Panicked by Power-Complementing

Yesterday I traveled to Montreal, where I used to live, to see some plays my friends had written. I flew in at 9 AM, landed by 11 AM, visited a handful of people I used to know one after the other and then another few handfuls in large groups, all of whom were exuberantly complementary regarding a beauty I am not sure I possess.  By 2 PM I was remarkably dizzy.   Unsure of my capacity to remain standing, I sat with the friend I was traveling with, ate a tuna sandwich (leftover from my lunch) and recapped the possible reasons for the day’s sickness: Waking early, flying, the two ounces of whisky I drank when we landed, the strong winds, minor things we thought, maybe. Or, maybe it was the shocked power-complementing from (what felt like many) people who used to know me and see me every day, who would not expect me to be wearing the smoothed, matte, photo-finish foundation of a fictional woman I had played earlier in the day for the sake of an Instagram post.  Confusion set in.  They must have been complementing Kara.  Still, the resulting high had to live in my body without a Kara excuse for the confidence it takes to accept a complement.

I wouldn’t say that no one ever complements the way I look. I tend to get complements from the same people all the time, my mother, a few friends, generally people who are not offended when I crumble in embarrassment at the mention of my looks. It takes grace and confidence to really know how to accept a complement and I mean “accept” both in that the words “thank you” fly out without hesitation and with pleasant agreement but also I mean “accept” in that the body is allowed to take the complement too, never dizzying, never turning red, always oxygenated and easy because isn’t it a beautiful thing that your beauty struck someone so powerfully that they had to mention it. There is a grace involved in taking a complement, a grace that involves an understanding of the commentator’s position which could be any number of things but is rarely malicious (We’ve all met some true psychopaths who give complements for the sake of manipulating the subject but let’s pretend that they do not exist even though even though, even though: Even psychopaths become vulnerable when you reject their complement, when you refuse to validate how great a person they are for mentioning your obvious beauty, but this isn’t about psychopaths.  This is about people who are being kind to you so they can be closer to you at least for a moment, one moment of shared grace).

It seems I have no grace. Yesterday when I appeared in front of past friends I received many complements on the way I look.  I suspect it was my makeup-painted face or maybe it was a false confidence, new for me because I have entered into an understanding with a woman named Kara who knows she should be complemented. She knows it should be obvious and why don’t we stop for a second and allow a mesmerizing focus on the word Obvious: Something was obviously refreshing or call it beautiful or call it striking but something was Good and that cross-generational, time-capsuled goal to Look Good was achieved yesterday to the point of such Obvious appearance that people I hardly know were letting it fly from their mouths “You Look Good”. Within two hours, I was ready to fall over, picking at a tuna sandwich, wondering why the power-complementing wasn’t a boost away from anxiety, wondering why Panic is my natural response to pleasure and pride.

The problem was, with each complement, there was a slight reminder that I haven’t always looked Good. To the introverted and insecure, “You Look Good”, roughly translates, into “You Look Better”, implicitly suggesting that I looked ill previously or at least lacking in what’s good about the Good. “You Look Good”, a wonderful, blunt declaration oftentimes made by people who hardly know you but who see it and want it and want you to know that HEY THIS IS GOOD YOU LOOK GOOD, do not panic. Stop panicking. It is just a complement. It is just a truth. “You Look Good”, at it’s least is a simple acknowledgement of looks and that’s it. “I Looked At You. And You Look Good.” If complements get in the way of your breathing, or your being able to stand up, learn to swallow kind truths because you shouldn’t be approaching a state of near-death every time someone admires you.  For the sake of survival, learn to take it. Complements are not weapons and, further to that, they aren’t accidents.

I buy a beer. I spend twenty more minutes on my make up. I wear heels. I wear Kara. Her hair, eyebrows, thoughts.  I have plans with my friends.   Kara does not have plans with my friends. I leave the makeup. I wear her shirt. Two pictures later, I let her go.  It feels good to be Kara only for the amount of time it takes to feel attractive enough to go out, to feel that those complements weren’t a lie, that I do look at least fine and I can be out.  I have spent days, weeks of my life afraid to leave my home for fear that people are looking at me and that I am upsetting them.  It’s no wonder complements make no sense.  Two pictures later, I let her go, I go out with my friend.

The night is filled with stimulating work made by friends of mine who I am effortlessly proud of. Discussions carry through the drinks. These are the same people who complemented me earlier. I look the same. Our conversations are just as they were when I lived here, just as they were when I looked worse or maybe I looked the same and it’s merely a passage of time that’s allowed for a shift in my image but the point is: It is the end of the day and none of us are discussing Looking Good. Kara would have provoked conversations about tattoo ideas and sandals but my nights aren’t meant for that even if I do look like her, wear her makeup, her shirt. She can take the complements. I will just emerge later and have a good time with the people kind enough to mention whatever Good they notice whenever they happen to notice it.


This blog is updated daily, detailing my transformation into a fictional character who is being crafted for a larger theatrical project.  If you like it, please spread the word and come back soon

You can read Kara’s blog at

or follow her on Instagram @karakarrara