There are very few photos of me, probably because I don’t willingly appear in any of them. Even when I was very small I was bad at pictures. For years I wanted nothing more than to have buck teeth like a friend of mine, so every time I was expected to stand still for a family picture I put my top teeth over my lower lip, causing my patient father to intone before clicking, “Put your teeth away, Laura.”
Looking awkward is one of my natural gifts. I probably look awkward in photos because I am awkward in real life. Like the time I was attacked by vegetation. Or the time I threw myself into a cute boy’s locker while trying to play hard-to-get.
But now, to my horror, I’m told I need an author photo to promote my new book. Although I successfully eluded requests to put my picture on the back cover, I’m told I need such a photo for publicity materials. Whaaa? This is my third book (or fourth, or fifth, depending on how you count) and I’ve never had to assemble anything resembling publicity. But book reviewers, apparently, want to check the flesh-covered skull I smile from before they consider cracking open a copy.
In an effort to put this off longer, I have procrastinated by looking up what sort of photos truly laudable writers have gotten away with over the years.
Edith Wharton hides behind hat, enormous sleeves, and dogs.
Susan Sontag wears a costume and peeved expression.
Tom Pickard augments architecture.
Gwendolyn Brooks is ornamented by the treasure of her family.
Astrid Lindgren shows what she thinks of the pretense.
I have no illusion my work will ever come close to that of these legendary writers, but it’s fun to watch what they do with their faces.
I have never successfully posed for a picture. My eyes slam shut. I make silly expressions. I put things on my head. The whole idea of being captured by a camera seems ridiculous, maybe because the concept that we are what we appear to be is absurd.
So here I am, expected to supply a new, professionally taken picture. I’d like to find a photographer who would let me pose on a tree limb, owl on my shoulder, teapot on my head, tender defiance on my face. That’s hard to do when the budget is zero. So I’m going with an unedited picture my daughter took of me a few years ago, riffing on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s well-known picture. It’ll have to do.
(BTW, if you actually know where I might find the rare creatures known as “book reviewers,” please whisper their hiding places to me.)