Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mirror, Mirror

My hairdresser was excited about my wedding before I even knew there was going to be one. She had faith in our possibilities even before Z knew he was my destiny. When I went to tell her I was engaged last year, she cried a little, and then immediately started making plans for a bridal coif. “I’m thinking loose curls. Something romantic. Nothing too bride-y.” I liked her vision of me as a Pre-Raphaelite heroine who, for once, does not have to drown herself in the name of love.

The only problem was that when we did a trial run, instead of a happier Ophelia, I looked like a bulldog in a wig. Suddenly, I had jowls.

We revised.

She pulled some hair up on the sides and curled it in a new way, and then I looked like myself. Only fancier. The day of my wedding, she worked her magic with both make-up tools and a hair brush. In the salon, my hair was perfect. She showed my cousin how to attach the veil and sent me on my way, with promises that she’d arrive before I walked down the aisle and help me touch up my face and fluff my hair.

She never showed up.

When I look at my photos, my first inclination as someone with a critical eye is to notice how, three hours after I was in her salon, my hair flattened and devolved into a series of sausage curls. Not really the look I was going for (though still better than a bull-dog.) Somehow, without an expert standing nearby, it never occurred to me that I was completely capable of fluffing my own hair and reapplying some eye-liner. It’s not like I haven’t been putting on my own make-up since I got my first compact with three-tone Maybelline blush.

But the thing is, I’d never been a bride before, and I believed other people—experts and married women—knew how to do it better than I did. So I never fluffed, touched-up, or bothered to look in a mirror because it seemed like only someone with a certificate hanging above her twirly chair was qualified to do it.

Earlier in the month I went to my last regular MFA residency before I graduate in July. At a luncheon with my non-fiction genre, a faculty member asked what they could do for us to make the graduate experience better. There were some suggestions for particular presentations and curricular alterations, and then I wondered aloud if they could help us make the leap from student to professional, post graduation. I didn’t have any real idea how they might do this though, so debate amongst the faculty ensued about what they owed students. The loudest of them (and my least favorite), insisted that their responsibility to us is over the minute we graduate. It’s possible they were afraid that sometime in August I’d start sending them drafts of my work and asking for feedback or an agent’s number or advice on how to decorate my writing studio. But that’s not what I meant at all.

I know how to be a student. I know how to write. I’ve been doing both of those things since I was five. I even know how to submit writing and take rejection with a stiff upper lip. And I know that writing is a solitary task. But I have no idea how to envision myself as a professional writer. Because I’ve never been one. My fear is that once I’ve left the cocoon of the MFA program, the magic will disappear and I’ll turn right back into my previous self. With sausage curls.

So what was I asking them for? A hand pulling me onto the shaky ground on the other side of the chasm that separates the novice from the professional? Or maybe a shove from behind to help me make that leap? Illustrations about how their professional lives, outside of teaching, look? Because I didn’t know what I wanted, I assured them that I wasn’t expecting to be invited to a writers’ group that they host.

Since that lunch, I’ve been thinking about what it is I meant when I made the suggestion. I’m still not positive, but I’m beginning to suspect that all I really want is some writer-sage, holding up a mirror, pointing to me, and saying, “This is what a writer looks like.” And maybe, after the sage has given me a chance to admire myself, he or she could add, “Instead of asking asinine questions, go write something.”


  1. Allow me...

    To hold the mirror for you, for just a moment. You are. an. excellent. accomplished. and very authentic. writer.

    Plus, you made me laugh. My first ever wedding (to he-who-shall-not-be-named), I dressed the bridesmaids and did THEIR hair. I figured, since I had a veil... right.

    Also, I wore black cowboy boots under my massive petticoat. Needless to say... eight years later, I 'wished myself back-' (to life).

    I'm so glad the three of you are sharing the results of your project and your talent with us; the world needs more strong, assertive, capable, female voices.

  2. That is a good question, being a writer can be a bit more intangible then a TV repairmen. I hope you find with experience you create your own environment. I think that is what you will find works the best.