Wednesday, July 19, 2017

That picture (im)perfect day

The excitement of the first faculty photo shoot stirred up a lot of drama in my otherwise less happening life. The university photographer had contacted me many times to remind me that I needed a professional portrait for my webpage. And yet, I tried delaying it for as long as I could. Six months, to be exact. We all know people for whom, the excitement of the wedding shoot surpasses the excitement of the wedding itself. I could be going through something similar.

When I was scanning graduate schools in the US to apply many moons ago, what struck me (rather odd) was how happy faculty looked on their webpage. Where I was coming from, most people went “statue” in front of the lens. Yet here were professors rolling on the grass, sunshine lighting up their faces and showing perfectly aligned teeth, balancing pets on their lap as they posed for that perfect shot depicting the deceptively Utopian faculty life. The Utopian life where grant money flows freely, students flock to you looking for a project like ants to honey, and receiving awards and promotions are monthly affairs. Professors were supposed to look glum and serious- that was what I thought based on my worldview back then.

But more than a decade later, here I am, waiting for my picture to be taken. While procrastinating for all these months, I had hoped for miracles that involved fantasies of magically toning up, temporarily making the double chin disappear, or bringing an academic glow on my face. None of that happened. Instead, I developed dark circles under my eyes and grew lots of grey hair in these six months of chasing everyone and everything- department chairs, students, grant money, and deadlines.

I had to look like those happy people rolling on the grass for whom academia was like a carnival. And I now had my quirks too. I wanted an outdoor picture by a red brick wall. I even spent days wondering what I should wear to bring out the perfect faculty look in me. Should I match my clothes with the color of my eyes? Should I wear formals? Well, a formal jacket would be too formal and a casual shirt, too casual. I mean, given my role, I needed to look serious. But if I looked too serious, no student would want to work with me, and God knows that I have been having a hard time finding students. Since I am averse to pets, nothing or no one would be sitting on my lap. Considering all the time I spent in these weird, inconsequential thoughts around a portrait, I could have published a peer-reviewed paper in that time.

The day of the shoot, I had to wake up really early. I had to wash, blow dry, and straighten my hair. I had to apply makeup. It took me 90 precious minutes to do all this, minutes that I could have spent sleeping blissfully. In a forced bid to show me as me, I had lost touch of the real me. The real me woke up late every day, procrastinated until she had to spring out of the bed, get ready in 20 minutes flat, and leave home while combing her hair. If combing was too much, she would simply tie up the mess into a high ponytail.

What happened at work was even more anti-climactic. It rained like never before, washing away all my dreams of an outdoor photo shoot in front of a brick wall. Other faculty members gave me strange looks, some of them completely failing to recognize me. It happens when you show up at work every day without a trace of makeup, and then one day, you look like you are going to a carnival.

And then, I met the photographer- a petite woman a good ten inches shorter than me. And guess what? After months of procrastinating and planning, the shoot lasted exactly five minutes. Even shots (at the doctor’s place) last me longer than this shoot. As I was adjusting my shoes, she asked me not to worry as she would be only taking portraits. I might as well have showed up in my pajamas. The lady jumped on a stool, asked me to look a couple of different directions, and smile with different intensities. The stairway doubled up as the dark background. As I was trying to get comfortable thinking of striking a slightly sexy pose or pouting my lips, the dean of the school walked by. In between, I did manage to find a spot that had a brick background somewhere at a distance. The pictures were ready in a few days. I still don’t know if I looked faculty enough in them, but the selfies I took on my cell phone that morning before leaving for work looked way real and way more like me.


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