Thursday, January 23, 2020

Party-Style Twists

Last week I wore my hair down with two twists, one on each side of my middle part. Because of my cowlick, I couldn't get the twists even, but I wore them anyway. When I was a kid we called this "party style." I rarely wear my hair down. It makes me feel young, somehow not myself. That night I chose this style to disguise my incoming gray hair. Maybe it was a subconscious move to try to create youth in the midst of inevitable aging.

Since wearing my hair in twists that night I've had a series of random memories from when I was a girl. I remember in fourth grade, Ms. Funk's class at William H. Ray Elementary in Chicago. It was picture day and I'd decided on my burgundy v-neck velour shirt with juliet sleeves. It was one of my nicest shirts and I had begged my mother to buy it for me at the tiny Breslauer's Department Store on 53rd Street.  I was obsessed with my hair that morning, desperate to get my two twists to match. I wanted my long brown hair to cascade down from the perfectly matched twists that crowned my head like a princess. But I didn't have the right supplies. I needed bobby pins and all I had were mismatched barrettes and rubber bands.

That same obsession for the perfect twists has recently replayed itself in my memory. I don't know if it was the same year, but in my mind's eye, I am about the same age. It was my grandfather's birthday party and we were all to get dressed up. I had a red and white seersucker blouse and skirt that my grandmother had splurged on at Saks Fifth Avenue downtown. It was perfect. But my hair! I remember standing in front of the living room mirror with my sisters and cousins, five girls all primping, and I could not get the twists to work. "I need bobby pins!," I howled to no one in particular, and before I knew it my dad was out the door to the Wilco to get a package big enough for five heads of hair.

I don't know why certain memories stick in our minds and I don't know why they revisit us at certain times in life, but the prominence of these two hair-twist memories feels like something worth attending to. One of the things that happens in middle age, in part because of hormones, and in part because of earned wisdom from life experience, is that we come back to our true nature, that essence of self that can become buried during the twenties and thirties when other big life events take center stage.

I'm grateful for the clarity and potency of these memories. In middle-age there is a quieting, a slowing down that makes room for that essential nature to resurface, like coming out of the rubble after an earthquake, there is a peacefulness, a stillness. Maybe these memories are a sign to me, a message from fourth-grade Laura, that this is time to come back and revisit that energy from my younger self. Or maybe these hair-twist memories are here now to show me how much I've learned, how far I've come from that place where a botched hair style was a national disaster. Now I know it's just a pesky cowlick.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


I remember when I transferred from Chicago Public Schools to a private prep school in seventh grade. My parents, at their wits end from the constant striking of Chicago Public Schools in the late 1970s, finally abandoned ship. At my new school, during Language Arts one afternoon, the teacher, a stark, tight-mouthed woman with a faux British accent, asked us to write down one word that we didn't know from the book we were reading (I think it was Catcher in the Rye.) The word I chose was "wholly." After class the teacher, having never spent time with kids who'd been educated in a shitty school, pulled me aside and asked, "Laura, do you really not know what 'wholly' means?" She then explained that it was the adverb form of whole. I got it. It made sense. I'd simply never heard that word before.

Right now I'm in the middle of an amazing book, The Yellow House, by Sarah Broom. It's a memoir of Broom's life growing up in New Orleans East in a family of eleven siblings. New Orleans East is a sorely neglected part of New Orleans that has been under-attended or ignored since the 1970s. I have been to New Orleans at least ten times and I only recently heard about New Orleans East from a Lyft driver the last time I was there. I bought Broom's book for my partner Nancy who was born and raised in New Orleans but spent little time in New Orleans East which is, in fact the largest section of the City of New Orleans.

At one point during the book, Broom compares being in her chaotic school in New Orleans East to "an unpredictable, malfunctioning parts factory. You can never tell when a piece will fly off, hitting you in the face, blinding you for life." Shortly after, Broom transfers to a private school outside of her neighborhood where she is, in many ways an outsider, but also connects with a teacher who inspires and nurtures Broom's own love of words. Broom writes, "Writing, I found, was my interiority, and so was God." Later in the chapter Broom describes how speaking in tongues is interiority writ large, "You had to do it without shame, with no self-consciousness whatsoever. The only control was in letting go."

 'Interiority' is a word that I've never heard spoken or seen written, but it was a word I immediately connected with. 'Interiority,' I thought, as I read it in the context of Broom's writing, must be a magical place, a deeply personal and important retreat, a place where one can be wholly oneself. So I looked it up. Interiority: interior life or character; inner life or substance; psychological existence. 

Sometimes there is a point to my blog, and other times I'm just meandering. Today I am inspired by Sarah Broom, by her writing, and by the joy of learning a new word, a wonderful word at the ripe old age of fifty-one. The very concept of interiority gives me so much to think about-- what is my own interiority? What was it when I was a child? How do I help my own daughter find her's? Sarah Broom-- your book is feeding my soul right now and I am very grateful that you've shared your beautiful story.

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