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Two Paths || The Cultivating Project
I’m creeping towards the age where
women speak their mind without minding
who they offend or who gets hurt.
A campfire choir of unleashed
repaying all the rules of fools
who use silence as violence.
But I will be careful. I want not to offend,
except when necessary;
not to hurt, unless it will heal.
I don’t want to be a jerk for the sake of
being old, and heard, and right.
I want grace that comes from the tons of times I said it wrong
and anyway and again, with love this time…
this time…maybe this time.*
I overheard a conversation a few weeks ago between a grandmother, her granddaughter, and their hair stylist. It was my first time in a public place other than the grocery store since March 12, and sitting in a chair with foil in my hair, surrounded by people I don’t know, lends itself to listening (eavesdropping?). I jotted down notes of their conversation because it was so shocking, so opposite of the conversations I’d been used to having the past several months of lockdown—it was the world, again. A new, old world.
I have looked back over my transcription a few times since the incident, and it reads like a Flannery O’Connor short-story (the characters, not my writing skill): an older, confident, but embittered woman; a timid younger woman accustomed to being shut-down and told what she wants and what she likes and what she needs; a third-party caught in the middle.
Grandma—a woman in her 60s and very well put together—brought Granddaughter—early 20s, a little heavy and less maintained—to the salon to get her hair done. There was a bit of punk-rock in Granddaughter, a little sign of independence and style, but it was a separate life. She had a line to toe with Grandma.
Take that stupid thing off! was Grandma’s opening line. The stylist, out of respect to her previous client, was masked. Granddaughter took a seat in the chair and began to try and articulate what she wanted done with her hair, but it was clear there was no real direction, no agreement. Apparently Grandma’s dime was buying the image, so Grandma’s desires were foremost.
Just get the highlights! You’ll be sorry if you don’t.
Well, it doesn’t make sense to get highlights because I’m probably going to dye it soon.
We don’t “dye” hair. You mean "color it”, and not that blue dye. Uh uh. No.
Okay. I don’t know. I guess—just a trim and highlights, like last time.
Whatever you decide—it’s your hair. (Give her the highlights. She’ll like that.)
The poor stylist could only stand behind her client, running ready hands through her hair, trying to discern what this appointment would be. After several minutes the stylist was released to the back room to mix the color.
What’s the matter, honey?
It was at this point that I started writing notes in my phone—not very gracious ones, but I wanted to get the dialogue right. People probably don’t like to be written about in this way, but for all they knew I was just texting. This exchange was too disgusting, too textbook dysfunctional, and too sad not to take note of. I’m sorry to write about people in this way. I’m sorry people are this way and that not even the presence of strangers will deter them from domineering, condescending, and overriding the very persons they are supposed to love.
After weeks at home with my family, seeing only them and a few friends here and there, being back in the world was a shock. Not because we are perfect and use our words always carefully, never susceptible to ugliness. But we don’t manipulate each other like that.
We have other ways, more polite forms, of manipulation though, I suppose. We’re probably not Flannery O’Connor material. Probably not as crass and rude and outright begging for a violent crime or a drowning or a herd of pigs to shock us to redemption. That was O’Connor’s way—“to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” But we are material for stories, nonetheless.
Isolation affects my hearing and vision. I live far-removed from startling figures and much of the ugliness of the world, and stepping back in was hard but necessary, not only for the cut and color, but for the reminder of my place. I live in a world where words are used to control as much as to communicate, to keep in place as much as to put in place the just and right things. Words are powerful.
I’ve always known this—that words are powerful. It’s kept me quiet a lot, because the best way to not make a mistake with words is to not use them. To be seen and not heard. But really my silence is often a shirking of responsibility. Perfectionism can make us afraid to attempt anything because I could fail if I try.
I am not the person who is going to confront Grandma in the hair salon and try to both shame her and appeal to her. I don’t think that works well. But Granddaughter was a lesson to me. I hope she speaks up. I hope she finds a voice with Grandma. I hope she learns to do it with grace, but to do it even if it comes out wrong. I hope Grandma listens to the shouts of a blue-haired Granddaughter, and I hope those highlights turn a little green with the dye.
*This was a ten minute free write from the @artist.and writing prompt “I am creeping towards…”
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