Sunday, October 11, 2009


Make-up has surprising value. It can raise my spirits. This morning I woke feeling low. I don't know why but I could speculate. A few days ago I saw old friends. Four of the nine people in the room had survived cancer, and one was facing a serious operation on his heart. We ate and drank and told stories. No one mentioned illness. To survive cancer is a good thing, but later I began to brood about the human condition, a dispiriting thing to do.

"If dying were a good thing, the gods would be mortal," Sappho wrote. I thought of her wry poem as I put on my make-up. As soon as I stroked "Charcoal" tint into my eyebrows I felt better, and even better when I lined my upper lids, put on Dr. Hauschka's "Translucent Make-up 02 and Alba Botanica Terra Tints lipstick. Dr. Hauschka is expensive, pricey enough to make a security attendant gasp when she saw the price label as she searched my carry-on bag; the lipstick is only a few dollars.

Why should putting on make-up raise my spirits? Maybe because it has a narrative shape: first this, then that. It's a little like writing and walking. Make-up improves my appearance, but not much.

After I was made-up for the day--a character, so to speak--I lit a candle, ran a wash, listened to the opening few minutes of the Episcopal service broadcast from Memorial Chapel at Harvard, which always begins with this hymn.

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:

Under the shadow of thy throne,
thy saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting thou art God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly, forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be thou our guide while troubles last,
and our eternal home!

When the hymn was done, I went out for a walk. Everyone I saw seemed brave. They were out in the sunshine, not in bed with the covers pulled over their heads.


  1. Oh, I wish I wore make=up. It sounds like such a marvelous preparation -- to mask up. I was too much -- take it as it is. Or perhaps it was that my plain mother died and I had no later instruction of at least putting on a modest face. I clearly remember a circular box of powder, that that gold embossing. And associate the smell of Chanel No. 5 with her.

    I would like to wear sparkles and have a gold front tooth, many skirts of different colors, all worn at the same time and bright lips.

    You are so beautiful, Mim

  2. All within reach, except for the gold tooth.
    Yours for colors!

  3. I like this post very much. Telling what is "in between the notes..." Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting on a recent post -"word dance with sequins and bits of poetry." Tamam Kahn