25 March 2010

Screws and Snaps

I'm off for a US passport renewal photo and all all aquiver about what to wear for a picture that'll end up showing nothing below my Adam's apple. I've ravaged my small closet and can't come up with an unrevealing sleeveless top! For Thai documents requiring photos, local photo shop employees happily use Photoshop to hoist up an overly sexy d├ęcolletage or remove unsightly wrinkles and eye bags. Obviously such manipulations are unthinkable for nitpicking US government agencies! Finally I find a garment that'll look suitably prim if I pin the floppy V-neck front shut.

Now the accoutrements. Out goes the nose stud. But what about the five earring holes on the right ear and the one on the left? On the right I've worn the same four stainless semi-circular earrings for years — mainly because it's a huge pain to screw in the teensy stainless balls on the end. Lately I've changed to wearing colorful vintage 1970s plastic earwear from Chatuchak market in the circa-1965 holes at the bottom of each ear.

I contemplate whether I'll really want to keep looking at a passport photo of me wearing big dangling plastic earrings over the next 10 years and decide not. This necessitates inserting a fifth stainless semi-circle earring in the bottom right hole and finding another unobtrusive one for the bottom left.

Cop out photo of earring instead of me!
It's 32° in my river-view pad at 4 p.m. when I begin the dreaded end-ball screwing process. After 10 minutes of hoisting my right elbow up and unsuccessfully trying to get the threads of the minute 2.5-mm stainless ball to engage with those on one end of the earring, the temperature feels more like 40°.

Suddenly I hear Sifu H's voice in my head. "Relax your shoulders, relax your arms, relax your breath, relax your mind." I drop my elbow and shoulder, relax all the tension and breathe. Presto chango, the stainless-to-stainless connection is effected! Now for the photo.

Sitting on an uncomfortable stool on the hot 2nd floor of a Sukhumvit photo shop recreates the same kind of angst/dread as screwing on teensy earring balls. Once more I recall Sifu H's relaxation tips. Keeping my body erect with eyes facing forward but relaxed, I again breathe to release the tension in my mind and body.I abandon thoughts of opening my eyes wide so the wrinkles won't show and allow the corners of my mouth to turn up in a gentle smile. I hold this facial pose without moving or changing during three blinding flashes. Surprise surprise. The photo turned out much better than I anticipated. (And I successfully cajoled the technician into reducing the intensity of a dark circle under my right eye to match the lighter left one.)

All this tension reduction is a major step forward. Nonetheless I still missed several opportunities for applying Qigong awareness to daily life situations.

•  I'm still too attached to the exterior trappings of clothing and accessories. (And passport photos are far too small to showcase them anyhow.) Only overworked airport check-in staff and immigration officials scrutinize them and what do they care about clothes or looks? As long as I vaguely resemble my picture and my passport says I'm not a terrorist, I'm OK in their minds. So why don't I feel OK in my own?

•  Intellectually I accept that I'm aging and can't possibly look as young as I did in the current 2001 passport photo—although I definitely look more relaxed in this new one. Nor do I look as old now as I will in 2020 when the new passport expires. Sifu H constantly reminds me about the inevitability of decay and death. I hear the words but am nowhere near grokking the concept!

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