Saturday, November 23, 2013

30-Before-30 Update: Donate My Hair

As I've mentioned before, part of the fun of checking things off my goal list has been looking back at my frame of mind when setting the goal and seeing how things have changed.

Before my health issues, it was just a 5k.
Before the back-to-back deaths of two close loved ones, it was just a tattoo.

I wasn't sure I was going to write about what changed surrounding donating my hair, but I think it's important to share.

When my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was my family's first experience facing the loss of someone in my parent's generation. My dad could barely get the words out; I can still remember where we were standing in the kitchen when he told me she'd been diagnosed, how he covered his mouth with his hand like he wanted to keep the truth muffled. I was proud of the way he stepped up; retired, he could accompany her to chemo appointments and visit with her while she recovered.

My aunt Vicki was always made up--she always looked really beautiful, hair coiffed, mascara just so. She was terrified of losing that. I was terrified to watch it.

My mom predictably sprang into action mode and arranged for her to try on real-hair wigs. I felt like it was an honor to be there, so met them at the salon, where our family hair stylist had arranged for her to try a few options.

The first one was vetoed--too Dolly Parton. We laughed and tried the second. I thought it looked beautiful; it was her color, it was shiny but real, and since it was real hair you could modify the cut a bit...what more could you ask?

Her face emitted hesitation, and we tried to convince her that she looked great. Tears welled in her eyes and she was silent; it was clear she was conceding to her new reality.

I think it was my dad who suggested she try on the third option, which everyone had kind of brushed off as "not Vicki". As the stylist secured it on her head, she looked up into the mirror and her hand rose to her mouth: "Oh." The tears that had collected fell. It wasn't her typical cut, but for some reason she looked like herself. Most importantly, she felt like herself. Her new reality seemed a little less scary, a little more familiar.

When I first declared I wanted to donate my hair, it was in a general, this-is-something-I-can-do-to-help kind of way. It's become a lot more than that. I want someone else to have that moment in the mirror: "Oh." A little less scary, a little more familiar.

 I mean, I totally win Movember, right?

Here's where I get real and tell you that I almost didn't go through with it. Dating is hard enough as it is--you can go from confident to vulnerable with one delayed text response. Was I really ready to give away one of the only things I'm truly confident about?

But I went through with it because even if I might struggle to feel like myself for a week or so, it's going to grow back. I didn't have it taken from me without my will. I didn't have to stare down death while having my identity and femininity taken from me piece by piece.

And a wise, extremely beautiful woman once taught me that a little mascara and some good friends can go a long way in making you feel like yourself.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Quoteworthy: Vulnerability

I often have to have written about something before I understand it.

It's what makes me good at my job--I essentially write about things I don't know about for a living. I gather morsels of information in the research portion of a project, and by stringing the words and paragraphs together, a fully formed idea inevitably emerges. I don't know what it's going to look like until it's finished. It kind of feels like painting sometimes, working on the strokes themselves and later backing up to see the big picture. I don't think I'll ever be able to teach it. It's just how I've been my entire life, thanks to some really great teachers, and since it works, and it pays my bills, I know when to leave well enough alone. I don't question it. I just write, and things make more sense.

In my early twenties I recognized that writing could help me process things in my personal life as well. Only a few years ago, around the time I started this blog, did I really force myself to write as a vehicle for sorting things out. If I had to guess I'd say I only post about 10% of what I write--outside of work, of course. There are a lot of drafts in my Blogger account, a lot of Word documents on my laptop. I've got a lot to sort out still.

I am telling you this not only because I think it's important to recognize our strengths, but because it's the only way I can explain my biggest weakness. Because with this blessing comes a curse.

The world doesn't communicate the way I'm wired to, not on an interpersonal level.  In relationships, you can't hole up in your bedroom and work things out alone on your laptop. You have to be able to work things out in real time. You have to meet another person half way. You have to address things piece by piece, before the larger picture emerges, if it ever even does. You can't play to your strengths because everything has to be on the table. You need to hang in, be open, be vulnerable. Your emotions can't just percolate in a Word document somewhere. You have to share before you're ready to. Life is unpolished. Messy, even.

And before there is even a chance to have to "work things out", you have to be open enough to enter a relationship. And before you enter a relationship, you have to be open enough to be seen, truly, by someone. To know and be known: the precursor to loving and being loved.

I don't have to tell you how risky this all is. I don't have to tell you how much it hurts sometimes, how terrifying it is. There's rejection. Opposition. Conflict. A thousand wounds to be opened. A hundred new ones to avoid. We all know this. It's the human condition.

But I've been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately, how necessary it is. Excruciating at times and definitely pushing us out of the ol' comfort zone, but necessary. I'm learning in this season of my life that even if I get hurt, even when the wound still smarts and I have to rally my girlfriends or cry it out in the shower, being vulnerable has always been worth it.

There is no reward in being closed off. There is no merit in keeping yourself hidden. Vulnerability is the key that unlocks a lot of doors, doors behind which there are a lot of good things: Love. Support. Friendship. Not being alone with your thoughts.

I didn't realize that was the point I was getting at until I finished this post, which tells me I have a lot of work to do. But maybe I'll try to edit a little less intensely this time around.

"I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life--and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do." --Georgia O'Keefe (Speaking of painting...)

"Vulnerability sounds like the truth, and feels like courage." --Brene Brown, the vulnerability expert

I got a hunger and I can't seem to get full
I need some meaning I can memorize
The kind I have always seems to slip my mind
But you, but you
You write such pretty words
But life's no story book
Love's an excuse to get hurt
and to hurt --Bright Eyes, A Lover I Don't Have To Love (<--Phenomenal cover)

How come the only way to know how high you get me
is to see how far I fall? --John Mayer, Heartbreak Warfare

Open: (adj) allowing access; not closed off; being in a position to permit passage 

Synonyms: free, expansive, unobstructed

Sounds good to me.