It wasn’t a time share scam, as my coworker jokingly suggested. I’d show up and they’d make me sit through a two hour presentation on time shares. And only if I bought one, would the glamorous photo shoot take place, as promised. That was a pretty funny scenario though. But this was real. No time shares. Just lots of makeup brushes and cameras and incredibly nice people making this a day to remember.
The lobby of MILK studios was sparse and modern. But as we got off the elevator on the 8th floor, we saw lots of exposed brick and perfectly-rusted radiators. I love exposed brick. It’s the ultimate in low-effort decorating. But at the same time, it has so much going on. Brick walls have the best nooks and crannies, don’t they? Second only to Thomas’s English Muffins.
My husband and I went immediately in the wrong direction off the elevator. Walking up to a reception desk, I proudly introduced myself to two twenty-something girls.
“Hi! I’m Erica Landis. I’m scheduled for 11:15 for the Good Housekeeping shoot!”
They stare back blankly. “You’re over there,” as they point to the opposite end of the hallway. Woopsy. Do over.
Now we’re in the right place. I recognize Melissa Walker, the feature’s writer, as she gets up from the big communal table where people are working. She’s got the sweetest face. She reminds me of Maggie Gyllenhaal. I’m early (thanks to Hal, NJTransit, and a cooperative Miriam) so Melissa and I go over to the comfy couch area to do my interview.
We talk about the story that I’m so excited to be part of. They’ve chosen fifty women at the age of fifty and above doing great things. Woah. Seriously? So how did this happen? I learn that I was actually on an internal list at Good Housekeeping of possible future stories. I remember submitting a story to Good Housekeeping over a year ago and never heard back. But somehow I was noticed by somebody. And Melissa contacted me awhile back to see if I was game for this feature. Ummm, lemme think. HELL YEAH!!!!! I’d never say I was doing great things. But I will simply say I’m doing honest things. Honest things about what it’s like to go on after losing a child. I remember struggling to find another grieving parent who understood. Someone who was able to talk about it. Because its hard as hell to put into words. My writing not only helps me, but if it’s helping others, even in a small way, then it’s a win/win.
First stop: Wardrobe. Brandy talks to me about what I’m most comfortable wearing. “Pantsless is always my first choice,” I reply. But instead she suggests some dresses that I would’ve walked right past in a store. It’s amazing how much an objective eye can help. In fashion and sometimes in life. Brandy was like a beautiful advice column. She took a look at me, got some feedback, and we hashed it through. I was stripped down before I knew what hit me. Just the way I like it.
I narrow down my choices and they show the art director for the final decision on what will photograph best. Strip down again into a white robe that is neither ratty nor covered in coffee stains. Onto makeup!
Mark is about to do my makeup with authority. He asks me three questions.
Q. You like a strong lip, right?
Q. Ever wear pink lipstick?
A. Nope. Never.
Q. Eye colors?
A. Glitter. Always glitter.
“I got you. Let’s do this,” he says. And we begin.
“Can I clean up your eyebrows?” he asks and the angels begin to sing. I almost cry as I answer “Oh yes, please!” Finally, the tweezers in my life are being held by a professional instead of me, confused and finally alone in the bathroom for a few minutes.
Mark hands me a straw. “This is your STRAW. DO NOT drink anything without using THIS STRAW.” His authority was formidable. I loved it. I told him he could order me to do anything in that voice and I would obey. It’s an impressive quality in a make-up artist. I should take a lesson. In authority. And makeup.
While my makeup is being done, I meet the photographer, Taea Thale. She’s a bright light herself amongst the dark exposed brick walls and rusty pipes. I feel less nervous about the actual pictures. She asks what music I want to listen to “on set” (terminology!) and my reply is almost Pavlovian. Tom Jones. Hal chimes in “and ABBA” and the room erupts with cheers of “ABBA!!!”
Onto hair. Linda is cool. And she had me at “Let’s use a curling iron.” We talk about how Hal and I met. I tell her we met online and how long we’ve been together. She’s from Sweden. And I failed to notice a few minutes earlier that Linda did not cheer when we decided on ABBA. She hates them. With one caveat. She does like Dancing Queen. I now adored Linda. Honest, gorgeous, and she gave me the hair of my dreams.
Back to Wardrobe. My hair is big. It’s challenging. I get professional help. And now I’m ready. I step out in front of a big mirror and take a look. It’s not as dramatic as it is on the makeover shows. There’s no blindfold. My eyes aren’t closed. It’s just me seeing myself in a way I never could have, or would have, done on my own. This navy dress with lace sleeves. Real shoes. This hair and makeup that requires the skills of a wizard to achieve. A belt! My friends…I wore a belt. And I liked it.
Cue the ABBA. Light the light box. I’m a little lost here at this part. I have never posed for pictures any more than the time I had to take a work photo holding a glass of wine and wearing my nametag. And in those pictures, it’s endless deleting and laughing. And I wasn’t wearing any pants. But this was the real deal.
Taea was so good at what she does. Of course she’s a great photographer. But the people part of it is so important. She was making me more comfortable with every word she shouted from behind her camera. She’d yell for technical changes and it all sounded cool when she said it. She could see the pictures on a computer next to us with the art director. And when she told me to take a look at it myself, I was shocked. Looking at yourself, knowing its you; looking so different, but still the same. When she told me I could take my shoes off and put on slippers for the rest of the photoshoot, I was relieved. Just say NO to pointy shoes for durations greater than ten minutes. I’m proud to say I had the forethought of not leaning on a temporary wall, causing the set to crumble like dominoes. I had a lovely wardrobe assistant help me instead. There were touch-ups by hair and makeup between shots and much to my delight…a wind machine. It was confirmed by hair stylist Linda that it was actually a small handheld leaf blower. She got it herself at HOME DEPOT. And whether that was true or not, I believed her. Because Linda hates ABBA and she told me so. I kept apologizing for the music choice as we sang and danced along. Linda was awesome.
So what are my takeaway thoughts? Because you know I have a million. Keep doing what you’re doing. Whatever it is. Just keep doing it. If it’s making you happy and isn’t hurting anyone, do it. If it’s helping someone, do it even harder! And you really never know who is noticing you.
I treated myself to new underwear for this day. They have lemons on them. I love good symbolism. I may have been given some bitter lemons when we lost Noah. And it certainly wasn’t the life I ever thought Hal and I would have. I may have lost my intended purpose of simply being Noah’s Mommy way too soon, but that little boy gave me a purpose I never imagined. I know he’s sitting on my mother’s lap in heaven, hopefully very proud of how we’re carrying on down here. My mother is calling every cloud in the sky to tell her friends that I made it into Good Housekeeping! But for me, it’s back to writing stories, making chicken nuggets, and coloring with Miriam. With my hair back to its messy bun. Because that’s me too.