620 of 623: You’re 16. White-blonde hair, narrow face, full-toothed smile. A reproduction of your mother’s high school photos. You stand in the center of a group of teenagers, all beautiful. You’re in a purple velvet dress, sheer black tights running up your thighs. You lean forward, laughing, hair swung forward to partially obscure your face. Your arm is around Leah, darling Leah, your best friend in her sparkly-champagne dress and knee-high boots. You wear a thin chain around your neck with a long gold bar that trails down your breastbone. Leah’s necklace cuts across her with three horizontal strikes. Around you, the rest of the kids lean in, bodies pressed together. One girl kisses a boy’s cheek; another scrunches her face into a silly smile. They are feral despite the careful curation of their clothes. Their eyes all stare into the camera’s lens with an urgent hunger. Except you, who looks down to your knees and folds into the other bodies.
@gem_cities Insta-Meetup! So many amazing people here tonight, some I’ve only met in real life for the first time. Can you believe that all these guys are even more gorgeous in person? I’ve fallen in love a half-dozen times already. Everything is more fun when you’ve got great clothes on and music to dance to! @leahlovebird and I are wearing necklaces by @lolajewels. Dress by @vinti. Check out Leah, @jjkatypie, @scraige, @leblanc, @jonnwillamina, and too many other names to remember for outfit info. Also don’t forget to tune in tonight to my mom’s interview for New York Art Beat. I’m going to sneak outside and watch on my phone.
550 of 623: You’re on the beach, mid-handstand. Your sweater slips to expose your belly, and your black wayfarer sunglasses dangle from your face. Wind whips your hair into a tangled knot and your bare feet point to the sky like a ballerina’s. Behind, waves crash and the tide reaches its fingers out towards you. The sky is white, clear. Your mother’s leg steps out of frame, clad in navy blue pants and sandals. It’s slightly blurred; the edges of the fabric fade into the ocean behind it, phantom-like.
@gem_cities Weekend beach trip with the family. The sun is out but it is super cold. This is my favourite weather because I get to wear my cosiest clothes and not have to worry about mud or rain messing it all up. I also got to practice my handstands. My mom went to the Caspian Sea in the ’70s and saw teenagers do acrobatics in the sand. I couldn’t pull off the pyramid solo but here’s my attempt at a retro-European look. Too bad my ankle gave out on me and I had to quit ballet, I could have moved to Armenia and become a famous beach dancer! Today I’m wearing a thrifted sweater and jeans by @hm. Featuring my mom’s leg in @bananarepublic slacks and @birckenstockusa sandals.
514 of 623: You pucker red lips into a tight O. Your eyelids are coated with bronze shadow and finished with thick lashes. Your hair is pulled into a messy fishtail braid on one shoulder while a seatbelt cuts across the other. You hold your driver’s licence to your cheek, fingers covering the information. The licence photo is austere in comparison to the girl who holds it: nude lips, hair down and neat, washed out skin, expression vacant except for a rigid smile. Remnants of a grin that waited too long for the shutter to snap. Both versions are you, but the second is more candid somehow. Your eyelids are heavy and impatient while your stare seeps out of the screen and follows you, even now, like an old oil portrait.
@gem_cities Officially received my first rite of passage into adulthood: a terrible driver’s license photo! All that really matters is that it’s finally here, though. I’ve felt illegal these last two weeks with that flimsy temporary paper they give you at the DMV (and if you can believe it the photo looked even more horrific in black and white). Shout out to my dad for the endless hours spent drilling right-of-ways and road etiquette into my head. I was so nervous during my test I forgot to look both ways at the train tracks, but I still passed. Mom’s off in the Veneto doing research for her new book so her Grand Cherokee is mine until she gets back. Still, Christmas is only a couple months away so I’m crossing my fingers that my present comes in a teeny-tiny box. If not a set of car keys, I also love that gold bar drop necklace from @lolajewels. Have you guys checked them out yet?
561 of 623: You’re on the floor, elbow braced on a stack of papers that comes to the middle of your ribcage, fist tucked under your chin. One corner of your mouth is pulled up while your eyebrows knit downward in bemusement. You wear a black, lace tank top with an over-sized faux sheepskin coat. A slim gold necklace encircles your neck and a gold watch with a large face rests below your wrist bone. Behind sits a suitcase, dark fabric spilling out the side. You look as if you have begun to plaster over, that you have sat so long in this pose that you have begun to transform into a statue. It’s apparent in the tightness of your face, too controlled to portray true bemusement, particularly when examined closely. At this angle, the watch looks absurdly large on your arm, twisted so the face is visible to the camera. It draws the eye away from your weariness and onto its frozen hands.
@gem_cities Waiting for my mom to finish unpacking all her research notes so I can surprise her with a pair of tickets to the ballet! Every year when I was little we would go see The Nutcracker and it doesn’t feel like Christmas without it. If I could get away with it I might dress like a ballerina all winter long. Too bad snowflakes, tulle, and tiaras aren’t exactly casual. I did see a gorgeous headpiece by @katstudio that would look perfect with a ballet bun. It’s on my wish list. My other favourite tradition is Christmas brunch. We grill up bagels on the stove with lots of butter and have a big spread of cheese, avocado, tomato, and lox (I would not recommend trying on your favourite ballet bustier after that). What are the family holiday traditions you’re excited for this year?
599 of 623: An old photograph of you and your mother. She sits at an oak desk littered with books and paper. A boxy old laptop perches on a hefty tome whose spine reads TINTORETTO. Your mother—pretty but worn and small, like a later-grown you—all but disappears behind the mess. Her hair falls from a bun, and large-lensed glasses with tortoiseshell frames slip down her nose. You, six or seven, sit on the corner of the desk, facing the camera. You wear a delicate white frock and stick your tongue out at your father as he snaps the photograph.
@gem_cities Happy Mother’s Day to the most incredible woman out there. This lady has taught me to embrace passion, to never stop seeking answers, and when in doubt, to rock the messy bun! Unfortunately, I can’t hug her and bring her the breakfast in bed she deserves because right now she is off researching and writing. I’m so proud of her and the work she does. So often art is ignored or perceived as trivial in our society, but my mom has made it her life mission to make the beautiful and mysterious works of Renaissance art accessible to all of us. I can’t wait to see you, Mom! In the meantime, I put together a care package that I’m a little jealous of myself! The aloe and honey face cleanser, avocado hair mask, and lavender lip scrub from @ezzabeauty; the carmine circle scarf made with 100% alpaca wool from @themapclothing; and last but not least a stunning necklace from @katstudio. Can anyone guess which one I picked? Hint: it’s from their brand new collection out last week! Photos up later!
605 of 623: You sit on an armchair, your legs criss-crossed and a gigantic bowl of popcorn in your lap. You have on a set of bright pink pyjamas patterned with black ballet slippers. One cheek is full of popcorn and you grin like a chipmunk. You wear no makeup and your hair is pulled into a messy bun. You look younger, a kid without her costume. The lighting of the photo is off, a little washed out, and the direct angle of your face is less flattering than your usual poses: lips puckered, shadowed cheekbones, and wide eyes. Despite its technical flaws, the picture pulls the viewer inside, into a reality just beyond grasp.
@gem_cities Snow day! School’s cancelled and Dad’s playing hooky from work so we can stay in and have a movie marathon like when I was a kid. I’ve already eaten half my body weight in popcorn and the pizza’s on its way! We finished Fly Away Home, which is one of my all time favourites. I might have even heard a sniffle from Dad. Next up are the Home Alone movies. Old movies are my favourites because they’re not ruined by technology. Imagine if I got left behind from a family vacation? All my parents would have to do is check my Instagram. And for Fly Away Home they would have used a drone to migrate the geese. Not that I’d trade in my iPhone for a pager! What about you guys? What movies do you watch when you’re home from school?
489 of 623: You sit on a picnic bench inside a kitschy, blue and white diner, next to Leah. You wear a fitted crop top, a long open sweater, and high-waisted Levi’s. On your head sits a tiara with big plastic jewels. In your hand is a gigantic burger. A strip of bacon dangles from it and sauce runs down your wrist. You lick your finger with a teasing smile. On the table in front of you are a large fountain drink and the Battleship board game. Leah wears mirrored sunglasses and bites into a fry. You both look happy, peaceful, playful. Models that could sell the high school dream to anyone. Poster girls for The Good Life.
@gem_cities A burger, a (root) beer, some battleship, and a babe! Hung out with the gorgeous @leahlovebird today. Today is my Sweet 16! I know I’m supposed to have a big crazy party, but my Mom’s out of town for work. Leah and I shopped all morning and I got some really amazing pieces. I’ll post pictures this week, I promise! Next we’re going ice-skating. I’ve never been before so wish me luck. Leah swears I’ll be okay. Today I’m wearing my favourite crop top from @sitkasunwear. Has anyone seen their latest line? I know I can’t wait to bundle up in their oversized sweaters at football games. What do you guys think, should I order it in brandy or midnight blue? (Or both!) Thanks everyone for all the birthday wishes! You guys are amazing.
618 of 623: You lean your head on your mother’s shoulder. You both have the same narrow nose and small mouth, but the skin around your mother’s eyes has begun to run and her brown hair fades into light charcoal streaks. She looks straight into the camera, exposing no emotion but seems only to say “Yes, I am here right now. What more is there?” She’s a tall glass of ice water, the kind you press your forehead against on hot summer days. You are soft beside her, lips painted pink and eyes swollen with sleep. You look up, beyond the camera. Small and delicate. A songbird.
@gem_cities Tomorrow my mom’s interview with New York Art Beat airs on PBS! Any of my artist followers or people who are interested in learning more about the Renaissance should tune in. She totally rocks and makes it all way more interesting than the dry textbook they make you read in class. She’s talking about the Titian on loan to the MET and apparently some other fun stuff too! This capture is from a few weeks ago, when she came home for a much needed rest. I helped her sort out her notes so I know there’s a lot she can talk about tomorrow. She’s basically the Indiana Jones of finding lost research and historic accounts! In other great news, I just got some exciting new stuff in the mail from @ezzabeauty, so look out this week for new product reviews and recommendations. I’ve already got on their lavender bee balm and my lips feel so tingly-soft.
621 of 623: A video. Your mother sits on an armchair in the library, shelves lined with fat, impressive looking books. She wears an evergreen blouse tucked into black slacks, a white blazer on top. Her hair is pulled back into a sleek up-do that hides her greyest hairs. The studio make-up smoothes her wrinkles and has a strange effect, overly plastic. However, she is still striking. She sits with supreme confidence: not one muscle twitches or re-adjusts without her expressed desire.
“I didn’t know this, but your daughter is Instagram Famous. Is that right?” the interviewer asks. He’s a thin, middle-aged man with wire frame glasses.
Gemma’s mother laughs. “I guess so. I didn’t know the term for it.”
“What do you think? Is it weird? What’s your take on Internet culture as an art historian?”
@gem_cities Part one.
622 of 623: Your mother smiles.
“You know, she seems to work hard at it, I’ll give her that, but it’s not what I would have chosen for her. She grew up surrounded by art and I always thought she would understand the search for truth, the search to understand and explain reality. To interpret life. That’s what artists do, or what they should do. Social media in general, it seems like a culture that celebrates what’s fake. A lie can illuminate the truth, or make it more real, but Instagram wants to accumulate. More likes, more friends, more followers.”
@gem_cities Part two.
623 of 623: The interviewer nods, sympathetic.
“So you don’t have an account?”
“I looked at Gemma’s profile once—is that what you call it? I’m her mother. She’s beautiful, of course. But I’m sure she’ll grow out of it.”
@gem_cities I’ve got forty thousand followers but I guess you aren’t one, Mom
561 of 623: You sit on the floor beside a stack of research notes.
@gem_cities We had a huge fight that night. Mom didn’t want to go to the ballet. I could tell when I surprised her with the tickets. I asked if something was wrong and she wanted to know if we could change the tickets to another night. In the end we went, but the magic was gone. I wish I hadn’t tried. Nostalgia is better than disappointment. Nostalgia makes your bones ache and your belly hungry for more, but disappointment leaves all those good memories rancid and curdled in your head. I guess I don’t know yet which one you get over faster.
599 of 623: An old photograph of you and your mother.
@gem_cities My mother leaves her family so she can live the life she really wants. I tell myself it’s not so bad. That other kids have it worse. Some kids have parents who are off at war. They must go to sleep every night praying their mothers and fathers don’t die, that they’ll make it home. Some kids have parents who left the house one day and never came back. They don’t even know what happened. I know my mom will come home. I worry that she won’t. I create scenarios in my mind where she meets a handsome young Italian in the Veneto and runs off with him, or that her plane crashes in the mid-Atlantic and her body turns blue as she drowns. But I know these things are unlikely. All of it is as useless as telling someone to finish their green beans because children in Africa starve to death. Just because one absence is different than another doesn’t mean I don’t still feel it. Also, I kept the avocado hair mask for myself. I don’t regret it; my hair is shiny.
620 of 623: You stand in the center of a group of teenagers, your face pulled into a laugh and gaze locked on your knees.
@gem_cities I am alone tonight and very aware that no one in this room loves me. I don’t really know why all of you follow me, why you like my photographs and share your own stories in the comments. None of you know the real me, the girl who chews her nails and gets a belly ache in the car when we go faster than forty-five miles an hour. The girl whose mother leaves and whose father makes excuses. That’s okay though. I don’t need all of you to look past my flaws, to love me despite my mistakes. That’s what family is for. My mom can stare at all the paintings in the world but if she doesn’t get that fact then I don’t know if she ever will. I love Instagram. Just because something isn’t real doesn’t mean you can’t still love it. I have a fake pearl necklace. I got it from a tourist shop in Atlantic City years ago. I have a real string of pearls that I got for my birthday last year and I keep it locked in my jewellery box. I’m afraid I’ll break it or lose it, so I wear the fake one instead. Guess which one I love more.
Kelsey Robbins Lauder is a writer from Victoria, B.C. She has previously published short fiction in print at EVENT Magazine, online at Little Fiction, and Found Press, and is forthcoming in Qwerty Magazine. She is currently at work on a collection of stories and a novel. She can be found on Instagram @krlaudr.