brothers and six sisters and has to share a bed with four of ‘em.
I dunno know how to say this but I love Reenie. She gave me my favorite skirt, polka dot bright blue with big flowers painted on. When I wear it I forget how my shrunk ol’ top rides up my belly and the coldness of my bare feet. I stole my ma’s barrette for her soft brown hair. I braid it over and over again.
When Pa heads to the abandoned mine to hammer off enough for the stove, we run to the woods to collect horse chestnuts. We fling ‘em in the pond, then make clover chains and decorate each other. We scavenge from garbage heaps, then hitch a ride to town and smoke cig stubs from the ashtrays outside the courthouse.
In town, we walk hand-in-hand. People always stare, but I don’t care. We swore to love forever and never be done parted. I tole her I’d take a bullet to save her. Though we fight and she makes me crazy, every night I huddle under my thin blanket and dream of her.
Pa caught us kissing by the woodpile behind the house. He shouted, pounding his coal-grimed fist on the stovepipe. Reenie grabbed my hand and we backed against the clapboard siding, feet sinking in cold brown mud.
Pa grabbed up his shotgun – it was filled with birdshot – and cocked it, tole Reenie to git on home now and not come back. I know he just meant to scare her but the gun went off – too close – and a red flower bloomed on Reenie’s faded blue work dress.
I caught her – she jerked and shook in my arms, pale brown eyes staring up at me.
Pa ran for the doctor, but the nearest one’s in Greenville, two miles away, and I know he won’t get back in time. I hum little snatches of hymns I can remember.
I held her on that sawdusted floor till she went still. Pa found me there, two hours later, sticky-dried with Reenie’s blood, “I got the doctor. ”
“What difference does it make? “I said.
Self-portraits have a long and storied history in art. (Attention: Art Nerd alert)
Artists sometimes used self-portraits to show their status and their political connections, such as this self-portrait by the Spanish painter Diego Velasquez.
This portrait is part of a larger masterwork, Las Meninas, which shows him painting the Infanta.
Sometimes the artist is also an actor, dressed in costumes, to appear a particular way or reference artists who have come before. Rembrandt was famous for this in his youth.
Later on, he was far more interested in recording his authentic self, even when it was less flattering.
There are no real rules for self-portraits and those that did exist were spoofed centuries ago by artists defying those who came before and expressing themselves as they liked. Generally, the artist engages with the viewer, making eye contact.
The above self-portrait by Gustave Courbet is a little more playful, depicting the artist as a desperate creative in his smock.
Artists will also use symbolism, often with encoded meanings that are personal to themselves, such as most of Frieda Kahlo’s self-portraits.
Sometimes an artist does many self-portraits in their career and you can see their faces and moods evolve. This is especially true of the self-portraits of Van Gogh.
As photography evolved, it became a way to set up self-portraits in a far more elaborate setting, such as the work of Cindy Sherman. In much of her work, the line between artist and actor disappears and she creates a persona that deliberate challenges our notions of identity.
And, of course, today the self-portrait has evolved into digital selfies. Through Instagram, we can all be artists and select the kind of face we want to show the world. While selfies get a bad rap as the refuge of the egotistical and self-absorbed, I really enjoyed looking back through my self-portraits. When I was very little, my father used to hold me up so we could make faces in the bathroom mirror – now I can capture them!
As an actress, it’s fascinating to me because my face is one aspect of my instrument and controlling your face and your image is part of the talent. For me, it’s not so much to show off a haircut or an outfit as it is to capture a moment, a fleeting face of yourself. Many times it’s not even a particularly flattering face, but I remember how I felt and so it’s like a postcard mailed to yourself from the past.
In order to share two years worth of selfies in a short space, I created a Flipagram, which is a free app that allows you to set a slideshow to music. It’s only 30 seconds so I encourage you to watch it and enjoy.
When do you take selfies? And why? Do you see them as a way to express yourself? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!