A Letter to my goddaughter

Dear Mabel Day,

Once upon a time your daddy and I had nothing to do on New Years’ Eve. We were in high school, I was a junior and he a freshman, and our parents, your grandparents, left for the evening’s festivities with their friends, leaving your dad and I by ourselves.

We called some friends and we thought that, at the least, we’d watch Karate Kid, and maybe The Bodyguard if I could convince Geoff, and at midnight, run around outside and scream about the New Year being here.

Your dad and I, we had good friends.  Not the kind that were good in the “they keep kids out of trouble” sort of way, but the kind that made Geoff and I laugh. The sort of kids that jumped out of the car at red lights and started to dance because the song that was on B96 was too good to just sit there buckled in. They were mischievous, but it was a benign, creative mischievousness.  Like once, when we got our licenses and our parents told us we weren’t allowed to drive past Harlem, our friends shrugged and said, “Well. They didn’t say anything about going the other direction, did they? To the city?” Your dad and I confirmed that no, our parents never said anything about driving towards the Chicago skyline – just away from it – so of course they wouldn’t mind if we took the convertible down to the beach for a round or two of volleyball while the October waves crashed and the cars along Lake Shore Drive zoomed by.

I don’t remember all the details of the evening, Mabel. I don’t remember how the idea came about, whether it was your dad’s idea, or it was mine.  Maybe it was one of our friends. At any rate, your dad was in the band and he played the baritone. The baritone is the granddaddy of the brass section.  You can’t just pick something like that up and say, “Let me give this a try.” You need bicep muscles. Lung capacity. Me? I played the flute (I was first chair for a while, thank you very much). The flute fit neatly and perfectly in my backpack to and from school.  And the days I got to play the piccolo? My walks home were a breeze. It’s like having a few toothpicks in your backpack. No big deal.

This is not the case with the baritone and I don’t know what your dad was thinking when he agreed to learn how to play it.  Not only was he subjecting himself to years of, “Not yet, Geoff, it’s not time to come in yet.” “Not so loud, Geoff.” “Remember you need to blend in with the rest of the brass, Geoff,” but he had to lug that thing to and from school every day.

Your dad was a better student than I was, and he brought more textbooks home and they were heavier.  When you don’t do your homework, when you take the remedial classes, when you play the flute, your walks home are easy.  I wasn’t book smart, but my goodness, I could’ve helped your dad think this through before he decided to play The Big B.

Anyway, maybe it was after The Karate Kid that our eyes fixed on the baritone (did we call it Barney?) sitting in the corner of the basement underneath  the stairs like Harry Potter might’ve sat in the Dursley’s home.  Maybe one of our friends tried to pick it up to play it, had a near hernia and plopped it back down on its stand. I don’t remember how it happened, but that New Years’ Eve, your uncle and I, along with our friends decided that it would be hilarious if we got in the car, found people on the sidewalks walking to and from parties, and slowly drive alongside them while Geoff played the theme song from Jaws.

So that’s what we did for the remainder of 1992. I drove while your dad sat in the back seat holding the horn across his lap until we found people to scare. We had a caravan back then, before I crashed it (but that’s a story for another day), and Geoff had the entire back row to himself because of the baritone. One person sat shotgun, and everyone else sat in what we called, “the way back.” The part of the car with no seats. Your dad and I would beg your grandparents to let us sit back there and “drive really fast around corners” so we could roll around like ping pong balls.  This was before the law that said kids need to be in carseats until they can successfully say the Declaration of Independence backwards.

The person in shotgun (I wish I can remember who it was. I want to say it was my friend Lisa, but I’m not sure.) held the sliding door open just a tad so that Geoff could begin to play quietly, as the song begins, when we found some victims. As we got closer, Geoff would play “da dum, da dum, da dum” faster and louder until it sounded like that damn shark was in the car with us ready to eat us alive.

I don’t remember if we scared anybody and maybe that disappoints you.  But here’s what I do remember: I remember laughing so hard it was difficult to drive. I remember your dad taking it really seriously and telling me to stop laughing because it we won’t scare anyone that way because my laugh is so loud. His voice hadn’t changed yet, and he wore glasses that even today are not considered Geek Chic.  Have your parents showed you To Kill a Mockingbird yet?  He had Atticus Finch glasses. It’s OK. Atticus Finch is a hero and so is your dad so let’s let them wear whatever kind of glasses they want to.

I remember coming home at night close to the same time as my parents, all of us exuberant from being out in the freezing Chicago cold with our friends. We stood around in the living room and shared bits of the night with each other. Certainly this wasn’t the first time that happened, but I love this memory of the four of us standing in the living room laughing about our night before we went to bed because it wasn’t planned. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Your dad and I had no intention of hanging out with each other that night. Our parents probably assumed we’d be in bed, or watching TV when they got home and they’d say goodnight and head to bed themselves. But we’d all been out in the world and we’d had fun and now here we are in the warm house, the streetlights on Gunderson glowing through the bay window in the living room, their light sparkling from the wind outside.

Your dad and I, we love this story.  I don’t think anybody has as much fun telling it as us. We try and tell it to other people and they aren’t as entertained as we’d like them to be. Once though, I told it to somebody and he said, “You and Geoff. You guys are the best brother and sister.”

I think that’s why I like this story so much, and it’s why I’m telling it to you for when you’re ready to know it. Sweet Mabel, there’s not much you’re going to need from me. You have two incredibly capable parents who adore you and will look at everything you do as a delight and a surprise – even the bad stuff.  So as your godmother, I promise to pray for you, but the way that I think I pray best is to tell you a story, and I think this story about your dad and I is a good one to start with because one day, you might say, “My dad’s no fun.” Or, “I can’t believe my dad won’t let me do (fill in the blank, there’ll be lots of them).” You’ll need to say these things because you’ll want your parents to sting like you are stinging, and your words will be effective. I tell you this story not just to tell you: “Look. Your dad IS fun. Your dad IS the best.”  But to tell him that, too.

You won’t understand this until you become a parent, but the heaviness of life, all the things that could go wrong, seem to sit on either side of  your shoulders when that baby is born.  I can’t even conceive of a time when your uncle Jesse and I will just go out and leave your cousins at home with nothing to do. They’d need dinner! They need to have cell phones with our number plus the number of at least five of our friends on speed dial! If they don’t have plans to go out then we don’t have plans to go out! We’ll have family night! This kind of thinking is exhausting. It’s a buzz kill. It’s desperately depressing, but it’s so easy to sink into.

Maybe your grandparents were hesitant to leave that night, though I don’t think so. I remember my mom putting on earrings and spraying Shalimar on her neck, her cool brown heels, the ones I secretly put on when she wasn’t around, clicked confidently up and down the hallway between our bedrooms as she put on the finishing touches. She was excited to go out with her friends.  My mom and dad shut the front door, walked down the steps, and left Geoff and I with a night to wonder what it was we would do with this one wild and precious life of ours. I don’t know if there’s a better gift you could ask from a mom and a dad: to give you life so you can live it.

So I tell you this story so you can see your dad in a funny situation, and so you can know a bit about your grandparents. There will probably be several nights around a dining table where your dad and I will start to reminiscence about this and other stories (there are lots), and you’ll roll your eyes.  That’s OK. Your uncle, mom, and cousins will probably do it, too.

May God give you eyes to see and create stories from your life, Mabel Day. May you hear a still, small voice in the humorous, in the happy, in the scary, and in the sad events of your life that says, “You are wonderfully and fearfully made. Now, go! Live that wild and precious life!”


Aunt Callie

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Two Things

1. The table is finished!

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Come over and sit at it with me.  I’ll make coffee and we can tell each other stories. What’s your favorite book? We can start there.

2. My essay “Dodging Skittles and Other Fears,” is featured at Altarwork, a brand new publication that is interested in faith and the creative arts. What do you know? Me too!  Have a read?  I hope you enjoy it. I loved writing it.

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Around Here

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I’ve given birth to the real Fancy Nancy.  Harper is taking ballet this fall, and she is to wear a black leotard and pink tights. Her hair must be in a bun.  Harper obliges, but in the evenings she puts the attire on you see above, and we walk around the neighborhood and survey the construction near the library.  The girls can’t wait to climb and sit on those cool chairs.

I have to find a spot to put my new diploma. Right now I’m just carrying it around with me wherever I go.  You know, the gym, Starbucks, the grocery store.  It makes things more poetic.

We have a soccer player in the home.  For her first game, she played forward and goalie.  Have you seen the movie The Replacements?  Hadley is Jon Favreau’s character.

We went to the DC Triathlon for the third year in a row to see Geoff race.  This is always a fun time, and we finish the day off at Shake Shack in Dupont Circle. Aunt Callie tried to not hog the baby, but it’s hard.  It’s real hard.

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Prayer Journals

One of the course objectives in my class this year is to allow time for my students to “interact with God’s truth using various forms of literature.” Lest you think I take this to mean I ought to teach the Left Behind series, here’s one of the ways I’m trying to give students a chance to interact with God’s truth.

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I made everyone a prayer journal, and at the beginning of each class, we start by writing a prayer.  I scribbled those words down in a notebook in Santa Fe last summer right after Lauren Winner said them. It was our first workshop together, and the other students in my cohort might remember it differently, but here’s the way I remember it:

She came into the room like Snape, or rather, like Alan Rickman did when he was Snape. Remember when he says, “I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death?”  Lauren Winner swept into the room and said, “I like to start every workshop with writing because writing is like prayer,” in the exact same tone as Snape.

Snape has always been my favorite character in the Harry Potter series.  I rooted for him from the beginning and I knew there was more to him then what it seemed. People don’t believe me when I say this, but it’s true.  Anyway, Lauren Winner reminded me of Snape and she said those words and I wrote them down, and here’s one way they’re being used in the world about a year later.

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The students had to read The Princess Bride over the summer, so I took a few lines from the book and wrote prayers for them, then allowed space for them to add their own thoughts.

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I don’t know if the students get it. I don’t know if they see the interaction with a truth of God’s through the story and the prayer, but this is my offering of a witness to them.

In Santa Fe this summer, I told Lauren Winner (I’ll always only call her “Lauren Winner”) in my thank yous, that, “last year in our first workshop together you said you like to start each session with writing because writing is like prayer. I scribbled those words down because when I write I think I’m sometimes saying to God, ‘Here is what you gave me, and here, look what I did with it.’ Thank you for helping me pray.”

I don’t know whether my students will be able to say that this year, but I guess I’m working on my faith here with them because I believe that someday they will.

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Warming Up

Now that summer’s over, school and a new job have started, it’s time to get back into a writing schedule. I’m always a little anxious starting at the beginning, so I like to warm-up with a book called Kicking in the Wall by Barbara Abercrombie. Writing warm-ups are a lot like those first few minutes when you start to exercise; they’re there to let your body loosen up for the real work that’s around the corner.

Here’s prompt #54: “Write a scene in which your character cooks breakfast and makes a discovery.”

He lights the gas and the stove clicks and puffs fire and the pan is settled on the iron plates. He swirls a pat of butter with a knife around the pan, pivots, and goes to get the eggs and bacon out of the fridge.

He opens the eggs and cuts the plastic on the bacon, but doesn’t put them in the pan. Instead, he picks up his mug of tea; the Notre Dame mug filled with Earl Grey and milk. It smells like lavender and maybe Ireland. The butter is starting to sizzle and he leans against the counter sipping his tea.

“Maybe I’ll get a fridge for the garage,” he thinks and looks to the back door, to our little yard that leads to the garage. Both doors to the garage are open, plus the screen of our back door and thick August air steams our kitchen up along with the butter frying in the pan. He’s left the doors open because the girls are sleeping upstairs and I am on a run. He was in the garage working, and didn’t want the girls to wake up and not know where he was.

He’s building a table for our kitchen. That’s why he’s in the garage this morning. He’s put together three planks of wood on steel legs and soon it will be in our kitchen, and I will put my Grandma’s tablecloth on it sometimes and daisies on it other times and the four of us will have breakfast and dinner and do homework and answer emails and look at magazines and books on it.

But he’s leaning against the kitchen counter looking through the garage to the retention pond behind us, to the town center that’s being built and he’s thinking of a fridge for the garage while the pan gets hot. “With shelves next to it,” he thinks, “so we can put things like coffee beans and water bottles on it.”

He puts his mug on the counter, though the tea is not finished. He never finishes his tea. He cracks an egg, two eggs, then goes for the bacon.

I’ve come home, walking into the garage, past the table that’s standing in the center freshly  sanded and ready to be stained, and into the kitchen.

“Smells good,” I say and grab my water bottle. It slips in my hand because I’m sweaty.

“How was your run?”

“Awful,” I say and take a drink. “I’m old.”

I stand at the door, my back to the kitchen and stare at the yard, at our garage, at the table, and the construction in the field beyond our home.

“This morning I saw a little girl and her dad playing catch in the field over here,” I point to the grassy spot beyond our garage. I drink my water and say, “It seemed like a nice place to play catch.”

“You want toast or hash browns or both?” he asks.

“Both,” I say and fill my glass up again. “I think once the construction’s done that spot will still be there. The spot where the little girl and her dad are playing catch. I think there will be plenty of room for that sort of thing once the town center is built.”

I start my coffee while he flips the bacon and the eggs. When it’s brewed, I pour myself a mug, the one I got in Seattle eleven years ago. “I don’t mind it so much here,” I say while I pour.

I walk to the stove where he is, nudge him and say, “You didn’t finish your tea.”

“On to other things,” he says, pushing the yoke of one of the eggs slightly to make sure it’s cooked. I can’t stand runny eggs. He doesn’t mind them.

I sit on the counter next to him and drink my coffee, holding my mug until all that’s left are brown rings that line the bottom.


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The Room is Pretty Big, Virginia

For graduation, one of my mentors gave me A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf. “I hope you read it slowly,” was one of the things she wrote inside the book.  So I do.  Every night before I go to sleep, I read one of Virginia’s entries.

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“Life piles up so fast,” she wrote on a Wednesday in March, “that I have no time to write out the equally fast rising mound of reflections, which I always mark down as they rise to be inserted here.”

Life piled up quickly and ever so palpably here last week. I’m glad for Ms Woolf’s words I could contemplate slowly while the last eight years seemed to flash before my eyes.

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What To Read In August

What to read in August

This month the girls and I bring you, “If you liked this book, then you might like this one.” I had Hadley and Harper pull a book from their shelves, tell me a little something about the main character, then asked them to find another book with a similar character in it.

District 2-20140729-01111Hadley says she just loves that cat that comes over to play on that rainy day when Sally and her brother’s mom is out for the day.  She thinks he’s mischievous and fun – the best combination for a friend, according to Hadley (watch out, world).

District 2-20140729-01112Hadley thinks that if you like The Cat in the Hat, you’ll probably like Katy Duck Dance Star and really any of the Amelia Bedelia books. Katy, as you might be able to tell from the cover, has a certain idea of what one wears to ballet class and that raises some (funny) problems.  And Amelia?  Well, she means well, but she interprets directions so that there are messes of Cat in the Hat proportions (though she does have some incredible baking skills).  So, if you like The Cat in the Hat, you might like to meet Katy Duck and Amelia Bedelia.

District 2-20140729-01113Once August hits, Harper begins to talk about birthdays. Because, you know, hers is right around the corner. So we read A Birthday for Frances quite a bit towards the end of summer. Harper likes this story because Frances does a really hard thing and doesn’t keep the present she bought for her sister for herself (well, almost anyway).

District 2-20140729-01114Harper thinks that if you like A Birthday for Frances, you might like Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes, and Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy. Both Pete the Cat and Fancy Nancy have their plans changed in their stories. Pete keeps messing up his white shoes, and Fancy Nancy learns that having a pappilion puppy isn’t going to be as fantastic as she thought it’d be.  But just like Frances, Pete and Nancy keep putting one foot in front of the other and they show readers that life the way it is going, is pretty special. No matter what you step in, or what kind of dog you have, or how many gum balls you bought for your sister’s birthday and accidentally ate.

District 2-20140817-01146I chose the delightful story Hound Dog True by Linda Urban.  It’s about a young girl named Mattie Breen who loves to write and lost a pajama button she named “Moe,” and who makes friends with a gal named Quincy. Every girl who loves to write but who is timid and who’s been through the pain of mean girls in school should have a friend like Quincy. I had about three Quincy’s in my life and I don’t think I could write if it weren’t for them.

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If you’ve read Hound Dog True (or even if you haven’t), I recommend Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell.  Do you see that cover? That’s Chicago. And that little girl? She’s Sahara and she writes stories that she hides in the library. This book is one of my favorite books of all time. Sahara has a teacher who tells her class that she doesn’t fail students. “You fail yourselves,” she tells them. I hope that I am as half as good a teacher as Miss Pointy. And the mother in this story is real, you guys. She is a hard-working, passionate woman who doesn’t know so much how to help Sahara but she adores her. The last scene with these two have me sobbing every single time.

One day, Hadley will read this book and I think she’ll keep reading it for Darrell, a guy a little like the Cat in the Hat (only way better).  But I hope the story of the mother-daughter story will seep its way into her heart.

And one day Harper will read Hound Dog True and when she gets to the part about Moe the lost pajama button, she will be breathe a sigh of relief to know that she has found a good friend in Mattie Breen, whose imagination and subtle bravery are just as enormous as Harper’s.

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Guest Writer at Coffee and Crumbs


There’s a new website in the world and today I am the featured storyteller.  Stop by and say hi?  It’s called Coffee and Crumbs. How could I not submit to a place with a name like that?

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Around Here – Santa Fe edition

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Callie reading

SPU 2014 grads

A few pictures from last week in Santa Fe.  I got to see a lot of mountains. My friends showed me to the St. Francis Hotel where the most delicious margarita rimmed with smoked hickory salt was waiting for me (Sherri – smoked hickory salt. Smoked. Hickory. Salt!). I found a store called Poem, and how can you not go into a store with that name? There was a chocolate shop with the most interesting trinkets in it, including tiny Michael Jacksons hanging from shelves.

Oh, and I got to read a story of mine.  And graduate.  I can now say I have an MFA in Creative Writing.  My goodness, that’s a nice dream come true.  Very nice, indeed.

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All The Pretty Highlights

Today is the day the wheels go up for Santa Fe and I head to my last residency, where I will graduate. So a post reflecting on my time as a Seattle Pacific University grad student would be timely. But over the weekend, I had a hair disaster of epic proportions so I’m going to tell you about that instead.

I wanted to color and highlight my hair so I bought a box with a  model on it that seemed to resemble my hair and skin coloring. I wasn’t exactly sure but don’t worry, I’m a savvy consumer. While Hadley and Harper played tag up and down the aisle at Ulta, I asked a lady who was sharing the aisle with me (and dodging my kids) if she thought this box was the right box to get. She said it was. She might’ve worked there, but I’m not sure.

I brought it home, took out all the contents, read the directions, and texted Jesse: Can you color and highlight my hair tonight? I don’t understand the directions and also it says that if I do it wrong something could explode. His reply: Sure. We need to take more risks in our life.

So we’re in the bathroom after the kids go to sleep, he’s cut a hole in a garbage bag and slipped it over my head so the dye doesn’t get on my t-shirt and skin, and I begin to tell him about David Sedaris.

He’s rinsing my hair after the first part, the all over color, has been completed when I bring Sedaris up. “Did I ever tell you about that essay where David Sedaris writes about a boil on his butt and his husband Hugh decides to take care of it?”

“No,” he says, “stop laughing. I don’t want to miss any color.”

“Well, the essay is totally disgusting and funny but it’s haunting, too. No topic is off limits for Sedaris, you know? But he doesn’t exploit. I mean, he doesn’t write a story just to write it. He’s examining stuff, you know?”

“Close your eyes,” Jesse says and sweeps his hand across my forehead and past my temples.

“I think he and EB White are my favorite essayists,” I tell him. “Anyway, Sedaris says this funny thing about how if he has a health problem, he just let’s it simmer until he’s paralyzed with fear, whereas Hugh complains about every pain immediately. Sedaris says Hugh’ll get a splinter and say he understands how Jesus must’ve felt. HAHAHAHAHAHA!” I can barely sit still I’m laughing so hard. “You have to read it,” I tell Jesse.

“I think the water looks like it’s clear,” Jesse says, helping me up from craning my neck at the sink. “Sorry if that was uncomfortable. We need one of those salon sinks.”

“I’m fine,” I say and look in the mirror. “Woah. It’s kind of red and purple, isn’t it?”

I blow dry it, as the directions say, and Jesse begins the next step: highlighting. I continue telling him about David Sedaris.

“I want to do what he does,” I say and Jesse pulls bleach through a strand of my hair. It’s blue to mark as a guide. “I want to be funny and haunting and I want to write essays.”

“Sounds good,” Jesse says. And then, “It says here to put highlights close to your face if you want to look younger. I don’t think you need that.”

“Eh, just do it. It’ll look cool.”

So he does and I tell him that I think Sedaris might be like Flannery O’Connor because of his examination of the grotesque except he doesn’t claim to be a Christian so maybe he’s not aware of the grace in his essays. “But I think it’s still there,” I say, “the grace. I think so, anyway. Do you think it’s OK if you don’t know if you’re writing about grace?”

“I think it’s OK to not always know what you’re doing,” Jesse says and I look in the mirror. My hair is very blue and dark brown.

“When you get to Santa Fe next week, don’t tell anyone that I compared Flannery O’Connor to David Sedaris, OK? Flannery O’Connor makes me cry. And she scares me. She makes me want to give up a little, too. Not with writing so much, but you know, with life. I see myself in all those freaks. I mean, take the grandma in A Good Man Is Hard To Find. I think I’m her, just being a nuisance all the time, and always worrying and not understanding any of it. I get on everyone’s nerves.”

“No, you don’t,” Jesse says.

“Yes I do, and I cry too much. And what if I figure out grace in the last few seconds of life? And did the grandma even figure it out? Ugh. Just don’t tell anyone about this, OK? I don’t get Flannery O’Connor and I think I get David Sedaris, and I feel stupid about it so don’t tell anyone.”

Jesse takes the gloves off and throws them in the trash. “I won’t say anything about David Sedaris or Flannery O’Connor in Santa Fe. Time to rinse.” He leaves and I’m in the bathroom blow drying my hair again and it seems to be getting more red because of the heat. When it’s dry, I flip my hair up and look in the mirror.

I’m not a screamer, so my reaction doesn’t seem dramatic. Not yet. But I walk downstairs to where Jesse is, sitting on the couch going through emails. He sees that I am crying, closes the computer and does his best not to laugh.

“Jesse,” I’m sobbing now. “What am I going to do?”

“Did you not see the box said, ‘red’? I thought you were going for something new.”

“I look like I listen to Depeche Mode!”

“Hon, you do listen to Depeche Mode.”

I get up and go to the bathroom to check my hair out again. Maybe it’s not so bad.

We had a bathroom once that we painted orange and it was so bright you could see it radiate from our kitchen. That’s what my highlights looked like. My hair was a dark, dark red with purplish hues and firecracker highlights.

“What am I gonna do?”

Jesse’s next to me now giving me a hug.

“I just wanted to do something nice for myself, you know? I’ve done all this work, the girls are going off to school full time, and I’m teaching again. I just wanted to step into this next phase boldly, you know?”

“Everything you do is bold,” Jesse says. “But if I had known that, I would’ve said to get it professionally done. Callie,” he holds both my shoulders and looks at me and I can tell he’s trying so hard to peel that smirk off his face. “I have no clue what I’m doing here.”

The next morning, I call the place I get my hair cut and tell them what happened.

“When can you come in?”

“Whenever you say.”

I’m there an hour later, and when I walk in the ladies all look at me with wide eyes. I point to my hair and say, “I’m the one who called earlier.”

Sarah snaps out a cape with the expertise of a surgeon and nods me over. They don’t even let me explain, or sit in the waiting area and read InStyle. Other hairdressers hover around sort of subtly and I think they’re jealous that Sarah gets to work on me and they don’t. “I’ve never seen anything like this before! Let me at her,” is what I think they’re thinking.

Tracy, the girl who usually cuts my hair, looks at me with slight disdain.

“What’d you do?” she asks.

“I’m sorry.”

“I tell you, stop messing with your hair.”

“You told me to stop straightening it.”

That was two weeks ago, when I went in for a cut and Tracy said to stop using a flat-iron on it. “I love straight hair, though!” I whine. “I want to look like Jennifer Aniston. I’ve wanted to look like her since 1994.”

“We can’t have everything we want,” Tracy said.

“I don’t understand those words,” was my reply.

Sarah flips open a huge poster-like magazine with about seventy five hair color samples. She immediately points to a brown color that my hair used to look like.

“We’ll do that,” she states.


There is a pause and Sarah looks at me. “Is that what you want?”

I look at my lap. I don’t mean to make this into a metaphor, but I don’t want to go back to where I started.  “What do you think I should do?” I ask Sarah.

She takes a deep breath and lets it out. I’m sure I’m at least ten years older than her, but today I feel like a kid. She taps on the loop of medium brown hair that she showed me before. She thinks one color is best.

Conversations are not easy to have at Extreme Hair, the salon that’s tucked in between Diamond Nails and a Mexican restaurant that serves margaritas in glasses that look like soup bowls. The ladies, who all have the most beautiful hair on earth, are Asian and English is not their first language. I love coming here because nobody makes small talk with me. But today, Sarah picks up on something in my face and asks, “You want highlights?”

“I do,” I say, trying to not to sound like I’m pleading.

“OK,” she says and gets to work.

The ladies begin to speak in another language and I quickly learn that there doesn’t seem to be a translation for highlights because that’s the only word I understand. That, and the giggling. It’s OK, I think. This is all going to be funny to me too, in a little while.

Tracy’s working on a woman who looks like she could be my grandmother or aunt, and I wonder if she’s Greek or Armenian. At one point, Tracy walks away and the woman lifts her cape up above her mouth so all we see are her cheeks and eyes. She holds it there until Tracy comes back with a flat iron, and the woman lets the cape fall. She shakes her head at the flat iron. I can tell she thinks it’s frivolous.

“I have to,” Tracy says. “You’re hair is big now. I need to smooth it out.”

The woman says nothing and Tracy begins. “I’m trying to help you. Trust me.”

I watch Tracy as she works her magic and about a half an hour later the woman, who I thought was pretty before, is stunning. Her hair is not complicated, but you can tell it’s a good cut. A well crafted cut.

The lady is smiling in that Mediterranean way I know too well. You know at the end of Karate Kid when Daniel is screaming, “We did it, Mr. Miyagi! We did it!” And Mr. Miyagi is sort of nodding vigorously and fighting a smile? Like that.

She stands up, still smiling, and thanks Tracy. Tracy nods as she cleans up, and the woman walks to get her purse. She pulls out a scarf that’s turquoise and green. It looks like what I think the sea in Greece probably looks like. She drapes it over her head, and sweeps the extra material over her shoulders and the scarf is striking against her skin and brown eyes that I can tell are still gloriously happy.

Some of the other hair dressers gasp after Tracy’s work has been covered up. “For her husband,” Tracy says, and we are all quiet as she pushes the door open and glides outside.

As Sarah finishes up with my hair, I think that all this is a big fuss. I think I’ve made a huge deal out of something small. After all, didn’t I just finish my coursework for grad school? Can’t I be happy with that? Aren’t I above all this now?

No. I am not. I might by shy. I might be introverted. But I am not humble. I am self-centered and selfish and I might’ve joked with Tracy about having it all but I want what I want. And right now Sarah’s giving me what I want.

It turns out that what I want is a hairstyle that was trendy around 2000-2001. I understand that as Sarah finishes blowing out my hair. I look like Snooki.

But I’m smiling. For real smiling. Because you know what? I’m going to embrace it. I wanted something different and this is something different. This makes a statement. I bet Snooki is the grandma in A Good Man Is Hard To Find, too. And I hope I don’t start to understand grace moments before I’m offed, but damn it, I earned a Master in Fine Arts. I am learning to sit in a world where I feel “wholly alien although [I] love it still.”  Maybe the Misfit isn’t all that bad. Maybe he’s read All The Pretty Horses and was crushed by John Grady Cole’s realization “that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of divergent equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.”

I might be the grandma, but I’ve found those words because of Seattle Pacific University. They make me scared, and ashamed. They make me cry and they make me see a little bit of grace before it gets dark again. I’m clutching onto them as I make my way into this world.

Ridiculous highlights and all.

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