30 April 2011

Perspective on the decay of beauty

I was driving cross country and spent a few days photographing at Capitol Reef and Arches National parks. The desert sun was fairly brutal even though I slathered up with 50 SPF sunscreen and wore a hat.

After a few days in the desert, I noticed a couple of darker skin patches on my face. It was as though I'd missed a couple spots when applying sunblock that tanned a bit more. Though that didn't seem likely, I didn't worry about it, figuring the coloration would even out over time.

That was August 2004. The dark areas have not gone away.

For these photographs and many more I made then, I accept the trade.
North Window Cards
North Window Cards by RocklawnArts

Double Arch Cards
Double Arch Cards by RocklawnArts

Sandstone Fins Greeting Cards
Sandstone Fins Greeting Cards by RocklawnArts

The problem is that decay continues to accumulate without balancing benefits.

A couple years ago, I noticed a small bump or two on my face which I assumed was acne initially, but after some time had passed I realized it must be something else. There's the hair that started sporadically growing out of my mole. There's the bruise from last August when I smashed my shin into a metal movie theater arm rest that's still visible 8 months later. A colorless bump on my forearm, the appearance of more moles and bumps.

Having reached a critical mass of bumps, spots, and oddities that were concerning me, I finally made an appointment with a dermatologist to have a full skin exam despite my aversion to seeing doctors. Naturally, his first available appointment for a new patient was 5 months later, but yesterday that time arrived at last.

I parked behind the office building, opened the back door, and the old carpet and smell in the hallway reminded me of apartment hunting in LA. Not high marks so far. A bit further down, there were stairs, split level style. I followed a sign and walked down a half flight of stairs where there was another door. This one opened into his waiting room.

I checked in and perused the grandma decor, wooden chairs and benches with country style cushions on them, like walking into a time warp.

Along one wall, he had all of his diplomas and certifications hanging. I had appreciated the fact that he was board certified in both dermatology and internal medicine when I researched him. To the right of his dermatology credentials was a smaller framed certificate: he was an Eagle scout. I smiled because he's been practicing medicine for 30 some years and still has that hanging, but I also appreciated the accomplishment it represented.

Right on time, I was taken back to an exam room. She left so I could change into a paper gown. I set my notebook and magazine on a plastic chair and pondered where to put my clothes. There was a counter, a stool, an exam table, and the aforementioned chair. Over the counter, there was a frosted glass window that faced the hallway. Dude, what the hell's up with that? I opted to ignore it and decided on the chair. Everywhere else would be in the way.

I hung my blue fuzzy hoodie on the chair's back, took off my watch and shirt, started to put on the gown lest someone come back too quickly but then put it down figuring I'd tear it while trying to get my shoes, jeans, and socks off. I stripped the rest off in a flash, draped the gown over my shoulders and wondered what I was supposed to do with the short tie hanging from one side of it. There were no slits to loop it through that I could see. It was long enough I could tie it around my waist but it'd be a close fit and wouldn't he have to untie it anyway? I left it undone.

Now that my clothes were on the chair there wasn't anywhere to sit since I didn't want to be on the table, so I grabbed my catalog of flaws and stood waiting. After a couple of minutes there was a knock at the door.

"Yes," I said.

The doctor and the woman who'd initially showed me in entered. He introduced himself. I had imagined him heavier and older, but he was trim and friendly.

We chatted briefly, and then I sat on the table for him after setting my notes down.

"Oh, you don't know this because you're new here," he said as I thought Um? "...but we get really punchy on Friday afternoons."

"Oh," I said, relieved, "That's all right." Somber doctors don't really put me at ease.

"Do you mind if I mess up your hair?" he asked.


He stood beside me and started running his fingers along my scalp. "Free scalp massage with every skin exam," he exclaimed brightly. Then after a moment, "You're really tall. I don't usually see people like this." He tipped my head towards him so he could see the top of it. He moved around to check all of it and then stood in front of me.

"Do you have any questions about your face?"

"Yes." I turned towards the chair and leaned reaching for my notes. His assistant handed them to me which is a good thing because there was really no way I could've reached it without falling off or sprawling across the table. "Thank you."

He handed me a mirror so I could point things out to him. I was feeling self-conscious listing out my facial flaws with him right in front of me and also because of the nurse standing quietly to my left. He commented kindly, "You're getting nervous," and pointed to my collar bone, "Your skin's getting blotchy." She nodded in agreement.

I ran through various spots and bumps and jotted down his comments (all harmless) as he looked at them through his magnifying spectacles. Unbidden, he started spelling the medical terms out for me.

"Thank you. So often doctors just rattle off all the terms without even pausing."

As I pointed out various flaws, his assistant maneuvered a bright standing lamp to illuminate them. "Your fingers are really long," he said. The nurse/assistant concurred.

Really? I'm tall, they don't seem long to me. "Um, OK?"

The odd colorless bump on my forearm had a particularly hard to spell name, so he said, "I'll write that one down for you."

When he was looking at my back, he mentioned some moles of a certain type I had and then found one similar on my arm so I could see what he meant.

"I'm covered in moles," I said.

Immediately, both he and his assistant said, "No, you're not." They were right when I considered it for a moment. He continued, "You have a light spattering of moles." And then, "Your skin's beautiful. Are you good about skin care with the sun?"

"Um, I don't go out that much and my back's always covered because my shoulders burn so easily."

"So that'd be yes."

He came around front, sat on the stool, and picked up my right foot extending my leg towards him. As he looked it over, he said, "Are you a runner?"

I shook my head, "No."

He shared a look with his assistant that I couldn't quite decipher, so I added, "I do some yoga?"

After he finished checking my skin, he asked if I had any other things to check. I looked down the page and then flipped to the next one to double-check.

"There's a page 2," he exclaimed.

"Oh, it's just stuff I use." I hadn't been sure what I was going to need to fill out for them.

He stood beside me so he could read it. I appreciated that he was sincerely interested in my notes (unlike some doctors I know, ahem). I asked about a few products, but ultimately he said, "Your skin looks great! What you're doing works."

I thought again of the zits on my chin that hadn't gone away yet, the dark patches, the annoying small bumps, all the imperfections that could now officially be chalked up to age. If you think it looks great now, you should've seen it five years ago.

"So there's nothing I need to worry about?"

"You get an A++."

I smiled and was about to write it down, when he said, "Do you want me to write it down for you?"


"Let me get a red pen." He snagged a red sharpie from the counter and wrote an A+ with his initials below it and encircled them at the top of the page.

He noticed I'd written "light spattering of moles" at the top and clarified that it should be "very light."

"Your skin's beautiful," he said again. The assistant nodded in agreement.

Despite my internal protestations, I believed they meant it, and not just casually but in a more objective manner. "Thank you."

I wish all my doctor's appointments would go this well. For once, I actually felt better for having gone.

A year ago on TTaT: Life of Art SitRep #12


  1. Aging is a bitch. A++ sounds pretty nice, though.

  2. I think that's probably the last A++ I'll get unfortunately. Aging really is a bitch. Or maybe a bastard.