Sunday, March 15, 2009

Photo Shoot/Root Canal

singer-poet-intuitive-educator Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein)
Could this title be an example of a poetry-writing exercise that I have given to my beloved third-grade poets  an exercise on random rhyming, perhaps? Or the name of a vintage “Monty Python” bit?

Not yet. You don’t ever desire one of them, and you sure don’t want both happening at the same time in your life. But for me in February/March, they were.

So, I’d never had a root canal. My possibly incompetent dentist realized that perhaps the persistent pain over 5 weeks of adjustments to a new crown might indicate the need for a root canal. An x-ray confirmed it. Why didn’t the x-ray that pointed to a needed crown show a needed root canal to start with? One can only speculate. So I undergo part one of the RC. Weird, painful, but bearable during and after. Part two of the RC: the dentist manages to drop not one, but two broken-off tips of the cleaning implement (the rotary file) deep IN the canal. I am alarmed; he is mildly apologetic and emphatic about all his effort to “help me.” My later research on the internet shows that this occasionally happens, mentioning one rotary file left in a tooth canal, no big deal, can be sealed in there – but two of them…? Not a mention. The dentist himself admitted he had left one rotary file (some millimeters long) in a patient’s interior jaw before, but never two. One would think that the first loss of the implement  likely to now reside forever in my very slanty tooth canal – would have inspired him to quit the effort then and there and refer me to an endodontist with superior equipment who specializes only in root canals. But no – he seems to be a very determined man, as indicated by the force of his chairside manner, one who doesn’t give up  as if while digging through my tender mouth he were practicing the martial art in which, his staff admiringly told me earlier, he was quite expert. But my rather small mouth is not an aikido mat, nor is the “canal” in this case anything like those in Venice.

So he does refer me to an endodontist, who is no longer enrolled in my rather budget-level (now I see why) dental plan. I find another in the plan who seems to be very well credentialed, and in the better-heeled town of Walnut Creek. (You can see that I’m now desperate for reassurance of any kind about this procedure.) When we meet, I stupidly mention that she’s not listed on “Yelp,” prompting a bit of ruffled ranting about the website on her part. Great start. We get past that. I love her digital x-rays in which you can see the two rotary files deep in the diagonal canal beneath my tooth, lying one upon the other casually like toothpicks at a picnic. She makes a reasonable assessment of the situation, and a few days later she seems to complete a successful root canal in which the two instruments are, I hope, sealed forever in the sterile, filled canal.

While all this is going on, I’m conceiving of and organizing a photo shoot for my upcoming CD, “The Poetry of Groove.” But it’s challenging to imagine how I might want to look on the cover while handling a throbbing tooth and worrying about questionable dental expertise. Still, I call the wonderful photographer I’ve used on my last three CDs, Sibylla Herbrich. We brainstorm together. We talk about the right image, possible “looks,” what it should communicate. We send each other examples of CD covers we like. We decide to do the shoot at her new studio in Santa Rosa, Calif. I contact Artist Untied, an S.F.-based agency of talented hair and makeup artists and more, led by the capable Rene, who has kindly set me up with just the right person, at a generous rate, on each of the last shoots. I’m concerned about finding someone willing to travel to Santa Rosa among his tidy roster of six stylists. Amazingly, one of them, Veronica, has family in Santa Rosa and wants to do it. We settle on a date.

The day after RC #1, I spend 5 hours (on ibuprofen) trudging through the rain in downtown San Francisco looking for something to wear on the shoot. I’m sadly lacking in nice clothes. I have about four different outfits I can wear on gigs or photo shoots, and mostly these have been exhausted by the covers of the last three CDs. We’re talking about a 10-year span here; this should tell you about my interest in clothes shopping. Now I’m looking for something colorful, form-fitting, that reads creativity, poetry, groove. Much of what I try on is too tight – in the large sizes. And I’m under 5’4” and 123 lbs, in great shape. What do the truly large women wear (and may we all love the sizes we are, whatever they may be)? A lot of the clothes are cheap retreads from the 70s. And the rest of it is just wrong. This continues for the next two weeks – root canal procedures 1, 2, and 3, each one more painful than the last as my canal gets more excavated, followed by my determined and increasingly hopeless foraging through stores in various neighborhoods of Berkeley and Oakland, as if the more someone hacks through my mouth, the more frantic I am to cover up with good-looking apparel.

I finally find a couple of things to wear  in black. One piece is way, way, way above my budget. It looks gorgeous. I buy it.

Not having expected the RC experience to drag on, it turns out that I’ve scheduled RC #3 for a Tuesday and the shoot three days later on a Friday. I look a bit worse for wear on Thursday. Should I cancel? I decide that the interior pain doesn’t show much on my face, place my faith in makeup, lighting, and Sibylla, and forge ahead rather than reschedule.

The rain stops. It’s a fresh, lovely drive into the Santa Rosa hills from Oakland. Sibylla is welcoming and efficient as ever, and her new studio quite gorgeous. Sibylla’s husband, the talented photographer and photo-illustrator William Duke, provides brilliant lighting. Veronica is an unassuming though expert delight and does a beautiful job of makeup and hair, and is open to my tweaks. The new clothes look beautiful. Sibylla is masterful and fun to work with. I love the blue background she’s using behind me. In breaks, we check the shots, which these days are digital, and which we can see instantly on the computer – not like the first two CD shoots, when I had to wait days for a real film contact sheet and it was harder to assess what worked and what didn’t, and easier to see on her computer than during the 2006 shoot in my living room for “What’s New, Pussycat?.” Because of this past experience, I’m not alarmed by the poses and angles in which I look ugly – my heart doesn’t sink anymore with desperate confirmation of my worst fears about my looks. Now I just accept that in some angles, and without the redemption of the perfectly falling light, I look pretty bad, but that in some, I’ll look pretty good. I dance a lot throughout the shoot as we planned, and Sibylla captures moments which work great. It’s poetic, and it grooves. I hope you agree when you see it.

A few Vicodin, many ibuprofen, and a couple of weeks behind me, the root canals seem to have worked. I was merely the passive recipient of that private series of procedures. But the photo shoot was something else: art I could organize and participate in, creatively collaborating with other highly competent artists. It was the act of making a hyper-real, more beautiful, especially expressive me, whom I get to share with you publicly, in the hope that it helps transport you to the realm of Poetry and Groove along with the music. Now I can envision the public face of this new CD.

Glamour and image are things we construct together. They are false as art is false  and true as art is true, when we’re lucky: showing both body and soul.

Which I doubt anyone can see, even with digital x-rays, in a root canal.

copyright © 2009 Lisa Bernstein


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