The Pleasure Principle
but first: global warming hits your face
Good news...after bad. If it takes vanity to trigger your environmental activism, your time has come: Climate change is having an effect on our skin and, as you might have guessed, it’s not good, as reported in Dermatology Times. Think of the ozone layer as our planet’s broad-brimmed, sun-protective hat, says fashion-inclined Eva R. Parker, assistant professor of dermatology at Vanderbilt University. As such, it prevents a significant amount of UVB radiation from reaching the earth’s surface. Parker attributes the current rise in skin cancer rates partly to the unsightly holes in Mother Earth’s shielding chapeau. She also points out that heat—including indirect heat—can itself promote carcinogenesis in the skin, so as things get scorchier and people wear less clothing, they’ll be further exposed to solar radiation. Additionally, air pollution of various kinds, like the results of wildfires, can trigger problems such as skin cancer and inflammation. The situation isn’t pretty—all the more reason to wear sunscreen consistently while you’re doing your part to save the planet.
And now for the good news, from a story I wrote for O, The Oprah Magazine.
One of my moments of deepest pleasure came in a movie theater, but it was the audience, not the movie, that precipitated it. I had accompanied my then 4-year-old son in a crowd of similar couples to a showing of Peter Pan. We were a rowdy group—there was lots of running and screaming in the aisles, seat jumping, and general, expectant, disorganized glee. But once the movie began, we quickly settled into a quieter mode; many of the kids—my son among them—climbed comfortably into their parents’ laps.
So there we all were, cozy, rapt, when Tinkerbell’s light started to go out, and Peter turned toward us with his plea to save her: “Clap! Clap if you believe in fairies!” Instantly, my son and all the other children began to clap—what sweet innocence—at first in a light, helpful patter, but as Tink’s light flickered and grew, they clapped with increasing enthusiasm, and at Peter’s exhortations, they clapped more heartily with great, serious determination. Very soon we moms and dads were clapping, too, and many of us also stamping our feet and whistling till, when Tink regained her radiant spark, the whole place exploded in a triumphant, earsplitting crescendo of unanimous rejoicing.
I was embarrassed, then, that I wept at the beauty of this spectacle. But the children’s complete lack of self-consciousness had ignited my own and the other adults’ letting go, and our utterly unbridled, common engagement in the moment was wrenchingly poignant. An ordinary Saturday afternoon, a theater full of antsy kids, a story I’d heard a thousand times—who would have thought there would be opportunity for such surrender and celebration? The point is, I shouldn’t have been surprised. For the longest time, I have been falling face-first into it everywhere: puddles of awe, as I notice the intricate patterns of rain blown against my window; rivers of it, as I paddle in a kayak beside the city and turn to see a range of towering skyscrapers, peaks of sparkling glass, majestic in the brilliant autumn sun. Maybe you have these moments, too—ordinary in every way except for your active appreciation—when engagement floods your senses, drenching you in pleasure, when there’s no past to regret or future to worry over, just the shining, magnificent, awe-inspiring now.
There are so many benefits to letting your mind relax into deep listening or surrender, or what the poet Ross Gay calls “supreme attentiveness.” Are you interested in enlightenment? Cool! Go here. But stay if you’re feeling unsettled about the way you look. Because practicing deep listening while you do your mirror meditation can release you from the habit of objectifying your face when you see yourself reflected in the glass. And it can transform you from a looked-at to the best kind of looker, which offers innumerable pleasures not available when thinking of yourself only as an object of the male (or anyone’s) gaze.
But the most beautiful, fantastical thing about surrendering to the now? Unlike everything else in this reliably, irrefutably mutable world, it never, never gets old.
Speaking of old (or maybe of time travel): The Wolf Hall trilogy (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and The Mirror & the Light) is available on audio books; be sure to get the narration by the Shakespearean actor Ben Miles. (You can probably borrow audiobooks for free from your public library; the NYPL uses the SimplyE app.) The writing and reading are so vivid, it feels like you’re actually in the court of lunatic autocrat King Henry VIII. Which is not an entirely comfortable experience—but one I highly recommend if you’re still wondering what life might’ve been like had our last president snatched another term.
Inside story: In the past couple of weeks, HNTFUYF has felt like an open house crowded with new readers. If you’re one of them, welcome and thank you for coming! You might want to peek at this for an idea of what to expect. And to those who’ve been here all along (seven months!), thank you, thank you for your camaraderie and support. I hope you’ll continue to read and enjoy HNTFUYF, to find it useful, and, as always, to let me know what you think. While you look around, please help yourself to a cocktail and a canapé. I’m so happy you’re here.
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send me your beauty-related questions. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.