#28: Participate in a National Day of Prayer

If you have been following this blog for a while, you know that I am a spiritual seeker with an insatiable desire to learn more about new-to-me topics – especially ones that help me better understand people and cultures that are different from me. (And if you are newer to this blog, no worries! Just read the items linked above, and you’ll be all caught up.) :)

So when I first learned about the National Day of Prayer a few years back, I thought it would be a good event for me to participate in at least one time – just so I could see what it was about, and perhaps gain more insights into and/or appreciation for conservative Christians (a religious group I do not understand [and often disagree with]).

I had no idea how an event like this might unfold, so I think I went into it with minimal expectations – which I like, as that allows me to more fully experience whatever actually occurs (versus get bogged down by what I think “should” happen). I did my best to walk through the main doors of a local participating church with an open mind and a receptive heart, ready to be led in whatever way the universe/god/a higher power felt best.

I arrived at the designated house of worship at 6:20 am. As I made my way into the church’s foyer, I was greeted warmly by a middle-aged woman (who was incredibly alert for the early hour). She directed me to a gathering room where the event was about to begin, invited me to put on a name tag, and encouraged me to help myself to whatever refreshments I might want. After securing a cup of tea, I sat down at a table next to a newly married couple in their early 20s, a 47-year-old writer and father of two teenage girls, one semi-retired woman in her 50s, and two retired stay-at-home moms in their early 60s. We each took turns introducing ourselves, and engaged in polite chit-chat as more people trickled into the room.

By 6:30 am, the meeting space held twenty people. All of us were white, and (save for the newly married couple) middle-aged or slightly older. The chipper woman who greeted me when I first entered the church walked to the front of the room, stood behind a podium, and asked us all to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. We did as we were asked, and at the end of the recitation the woman smiled at us and said, “That warms my heart. You know, we don’t say the Pledge very often any more, do we?” She continued to explain that she recently volunteered at the elementary school her daughter attends, and was shocked to discover that the students no longer say the Pledge each morning. She concluded, “It’s appalling that we have removed God and country from our schools – especially now, as this great nation needs our prayers and repentance more than ever.”

At this moment, I knew my best course of action for making it through the rest of the event without offending anyone, making myself irate, or being kicked out of the building, was to approach this task like a reporter would approach an assignment – to take nothing personally, but instead make notes of the facts from a purely objective standpoint. I quickly pulled out a small blank journal and pen, and documented the high-level events that transpired.

The gathering was structured as follows: One pre-determined speaker went to the podium and read Bible passages/offered prayers relevant to one particular facet of the country. Once the leader finished his/her prepared comments, anyone else in the room could take a few minutes and share a prayer on that topic area if they wanted to. After everyone who wanted to offer a prayer had done so, the next leader came to the podium, and the process repeated itself with the second topic area, then the third, and so on, until all seven topic areas had been addressed.

The first prayer topic was “Our Government”, and the Bible passages that were read were:
– First Timothy 2:1-2
– Exodus 18:21
– Proverbs 21:1
– Psalms 9:20

Topic #2 was “The Military”, and the Bible passages offered were:
– Psalms 18:32
– Psalms 28:7
– Isaiah 20:49
– Psalms 34:18
– Deuteronomy 33:12
– Lamentations 3:21-22
– Romans 5:5
– Numbers 30:2
– Ephesians 6:11
– Psalm 91

The leader made a special effort to call attention to those who are currently serving in the military, those who are or have been wounded, those who have died in service, veterans, and the families of all service members past and present.

The third focus area was “The Media”, and the leader for this section offered a single Bible verse: Philippians 4:8.

After the media came “Business, Industry, and Commerce”, and the leader here cited:
– Isaiah 48:17
– Deuteronomy 30:2-4
– Job 42:10
– Malachi 3:10
– Matthew 6:19-20
– Luke 19:13

At this point, when the opportunity for open prayer sharing came, I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer. After hearing no less than five different petitions for more domestic manufacturing and a revival of Christ-centered businesses whose employees are unafraid to exert their First Amendment rights to practice their Christian faith boldly and proudly in the workplace, I calmly-but-confidently offered prayers for: fair wages around the world, environmental protection (specifically, 1] that businesses stop stripping the land of natural resources simply so that they can access cheap fuel, and 2] that businesses take steps to reduce pollution that currently results from cheap mass manufacturing), and that all beings receive what they need in order to live healthy, happy, and peace-filled lives.

Interestingly, once I finished my prayer, the next speaker scrambled to the podium and began the next topic area, which was “Education”. Here again a sole Bible verse was offered: Proverbs 3:5-6.

After Education came “The Church”, and the speaker read aloud one passage: Matthew 16.

The event closed with a focus on “Family”, and this leader called attention to Bible verses:
– Psalms 92:12-15
– Hebrews 10:23-24
– John 10:4-5
– Isaiah 54:13
– Luke 2:52
– Psalms 102:18

Throughout the course of the above readings, this speaker focused on multiple elements of family, including parents, spouses, children, and grandchildren.

During each speaker’s prepared comments as well as during the open sharing sections, I took notes of various words and phrases that kept surfacing.  Here’s a visual summary of the session themes:

National Day of Prayer wordle

When the final segment of “open sharing” drew to a close, the original facilitator (i.e., the greeter woman who led us through the Pledge of Allegiance) encouraged each of us to make prayer an integrated, working part of our daily lives, then cheerily wished that we all “Have a good morning!” I found this happy send-off rather jarring, because for the previous two hours, most of the individuals in the meeting room had been at some stage of crying (some weeping mildly and silently, others with tears flowing freely, and a few wailing aloud) and complaining (or “praying”, as they liked to call it). Yet on a dime, the tears were wiped away, the pained faces were replaced with smiles, and everyone happily skipped off to the parking lot to slip into their vehicle and drive away. I was simultaneously stunned and surprised.

During the event, so many things were said that I do not agree with (and in some cases I outright oppose), and hearing the barrages of comments hit on many raw nerves within me. But I tried to let those things slide away (as I know in my heart that the majority of the sentiments shared during the gathering were fear-based and simply untrue), and instead chose to focus on the few messages of genuine peace and love that did surface – such as:

  • “Bless the work of the men and women in the military, that their light would shine on all of those around them as they move throughout the world.” [My interpretation: Let these individuals be instruments of peace and love.]
  • “Place a hedge of protection around the little hearts and minds of our children, that they may remain centered on what is good, honorable, and true.” Amen to that! Imagine what could happen if all children remained untainted by prejudice and hate.
  • “Deliver us from a world of self-absorbed media and meaningless trivia.” Absolutely. If all people traded one hour of reading Facebook for one hour of volunteering, think of the tremendous positive impact that could have! (Not only on the people being ‘helped’, but also [especially] on the ones giving the ‘helping’.)
  • “So often it is about us. Break us of our selfishness.” Yes, yes, yes.
  • “Prayer matters. What we think about and pray for are the ripples that begin to move us to action.” So true. What one thinks, one becomes. So choose thoughts wisely – because ideas become intentions, and intentions ultimately turn into actions.

My intention for this 101 item was to gain insight into (and maybe even appreciation for) conservative Christians. While this experience did more to confirm my initial perceptions of this religious group than it did to offer me new perspectives, I am still pleased that I participated in a National Day of Prayer event at least once. (And who knows, maybe I was able to affect a few hearts or minds in the room?) That being said, I don’t think I need to go to one of these gatherings again next year (or the year after that, or the year after that…) I feel better sticking to my more liberal ways. :)


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Beyond 101: Participate in World Book Night

What Is It? World Book Night (WBN) is a world-wide effort to get books into the hands of adult light- and non-readers. It is held annually on April 23 – Shakespeare’s birthday. Volunteers register to receive 20 copies of a book, then promise to distribute those books somewhere in their local community, doing their best to give books only to light- or non-readers.

Why Do It? By promoting reading for pleasure, WBN aims to improve literacy by actively engaging emerging readers in their desire to read. With improved literacy, an individual improves his/her opportunities for employability, social interaction, enfranchisement, and positive mental and physical health. Additionally, book readers are more likely to participate in pro-social activities such as volunteering and attending cultural events.

Okay, But Why Should I Do It? Well, why not? :) I’m a huge fan of libraries/reading/education, so this seemed like a good thing to support. And I adore new experiences, so the fact that I had never done anything like this before sealed the deal for me.

What Happened?

First, I applied to participate in WBN. (There is actually a rather formal process one must complete in order to engage in this activity; I had to explain why I wanted to take part in WBN, and describe where I was going to give away my books should I be selected.) Two months after I submitted my application, I learned that I was confirmed as a 2014 Book Giver. At that point I had to state my top 3 preferences of books to give away from the list of titles available. I ended up with Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim. It’s a graphic novel – which I thought would be a nice choice for people who were light/poor readers, as they can enjoy the images as much as the words, and the volume of text would likely feel less intimidating compared to the amount of text in a dense book.

Then, I got prepared: I went to my pickup site (our city library) a week before the big night and picked up my box of books and bag of supplemental information. I made myself a sign that read, “FREE BOOKS! :)” in big, bold, red lettering, and loaded a sack with the 20 copies of the novel. (Thankfully it’s a small book!)

Finally, I took action: The day of the event I placed an identification sticker on my chest, put a big ol’ smile on my face, and started walking to my destination. I was excited to see if people in the city would be willing to accept a free book from a nice looking girl. :)

I first went to the city Grayhound bus station, thinking that the terminal would be full of people, some of whom would likely be light- or non-readers. However, when I walked into the space, I was surprised to find only two people in the waiting area. With my “Free Books!” sign in hand, I approached the middle aged couple, smiled broadly, and asked, “Would you like a free book?” The woman looked at me skeptically and asked, “Is it really free? I don’t gotta buy nothin’ or nothin’, do I?” I replied, “I promise it’s free,” and extended the book towards her. Hesitantly, she took it from my hands, to which I smiled even wider, said, “Have a nice day!”, and turned before she could try and refuse a solicitation offer that wasn’t coming. :)

Slightly disappointed that my master plan to distribute free books was foiled just two minutes after it began, I shook off the unexpected start and continued walking up the road – where I arrived at the Salvation Army.

Six young, large black men were standing in a group, and I approached them smiling and holding my sign. I greeted them with, “Hi! Would you like a free book?” They all turned to look at me, and three of the six men looked at me like I was crazy, while two of them looked at me skeptically. It was as though I was somehow trying to hustle or con them – which I found delightfully ironic, seeing as how usually they were the ones trying to get something out of me. Turning the tables was even more fun than giving away books! One of the men returned my smile with a grin of his own, and said, “Sure, I’ll take a book!” With the ice broken, four of the additional guys extended their hand to receive the book I extended towards them – while one of them said, “Naw, thanks; I’ll pass.” Fair enough. I nodded at him, and continued my way up the street.

Less than twenty steps later, a small circle of four older white people were standing around smoking. I walked up to them and made eye contact with the only woman in the group. Once again I smiled and said, “Hi! Would like a free book?” nodding to the sign in one hand and the thin paperback in the other. The woman replied with an enthusiastic, “Oh yes, thank you! I’m always lookin’ for sumthin’ to read!” I made the same offer to the three remaining men in the circle, and two of them accepted the book equally enthusiastically, while one accepted the book with a more guarded perspective. After he took the book from my hands I just smiled at him and continued walking up the road.

As I approached the doors to the Salvation Army, a stream of men began filing past me. As each one passed I moved in front of him and repeated my smiling mantra of, “Hi! Would you like a free book?” One of them asked me why I was giving away books, and I explained, “Today is Shakespeare’s birthday, and volunteers all over the country – well, all over the world, actually – are giving away books to celebrate. Would you like one?” The tough-looking black man immediately softened, and responded, “I really like Shakespeare. Sure, I’ll take a book,” and accepted the paperback from me. I offloaded five more books in this quasi walk-by approach, all to black men in their 20s.

Once the line of people passing me ceased, I made my way into the main building of the Salvation Army. A tough-looking white woman staffing the entrance desk looked at me menacingly and barked, “Can I help you?” (with a tone that implied anything but assistance). Ignoring her gruff demeanor, I politely asked, “Yes – I’d like to know if I can come inside and give away a few free books?” My request caught her completely off guard, and she genuinely didn’t know how to respond. She answered, “Um… do you have a permit for that?” I told her, “No, I don’t – but today is World Book Night, so volunteers all over the city are giving away free books – and I’d like to do that here, if it’s okay.” After a second of mental processing, the woman softened ever-so-slightly, and said, “Hey – I remember reading something about that a few weeks ago.” Just as she was about to give me the green light to enter (I think), a homeless man pushed his way through the entrance and barked at her, “Nancy, I need my chair – NOW!” Nancy barked back at the man, “I’m through watching your stuff Kevin; you have to go to medical if you want your chair! I’m not getting it for you!” Kevin and Nancy exchanged some words, and I stood to the side watching the mental volley. After two minutes a tiny pause in the action occurred, and I re-inserted myself with a quick, “So, can I just go over there and see if any of those guys want a book?” I think Nancy had forgotten about me, because her head spun around to my direction, her eyes re-focused on me, and after a second she remembered that I was even there. In a preoccupied tone, she said, “Yeah yeah, sure, go ahead…” She had bigger fish to fry at the moment – so I took advantage of the “distraction” that Kevin caused, and walked into the lobby of the Salvation Army.

I found myself in front of an elevator that I’m assuming went up to the residence portion of the shelter. I approached three residents waiting for the lift, and asked them if they would like a free book. They looked at me as if I were insane. Ignoring their demeanor, I continued and explained that today is World Book Night, so people all across the city, and the country, and even the world!, are giving away free books – and the book I’m giving away is like a comic, but for adults; and would any of you like one?

At this moment the elevator door opened, and six female residents poured out of it. They saw the group of three men (who were still looking at me like I was crazy), and immediately approached, wanting to know what was going on. I delivered my pitch once more, and one of the women replied with, “Pssshhht, I don’t want no comic book.” But at the same time, another of the women smiled and said, “Hey, that sounds cool! Yeah, I’ll take one!” I returned her smile and offered a copy of the novel. With that, two of the men in the original group finally found their voices and told me, “Hey, yeah, I’ll take it. Thanks.” I handed them each a copy of the book, and smiled at them before the group of nine residents made their way out the main door.

With one book remaining in my bag, I approached an older black man sitting in a chair near the entryway. He had been watching me since I first walked inside, so I saved the explanation and simply asked him, “Sir, would you like a book?” He looked at me for half a second, then calmly said, “No thank you. It’s nothin’ personal, mind you; I just don’t read.” Whether he meant that he doesn’t like reading or that he doesn’t know how read, I’m still not sure. But I didn’t pry; instead, I smiled and said, “That’s okay, I’m not offended. I hope you have a nice day all the same.” He nodded his head slightly at me, and I continued moving through the shelter.

A few seconds later, a young white girl stepped near me. I could tell she wanted a book, so instead of making her ask me for one, I quickly said, “Hi! Say, I’m giving away free books today; would you like one?” She smiled broadly, and answered, “Yes please. Thank you!” As I handed the last book over, her eyes grew wide as she took the text in her hands. I wondered when the last time was that someone gave her something ‘just because’.

With my bag now empty, I quietly walked out of the Salvation Army, down the street, and back to the corner where the book-giving activity began. The original group of six young black men were still gathered, and as I approached one of them smiled at me. I smiled back, and as I came within ear shot he called out, “Reading Is Fundamental!”, giving me a ‘thumbs up’ in the process. I laughed out loud, and called back, “You bet it is!”

I smiled all the way back to my car, delighted that not only was I able to share books with people who will truly appreciate them (and who genuinely need them), but that I was also able to give them a story to talk about. I’d call this a very successful literacy-promoting venture.


P.S. A fun history of RIF throughout the years.  May WBN be as successful 40 years from now!

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#46: Go to a concert at Orchestra Hall

One of the motivating forces behind many of the items on my 101 list is the general idea of taking full advantage of all local offerings before longing to travel and see sights that other cities/countries hold; aka, “Things I Really Should See In The City That I Haven’t Yet Made The Time To Explore”. Certainly a lot of personal growth and expanded awareness occurs as a result of experiencing places and situations beyond one’s “normal” worldview – and I am definitely a fan of such travel. But there is also something to be said for maximizing opportunities that are in one’s own “backyard” – and I crafted this “101” plan in part to help get me out of routines and nudge me to encounter local new and novel happenings.

I have been a fan of classical music for the majority of my life. (Indeed, the original introduction to this post was a page-long narrative of that tale – but after I reviewed that story I realized it was more a telling of my past than a connection to the present, so I chose to replace the intro to this post with the content you just read in the opening paragraph. But, if you are curious about the backstory to this 101 item and want to read about it, you can do so here.) I attended community orchestra concerts in my youth, and professional symphony performances in my high school and college years. But when I began working full time, those musical outings fell by the wayside. Now, one could make the case that I was busier as a working professional than I was a high school/college student – and certainly there is some truth to that statement. However, it’s also true that for my entire professional career, I have worked within six city blocks of the home of the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra. (And for ten of those years, I worked literally across the street from Orchestra Hall.) So really, I had no reason to not attend a concert, save apathy (and laziness).

So two years ago I started to make plans to go to a Minnesota Orchestra performance. But then, things got complicated…

First, Orchestra Hall shut down for renovation just as I was starting to review the orchestra’s performance schedule – so item #46 on the 101 list was delayed a year. Then, once Orchestra Hall re-opened for business, the orchestra went on strike for fifteen months. (Long story short: It was a labor/wage issue between the orchestra board and the orchestra musicians. [If you want to read official reports about the event, this article provides a nice, quick summary.])  [And disclaimer/clarification: The orchestra called the situation a lockout, not a strike. I don’t know the difference between the two…]Either way, yikes. I began to wonder if I would be able to complete this 101 task by my self-appointed deadline. Happily, the orchestra board and the orchestra musicians were able to reach a middle ground (though neither side seems overly pleased with the compromise – but again, that’s another tale for another day), but when I looked at the schedule and tried to secure tickets for a concert, I found that every evening and weekend event was already sold out. (Apparently the year-plus orchestral absence created a pent-up demand for their live music.) Starting to feel a little frustrated, I explored an unlikely opportunity: young people’s concerts.

The orchestra offers concerts for “schools, homeschools and families looking for an outstanding arts experience that is both educational and engaging.” A lovely side benefit of these concerts is that they are cheap! (One ticket to attend a Young People’s Concert costs just $6.25, whereas a regular symphony ticket costs anywhere from $25-$85 [or more], plus a $6 processing fee!) Now, attending a Young People’s Concert also meant that I would have to take a day off of work (as the concerts are offered mid-day on Mondays through Thursdays), and that I would be experiencing the orchestra in the presence of hundreds of children (versus adults), but these were both concessions I was wiling to make. So, on an overcast spring day, I stood in line with a bevy of high-energy kids, and made my way into the newly renovated Orchestra Hall.

As I walked through the glass doors into the airy lobby, the very first thought that came into my mind was how stunning the remodeled space looked, and how welcoming it felt. A sleek architectural design, replete with modern slate-gray floors and brushed chrome accents, blended artfully with light natural wood. Making my way inside the auditorium itself, I saw that geometric sound panels lined the ceiling. While I’m confident these items were chosen for the wonderful acoustics they provided, a nice “side benefit” to the panels is that they lended a slightly “funky” feel to the orchestral space. (Note: “Funky” is used here in a positive context.) :)

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(I wanted to take more pictures of the other areas of Orchestra Hall, but my phone/camera decided to seize up just as I left the auditorium to snap more images.  So, if you want to see the other areas of the newly renovated space, you will need to visit the photo gallery on this MPR blog site.)  [P.S. My phone is fine now.  Just required a hard restart.]

I took a chair in a first-tier balcony section at stage left, about fifty feet (or so) away from the orchestra. As the audience started to fill seats on the main floor, I noticed that most of the students looked to be anywhere from 4th through 8th grade. A few moments later the musicians began to trickle onto the stage, and I saw not one, but two female bassists! (Of 6 total.) And one of these women occupied First Chair! I loved it. (Though I will admit that as I watched the bassists play, I felt an ache in my heart – literally. Clearly I miss the joy of making music with an orchestra.)

Five minutes later, the conductor walked on stage – and at this point I noticed that the main audience section was barely halfway full. I felt disappointed. These concerts are a tremendous opportunity to expose kids to an amazing, world-class cultural experience – and local schools aren’t taking advantage of it. (For a variety of reasons, I’m sure; but still. It made me sad.) The conductor explained that the piece the orchestra was going to play is called “The Rite of Spring” (“Le Sacre du Printemps” in French) by a man named Stravinsky – and that originally, the piece was a collaboration between the music composer Stravinsky and a dancer/choreographer named Nijinsky. (I didn’t know this!) To better explain the backstory to the creation of “The Rite of Spring”, the conductor introduced Lauren Stringer, an author and storyteller, who wrote a children’s book titled, “When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet, and One Extraordinary Riot.” Ms. Stringer read her book aloud to the audience while select illustrations from the text projected on a huge screen above the stage. Additionally, a piano accompanied the reading and added small passages of happy, heavy, confused, or suspenseful music as appropriate (based on the content of the text). It was a true multi-media experience, and the kids seemed really engaged by it. (So was I!) :)

During the ten-minute reading of the book, the kids and I all learned that this work (both the music and the dance went with it) was quite radical for the time when it debuted – so much so that the first performance of this piece was “boo’d” by a sizeable section of the audience. In fact, these individuals felt so upset by this work that they threw hats/gloves/coats/boots at the orchestra, and rioted in the streets after the performance. Holy buckets!

But – an equally strong portion of the audience loved the new direction this piece headed; so much so that they rioted against the symphony patrons who were rioting against the orchestra! Oy…

After the present-day kids got all amped up on the notion of past patrons throwing shoes onto an orchestra stage and engaging in vandalism and violence after a performance, the conductor resumed control of the microphone and explained that “The Rite of Spring” is sometimes called “Scenes From Pagan Russia”, because it celebrates the gods in nature that control the changing seasons. (At least, according to Russian paganism.) The conductor further explained that “The Rite” is one body of music that is separated into two parts, and each section is 15 minutes long. The first section of the work represents the awakening of spring. In this portion, a group of people dance slowly and quietly to represent the thaw of winter. Then an old wise woman takes the stage and “predicts” the arrival of spring. Upon her prediction, a group of young girls dance to represent the unfolding of spring – and when they are done, an old wise man takes the stage and bends down to kiss the earth in gratitude. Then everyone dances in a big group celebration.

Once we received a briefing on what occurs visually in the piece (e.g., when the piece is played with a dance troupe [which did not take place in this outing; this was strictly an orchestral performance]), the conductor stepped onto his platform, and the music began. I really enjoyed knowing the story behind the music – it helped me “follow along” with the orchestra and the emotions they infused into the piece.

As the orchestra played, a two-person camera crew live-streamed the performance to the huge overhead screen where the story illustrations had displayed earlier – so everyone in the audience could see close ups of various musicians performing in real-time. I have never experienced anything like this before – it was super cool.

(An interesting and new-to-me fact: Several of the musicians wore ear plugs. I understand this for the percussion and trumpet sections [and for the people who sit immediately in front of these areas] – but is ear protection necessary for a flute player? A bassoonist? And yet, these musicians [and several others] wore plugs. This seemed rather strange…)

That being said, the orchestra gave a very lively performance. The “Rite” is a very energetic piece, with many contrasts: loud and soft, fast and slow, excited and relaxed – an ample offering of changes and variety to help keep the attention of children.

Precisely fifteen minutes later, the first movement ended. Immediately the conductor picked up his microphone and walked us through the plot line of section #2 – which is as follows:

Night has now fallen in the forest. A handful of people are in the forest, and they are very frightened. But soon, a group of young girls appear, and a lone girl dances in thanks for the gods blessing them all with spring (which alleviates the fear of the original crowd). Sadly, though, the young girl dances herself to death. (Though the word “death” was never used by the conductor. Rather, he explained that “the girl’s life force is returned to the earth”.) And apparently that’s how the whole production ends. Kind of a downer.

But I didn’t have much time to get depressed, because the orchestra members immediately put their instruments up to their chins/chests/mouths and began playing the second movement. As I sat listening, a few random thoughts entered my mind:

  1. If I were in the original audience when this piece debuted, I probably would have occupied the “I don’t like it” camp. I prefer ‘classic’ to ‘modern’ things – be it food, music, dance, fashion, interior design, painting, sculpture, or any other form of artistic expression.
  2. I recently saw a news article explaining how basketball coaches experience a workout right along with their players during a game, because of all the jumping/arm waving/yelling the coaches do throughout the match. As I watched the conductor move with crazy levels of vigor and enthusiasm, I wondered: if a basketball coach and an orchestra conductor went head-to-head, who would the better “athlete” turn out to be?

Another 15 minutes later, the final portion of this performance drew to a close. The audience applauded the conductor, then the orchestra, then the author/storyteller, then the conductor again, then finally the orchestra again. After the conductor and author/storyteller exited the stage, the orchestra members began to pack up their music and walk away as they were ready. This seemed an odd ending to the event: no curtain drawing to a close, everything exposed for everyone to see. Kind of like learning how the sausage is made – it erodes some of the “magic” of the experience. (FYI, that’s just an expression. I don’t eat sausage.) :) But the final element to the closing actions that made me laugh was an announcement that came on over the PA: “We will now be clearing out the auditorium from the back. Please stay seated until your row is released, and walk to your bus in a single-file line.” Ah, if only all concerts were released in such an orderly fashion…

All in all, this outing was a cool experience – but also a sad and painful one. I didn’t realize how much of a void not playing in an orchestra has left in my life until I found myself literally on the verge of tears within moments of the first movement beginning; as I watched bows and fingers articulate in perfect unison I ached to hold an instrument and play along. It hurt. So I don’t know if my heart can take another performance. Honestly.


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Backstory to 101 Item #46

At the end of our fourth grade year, my classmates and I were invited to attend an “instrument” evening.  The purpose of this gathering was to allow each of us to get a hand’s-on opportunity to try any brass, wood, percussion, or string instrument that caught our eye (with the intention that we would begin playing that instrument in the 5th grade band or orchestra).  When I walked into the huge high school music room and saw an abundance of options before me, I felt a little overwhelmed.  I had no idea what I might want to play, so I meandered around the room, looking at everything but touching nothing.

As I approached the tallest instrument in the room and gazed up at its scroll, a teacher from the high school across town approached me and said in a stern tone, “You can’t play this one – you’re too small.”  I turned my head and looked up at the man, silent.  Literally a second later, my mom approached me to check in, and asked, “So, Stef, have you found an instrument you might want to try yet?”  Looking first at the man, then at my mom, I nodded my head, pointed to the string bass just to the right of the man, and quietly answered, “Yes.  This one.”  The man looked furious.  My mom, unaware of the comment this teacher had uttered just seconds before, said, “Great!  I’ll tell the elementary school orchestra teacher, and we’ll get you signed up.”  My mom turned and walked toward the registration table.  I followed behind her – but not before I looked back over my shoulder, locked eyes with the man, and smiled sweetly. (Take that, you jerk.)  :)

Four years later I secured first chair of the high school string bass section.  The older boys who sat in the second-through-fifth chairs were irked that a freshman girl could play better than they could – but they also recognized that I did possess more skill than each of them.  (And I really did.  Music always came easy to me – and though the string bass was larger than I was, I had no issues learning how to extract beautiful sounds from it.)  After a few weeks the dust settled, and the guys respected me as their section leader and treated me as one of their own.

A few months later the entire high school orchestra took a field trip to Chicago to attend a concert performed by the city’s Symphony Orchestra.  I had been to concerts performed by local community musicians, but this was my first exposure to live music performed by professionals – and I was quite excited.  A supposedly really good cellist was scheduled to play a solo during the concert – and somehow, our high school orchestra director had secured four second row seats to the event, which he shared with his wife, the orchestra’s cello section leader, and me.  Soon after we found our chairs the stage curtain lifted – and I realized I was literally less than 20 feet away from Yo Yo Ma.  Oh. My. God.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t know was that two days before the concert, I had been exposed to the chicken pox virus (compliments of my friend’s two-year-old nephew).  While my sister endured her bout with the pox when I was in third grade, I never contracted the virus – so my parents assumed I just must be immune to the malady.  Indeed, with each successive breakout in elementary school, I returned home unaffected.  I figured my body was just really good at fending off the pox.  And apparently it was – for a while.

However.  When I turned fourteen, I guess my luck with pox immunity ran out – and less than 10 minutes after Yo Yo Ma began playing his stunningly beautiful music, I fell asleep in my concert chair.  The pox had begun their war – and my body surrendered.  I was sick; and I missed a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

For the next three years of high school the orchestra made our annual pilgrimage to Symphony Center in Chicago, and each year I got to see and hear amazing musicians.  But no experience was quite like my intimate-yet-brief encounter with Yo Yo Ma.

Still, I loved attending these concerts, and was grateful for the opportunity to witness true professionals create stunningly beautiful music.  When I finished my senior year of high school, I set my bass in a corner of my parent’s house (as my college dorm room had zero space for such a large instrument).  I had every intention of playing it when I came back home for breaks; but without daily exposure to its strings, my interests drifted to other things – and I never picked up the instrument again.

Sad.  But true.  But sad.


Posted in 101 in 1001, day zero project, postaday, Uncategorized, wplongform | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

What I like about me

One of my writing friends achieved a milestone with her blog today – she published her 100th post.  (Woot!)  To celebrate her accomplishment, she decided to celebrate herself – and she loudly and proudly wrote 10 things she likes about herself.  Then, to keep the good times rolling, she asked her readers who have blogs if they would play along and  participate in the activity as well.  So, in honor of Miss Jennie’s big day, here are 10 things I like about my own self:

  1. I try my best and give my all – no matter how “unimportant” the task at hand may be.
  2. I notice little moments, and I take the time and make the effort to share them, so that other people might enjoy them as well.
  3. I support other people whenever and however I can.
  4. I volunteer, simply because I believe it’s the “right” thing to do in life.
  5. I’m a fantastic listener.
  6. I’m always on the lookout for things to learn.
  7. I’m brave. (#11, 16, 69…)
  8. I’m action-oriented.  Even (especially?) when things might be uncomfortable, I suck it up and go for it anyway.
  9. I love.  Even when it’s risky to do so, I can’t help myself.  I love.
  10. I can write this list with ease.  Up until a few years ago I would have struggled with this task; today, I banged it out in just 10 minutes.  I’m proud of how much I’ve grown.  :)

Jennie, thank you for being a force for good in the world.  I’m more than happy to play along with you.

Friend, readers, Romans – lend me your likes.  :)  What do you like about YOU?  Share a comment – or write a whole post about it.  If you decide to publish a little somethin’-somethin’, I’ll link to it below.  (And I bet Jennie might just do the same, too.)



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Beyond 101: Visit the Art Shanty Projects

I live in a state where winter can occupy the climate for six months of the year – literally.  (I.e., November through April – or longer.)  Fortunately, I also live in a state populated by hearty and determined folk of strong Midwestern stock who refuse to let a little double-digit sub-zero temperatures and a few feet of snow knock them down.  Indeed, my fellow citizens laugh in the face of brutal Arctic conditions; instead of burrowing indoors until the ice melts, people here plan activities that make ice a critical element to success!  In addition to hobbies like broomball and ice fishing, annual events like the Winter Carnival turn what could be perceived as a liability into an asset.  Small towns throughout the state also host localized versions of winter celebrations – but very few are as unique as the Art Shanty Projects.

I heard about the Art Shanty Projects from three different individuals: a colleague, a friend on Facebook, and one of my yoga teachers.  Adhering to my Rule of Three, when  the project was mentioned at the end of savasana last Sunday, I took that as my cue to make the long drive across town, get over my semi-irrational fear of walking on frozen water, and explore a variety of artist-created ice houses spread over a small stretch of winter lake.

Describing the Art Shanty Projects is a slightly challenging task.  The creators of the event describe it this way: “Art Shanty Projects is an artist driven temporary community exploring the ways in which the relatively unregulated public space of the frozen lake can be used as a new and challenging artistic environment to expand notions of what art can be.  The project provides a unique opportunity for artists to interact with their audience, and vice versa, in an un-intimidating, non-gallery like environment. Artists can choose to work in a way that directly engages the audience – i.e. knitting or singing Karaoke – or in a more passive way.  The project must self-govern to respect the environment of the lake and the community of fisher-people that already exists.  We are bringing a new use to a place that already has an established relationship with its patrons.”

Sarah Harper, a journalist for a local indie paper, described the Art Shanty Projects like this: “It’s a juried event, so people have to apply to be able to put their ideas into the form of plywood, paint and 2-by-4s. But you don’t have to be a famous artist, or even a professional one, to get a spot. The result is a wide range of shanties. Some have simple premises, others higher-minded; some are built beautifully, others are a tad more ramshackle.  The event is cool (and cold, heh) because none of the shanties take too long: you’re in, you’re out, you’ve gotten the picture and you’ve been reminded that snow isn’t just the thing your car gets stuck in. It can be the thing you do yoga (“snowga”) in with the free spirits running the Meta Shanty.  It’s not a contest – actually, it’s the exact opposite of a contest.”

My yoga instructor (the gal whose comment nudged me into going to the Art Shanty Projects) described the event like this: “It’s kind of like Burning Man…only family-friendly…and no drugs…and really cold.”  Hmm…. sounds, interesting?

As I have never been to Burning Man, the above description provided me only a vague sense of what the Art Shanty Projects might be like.  But my curiosity was piqued, and my sweetie was game to explore them with me – so yesterday the two of us bundled up in our warmest winter gear, and made our way to a frozen lake to take in the experience.

Now that I have been to the Art Shanty Projects, I can see why they are challenging to describe to someone who has never experienced the event.  To me, the gathering reminded me of a very cold, speed-dating version of the Fringe Festival.  But if a person is unfamiliar with the Fringe, that explanation doesn’t help much, either.  So I think one of the best ways to describe the experience is not to talk about it, but to show it.  With that, I give you…

(As lived by Stef)

1. Pedal Bear

As my sweetie and I left solid land and forged a path across the ice (gulp), the very first thing we saw was the Pedal Bear.  I hadn’t planned on taking photos during this outing (since I wanted to keep my body as warm as possible, and the outdoor air temp was a mere 8 degrees F), but as soon as I saw the Pedal Bear, I knew that plan was out the window; this stuff was too good not to document:

01_polar pedal

As my husband and I crossed in front of this contraption, the little “bear” steering the big bear around the lake yelled, “RAAAAWWWWRRRR!!  Get out of my way, or I’ll eat you! RRAAWWWRRR!”  then laughed.  Awesome.

From the creators: “Engage in conversations about climate change, alternative transportation, and innovative use of recycled materials while pedaling the Pedal Bear! A larger than life polar bear will rove across White Bear Lake powered by the kinetic energy of our shanty audience.”

Pedal Bear was like a PedalPub, but without the alcohol, and on ice instead of the street.

The Pedal Bear was massive; I was impressed with the size of the big bear as I was the personality of the little steering “bear”.  Here’s a close-up of both of them:

02_polar pedal close up

2. The Curling Clubhouse Ice Shanty

From the creators: “Here you’ll find everything you need to engage with the sport of Curling! The Curling Clubhouse Ice Shanty will provide a modified rink, instructional diagrams and lessons. But wait that’s not all! The shanty itself will provide an observation deck and warming house complete with a small gallery on the history of curling.”

The above description is exactly what this shanty delivered:

03_curling indoors

From the interior of the shanty. The walls inside the space had a variety of curling-related information – including the 2014 Olympic schedule!

04_curling outdoors

Just outside the shanty – a lovely curling area.

3. The Mailroom

From the creators: “A surrealist shanty, once inside visitors are inside The Mailroom they are transported to a lonely hotel hallway for a moment of solitude with an  invitation to share anonymous stories.”

Again, this description is quite apt; here is what I encountered when I entered The Mailroom:


4. The Dance Shanty

Upbeat music from inside this PVC-pipe-and-tarp construction entertained the entire lake – and passers-by were invited inside to dance for as much (or as little) as they wanted.  When my sweetie and I entered the Dance Shanty, the hosts welcomed us with a huge “Woo hoo!”  It was a wonderful way to be greeted.  :)  My sweetie and I jumped around inside the Dance Shanty for a song, then continued on our exploration.

The Dance Shanty welcomes all event participants - young, old, and everyone in between.

The Dance Shanty welcomes all event participants – young, old, and everyone in between.

5. North Flicks

As my sweetie and I approached the North Flicks shanty, the first thing we saw was a window. I peered in, and couldn’t really make out what was going on inside:

08_north flicks window_looking in

Some sort of art/craft project – but what exactly?  Now a bit more curious, I walk in the shanty for a closer look:

09_zoetrope sign

A sign informed me I could “Create my own zoetrope”.

But what’s a zoetrope?  As I looked at the materials on a table, I deducted that a zoetrope is a circular version of a flip book. (Both of these items are simple forms of animation.)


The strip of a face appearing (in the bottom right corner of the picture) is what helped me figure out the objective of this shanty.

Fun!  But the space was crowded, so I decided to let the kids make the craft; my sweetie and I continued on to the next shanty.

6. The Creep Shanty

From the creators: “Who says we can only be creeped out at Halloween?  This Haunted attic will house a variety of disturbing yet engaging activities. Have your photo taken with a washed–up post–holiday Santaclown. Visit with demonic toy puppets. Sit down at the Donner Dinner Party. Hopefully you make it out of The Creep Shanty with your wits about you.”

11_aim to offend 12_shame break

Oh darn, we missed this one.  Oh well.  :)

7. Lost Found and Wanted

13_lost found and wanted

From the creators: “An art shanty version of the want ads. Lost, Found & Wanted Shanty will be making connections all over shantytown throughout the month. Visit a real old fashioned typewriter in this shanty to write up and post what you’ve lost, what you’ve found, a personals ad, or something to trade. With visitors encouraged to share both real and fictional needs, exchanges, and invitations this shanty is sure to help make dreams come true.”

From inside the shanty:



The sign on the door made me smile:

16_door is alarmed

I can’t tell if the door is alarmed as in it will sound loudly should someone attempt to break in (which is laughable, considering that the shanty is made of plywood and contains nothing valuable inside), or if the door is alarmed as in it is worried about the contents within its four walls. I like the absurdity behind both interpretations. :)

8. Drama/Puppet Therapy Circus – Sami Shanty

17_therapy circus

Approaching this shanty, my sweetie and I saw a few interesting pieces outside:

18_inward looking chair

Sometimes a chair is just a chair. And sometimes not. :)

19_outward reflection chair

From the creators: “In the tradition of the Sami structure known as the Lavvu, the Drama/Puppet Therapy Circus Shanty will encourage audiences to look either to their past or their  future for inspiration in participating in this shanty’s activities. Visitors will be given the choice to perform or observe and the line between private confessions and performative scripts will be blurred.”

While this sounds fascinating, this shanty was very full when my sweetie and I approached; and in the interest of staying warm, we decided to continue on.

9. Ice Ice Maybe

20_ice ice maybe

From the creator: “The Shanty’s primer high-end boutique specializing in the commodification of timelessness, Ice Ice Maybe offers the finest ice encased objects that money can’t buy.”

When we entered this shanty, the greeter welcomed us very warmly, and explained the concept: “Ice Ice Maybe is the only retail shanty on the lake.  On the ledge outside you will find a variety of treasures; if you deem any of them to be intrinsic to your nature or anything that you need, bring it inside.  I will ask you a series of questions about the item, and determine if it should belong to you.”  Hmm, interesting!  I stepped outside the shanty to “shop”:

21_ice trinkets

22_more ice trinkets

But none of the items available for “purchase” called out to me – so my sweetie and I kept on walking.

10. Elevator Shanty

Within ten feet, we found ourselves outside a strikingly real-looking elevator – complete with a lobby!


24_elevator lobby

But please remember that we are literally on a lake.  Very intrigued, we stood in line to ride the “elevator”.

As we waited for the elevator to return to the ground floor (and yes, the numbers above the door were changing as we were waiting), the artist in charge of the shanty asked, “So, do you folks know what to do in an elevator?”  Um, yes?  She continued, “So, you know that you have to push a button to go anywhere, right?  Because some folks out here, they  walk into the elevator – but then they just stand there.  I guess they don’t know that the elevator won’t move unless they actually press a button…”  We smiled.  Point taken.

A second later the doors opened, and my sweetie and I entered the space along with six or eight other people.  The man nearest the control panel asked us what floors we needed.  A few folks tossed out numbers (“Six!” “Nine, please.”  “Eight.”), and the man pressed the corresponding buttons:

25_elevator interior

Again, this is inside a plywood box on a LAKE! Yet it felt like a real elevator. So friggin’ cool.

A second later the floor of the elevator felt like the box was really going up!  Now, I ride an elevator at least ten times every day when I’m at work, so my body knows exactly what the sensation of an elevator ride feels like – and this experience was spot on.  It was the strangest feeling.  Incredible.

From the creator: “While waiting in the ice-lobby visitors cannot even begin to imagine where the Elevator Shanty will take them. With elevator themed music, puns, and general rowdiness the Elevator Shanty will surely take you to new heights on the ice.”

11. The Jigsaw Shanty

26_puzzle shanty

As my sweetie and I approached this shanty, we saw jumbo-sized puzzle pieces in the area outside the door:

28_make a puzzle

Once we stepped inside the shanty, we found out what was going on:

27_puzzle shanty wall

Each wall of the shanty was a puzzle!  The host of the shanty invited us to write a secret on one of the walls; next weekend’s visitors to the shanty would construct our wall as they made their own.  By the end of the month, all four walls would be decorated and re-constructed – and the Jigsaw Shanty would be complete.  Cool!

12. Speak Your Truth/ This I Believe Shanty

29_high school art shanty

The instructions for this shanty were posted on the door, and read: “Enter – wait for eyes to adjust.  Artwork made by Southwest High School students based on what they believe. 3 people at a time.”

After entering the shanty and waiting for my eyes to get used to the dim light, I saw a lovely mixed-medium piece:

30_high school art

My favorite.

13. Are You a Robot/Monster?

31_robot monster exterior

From the creators: “In the age of Instagram and Facebook uploads what could be more fun than getting your picture taken as a Robot or Monster? This shanty revives the tradition of cardboard cutout photos in Art Shanty fashion.”

When I peered inside the shanty, I saw this:

32_robot monster interior

A classic stick-your-face-in-the-hold-and-become-a-creature display!  The entire shanty provided robots and monsters of various shapes and sizes on both the inside and outside of the space; probably 20 different options in all?  But this one was my favorite:

33_puppy monster

Puppy monster! :) What a cutie.

14. The Wind Shanty

From the creators: “Celebrating the blissfulness of wind, this shanty will invite all who enter to reflect and play with the wind. Writings about wind will be encouraged as will all kinds of interactive wind games such as flying kites, designing your own wind spirals and wind dancing.”

Outside of this shanty I saw one person skiing behind a kite (an activity that seems perfectly suited for a frozen lake), and inside I saw a variety of very unique wind chimes.  Here’s one sample:

34_wind shanty

A perfect chime for a poet.

15. Cook Yourself Kitchen and Ski Up Refrigerator

A.K.A. – A sauna.

Yes, a real wooden sauna was attached to a small shanty.  From the creator: “Bastefully enjoy cooking yourself and other visitors in a traditional Finnish sauna. Not into cooking? Visit on Sundays for an eclectic line up of performances hosted  in the Ski Up Refrigerator.”

My sweetie and I visited the shanty on a Saturday, so I don’t know what the ‘Ski Up Refrigerator’ is all about; but the sauna is the real deal.  I didn’t go in (there was a big line), but I saw lots of people going in (and coming out), and they were definitely warm after visiting this one!

35_sauna shanty

The sauna. The attached shanty is to the right, just beyond the snow wall.

16. The Meta Shanty

36_meta shanty

From the creators: “Rejuvenate yourself in this metaphysical space for decompression. Inside the geodesic dome of The Meta Shanty you will find Loving Kindness Meditation, Astrological Readings, Taro Cards, and Essential Oils Workshops. Out on the ice you can participate in Snowga (yoga in snowsuits), Qi-gong, and Tai-Chi.”

Now this is my kind of shanty!  Sadly, when my sweetie and I were walking by, none of the outdoor activities were occurring.  And though I wanted to explore this shanty, I didn’t want to remove my boots (again, I was attempting to preserve my body heat as much as I could), so I just walked past this one.  Sad.  :(

17. Town Hall Shanty

From the creators: “Hear ye, Hear ye, people of Art Shanty Town are invited to, well, name the town! Visitors to the Town Hall Shanty will be invited to participate in governing Art Shanty Town through opportunities ranging from creating a code of law to designing a flag and seal. Outside of the Town Hall Shanty is a village green for public discourse and celebrations.”

Apparently Carl was one of the first visitors to this shanty, as the Town Hall was named after him:

37_town hall carl

I suppose I could have re-named the Town Hall after myself, if I asked for a dry erase marker….

Inside, the shanty offered a variety of clever programs and events:

38_town hall carl event

As well as some cool art postcards (made by the shanty creators, and sharing an important message):

39_town hall carl art

Outside of the shanty, the Town Hall did have a “village green” (white), complete with official city bell!

40_town hall carl bell

(Yes, we rang it.)  :)

18. Sunrise Shanty 

42_sunrise shanty explanation

More from the creators: “Share the intimacy and preciousness of watching the sunrise with a small group of shanty goers in the Sunrise Shanty. Utilizing a solar-powered dawn simulator small groups will sit together first in the darkness and slowly getting to know each other over the course of an imitation daybreak.”

A lover of the sun, I was excited to experience a unique sunrise.  My sweetie and I entered the shanty, and sat it two chairs the creators had set out.  One of the creators nodded in our direction and said, “Hello,” while the other one looked off into space while simultaneously cooking something on a very small wood-burning stove.  I smiled at the artist who greeted us.  The four of us then sat in silence.  A few seconds later four more visitors came into the space, and the two creators treated them in the same fashion.  The new visitors smiled back, and now the eight of us sat in silence.  After a full minute of silence, the four newest additions left the space; after another full minute of silence, my sweetie and I also departed.  Upon leaving the shanty, I saw this sign:

43_sunrises every 30 min

I guess that explains it?

While I was disappointed to not see an indoor sunrise (or sunset), I was impressed by the real wood-burning stove.  It made the shanty nice and warm.  Cozy.

41_sunrise shanty

The exterior of the Sunrise Shanty. It ain’t much to look at, but it sure felt good inside!

One shanty that we walked by but didn’t enter was Noah’s Art Shanty.  The space was absolutely packed each time my sweetie and I walked by (as in, another body literally could not fit beyond the door); after our third time past this shanty, we decided to just skip it.

One shanty that we never saw (but that apparently was at the event) was The Music Box Shanty.  I wonder how we missed that one?

After an hour of being out on the lake, I was ready to get out of the wind.  I felt really happy by all that I had seen and experienced – but I also wanted my face and hand to get warm.  (My left hand was fine; it was my right hand that was a wee bit frozen from being exposed due to all the picture taking.  [But it was worth it.])  :)

As my sweetie and I walked off the lake to head back to the parking lot and into our warm car, we passed by this sign:

44_no swimming

Yeah, that seems about right.  :)


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Beyond 101: Donate my hair*

(*and color my hair, and allow someone else to choose my hairstyle)

I was born with a full head of hair.  At one month old I sported a lush black mop top; by the time I was two years old my chestnut-brown hair was halfway down my back.  During my childhood and adolescence I vacillated between exceptionally long hair and more manageable chin-length styles.  I rarely worried when I visited our family stylist – if she gave me a “bad” haircut, I knew it would grow out in a few months, and I could try something new at that time.

As a kid, it didn’t even occur to me that other people might have a different relationship with their hair.  But as I transitioned from naïve childhood to less-innocent adulthood, I realized the power that hair can wield.  I’ll spare everyone a diatribe on the influence of beauty in American culture; suffice to say, “pretty” people are often treated better than “less pretty” individuals – and wearing long hair is one way an American woman can help herself appear “beautiful”.

Over the past few years I have let my hair grow.  Not for any particular reason – apart from frugality, laziness, and apathy.  Due to these three forces, I simply didn’t bother to schedule frequent visits to the salon.  So I’d see my stylist once every six months to clean up my hair’s jagged ends and give my straight locks some more body and movement – but otherwise, I just let my hair go.  As the length moved past my neck, then shoulders, then upper back, I began to notice my personality change ever-so-slightly.  As my hair rested past my chin, I began to feel more comfortable in the presence of other people.   When my strands moved closer to my shoulders, I began to feel more confident.  As my mane grew longer and swayed across my back, I found myself occasionally feeling cocky.  With long hair I felt pretty and powerful; apparently I gave more importance to hair (beauty) than I wanted to admit.

I don’t want to live a life where my self-worth is measured by external factors – so when I realized the nearly-unconscious influence my hair was having on my heart, I decided change was necessary.  I needed to cut my hair.

For many years I had considered donating my hair to a well-known national organization that provides wigs to cancer patients.  But my hair was never long enough to meet their usage criteria.  As I became more serious about making a drastic change, I conducted research about various nonprofit organizations that provide free wigs to individuals who need them – and learned that many groups do not accept layered, gray, or color-treated hair.  As I’m approaching my forties, my dark hair is beginning to show signs of my age (i.e., I’m starting to gray) – and a few months ago I realized that if I was serious about ever donating my hair, now was likely my last window of opportunity to do it.

So I let my hair grow unfettered for another two months; and the second it got to a sufficient length, I made an appointment with my stylist.  During our consult, I told her that I wanted to donate my hair.  She smiled.  When she asked me what style I wanted to receive after she chopped off my braids, I replied, “G, I want you to do whatever you want.  I’ve been coming to you for over ten years; if there’s a style you’ve always wanted to give me that I haven’t been willing to try before, now’s your chance.”  My stylist’s smile grew much more broad. I continued, “Oh – and I’m willing to have my hair colored, too.  So you can do something with that if you’d like as well.”  With that, G’s eyes grew wide and bright.  She clarified, “So, I can do anything I want to your hair?”  I nodded, and answered, “Yup.  Whatever you want.  I trust you.  Just don’t make me look like a boy.”  G laughed, told me there was no way she could make me look like a boy even if she tried, but then promised that she would give me a very feminine style.  With that, she practically skipped to the far end of the salon to mix up a demi-permanent color for my head – and I sat back in her chair, anxious, but also excited.

When G returned, she segmented my hair into four sections, then loosely braided each one.  She applied a small band just below the spot where she would make the big cut – and when I saw how close her scissors would be to my head, I inhaled sharply.  G paused.  She said, “Are you sure about all of this?”  I drew in a breath, and answered honestly, “No, not at all.  But I need to do it.  So go.”  With that, I shut my eyes – and heard a big snip.

Ten seconds later, four long braids laid on G’s workstation.  Wow.  It was done.

But actually, it was only just getting started.

Now that my hair was nine inches shorter, G applied the color treatment to my strands that remained.  I kept my eyes closed for the remainder of the salon appointment – I wanted to experience a big surprise at the end of it all.  So I had no idea what color G chose (not that I would probably have been able to tell from looking at the mixture, anyway…); I only know that the dye mixture felt cool, gloopy, and heavy as she applied thick layers to sections of my head.

Once every strand of hair was sufficiently coated, G wrapped my head in a towel, then had me go off to “process”.  The wait time was rather short (just 10 minutes), but during that time I enjoyed a lovely seated massage.  When the requisite 10 minutes had elapsed (and my shoulders had loosened ever-so-slightly), G’s assistant took me back to the sinks and gave my hair a through rinse, then a proper shampoo and condition.

From there, I was led back to G’s salon chair, where she began the “real” haircut. For fifteen minutes I heard scissors snipping all around my head, and felt more and more of my neck being exposed.  After getting the general shape of the cut where she liked it, G blew my hair dry.  I thought that was the end of the scissors part of the day, but in reality G had a lot more cutting planned.  Once my hair was dry she could see how the style would actually look when I wore it each day, and she performed detailed shaping work accordingly.  For another fifteen minutes G circled around the chair, cutting hair on one side of my face, then the other, then taking the back up a bit, then balancing the front… I genuinely feared that by the time G was finished, I would only have a few inches of hair remaining.  It was at this point that I had a silent chat with myself – and it went something like this: “Stef, you surrendered control of this appointment.  And you did so for a reason: to be free.  Your hair does not define you.  No matter how long or short, how dark or light, how curly or straight, your hair – this hair – is just that.  Hair.  Little colored strands of proteins protruding from your skull.  Whether you have a ton of it or none at all, the core being of who YOU are remains unchanged.  So move past this.  Focus on your heart, not your head.  And most certainly not your hair.  Do that, and you’ll always be beautiful.”

At that moment, G set her scissors down.  She gave my new style a few swipes from a hot iron, and a liberal dose of spray.  I heard her set the product down; then she asked me, “Okay Stef, are you ready to see?”

I took in a breath, and set a tight smile on my face.  “G, I am.  Let’s do this.” And I opened my eyes.

Upon seeing my reflection in the mirror, I beamed.  G had given me a super-cute bob that maximized the slight curl of my hair while also keeping the strands manageable.  As she slowly spun me around to look at the cut from all angles, I told her, “Oh G, it’s terrific.  I love it!”

“And what about the color, Stef?  Do you like it?” G asked.

Truthfully, I was so focused on the cut, I didn’t even notice the color.  I leaned towards the mirror for a closer look.  The hue G chose was a few shades darker than my own, but it looked completely natural on me.  And in addition to covering the few gray strands growing around my temples, the treatment gave my hair a depth and luminosity that had been lacking for quite a while.

“It looks really good, G.  My hair looks so much shinier than before!” I answered.

“And warm,” G added.  “I think this color adds a lot of warmth to your hair.”

I nodded in agreement.  “That’s a perfect way to describe it.  Warm.  I like it.  I really do.”

Now it was G’s turn to smile.  “I’m so glad!  I had so much fun doing this cut and color; I don’t often get to do whatever I want to a client.  I really enjoyed myself, and I’m glad you’re happy with the way things turned out.  And,” she closed, “you don’t look like a boy.”

I laughed out loud.  “You’re right G, I don’t look like a boy,” I affirmed, smiling.

G led me to the salon’s hostess stand.  I thanked G one last time, gave her a hug, and then turned my attention to the salon receptionist to process my payment.  The gal looked at me and asked, “How can I help you?”  Slightly confused, I replied, “Um, yes, I’d like to pay for my services, please.”  The receptionist appeared genuinely surprised, and asked, “Er, okay…. what services did you have done, exactly?” Now I was really confused; this woman had checked me in for my appointment less than two hours ago.  I gently stated, “I just received a cut and color… from G…” – and immediately the woman’s jaw dropped.  She stated/asked, “Wait – when you checked in, did you have hair down your back?”  I nodded yes, and the gal squealed, smiled, and cried out, “Oh-my-gosh, your hair looks SUPER cute!!  And the color looks terrific!  Wow, I didn’t even recognize you – you look so different!  You look great!” The other assistants behind the stand nodded in agreement.

I have to admit, I liked that reaction.  :)

After processing my payment, I walked to my car.  As I opened the door to get in, I caught my reflection in the driver’s side window – and felt a small jolt of surprise.  I did look rather different… Wow. This change is going to take some getting used to.  But it’s good.  Change is good.

The next day, I got to enjoy various colleague’s reactions to my significantly different appearance.  A few individuals actually didn’t recognize me immediately; it took them a few seconds before they were able to process my new look.  Some colleagues played it cool (“Hey, nice haircut,” they said in a very mellow tone), others tried to be funny (“Say, where did you hair go?” they chuckled good-naturedly), and others were effusive in their praise.  My favorite reaction was from a lovely lady who, when she saw me for the first time post-cut, cried out, “Oh wow, Stef!  Your haircut is lovely!  You look so darling!” She paused, then stated again, “Absolutely darling!”


It’s been a week since my big haircut took place, and over the past seven days I’ve mostly gotten used to the new length and style.  (Though I am still surprised each morning when I shampoo my head in the shower, and realize that my hands don’t have much hair to wash!)  I’ve learned how to dry and style my hair in a way that I like, and have adjusted to seeing my short locks in a mirror or window reflection.

In the grand scheme of life, a haircut is a rather unimportant event.  But change – particularly an adjustment in an individual’s personal appearance – is not always so trivial.  Through this experience, I received the opportunity to dig deeper into my own constructs of self, value, worth, “beauty”, surrender, and acceptance – as well as to see how others around me respond to these notions.  Most importantly, though, I got to help a child cultivating these notions for herself; and while I like to think that my gift of long hair will help a young girl develop a sense of self-acceptance, my larger hope is that one day she won’t need a wig to see her true value and worth.

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