New passport photo, or “How to go about actually crossing stuff off your list”


I’m accommodationally bifurcated these days, dividing my time between My Country House (aka The BF’s spacious and bucolic Actual House with Lawn, Patio & Dog) and my bachelorette pad (aka Rent Control Central, “Colleen’s Stubborn Handhold on Freedom,” or, during certain parts of summer, “The E-Z-Bake Oven”), so I can’t tell you how long ago my previous passport expired.

So let me just repeat: my previous passport expired.

In my 36 years of international travel, this has never happened. Never ever ever ever never. Not. Ever. And I’m horrifically embarrassed about it having happened this time, one or possibly even two years ago, extenuating circumstances* or not. Because in my family, no matter what, you had a passport at the ready, even if you had zero intention of traveling for the foreseeable future.**

The truth is this: every time I looked in the mirror over the past two years, I recoiled a little. I may joke about being a ladygeezer or (not) going gray or fettering certain protrusions that were heretofore unfettered, but a part of me always hurt a little bit. I’m not crazy about my eyes starting to get that tired look or my hair thinning or the weight that now gently encases my middle, and so far, I’ve been dealing with them all by compartmentalizing and ignoring or leading with a joke: the latter in public, the former in private.

I’m not fishing for compliments (although hey, I won’t reject sincere ones if you’re compelled). This is not about anyone saying, “Hey, you look great!” or even “Hey, you look great for your age!” It’s me, dealing with mortality (which we all must) and advancing invisibility (which most of us must, although women, even character actresses, deal with it first).

I’d think about getting my passport photo taken, the first step in crossing “Renew (expired) passport” off my list, and then I’d think, “Well, I’ll just wait until…”

Until my hair was freshly colored.

Until my hair was having a good day.

Until I’d figured out an outfit, and bought some makeup, and had had enough sleep.

Until, that is, monkeys flew out of my ass. In formation. Typing Shakespeare.

I’m almost 48. My hair will never be the hair of a 28-year-old, or even a 38-year-old, again. I haven’t worn makeup (well, excepting a little eyebrow powder, for definition!) since I quit acting, three years ago. I try to be interested enough about clothes to shop for them, but I’d rather write. I try to think about parting with Big Bucks for the clothes I would love, but I would rather blow the money on hardware and books. I will have fewer and fewer Good Hair Days until I am rich enough to hire a stylist and patient enough to let him do my hair everyday.

In other words, this is me now; this is who I am, inside and out. It’s not just okay, it’s the truth.

I promised you my big secret for actually crossing stuff off your list, and here it is:

Get down with where you are right now. Get down with the thing that needs to happen next.

I want to go to Vancouver to see my friend, Danielle, and maybe do a workshop. I want to go to Spain some summer while my friend, Jared, is doing his month abroad. I want to drink wine with Valeria in her native Italy, and visit my grammar school friend who lives in the countryside while I’m there. I don’t necessarily want to be my delightful friend, Chris Guillebeau (he’s filling that job rather handily), but I would find it great fun to schedule a trip sometime to coincide with one he was making. I want to stay with my high school friend, Betsy, at her palatial estate in France (oh, BOY, do I want that) and visit my friend, Michael, in Germany, and travel with my friend, Andrew, and his wife, Alex, to his native Ireland (which, if it’s as full of awesome Irish folk as their dinner parties are, may be my final resting place as I expire from happiness.)

Mostly, I want to be able to say “yes” when someone invites me to come and speak or teach or otherwise share what I know when they ask. This, finally, was the truth that was more important than the silly fibs I was wasting away my days with.

Life is so short and filled with so many things to do.

And so I go, go, go about doing them…


Photo of Colleen Wainwright by Lily at the Mailbox Shoppe via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. (For more silly fun, click on the picture.)

*Circumstances including, but not limited to falling ill with a major chronic intestinal disorder, starting a new business, traveling extensively continentally for tradeshows/conferences/etc., massive economic collapse and, this one is the hardest, embarrassment of being ambassador to a country whose leadership and choice of same deeply shamed me for eight years.

**Possibly a Jewish thing, possibly an aspirational-cosmopolitan-type thing. Not sure. Maybe both.


  1. My passport has expired too. The one with China visas, India visas, stamps for Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Sweden, Italy, Costa Rica, Panama, England, Netherlands, Thailand…I don’t know if I have neglected to renew it out of sorrow for those cool stamps or out of laziness. You look great, BTW.

  2. Colleen, your writing always moves me. Thank you for this lovely, thoughtful post. And for the record, you really are beautiful. As they say in India, “You have a most loving face.” :-)

    It’s good to pop those perfect-picture bubbles of how we ought to be, and to simply be ourselves. It’s the gift of growing up.

    Love, Hiro

  3. If you ever make the trip to Ireland, please do give me a heads-up. I would be pleased as Punch to give you a guided tour of my native city, Dublin.

  4. you are beautiful! look at those eyes! and your hair is doing that perfect little flip thing at the ends. you’re a doll. :> and take me with you to the palatial estate in france.

  5. Your list of the things that need to happen next ~ amazing! Yes, please, go to all of those loverly places and write about it so that we can enjoy vicariously (OR, so that not going myself will not be an option). Your story is why procrastination experts have it all wrong (Minus Havi, of course). Meeting yourself where you are now, and understanding the why, is so liberating. Oh, and have you trademarked “accomodationally bifurcated”? Love. That.

  6. Colleen,

    I don’t care what you look like, you totally need to get your ass up to Vancouver and do a workshop with Danielle. Because I would totally pay good money for that dynamic duo.

    And you do look good, and you rock in so many ways.

    love to you

  7. Thank you, ALL. I love you. I do. In that non-creepy way, of course. Now:

    LPC – Oh, I’ll bet you’ve collected a glorious clutch of travel stories. Start telling them on the blog: everyone wants to know how the other half travels.

    Hiro – Thank you, my dear. What’s that adage about the face you deserve? I’m proud that you’d describe it as “loving.” *That* is beautiful.

    Fionnuala – You’re on.

    Kate – What you can’t see are the grips offscreen who’ve rigged the ends to guy wires. Cinema magic!

    Briana – Havi should have a link in every post I write. Danielle, too, for that matter.

    Lianne – I do, don’t I? Well, this is the first step. We’ll see how soon we can make this happen.

    And again, everyone, THANK YOU. Lucky, lucky me.

  8. But who will ever see this photo unless you post it here? Especially who that matters? A few immigration officials per trip. I would not give them so much power in my life.

    Great writing, btw.

  9. I wish you all the luck in the world getting to all the places you’ve mentioned.

    You look wonderful! Good thing about passports, no specs so we can see your beautiful blues! Great, great read & thank you!

  10. You know what? I simpy tell myself every morning, “You look better now than you ever will.” I learned this after looking at old photos of myself where I thought I looked hideous and realized I was so beautiful at the time. I simply couldn’t see it and I definitely didn’t appreciate it. Gratitude is a marvelous asset.

    I also hate my current passport photo but a colleague saw it and said, “Wow, you look so hip here! Your hair is rockin’.” Go figure.

  11. All I can usually hope to feel is lukewarm (at best) after reading a blog. Not so today. Thank you.
    <3 Meg

  12. In general, I’m pretty happy with where I am. My life is good and I am healthy and loved. Now that I live on the road, away from all the nay-saying voices, I finally cut my hair the way I want it to be: a crewcut.

    It isn’t flowing and feminine. It isn’t silky and shiny. It is short and spunky and easy and freeing and totally, totally, me.

    And every time I go back to visit my old friends and family, they hate it. My 12 year old niece is so negative about my damn hair that I had to be Very Stern with her for the first time. “I hear that you don’t like it, but saying so over and over isn’t nice and hurts my feelings. Cut it out, NOW!”

    And it really did hurt, because some part of me wants flowing and shiny and Panteen and Rula Lenska all over my head. But my hair doesn’t live that life and never did. The real me isn’t…that.

    So Brava for facing your hair and face the way they are. For being real and imperfect and lovely. Because you ARE beautiful, and so am I, and Rula can just stuff it.

  13. Colleen:

    I enjoyed your post…it was a nudge (and reminder) for me to get going with things. I want to travel in a bad way, but I’m currently in-transition (is that an excuse or my reality?). I’ve also never owned a passport but always wanted to go to Europe. Sorry, I love Rick Steves, but watching his great show on TV is not a substitution for visiting in person.

    I sat next to you at Pam Slim’s workshop in CHI – take this any way you like, but you look much younger than your age. More importantly, you act much younger than your age ;)

    Good news: I will soon have a reason to get a passport – I’m taking a cruise with my family that will take me somewhere tropical next summer.

    Keep up the great work!

  14. My passport has expired and you’ve inspired me to go get it renewed TOMORROW. (I actually *have* a damn good reason to do it, as I’m traveling to Australia in four months.)

    And, um, woman, you’re hot!

    And I love your writing. :) You rock.

  15. This definitely struck a chord with me. It’s late so please forgive the cliche.

    My passport expired ~4 years ago. The looking good enough for the photo does factor in. And damn if I don’t have to renew my license this year. (Could do that online but will I really look better in 10 years when a new photo will be required?)

    But back to passports. In the 10 years I had mine, I never used it to go anywhere. Went to Canada several times but never needed it. It was only handy when I needed 2 photo IDs.

    Bit of a catch-22 as my reluctance to renewing it is that I can’t stand the thought of having another passport that doesn’t go anywhere.

  16. Nothing much to say that’s new and different, not after all those smart people who were here before me. so I’ll just agree with everything. You look good, and you clearly are who you are, and you are an inspiration and a goad.

  17. Woah woah woah. Listen: I saw your picture, right? At the top of the post. Then I read down to, “In my 36 years of international travel..” and I scrolled back up to the picture and said to myself, “yeah, she looks fine – she looks good for 36.” Then I read on to discover that you are 48 years old, and in fact haven’t been traveling internationally from day dot of your life.

    My point? My reading comprehension skillz, let me show you them; but more importantly, I thought you looked good for a dozen years younger than you are. So, there you go, FWIW – shine on, you crazy diamond.

  18. I soooo~o get what you mean about all of this. While my passport hasn’t yet expired, I *have* been meaning to get a new photo for my license (they’ve been using the same damn one for the last 15 years!) but have held off because I, too, was waiting for a good hair/face day.

    And then my wallet got stolen. (With my license inside it).

    And I couldn’t wait any longer. Know what? I chickened out and let them use the on-file photo for my replacement instead of stepping up to the camera for a new one.

    I am continually confronted with the new texture of hair (wiry?! Why does gray hair *do* that?), and the new bumps, moles and colorations of my skin. I don’t feel like a 44-year-old. But on the outside, the stuff just won’t quit changing.

    I was invited to a Young Professionals Networking event tonight and originally I had said, NO (I’m not young, right?). They must mean 20-somethings and maybe even early 30-somethings.

    But you’ve inspired me to go. Thank you.

    And I’m getting in all done, sistah!

  19. Yay! Everyone is getting new passports! And dealing with their sh*t!

    It takes so little to get the earth spinning properly on its axis that I wonder why we don’t do it more often?

  20. I am 48 already (well, technically, just 13 days away from 49). My driver’s license expires in 13 days and here’s the problem — my last driver’s license photo was taken 12 years ago. It was a great photo and I have not driven one mile over the speed limit in those 12 years just to preserve my right to renew by mail and not get a new photo. Seems the jig is up — they’re making me come in and get a new pic, and I must do this in the next 13 days. Bleh.

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