From dreams to reality: waking up, making up

Stereotypically, creative acts take place in the depths of the night, when the world is asleep and a single soul’s inspiration, like a lightning bolt sent down specially by God, strikes! But there is a different, quotidien process of delicate creation that takes place in billions of bedrooms in the early, light hours:

Every morning, we wake up and we make ourselves anew. We pound the surface of our faces into smooth, uniform planes and we paint them, many of us. If we don’t, we look at ourselves, we see the dust on the mirror, redraw our patterns of freckles and pimples into something grotesque or, perhaps, beautiful. We become, as we arise from bed and as we slowly move towards the door, the person we will be that day.

This is a creative process. Sometimes, it occurs spontaneously, intuitively, and we feel alive as we open our eyes and we feel like ourselves. But sometimes, it’s a struggle. We don’t want to make anything, not even our own personalities, certainly not those staunchly visible, socially readable clothed bodies.

It’s on those harder days, those days when “Nora” has disappeared somewhere between my blankets and the black pit of my dreams, that I get ready slowly, and consequently arrive at class with a glistening rim of sweat around my forehead.

There is an easy way to dispatch this act of creation, perhaps a way that we might not even perceive as “creative,” and yet it allows a waking body to move from sleep to the world’s demands. It involves drawing on the default selves that live in the closet and across the tops of shelves, in little bottles of perfume and pots of colored eyeshadow. I might, perhaps, try on several of the selves that haunt these spaces — I try on the one in jeans and a sweater and the one in the black mini skirt and I feel a slight desperation that none of these is a self I want to wear today. And yet, even when I run to class in literally the exact outfit I wore yesterday because I feel so distant from inspiration or commitment to any idea of myself, I am still made, I have still created, even through a process of giving up to the “easy.”

Perhaps the most conspicuous act, for me, of remaking the waking self, is the one in which I “put on my face.” I’m not sure how common a phrase this is; I know many of the makeup users I personally know say it. It refers, quite simply, to the process of putting on makeup. But it makes literal the point I started with here and have been circling around ever since: in the daily, ritual process of preparation of the self, we don’t only shield our bodies from the cold, and we don’t just make ourselves look pretty, even. We make ourselves, from a generic sleeping body into a visualized, recognizable identity. The face we wake up with is not our face as it is and must be in the world we move through; we put on that face, we remake it every day. Whether or not we put on makeup, we draw material things about ourselves until our vulnerable naked flesh takes on the protection of identity.

Perhaps this reads like a silly dream. In a way, it is. The deep optimism implicit in deciding that each day we make ourselves anew ignores the complex, sometimes painful realities we wake up into; and some things don’t leave us at night. They haunt our dreams, and in the morning, they dictate the lines we draw across our faces, with pencil and with expression. But it also holds at least some truth, I think, this dream of the body as a canvas for identity. The canvas does not exist in absence of the rest of the facets of life, the visual and creation of our visual selves do not exist in a void; but they nevertheless are a locus of creative potential. I am, I admit, extremely optimistic about the ways we can remake not just our appearances but the ways we feel and the ways we conceptualize ourselves by consciously creating ourselves, a little at a time, perhaps, differently each day. Probably, most people would argue that the changes we make to our identity are what dictate the changes that become apparent in our appearances; this is certainly true much of the time. But I think the change can happen the other way around, as well; the origin of the desire for change comes from somewhere, certainly, but I think the change itself can be enacted through changes in style. This might be the way you “put on your face” or the way you dress, it might be the pictures you leave tagged on your Facebook profile. Tentatively, I stick out my hand to this dream of daily quotidian creation, and I ask it if it can work for me, if it can change me into something better than I was yesterday.

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