Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Recently I visited my dermatologist for various and sundry issues, and had taken Molly Peacock's latest book with me to read, while I waited (there's always a wait). The book tells the story of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788).  Delany is known for her "paper cuts" of flowers, pieces of ephemera that she began making at the age of seventy-two and that she called flower mosaick. According to Peacock, "in the next for ten years she completed nearly a thousand cut-paper botanicals so accurate that botanists still refer to them" (4).

Peacock says that Mrs. Delany offered her up "a blueprint for late-life flexibility," as he own mother had died much younger, and Peacock felt like she needed a mentor for how to do the next stage of life.  I met Molly Peacock when she came to UCR for Writers Week one year, and she encourage me to send in a couple of my poems to literary magazines.  I never did, but I did remember her.  So when this book came out, I was in the middle of my own search for a blueprint as well.  I have a fine one: my mother is vibrant and interesting and we have wonderful discussions about all sorts of things; she is a good friend as well.  But I was also interested in how others of my own generation are meeting the challenge of middle age.  Perhaps it was triggered by a reaction to some cholesterol medication I had been taking which I felt aged me 100 years in a very short time; I still have some difficulties. Yet I still feel I have much to contribute; even in my rickety physical state (which has improved some).  My mind still feels relatively sharp and I have the luxury of time to take stock and choose direction.

Surrounding me in the doctor's office were lots of botox ads like this one:

The contrast between Peacock's homage and the incessant calling out of wrinkle lines between the forehead--eliminate them now!--was not only stark, but amusing.  When the young nurse assistant took me in to the examination room, I gestured to the ad, observing that the 111-woman looks angry and she was trying to make her own lines.  She breezily commented that she used botox.  I asked her old she was: 30.  "But you're so young!" I exclaimed, surprised at this.  "Oh we all use botox in this office," she said.  "We love it."

The New York Times noted a recent study where "[w]omen with botox were significantly less accurate at decoding both positive and negative facial expression," in other words, the use of botox to freeze those 1 or 11 or 111 lines made them less able to mimic the emotions of others in their own faces.  This mimicry "generates a signal from the person’s face to his or her brain. Finally, the signal enables the listener to understand the other person’s meaning or intention."

I'm not, in principle, opposed to the use of plastic surgery to make an aging face--as Jane Fonda put it--look "less tired" as when she had her eyes done recently.  But the blueprint I'm leaning towards puts more focus on a life's work--a body of work--rather than work done on the body.

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