Posted by: Joelle Burnette | May 1, 2011

My novel’s jacket photo

If I ever get to take one of those photos for the jacket of one of my best-selling novels, I want to look stunned like what’s-his-name—that’s right, Nick Nolte—who got arrested and had his photo slapped across the internet, television news and all the papers. Fuck sophistication like the photo of the guy I saw in the paper today who finally got his first novel published and had his “sort of bright new star” review in the entertainment section. I want to look like myself.

I can already hear my mother saying, “Can’t you just put on a little makeup? Brighten up your face. You look so washed out.”

I’ll be my usual mess of a mom more comfortable squeezing my ever-expanding body into men’s REI outdoorsy pants great in any kind of weather and perfect for surviving menopause because the material breathes and they turn into shorts with a zip here and there. I want my hair up in a ponytail and I’ll wear a comfortable t-shirt purchased as a memory from some happy time when I escaped with my family and away from my life. Away from the messy house in which we live that serves as a constant source of disappointment to my mother who perpetually offers to help clean up.

Mom forgets how her house looked the same when she had three kids in the house; she and my dad simply do not create the same level of mess. And anyway, they have a Spanish-speaking house cleaner who periodically removes any evidence of my ambulatory dad’s piss that misses the toilet and leaves sticky splatter spots on the tile floor that never seem to dry. (Oh, to have someone clean my bathrooms and the kitchen floor!)

“Just give me one day in here and I’ll have this place cleaned up in no time,” my mother threatens most visits as she looks around the room and lets out a not-so-quiet “Oy” and heavy sigh. Unfortunately, her style of cleaning my semi-organized clutter is to throw everything away…bills, the kids’ homework, notes, photos, anything in her line of sight; any loose paper immediately goes into the trash.

Doesn’t she watch “Hoarders: Buried Alive” on one of those point-out-all-your-weaknesses cable networks? I do. I like watching it as a reminder of what my house might look like if I drop any deeper into “crazy mommy” land. I watch it as a motivator to tackle that pile of whatever in the corner of the kitchen, my bedroom, the office, and try to put at least a few things away.

My life is far from perfect, so why should a photo of me be any different?

I don’t want to have the perfectly styled, $1,200 eye glasses some professional stylist tells me to wear instead of the glasses I have now that broke a few months ago and are glued together with crazy glue and lightly taped with that crystal clear tape made for wrapping presents because I can’t afford a new pair. Even the deals at Costco on their generic, boring spectacles can’t make up for the choice of purchasing new glasses versus paying for my daughter’s ADHD help or for my son to get braces on his teeth (which I’m still trying to figure out how to pay for on my slave wages and my husband’s ever-shrinking salary—a good amount anywhere but here in California and maybe New York City).

I don’t want to be wearing some gorgeous getup from Neiman’s or Bloomy’s; something I would likely never wear on my own without someone having first prodded me into the changing room like a mother trying to find just one semi-nice outfit for her whining child who would rather dance in front of the mirror than try on one more dress.

Recently, I was sitting in one of those rooms with my daughter. I was there burning up under a pile of clothes that didn’t work; sitting there in that stuffy, small space, having a hot flash and watching my little Zoe standing in nothing but her panties, her hands on her hips, contorting her body like a fashion model trying to look glamorous in her beautiful little, undeveloped body.

“Come on, Zoe. Please just try on this last dress” so you have something nice to wear to the one evening you’ll wear it for some special event before it hides out in the closet until you grow out of it in two months.

“Ta dah,” she says and shapes herself into an “S” form. She throws back her head, her blonde hair flying around her shoulder, the tips of her fingers resting on the back of her head. “Oh, yeah. I’m a rock star. Look at me, mommy. I’m beautiful.”

“You certainly are, sweety. Here, try on this last dress, then we’ll go,” I try to engage her attention away from the mirror that reflects her amazing potential and my nearly defeated spirit. I don’t ever remember feeling that confident about my body. How did I create a little girl who loves to get dressed up all girly and pretty?

Okay, I will have one thing in the author’s photo that’s girly…I’ll have my hair colored. Can’t go without that.


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