Gaby’s love of food extends beyond the act of preparing it. Until her, I never really thought about how food is presented to someone to eat. I grew up in a household of corn mixed into mashed potatoes and gravy drenching everything. And though I do appreciate how food is plated now, I still don’t care. I just want to eat. But I do see the psychology in making food look good in order to taste good.
Another thing I never really thought about until her is the art of food photography. It’s not just snapping a photo, straight on, of your dinner and posting to Instagram. Like any good photography, it’s about angles, light, and composition. A shitty photo of your dinner can make it look like garbage. Gaby’s really good at making amazing food look even more amazing. Just recently she bought a real camera and spends all of her free time practicing. If you don’t follow her already, I suggest you do in order to watch her already baller skills develop.
One of the benefits, I guess, of having her learn photography is her taking pictures of more than food. She’s snapped some great candids of friends. And, since I have a new essay coming out, I thought it was time to update my author photo. The last one was taken nearly 6 years ago. Six years ago I was in my early 30s; now I’m in my late 30s. That’s like a life time. Well, in preparation, and in an attempt to figure out lighting and the best time of day, she asked me one evening to sit just for fun. Since I was wearing a Christmas shirt and it was February, I took it off. And since I had just made myself a martini, I brought it with me. It was fun, or at least not horrible, and I actually liked one of the shots:
This is an honest shot of me. This is my typical, non-smiling look. This is my sarcastic look. This is me, not really wearing clothes after I get home from work. My hair hadn’t been cut in over a year, and I figured out how to twist up my man bun. This, I thought, could be social media-worthy. I am not unattractive. There are things about me that people can appreciate. But then. I kept staring at myself. Like, one of those moments when you look in the mirror and you’re overcome with the thought, “I’m a human person. I am a mind inside a body. This is that body. This is what my shell looks like. Look at that face. I can make my face move like this…” I used to go down that rabbit hole when I was teenager. I guess I had a lot of time on my hands. Or, I was a teenager. So, my 39 year old self looked deep into my own eyes for the first time in a while, and then this happened:
I’d like to say at my age and with my life experience, this doesn’t happen to me. But it does. As much as I try to keep it from coming. I think we all do this. Or, if you don’t, please tell me how.
I see Erika, who is nearly 15, staring at herself in the bathroom mirror for way too long. I see her walk by her reflection in a window and pause to look at her hair, only to move one strand of curls back and forth for several minutes. I see her in the living room mirror adjusting her shirt around her waist and then turning around to pop her booty out and give it a hard look. I see her self-consciously moving through this world. I see her have the same anxiety we all have. Or the same anxiety I have which I assume everyone else has. We’ve talked about it. I try to tell her that I understand and that is gets better. Or we learn to turn down the volume of our inner critic. I think of this scene from Bojack Horseman.
I understand food seems to taste better when it’s expertly presented. When it’s an array of colors stacked to trick the eye into believing there is more there than in reality. Arranged to show only the best parts of each component. I suppose there are people like that, too. They know how to put themselves together.
I am not always this hard on myself. There are times I’m able to forgive myself for all the things I’ve done and move on. There are times when I’m positive that my friends like me and even care about me. There are times when I’m proud of all that I’ve lived through, when I know that I’m a good person, despite the bad things I’ve done to you all. To myself. There are times when I feel like I’ve really found myself and my truth and my wholeness and all of those things we are striving for. I can see those things in the martini photo. I can see a woman comfortable with all that she is. Sometimes I am her.
But, despite all the angles and light, I can also see that I’m not an elaborate, colorful, carefully constructed dish.
I am something like biscuits and gravy. I am either gross or delicious, depending on your tastes. Sometimes, I am way too much. I am best warm and terrible cold. Or I am something like a sloppy Joe: full of savory filling but just barely held together. If you put me down, I’ll fall apart.