Keeping Up Appearances

I’m aware that keeping up appearances conjures up inflated visions of grandeur, but I think if no one were looking and I didn’t feel compelled to do so, I would slack on the most mundane, everyday activities. I’d rarely clean my house. I might just give up wholly on scrubbing my bathtub—who’s going to see that? I’d sit around surfing the internet while dishes pile in the sink and my vacuum cleaner would collect nothing but dust. Surely, I’d tell myself, the smell would eventually be motivation enough to get me off my butt to clean (right?), but if the only one who knows about my disgusting house is me, then who cares? Make-up and hair spray would be things of the past. I’d teach classes in exercise attire. I’d eat cheese curls in public.

There’s certainly a part of me that functions best when I try to keep up appearances. It’s a version of the “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality that can get someone through their day perhaps more successfully than had they behaved authentically. So when is it important to keep up appearances? How about at work? Let’s say your alarm didn’t go off, and you accidentally slept in 20 minutes late. Oops. You rush to shower and dress. You prepare bagged lunch for yourself and your kid. The kid’s off on the bus, and you get in the car and the gas light flickers on. Shucks. The closest gas station is the one that’s always thirty cents more a gallon than everywhere else. You get on the highway and realize you left your lunch on the kitchen counter. Dang. And as soon as you realize you’ll need to buy lunch from the cafeteria today, traffic comes to a standstill thanks to a stalled vehicle in the middle lane. You get to campus five minutes after the beginning of class and as soon as you walk into your classroom, you notice your sweater is inside out. Sigh. Not a good way to start the day.

How to salvage it? Pretend your shitty morning didn’t exist. Push down the series of mini-rages you just had in the span of two hours and slap on a smile. Sure, you can apologize to your students for being late, but it’s now time to move on, and what better way to move on than to negate a crap morning? Wear that smile like a Stepford wife, even if all you want is to tell the world to go to hell, burn the sweater, and crawl back into bed and start again tomorrow. This day is about to get better, dammit. I am turning this ship around. And before you know it, your class is humming along, students are learning how to spot fragments and run-ons, and you are slowly forgetting that you need to switch around your sweater once you have a second to yourself in your office. By the time you’re in line for today’s cafeteria special, you feel, well, pretty normal. You’ve gone from telling yourself, “everything’s fine,” to everything really is fine.

But then again. Some days just suck…and you start over the next day.

Winter Is Coming, Part Deux

I’ve had mixed feelings about writing about therapy, but I talk about it to everybody. Maybe not everybody. You’re welcome, Acme cashier.

So here goes. After a healthy amount of year-round winter anxiety and perhaps too much self-diagnosing via WebMD, I decided I probably had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and took myself to see a therapist last week. It was my first time sitting on the couch, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I did know that I needed a game plan for this winter, and I was anxious to seek the opinion from an objective third party.

Turns out I was wrong about having SAD. I just dread winter too much. In so many words, the therapist suggested I find ways to turn that frown upside down. And for the time being, I’ve decided to believe her. What do I have to lose except for a bad attitude? Apparently, I do one thing right already: I run throughout the year, including winter. Exercise is a key way to beat the winter blahs, so I’ve got the exercise quotient covered. I’ll take some extra Vitamin D and use the special light a friend of mine gave me last year. But I may just need, as my mother was fond of saying when I was about fifteen, an attitude adjustment.

We batted around a few ideas and the therapist offered a few theories, but I wanted to strategize, so before the hour was up, I asked for a homework assignment. I wanted something to do, something to test out as the cold weather tightens its icy claws around my neck. Maybe I’m being a little hyperbolic, but it can feel that way until April. She suggested I read or watch the weather report for the following day and then write down my thoughts and strategies in my journal. I think it’s a way to take the season day by day and tackle any issues, i.e., a sudden dip in temperature, a day of freezing sleet and rain, or a looming Nor’easter.

She also thought I should look for fun activities that I can only do during the winter. This may pose a problem, because cold-weather anything, even activities that many might describe as “fun” still sound horrible. Skiing? Nope. Ice-skating? Nuh-uh. Sledding? No. I’ll watch from a distance swathed in a hat, scarf, long underwear, sweater, puffer coat, and two pairs of pants. I probably should just stick to classic winter activities such as sipping hot chocolate, indulging in comfort food, watching TV, and reading novels. Indoors.

40 Is the New 40

I did something really dumb the other night. I told my husband that I was going in for a glycolic peel this week. “Oh…OK?” he said, as his face involuntarily twisted into a look of complete puzzlement. And it wasn’t about the cost, though I doubt he’d be dancing on the ceiling if he heard how much a glycolic peel goes for. It’s a very real, tangible acknowledgment of aging. I’m no longer his young wife.

When we lived L.A., it seemed like everyone was getting treatments like facials and chemical peels. At the time, I sneered at all that attention to the face, writing it off as a waste of time and money. It was an “L.A. thing.” I had nothing to prove and besides, wouldn’t spending that money on a nice dinner or a pair of shoes prove far more satisfying than getting a really expensive face wash? Ironically, now that we reside in glamorous Philadelphia, I have discovered these treatments for myself. If fact, they may be my new obsession. The only difference is now I’m in my 40s.

It’s easy to be judgy when your skin is still relatively unwrinkled and smooth. Sun damage hasn’t quite risen to the surface. Your face hasn’t begun to submit to gravity, which always makes me think of my 20-something, offhand, bratty remark about Heather Locklear when she made one of many triumphant comebacks joining the cast of Melrose Place in the 90s. “Her face is falling,” I announced to my roommates as we sat in front of the TV. I still cringe when I think about it. It’s a thoughtless, ignorant, woman-hating throwaway line aimed at a person who is so far in the stratosphere of attractiveness, that it wouldn’t have even made any sort of minuscule dent on her beautiful, and probably bulletproof, veneer. But I was sporting 22-year-old skin.

No longer. And I can’t even say I’m obsessing over these peels, facials, and expensive creams to improve my skin. No. I’m trying to hang onto what I’ve got for as long as possible. In fact, it takes effort to just hang in there. Now that my own face is falling, I understand why people pump their faces with Botox and fillers. Is it better to have a face that doesn’t move than a wrinkly one? I don’t know, but I can tell you, I’m not so judgy anymore. Plastic surgery? Face lift? I don’t think I want to go that far just yet. But hey, I get it. For the time being, I’ll stick to my regimen, but who knows how long these tricks are going to work.