Thursday, June 26, 2014

Am I Daughter Enough?

My sister estranged herself from the entire family two years ago. Long, complicated, tumultuous story, but the fact remains that she and her husband cut off all contact. I truly believe none of us will hear from her again.

They say when a person leaves your life, you slowly learn to live without her. This is both sad and soothing to know. The truth is, I have: She no longer comes up in conversation, and I think of her less with time. Because her name starts with the letter B, I mentally remind myself to not mention the "B word."

If someone asks about my family, I still have to momentarily stop and concoct an easy answer: Yes, I do have one. It's slowly dissipating, but it exists. End of questions?

If someone asks if I have any siblings, my heart sinks a little and my mind scatters: There is the legal answer (yes, I do); there is the technical answer (yes, I do); there is the emotional answer (no, I don't).

The hardest part of her leaving has been trying to be essentially the two children my parents thought they would always have. When holidays come around like taxes, I have to steel myself for the extra effort. Can I be cheerful, loving, gracious and satisfactory enough to keep my parents fulfilled with just me? Will all that smiling and surface conversation mask the elephant in the room?

I constantly ask myself if I am "daughter enough" for them.

My sister and I were opposites and that polarity kept my parents fulfilled in a way that I alone cannot replace. I had to deal with mourning her loss (grieving over a living person is a complex process unlike grieving over a dead one). I know she's out there - breathing, making friends, and building a life - but she is also completely gone.

When my parents redid their Wills recently, they did it in part to cut her out. It was one of the final pieces that made the door to reconciliation close. I was in turn made the exclusive beneficiary. It wasn't a happy moment: With it, came an added responsibility and expectation that I would fulfill their final wishes and be the executor of their estate. I would also stay firmly planted in their life, or there would be another call to a lawyer.

They say being a parent is a great responsibility, but with age, being the child becomes a growing responsibility. They raised you, and they're aging, and now it's time for you to pay them back. Despite a childhood that was a mix of good and terrible times, I always pretend all of my memories are happy ones. When my father leaned in and asked on Father's Day what my happiest memories are, I came up with a really longwinded tale told through rose-colored glasses.

I do this frequently to keep them appeased and to hopefully ease their hurt over losing a child I can't replace. I can't be their two daughters. I can only ask myself if I am enough as the one left behind.

Swat Makeover

Sunday, June 8, 2014

My Horrible Day

So I believe that no matter your age or your experience in another field, when you dip your toe into a new profession, you're back at square one: That means pay your dues, do grunt work, even offer to work for free.

And that's exactly what I did yesterday. I offered to help a relatively well-established wedding makeup artist in Western, MA who had double-booked her day. That meant two weddings back-to-back. And when I say back-to-back, I mean that there was literally no wiggle room between finishing one wedding and going to the next.

I was happy to offer to help her in whatever way I could, even if it meant solely doing the grunt, unglamorous and sweaty work with no pay. When I have a passion, just being in the vicinity of it makes me happy. And if I get more responsibility than I asked for, I feel weightless.

The day started very early, around 6 a.m., since we had to drive to a location more than an hour from her house. Even on little sleep and not an adequate amount of caffeine, I was looking forward to the day. It wasn't long before my mood soured. The artist was stressed due to the overbooking and last-minute add-ons. With a second person on hand, she could've delegated non-makeup tasks to me: Prepping faces with sunscreen, moisturizer or primer. But when I asked, she quickly dismissed it and said, "Just watch my time."

So my job turned into simply monitoring the phone. Ok. Fine. I did the task without saying anything. At one point, she took a bathroom break. I stepped in to wipe any sweat from the bride-to-be's naked face and apply sunscreen and moisturizer.

When the makeup artist began working on the bride, she huffed, "God, so much moisturizer!" and wiped her hands across the bride's face not one, not two, but six times. I got the point: She thought I sucked at applying moisturizer.

Here's the truth, everyone: It takes zero skill to apply moisturizer. I applied less than a dime-size amount to the bride's face and used a makeup brush for hygiene reasons. I thought rubbing my hands all over the bride's face would be bad form, so no, I didn't give a face massage to get the moisturizer "skillfully" absorbed.

I stayed silent as the makeup artist huffed, even though I thought it was bad professional decorum on her part to criticize an assistant's work in front of the client. As brushes dirtied, she'd throw them in my direction and say, "Clean this." Here's another thing: It takes zero effort to say "please" and "thank you," especially to someone who volunteered to help you and is not your employee. It also resonates well with an observant client.

The day went on and got hotter and muggier. My mood dampened with it. By the end of the day, I was texting my boyfriend describing my acidic mood and the most insulting highlights of the day. At one point, as the makeup artist complained that she was so overbooked she should've called in another MUA, I went out on a limb and said, "Well, I do have some skills and can help."

The reaction made the world go into slow-motion. She let out a skeptical hybrid of a huff and a laugh, peppered with, "Then show me your portfolio."

She has seen my work. I sent her several images before the first time I assisted her. Maybe she forgets the images. Maybe she just wasn't impressed. I don't need a full flip-book to do minor prep-work. While I don't have the business she does, I have a background, have studied and taken makeup classes, and have done wedding makeup.

At one point, driving between jobs, I mentioned a blush in a recent MAC collection. Her response was a dismissive, "I only followed those when I was just a hobbyist."

I got it. I was just a hobbyist. Add that dig to an 85 degree New England day, no AC in her car, and a busted window that wouldn't roll down on the passenger side, and biting my tongue was like trying to stop a hiccup. I did, though.

Here's yet another secret, everyone: Makeup artistry is a skill, but it isn't saving the world or finding a cure for cancer. I vowed then and there to remember that. It is an artistic pursuit that is elevating at its best, but it can be learned by many and the techniques aren't that complex. The brides that hire someone often don't want to take the time selecting products or thinking out the process on a day rife with so many logistics. It isn't that they are incapable.

As I watched the makeup artist, I began to mentally play out a paint-by-numbers process: By the end of the day, I could rehash the full process, since it played out the same with each of the 10-plus women she worked on that day. Her work was flattering and most of the women looked happy with the results. But at the end of the day, it was a job and she fulfilled it. No one's life was cured.

I remember some famous makeup artists saying themselves, "It's only makeup" and "It's not rocket science." I love makeup. I probably always will. But I remember what it is and what it isn't. At the end of the day, it should be fun or it's nothing.