Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"I want to do hair"

Woman and her stylist-therapist
I've been reminded of a hard thing I want and love, but which I have been avoiding because of its potential to be very, very painful.  Naturally, this occurred at the salon. 

I met with my stylist on Saturday morning after a week of unmet writing goals, with a head full of half-made plans for the upcoming week, and jumpy focus that had me on my own nerves. 

The thought of two hours in a chair discussing the sliver of things that my stylist and  I have in common just seemed like work. Worse though, would have been to say, "You know, I  just don't feel like talking today, okay?" The "what's wrong" question this would have generated was beyond me. So instead, I soldiered over to my chair and prepared to get my chat on.

"So," said my stylist, lifting sections of hair, "What are we doing today?"
"You know, I don't know. I don't even feel like making a decision on my hair, so just do whatever you think will work. I trust you."
It was an atypical start to the session but she fell in and got stylist-serious. 
"Okay, first it should be shorter," she said.
"And I'm thinking let's do the caramel highlights."
"You need some angling toward the front."
"Whatever you think."

She left to mix the color and I opened my book.
She came back and went to work. A few minutes later, I watched what she was doing in the mirror.
She caught my eye and said, "So? Famous yet?"
"No. Not famous, and the writing thing is everywhere. I'm all over the place. Doing everything, doing nothing. Submitting my book that took me forever to write. In a week, I'll be opening 'thanks but no thanks emails' and  I'm trying to write short stories, and I'm trying to submit essays and everything I do feels like it's keeping me from something else —"
"Tilt your chin."
"—and I'm wondering what I really want out of this, and so I'm pulling back for a while. Taking stock. Less time on social media, less worry about stats and traffic and not meeting my fiction goals and not keeping up with my blog. I'm just tired, tired, tired. Period."

"So you're overwhelmed."
"I'm overwhelmed."

There was a long pause. And then I said, "I have no right to be overwhelmed. I have the life I want, I have great kids, husband, friends. I can write whatever I want. I've been published where I didn't think I would be. But last week, I had an editor turn down my essay. She said, 'I'm afraid this doesn't quite work,' and I thought, 'she's right. It didn't work because it has no me in it. It was empty.' What the hell is my problem?"

"You sound like me when I decided to stop teaching."
I looked at her in the mirror. "Tell me."
"I was a teacher. I studied classical music, and got my teaching degree. I worked with kids on the violin. Every day I woke up to a stomach ache. Kids didn't want to play. Parents didn't make them practice. I forgot what the point was."
"You taught the violin?"
"Yes, and I hated every minute of it."
"You taught the violin?"
"It sucked. And then, one day I drove by a hair salon and remembered how I did my friends' hair when I was younger and how happy it made me to create and make other people happy."
"And," I said.
"Well, I remembered what that felt like - to love something - it made me realize that I didn't love what I was doing now at all. I thought, 'Well, I want to do hair,' but...okay, how do I say this, hair stylists back then were sort of...there was a stereotype. Did I want to be seen as someone who was doing hair because she couldn't make it in her profession? Did I want to go to my parents and say, 'guess what, you know that college education you paid for?' No, I did not."

I imagined my twenty-something stylist driving past that salon, not wanting to want that.

"But," she said, tools poised, "I did want to be happy, and I was not that either. And even with the tears and frustration and stomach aches, I was still doing it. And then I said, 'enough.'"

For a long time, I wondered if I was holding onto my book to avoid starting another. The truth is, the harder you love something, the harder will come the rejection. If writing an impossible scene or sharp line of dialog made me feel alive, it was hard to think the failure to publish it wouldn't kill me. 

Writing essays is easy love and publishing them is instantly gratifying. Not publishing them stings like it stings to sit in your car on a cold morning before the heat comes on. Eventually, you'll forget you were cold. 

But easy love can be habit forming, while the hard love stands there and says "still here."

I want to do hair.

I didn't say that to my stylist. 

But I did say this:

"I'm not writing new fiction right now. I miss that."
"So, do that."
"I'm worried about how my book will do."
"So you're avoiding it."
"And I don't have time for non-fiction."
"So stop for awhile."
"And if my book fails, I'll write another one but what if that one fails too?"
"Tilt your chin."

I left the salon with two things: First, a reminder that what we love, but which may never love us back, doesn't go away. Whether we have time or freedom for it or not, whether we crave or fear its joy, it comes back and says, "still here." And yet, to feel an unending  pull toward it is better than feeling no pull toward easier things.

The other thing I left with was much shorter hair than I would have asked for.  But it was what my stylist thought I needed. On Saturday, she also knew that I needed an example of someone who figured out a hard love, faced her obstacles and said, "Screw it. I want to do hair."

I still can't believe she taught violin. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Kick-ass kid.

Jacqueline Bonifant, 10/11/14 at the Chicago Expo , Chicago, IL.
Four years ago, our daughter Jacqueline ran in the Cape Cod Marathon. I was stupid-impressed, and blogged about watching her go through the process from registration to bouncing on her heels at the starting line.  (Further down is that post from 2010). 

About a year ago, she announced that she would run with a friend in the Chicago Marathon to benefit teen oncology at the Advocate Children's Hospital in Chicago.  She has been typically low-key about the ambitious decision and quiet about her training progress. Ambivalent at first about raising funds, she exceeded her campaign goals just last week.

Six weeks ago, when  it would have been ideal to shuffle a few life priorities to focus on training, she started a new job and moved into a new apartment. Her training became tough to keep up with.  A stubborn ankle problem was back. Nonetheless, on the phone last night, she was focused, happy, upbeat - and ready. 

"I just want to finish," she said, something marathoners say when what they would really like, please, is to finish with a kick-ass time. 

Today she started running at 8:23, and finished at 1:24, five hours and one minute later. 

I don't need a reason to admire my kids. I wake up in the morning admiring my kids. But this madly driven and frankly, sometimes ever-so-slightly intimidating little girl just makes me shake my head and say, "Who knew?" But of course, we all knew: 


From October, 2010

Here is class.
Here is determination.
Here is confidence in the making.

A few months ago, Jacqueline quietly signed up to run in the Cape Cod Marathon and without fanfare, went about the business of “training.” Periodically, there were updates about her running schedule (twenty miles before dinner two weeks ago), diet regimens and other things she was doing to meet her goal. Most of it she kept to herself, as though the sudden need to bow out might present itself and would be easier to handle without having raised anyone’s hopes, including her own.

On Saturday, en route to our hotel in Falmouth she said, “I don’t want to say ‘after the marathon,’ anymore. I shouldn’t say that as if I already did it.”

Sunday morning, at 6:15, she checked in and received her bib. At 8:31, a cannon sounded and she was off, her black and orange hair ribbons visible for only seconds before she was engulfed in a crowd of 1100 runners that rolled from the start line like a wave.  Her only goal she said at the beginning was to finish, to reach the end of the 26 mile route. She could have focused on the higher goal of placing, but she opted to bring it down a peg, zeroed in, and went for it.

I was at the finish line a good hour and a half before she appeared. Many runners sprinted to the finish, others limped purposefully across, some collapsed. One had to be carried. At around five hours and twenty minutes, Jacqueline rounded the corner several blocks away. Her pace was steady. She passed me, looked at me with a huge smile of “I did it", then crossed the line, arms raised. She was wrapped in a blanket and awarded a medallion. I was too awed to cry. At first. 

Finally+there.jpg (320×480)
This is the Jacqueline Bonifant route to confidence: Consider what you can probably do with very hard work. Then shut up and do more. Be constantly surprised by your own strength. Be motivated for the next challenge that comes along. Repeat above steps.

Sometimes, in spite of all our good thoughts, high hopes, solemn prayers, heartfelt beliefs and lofty expectations, our children don’t accomplish what we think/hope/pray/believe/expect they will, but more.

Jacqueline on Sunday, one month and four days after her twenty-first birthday, was Jacqueline squared.

Congratulations, my girl. I am beyond proud of you.