When I was a nanny, one of the mothers I worked for was easily one of the most beautiful women I had ever met in my life. It didn’t matter what was going on with S., she always had it together. Her make up was on point, her wardrobe was beautiful and to make it completely unbearable she was also one of the kindest women I had ever known. Perfectly perfect in every way, as N. would say. S. had two very small children, she had a career and a social life.
I’m not suggesting that S. was most women. Obviously, she had some help in her glam squad and her domestic posse, which isn’t something most of us have access to. I worked for other women too with small children and while less blessed than S. (though also as sweet to work for, I was v. blessed as a nanny), also really were on point. They were career women and would click off to work in their heels, their hair done, their lipstick on and get it done.
I don’t know how my mom did it. She didn’t have any help at all (past a hair stylist) and would likely have stabbed someone in the hand if it was ever enough suggested. She was widowed when I was 18 and worked two jobs and her house was always flawless and she was always fashion forward, no matter what fresh hells my sister would present to her or what had happened at work that day.
Now that I work in the same office as my mother, it’s even more of a mystery. The most common compliment I was given this season was that I always appeared tranquil, I always appeared calm and I always sounded soothing. To the point that I think I am starting to appear much like my mom’s dead bestie (whose shoes I have stepped into, grim as any event in Oz) who was always cheerful and always calm so I assumed she really only answered the phone and didn’t do trifling things like finishing corporate returns and trust returns, handling all aspects of the company’s billing and generating client organizers among whatever else was thrown at her.
Up until this year, I think I looked more a deer in the headlight and glamour was something that was grimly put on a shelf for a quarter turn of the wheel of the year. Glamour is a frivolity meant for those who have time, money, assistance, privilege, a lack of screaming children.
Except . . .we’re #QueensInExile, right? So, glamour isn’t really optional, it’s survival. We each have our exile story – tales of spouses who turned on us and seized the throne, families that turned their back on us when we did not follow their instruction, kingdoms that turned us out in favor of the shiny and new, our bodies that were deemed sacred but we are not given autonomy over, battles lost, the prick of a thousand tiny betrayals from those we once trusted, those we once loved with not even the memory of the holy oil that once annointed our breasts. We have only the fluids of life upon us – the blood of our menses, the vomit of our young, the tears of our dying, all which must be washed Ivory clean from our gowns, our yoga pants, our underthings. Our anointing must be secret. Our anointing must be solitary. Our anointing must be silent. We must appear as those Queens o’ th’ May. The pure, the virginal, the untouched.
No matter what’s on our hands.
You are on the run, sister Queen. You don’t know what tomorrow will be, you are trying to be Final Girl ready no matter what this year throws at you. We are a quarter of the year in and the sound of your ragged breath is sweet to the ears of the wolves at your door. You cannot afford to throw a weapon to the ground because it may be what saves you. If you were privileged, if you were wealthy, if you were powerful, if you were beautiful (and you must be all of these things to be exempted), you wouldn’t need glamour. You wouldn’t need Witchcraft. You wouldn’t need to plead to your goddesses, your ancestors and you spirits. You wouldn’t need to make pacts or offerings at the crossroads at midnight. You wouldn’t need to sell yourself by the inch.
But you do. For you are in exile and nothing is certain.
What do you need to be seated in your power, in your glamour? You can only take a few things, only what you can carry. Is it a perfect red lipstick? You put it on every damn day then, sister. Is your hair your crowning glory? Then act like it. Is it a scent that is sacred to you and reminds you that once, you were not fortune’s bitch? Put it on the back of your neck so those you leave behind remember you by it. Is it having your clothing lint rolled and pressed? Sacrifice a small pleasure to get a steamer. Is it having your shoes polished, your nails buffed, your eyes lined in kohl? Whatever it is, do it. No matter how terrible your circumstances are, do it. Because this is what will remind you of the times that came before, when you were powerful, when you were shining and terrible, this will call that memory back to you when you need it most, right here, face down in the mud.
Now the next part. In the words of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Arrange your face. You are not the favored golden child. You are not Serena Vanderwoodsen. You are not Aria Montgomery. You are not Cher Horowitz. If I did not arrange my face for work, if I did not arrange my face for shows for our shop, if I did not arrange my face for meetings with my editor and publicist, if I did not arrange my face for difficult confrontations, I would not appear as I wanted to appear. I would be giving away a piece of my power for these other Queens to keep. Who do you think is more powerful: you who knows nothing but what other Queens have chosen to show you or the Queen who wears a necklace of jeweled trophies that she has gathered made of other people’s secrets, weaknesses, desires, wishes and grudges? Arrange. Your. Face. Know where you are safe and can be free with your words, your expressions, your feelings and where you are in danger and cannot.
And the last part. Your power. Use it. Use your cunning, your witchcraft, your spirit. Do whatever it is you do. Make hallowed fetishes, light glittering candles, draw blossom strewn baths, join hands with your sisters in the dark of the night, burn sacred herbs, be so tenacious that your goddesses, spirits and ancestors can’t help but favor you. In the words of one of my mentors, be perfectly charming. Your will is strong, how strong is it really? Put your back into it. You’re a Queen, not a whining, fainting princess. Act like it.
All you have is everything to lose.