The map

by Jennifer on March 5, 2009

I sit in my office, at the  east-facing window, tweezers in one hand and a mirror in the other. The perfect light for some overdue eyebrow maintenance. Bright, natural light.

Forgiving, it isn’t.  (And talk about hairs apparent.)

After a few busy and painful moments, I finish. And then.

As I lean back from the mirror, I see what I missed with just an eyebrow at a time filling the mirror. The face reflected back at me looks tired and pale and…well, not young. (Don’t make me say it.)

In other rooms, where the light goes easier on me, I can look younger by a year or two, or even five if it’s late enough in the day and the sun not so bright. Or so I tell myself.

But in the light from this window at this hour, there’s not a single day shaved off my timeline. Every line, every shadow smudged there by the harder years – this last one among them – raises its voice. Here. Present, accounted for. You didn’t really think we wouldn’t show up, did you?

Well, I did hope.

And if one thing shows up, well, then you have to allow for every other damn thing, too. A faint but stubborn crease to the left of my nose from sleeping on one side of my face more than the other. A sun spot on the same cheek. Parentheses between my brows from giving stern looks to my children for lo, these many years. From stress, worry, disappointment.  Lines  that fan out from the corners of my eyes. All, things I’m not sure I’d miss if they disappeared.

But, this: If the tough parts of life take a stand around the eyes, how do you separate the worry lines from laugh lines? Part and parcel, I’m inclined to believe.

If that one hard year (or more) when you cried (more than you thought you ever could) can stake its claim at the corners of your eyes and in that spot between your brows, then shouldn’t all that was good get some credit as well?

Like the first time you saw for yourself the color of aspen leaves in the fall, when you squinted against the bright sun before it dropped low behind the mountains. Long days on the beach, when the sun was so bright that sunglasses and a hat (if you wore one) couldn’t keep out all the sun. First kisses, even the ones you can’t remember now, that left you smiling for days after. That full moon in Montana that lit up your brand new world. Laughing at your kids’ jokes when they’re funny and even when they’re not.

I’m not the first to compare a person’s face to a map, but today I couldn’t help thinking about an old Rand McNally Atlas that I’ve kept for years. Its pages are stained with coffee and scribbled over with yellow highlighter lines and red pen marks. I bought it when I lived in Connecticut, and used it for years as I drove all over the East Coast, back to the Midwest, and west to Montana. Around the edges, it’s as rough as rough gets. And that atlas is one of my favorite possessions. Every now and then, I worry (more lines) that I’ve lost it, and then it will turn up again.

It’s as true a journal of those years as anything I might have written in a notebook.

A detailed map shows the lines for all the roads, whether they’re sleek, well-maintained highways without bumps or ruts, or dirt roads with sections of washboard, or county roads with careless asphalt patches over potholes.

But if all of those roads lead somewhere new, they also lead back, sometimes very far, to other places. If  all the rough roads were closed to me, I think how much I would have missed. And if I’d only ever taken the smooth, easy ones? I’d be a little less road weary, maybe, but not me at all. I don’t think I’d like that girl as much. And if I have a few traces on my face to show for it? I’m not sure I mind.

And so, life. Impossible to separate what is from what might have been. No way to know if, had we lived a different life than this one – the one that gave us our laugh lines or our honest-to-god wrinkles –  whether we would have ended up with fewer lines to show for it or if we would have gotten quite lost.

Or, yes, found. There’s always that chance, too.

Unknowable things. None of which stop me from a close look in the mirror, or a gentle tug to see how this face might look if the lines were gone.

Or from looking backward down a quiet road, and wondering.


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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

flutter March 5, 2009 at 11:01 pm

you are hot. So there.

Margaret March 6, 2009 at 1:15 am

Yes a wellused map is like a piece of pottery, the harsher and hotter the firing, the finer the porvelin, Margaret

Mary Alice March 6, 2009 at 3:38 am

All the lines tell a story, yes, but they are added to layer by layer….you will add some laugh lines soon.

RiverPoet March 6, 2009 at 6:16 am

I’m coming to love the topography of my face. It’s not so bad, and at least I don’t look like Joan Rivers, like I’m wearing some scary tribal mask. 🙂

Peace – D

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana March 6, 2009 at 7:02 am

Sooooo sweet. So would plastic surgery be like laminating a favorite map? And I prefer to think of all lines as laugh lines. yes, I am in denial.

V-Grrrl March 6, 2009 at 7:13 am

Making peace with the years is an ongoing process. I always say it’s hard not to have my inner and outer selves match, but maybe I’m in denial. Maybe they match perfectly.

Slouching Mom March 6, 2009 at 7:14 am

Funny, I was just thinking about this in the bath last night. When I lie there, still, my 2-C-section-plus-1-hysterectomy belly and my breasts pop out of the water. They are a stubborn reminder of my age, of the fact that I’ve had babies, that I’ve lived.

I’m OK with that.

Not so OK with my droopy eyelids, though.

Madge March 6, 2009 at 7:15 am

you did it again. how? how do you keep doing it?

Kimberly March 6, 2009 at 7:39 am

I think the same thing every time I catch a glance of myself in the rearview mirror in the car (also very unforgiving light). I’m trying to come to terms with it, but it’s not easy.

But like RiverPoet said above, I’d rather have the ‘real’ me than some horrible, plastic, mask of a face. Aging gracefully can be difficult, but I believe that’s optimal.

Tara Wermuth March 6, 2009 at 8:03 am

Yes, loved it and it made me cry, in a good way. I think because you helped put things I am going through in perspective. Thank you.

Jessica March 6, 2009 at 8:48 am

I’ve just stopped looking so much. Honestly, I admit, it is very hard to see those wrinkles when I smile, when I DON’T smile. Yes, it is a map of where we’ve been and what we have done but sometimes I just want a do over

Jenn @ Juggling Life March 6, 2009 at 9:10 am

I figure the goal is more laugh lines than frown lines–that’s the best I can hope for.

Daryl March 6, 2009 at 9:53 am

Here’s the thing. That light is only for tweezing. Try not to look past those brows… ever.. not in that light anyway

Fabulous post

Green Girl March 6, 2009 at 9:57 am

My uni-wrinkle on my forehead aside, I don’t mind my lines. I’ve earned them. Well said, Jennifer.

jenrantsraves March 6, 2009 at 11:47 am

When I get upset about aging, I consider the alternative.

renee March 6, 2009 at 2:33 pm

this is beautiful – thank you, i so needed to hear this!

Ree March 6, 2009 at 5:47 pm

“Every now and then, I worry (more lines) that I’ve lost it, and then it will turn up again.”

This is like my life. I keep thinking I’ve lost something….and then, it appears. XXOO

Indigo March 6, 2009 at 6:29 pm

This was delightful to read from beginning to end, to see the journey through the words, to end up with the conclusion you did.

I used to seriously hate mirrors. For me they always reflected the cuts and bruises I wore in abundance on my face. In so many ways a mirror wasn’t kind to me, not unlike those that did the damage.

Then a few years ago, I happened to catch my reflection after I had gotten out of the shower. My hair was a wet tangle, my eyes were clear not blood shot or misted from a night of drinking. I wiped the condensation off the mirror and looked closer and smiled.

I don’t think I had truly seen my reflection…not like that ever. I noticed a few lines here and there, they crinkled even more with the smile and I outright laughed. I told myself then and there I had earned each and every crease on my face. I was alive and I had beat the odds on so many differrent levels. Bring on the lines, bring the days of laughter and chaos…I’m alive for it all. (Hugs)Indigo

Denise March 6, 2009 at 6:51 pm

I read this post first, on BlogHer, and had to come over here to thank you for writing it – there and here. Lovely, beautiful post.

the mama bird diaries March 6, 2009 at 7:30 pm

I do the exact same thing. I’m always looking at my wrinkles and thinking, “this is the best I’ll probably ever look.”

maggie, dammit March 7, 2009 at 8:00 am

I’d follow your map any day.

Chris March 7, 2009 at 8:42 am

Oh. I understand how you feel (although I could never express it so beautifully). You speak for all of us.

PS: Get dimmers on ALL of the lights in your house. I look forward to the evening, when I can catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror, under lighting, that’s a bit more forgiving than the bright day light.

JCK March 7, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Beautiful, Jennifer. And harsh. All of us, harshly viewed in the morning sunlight – with the mooshed lines of sleep on the face… I loved how you went a different way than I thought you were going with this. You usually do.

And, yes… I like to call them lines rather than wrinkles. Hate that word!

david mcmahon March 8, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Seriously, Jennider, parents have more laugh lines than worry lines. Trust me. I know.

david mcmahon March 8, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Sorry, Jennider. I meant to say Jennifer. Honestly ….

anymommy March 8, 2009 at 5:18 pm

There’s two mirrors that always surprise me. One is in my upstairs bathroom where I reflect very much like this, except less eloquently. The other is at this fancy hotel downtown. I go to the bar there just so that I can use the restroom and look in the mirror, the light in there is so soft and kind. It’s like taking a trip back in time. I always stare in wonder, like oh yeah, that was me once.

Hilary March 9, 2009 at 2:24 am

Beautifully expressed. I’m at the point that I be happier with low-lighting everywhere.. but like those who commented before me, at least it’s my own. Your map is quite lovely – as is all that is behind it.

Fat frumpy and fifty March 10, 2009 at 12:36 am

Mines a map of the Amazon! great post!!! congrats on POTD!!

skywind March 10, 2009 at 1:29 am

Map gives us a guide to travel. Map is also lead us to the direction of walking.
Health is the Greatest Happiness
The World at The Present

Merisi March 10, 2009 at 1:41 am

I don’t mind one bit any line that was caused by laughing hard. 😉

Wonderful reflections, congratulations on winning the Post of the Day award!

Crystal Jigsaw March 10, 2009 at 2:26 am

What a lovely post and one very true to myself also. I loved the way you told about different appearances in different room – different light etc. I feel that often and think sometimes how young I look! Wishful thinking I guess.

Crystal Jigsaw xx

introspection March 10, 2009 at 3:55 am

I am here via POTD. yours is such a beautiful style. Words are like musical whispers in the ear. So sensitive and soft spoken. It’s like reading a satirical poetry. Congratulations for making to the well deserved POTD.
The subjetc of your post is again an umbiguous symphony of life’s debits and credits…hurts and satisfactions, hate and love, sorrows and joys, wars and peace, smiles and tears….oh you rock Jennifer. Great post. …!
My own Map is full of pen marks, and highlighted roads. I dont know if I am in denial or not, but I consider my lines to be the medals that I earned fighting each day to make mine and my family’s life more and more beautiful….!
I will be back to read other posts.

Jazz March 10, 2009 at 6:22 am

What a great post. Especially since this morning I looked into the mirror and wondered who the hell that woman was…

Congrats on the POTD.

Jo March 10, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I love lines on other people’s faces, they do tell a story and can look interesting, even kind. It’s never feels like that we see them on our own faces though, it’s true we are harsh on ourselves. I was thinking yesterday we should have a national no make-up day, bare the soul, and the wrinkles. Today I looked in the mirror and wondered what on earth I must have been thinking!

fancy feet March 10, 2009 at 1:37 pm

I loved this,

“But if all of those roads lead somewhere new, they also lead back, sometimes very far, to other places. If all the rough roads were closed to me, I think how much I would have missed. And if I’d only ever taken the smooth, easy ones? I’d be a little less road weary, maybe, but not me at all. I don’t think I’d like that girl as much. And if I have a few traces on my face to show for it? I’m not sure I mind.”

Pinkerbell March 10, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Hey Jennifer,

Congratulations on post of the day, it’s an amazing feeling isn’t it? – I was astounded to see my name up there a few weeks ago (although I didn’t win, but was honourably mentioned). It spurs us on to write I think, knowing that people are appreciating it.

I loved your post here – I often look at my face in the mirror – a scarily 4 times magnified mirror which I have for “close work” and find myself mightily relieved when I flip it back over to the normal side and see that I don’t look quite so blotchy and wrinkly and then wherever I see myself after that I at least don’t look as bad!

Interesting the thought that yes these lines are a sign of aging, but as much about the fun we’ve had than the sorrows. If you’re feel like skipping over to my blog, I’ve written about the importance of sharing comedy with those we love, especially in the hard times.

The Vengeance March 11, 2009 at 12:01 am

This was a beautiful metaphor. The one clapping too loudly and weeping unceremoniously in the back would be me.

Ann March 11, 2009 at 8:38 am

Ah, the years. All I can say to that is, the more distance between me and my childhood, the better.

Bruce March 11, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Ther eis something to be said for the woman that knows how to age gracefully, with maturity and beauty. Nothing is worse than a 50 year old owman tryiing to look 20. Think of Joan Rivers.

bettyl March 11, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Excellent post! I prefer to think of my face as ‘decorated’ rather than wrinkled!

Louise March 13, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Wonderful words. Words I needed since PC just took some pictures of me because I wanted to change my profile picture. Pictures I can’t bring myself to use because every single day is etched in those lines. I need to think about that more. Thank you.

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