Boudoir Bravery

watermark2I set the last box in the trunk, shove it down, rearrange the tangle of Christmas lights and the bag of cardigan sweaters so the door will latch, and slam it shut.

“Well that might be overkill,” I mutter to myself as I look through the window to the overflowing trunk. “I probably didn’t need to take the whole house with me.”

Brushing a stray hair out of my face, I open the door and slide into the driver’s seat, feeling anxious to get going. As I reach to adjust my mirror, I notice the firefighter’s hat is blocking a good portion of my view out the back window. With a sigh I steal a quick glance at the dashboard clock and decide it will have to do.

“I can’t believe I’m actually doing this,” I mumble to myself as I start the car. “It’s my blog’s fault, all this be brave not perfect nonsense. People can talk me into anything now.”

I hit play on a podcast, pull onto the street, and settle in for my hour drive.

My wedding is two weeks away and I’m marrying a groom who is notoriously hard to buy for. I had been wracking my brain for weeks for the perfect wedding gift idea to no avail. Out of ideas and nearly out of time, my friend Chris, talked me into a boudoir photo shoot — a hobby of hers and an idea so completely out of character for me I still can’t believe I’m actually going through with it. My car is packed to the roof with gizmos, gadgets, props, and outfits, anything I could find to hold in front of my jiggly parts.

“I should have done this in my 20’s, or my 30’s,” I think to myself. “Now I’m wrinkly, freckly, and a tad droopy in places. And that’s not even taking into consideration my ten divorce pounds.”

The road stretches before me and I try to distract myself with an inspiring podcast, hoping its wise words will calm my anxious nerves. Instead, I find my mind wandering to memories and messaging from my life that make today’s adventure so challenging. A whispered judgment in a locker room here, a demanding and glossy headline there. A touch of church propriety sprinkled on top. So much cultural messaging that shaped me into a woman who feels if my body doesn’t measure up to a perfect standard, it’s not sexy, not worth showing. And even if it is, perhaps I better run the idea by someone more pious. The thoughts swirl around, one after another, making my head spin. I try to catch them, address them, ignore them, admonish them, anything to quiet them. But these negative thoughts about my appearance are some of the most resistant. They’ve been with me the longest and are the thoughts reinforced every single day by news articles, tv shows, magazine covers, social media posts, and the world as a whole.

They form the core of my perfectionism.

As such, they are the messages I’m trying hardest to shake on this journey. The messages that keep me bound, afraid, and sitting on life’s sidelines instead of diving in, living life to the fullest, and forging my own brave path forward. So I set my jaw and drive, determined to address them today in a real way, hoping that by doing so, I take one big step towards altering my life’s course and freeing me from their tight and relentless grip.  

Eventually I arrive, pull up in front of her studio, and turn off the car. Catching my eye in the mirror as I check my hair and makeup I murmur, “You’ve got this. Tap into your inner sex kitten.” I laugh at my joke, knowing if there is such a thing inside me, it’s buried under a lot of baggage. My cheesy humor seems to calm my nerves.

The sound of my car door opening startles an antelope grazing nearby. His head snaps up as he assesses me, but he seems unconcerned with my presence and unimpressed by my hair and makeup, returning quickly to his grassy breakfast.

“Clearly he has no idea what’s about to happen,” I mutter.  

Having heard me pull up, Chris and her daughter, Meriah, emerge from the studio calling happy greetings. They’re excited about the project and anxious to help me unload and get started.

Chris and I have been exchanging ideas and images for a week in preparation, deciding what looks we’re going for, what props we need to pull them off. Their excitement should be contagious but so far my stomach remains a stubborn ball of nerves.

“Woah,” my awe escapes me as I cross the threshold and look around. “I wasn’t expecting this,” I say to my friend, leaning to set my armload down on a nearby chair.

The building is comfortable, welcoming. The initial sitting area colorful and warm, the dressing room fanciful and filled with props, jewelry, robes, and furry blankets. I run my fingers over those closest to me, taking in their textures and beauty. Through a nearby door, the studio itself is bright and inviting. My heart rate begins to slow as I take it all in.

Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

Returning to the sitting area where my pile of stuff cascades across every surface, we begin to lay it out systematically, working through each look. We discuss a tentative order for the day, returning to the sample photos we’ve been exchanging as we strategize, matching poses with outfits. Eventually we are ready. Having stalled as long as I possibly can, I pick up the first outfit and excuse myself to change.

As I pull on each piece of the first look I whisper words of encouragement.

A stocking. “I can do this.”

The other stocking. “I am beautiful.”

Underwear. “I am perfectly imperfect.”

Bra. “I trust Chris to highlight the good, camouflage the bad.”

Garter. “My Kris loves me. He loves this body just as it is.”

Second garter. “It’s a good body, a healthy body.”

Earrings. “It has served me well for 43 years.”

Necklace. “I CAN do this. I need to do this.”

Stealing one last glance in the mirror I turn and open the door.

“Oh you look so good!” Meriah exclaims immediately as I step hesitantly back into the foyer. “Let me help you with the last hooks.” She moves to my side, no longer a stranger as she works to secure the clasps and hooks in intimate places I can’t reach.

“Champagne?” Chris asks, stepping towards me. “I find a sip or two makes the beginning a touch easier. But you’ll see, it will be great. We aren’t here to judge but to help you make something great. You’re beautiful and I’m going to capture that for both of you.”

I accept the glass from her outstretched hand and take a sip. The bubbles feel light and airy as they slip down my throat. I take another sip, smile at my friend. Thankful it’s her and not someone else with me in this moment.

There’s something raw, vulnerable, and intimate about posing in lingerie. And I’ve expertly dodged intimacy, rawness, and vulnerability for years; content to stay safely ensconced in logic, strategy, and my thoughts where I’m protected from failure and the judgement of others. Doing so has allowed me to appear perfect on the sideline much of my adult life. But I’m tired of the sideline, of watching others live life instead of living it myself. It’s why I’m on this journey, yet taking the first step remains challenging. Having a friend take it with me helps.

I swallow the last sip as Meriah slips the last hook in place and declares me ready. Chris reaches for her camera on the nearby counter and adjusts the lights in the studio space.  

“Be brave not perfect right?” she asks me.

I take a deep breath, look her in the eye, nod my ascent. “Be brave not perfect,” I reply, as I set my empty glass down firmly on the counter and step into the studio.

To see more of my friend’s work or to reach her for your own session, visit: https://m.facebook.com/ChrisGentryPhotography/

Morning

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 9.30.59 PMMorning sounds different in South Carolina.

Sitting on my grandma’s porch drinking coffee, the new sounds captivate me, pull me into the beauty of the morning.

In the canopy overhead, a symphony of unfamiliar bird calls, each more interesting than the next. There’s a persistent high pitched trill, repeated over and over with such determination and dedication I think it’s owner is desperate to communicate his message. On the opposite end of the scale, a low quacking rumble, coming from somewhere in the lagoon nearby. Understated and quietly riveting.

Hidden among the leaves of a nearby bush, a songbird sings a song resembling a contented whistle. I can’t find its owner but the upbeat nature of the tune makes me smile as I picture a line of dwarves heading off to work.

Occasionally I hear a sound I do know; the caw of a crow as it flies overhead, the happy chirp of the chick-a-dee as it flits from tree to tree.

And underneath it all, a quiet, subdued coo. So faint I almost miss it. Audible only if everyone else is silent. I wonder briefly how that bird will ever find a mate when he’s so hard to hear. Does she have ears only for him?

Each one, unique. Interesting. Unfamiliar.

I tense as I hear movement in the undergrowth that covers the forest floor below me, certain an alligator is about to emerge. The sound grows louder. Closer. I breathe a sigh of relief as a resident squirrel bounds into sight, busily sorting through fallen leaves for breakfast treasures.

As I relax and close my eyes, a power saw whines, joined by the beat of a hammer as construction begins on the house next door, evidence that life goes on after a hurricane. Down the street a leaf blower starts as a landscaper gets to work separating the fallen pine needles from their grassy beds. Manmade machine sounds blend with the natural creating an interesting orchestra that fills the air.

I sit, taking it all in. Separating sounds from one another. Seeing how many I can hear.

Even the wind sounds different as it moves gently through the trees instead of across the open valleys of Montana. It’s more of a whisper, just a hint of its sound back home. And yet it’s still able to create both a fine white noise, and a host of individual sounds. The subtle rattle of leaves, the clitter-clack of a pinecone tumbling through the branches to the bed of leaves below, the tinkle of a wind chime at the neighbor’s house.

It’s been three sips of coffee, but it feels much longer.

Out front in the driveway a car door slams, my signal it’s time to engage with the world.

Reluctantly I open my eyes and take a last sip.

Questions flutter through my mind as I stand, collect my things, move to the door.

Does every place in the world have its own unique set of morning sounds? Would I recognize my set of sounds? How long would I have to live in a place for its morning sounds to become those I associate with home?

It never occurred to me I might be able to identify my home by the sounds of the morning; sounds I didn’t realize were familiar until they were replaced by others.

It makes me wonder how often I actually stop and listen.

How often I stop and notice the world around me.

How often I stop and hear what a place has to share.

How often I stop and marvel at the living things I share the world with.

How often I stop at all.