Empathy

All posts tagged Empathy

On the persistence of the Universe

Published April 3, 2016 by mandileighbean

badbeauty

Some situations in life are unavoidably awkward. Indeed, some moments are socially awkward by definition. For women, I believe this includes any and all visits to beauty salons. Just the other day, I had an appointment for a manicure and pedicure and right off the bat, I was uncomfortable. There’s something inherently unsettling about the setup, about the implied hierarchy. Who am I to show up and demand some other woman (more often than not) try and make me beautiful or more appealing? I’m much too lazy and impatient to paint my own nails so I’m willing to pay someone else to do it, so I’m not passing any sort of judgement. I’m just saying it’s a little weird; feels a little medieval in our modern, wildly progressive world. No? Am I thinking too much about it?

Anyway, I immediately apologized to the manicurist for my gnarly feet. While it is true that my feet resemble men’s feet from the prehistoric era (think “Flintstones”), I’m not actually sorry about it. I’m totally okay with my feet, but I apologized and made a joke about my physical appearance because it’s my comfort zone. Self-deprecating humor helps me to break the ice, chip away at some of the awkwardness of having a stranger rub your gross feet, and lets the other person know I’m not some high-maintenance chick; I’m a commoner, one of the people, I swear! I’m just too lazy to maintain a beauty regimen is all.

For dealing with a self-righteous, pseudo-intellectual, the manicurist couldn’t have been nicer and she did a wonderful job. I love my nails and my toes; perfect shade, elegantly done. I have no complaints and will absolutely go back without hesitation (shout out to Lee Nails in Bayville). You would think such a positive experience would ease my social anxiety about going to beauty salons, but you would be wrong. My neuroses know no bounds, apparently. Upon getting my nails done, I called a hair salon I was familiar with (I’d only been there once, to be fair, and it was months ago) to schedule an appointment to retouch my highlights in an effort to transition to becoming a blonde (which is something else I’m stupidly struggling with, but I’ll save that for another hilarious, highly entertaining, self-indulgent post; I know those are your favorite). I was excited, eager for the appointment, but the receptionist on the other end couldn’t have cared less. Her responses were short and repetitive, like she was offended by making this appointment, as if it were a personal insult or something. I persevered though (because I’m a masochist?) and she asked which stylist I’d prefer. When I mentioned the woman who styled my hair the last time, when I asked if that person was available, the receptionist only tersely replied, “No.” I guess some uncomfortable, tense situation had gone down and everyone was still feeling a type of way about it, but how was I supposed to know? I felt guilty and quickly replied that it was fine, that anyone would do, but the receptionist kept telling me they had nothing opened, that they were straight booked … but offered me three different appointment slots. I picked an outrageously early time on Sunday and hung up. I had a bad feeling and based on my last blog post, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t some kind of sign from the universe, telling me to abort, to abandon ship. So when my mom kindly cut my hair later that day, I called another salon and made another appointment.

From the get go, I felt much better about the whole thing. The woman unknowingly eased all of my social anxiety simply by being nice. She said she was excited I was coming in and offered me all sorts of time slots and asked questions about what I wanted done. Even if such personal interest was inauthentic and all in the name of consumerism, at least it was there. I mean, it worked and I made the appointment.

When I showed up, I was a little uneasy. Obvious and aforementioned social anxieties aside, I always feel like a fraud walking into salons. I always think of that scene from “Pretty Woman” where prostitute Julia Roberts walks into that high-end clothing store and gets treated horribly. And to think she was beautiful! I’ve had bad acne lately, have gained weight and have just been really down on myself lately about my physical appearance (hence all the salon appointments) and I suddenly didn’t want to go. I forced myself inside though, and was immediately charmed. What ambiance! And the friendly receptionist from over the phone was behind the desk and just as friendly as ever. She offered me coffee and water, and the water I requested came in a trendy, fashionable mason jar with an adorable paper straw, decorated with illustrations of branches from dogwoods. I was charmed and felt better … until I had to sit and allowed myself to get trapped inside my own head.

Though my appointment was at 11:30, I didn’t get into a chair until around noon, which I’m not even mad about. I understand that sometimes styling takes longer than anticipated, and I don’t understand complaining about having to be patient in salons when it’s all luxury, a luxury to have time and money to spend on something as superficial and fleeting as appearance. I’m not judging; here I am on a personal appearance improvement tour. I’m just saying I wasn’t annoyed and that would never be something to annoy me. I know that’s just me, so I’ll move on.

What did annoy me was that when my stylist went to pull my hair back from my face, she poked me in the eye. She didn’t apologize, and we both acted like it didn’t happen even though my left eye was fluttering and watering. Both her and I kept right on talking like my one eye wasn’t shut and like I wasn’t in obvious discomfort. In her defense, she probably didn’t know she had done it. I could have said something, but I didn’t, and so I was still incredibly awkward and anxious, and now I was in pain (that’s dramatic, I know). Suddenly, the whole experience seemed like a punishment for my vanity, for my sudden focus on not only my appearance but on myself. I thought, this is where being selfish gets you, with a poke in the eye. All my earlier misgivings seemed to be confirmed and I was on the verge of misery. It didn’t help that my stylist resembled an antagonist from one of those “Hostel” movies, all decked out in a black apron with black latex gloves. I gulped; would she be coming for my eye again?

But then I actually started talking to my stylist. Her name is Dana and she’s from Asbury Park. Not only is she a remarkably talented stylist, she is also full of sage advice. As we spoke, I began to consider the possibility that maybe her poking my eye was a symbolic gesture of how my mind’s eye needed to be poked. The conversation we had was one of the most eye-opening (are you sensing a theme yet?), self-affirming conversations I’ve ever had. We skipped over the small talk, the shallow pleasantries, and went right for the intellectual and philosophical concerns of life. She flat out asked me about my stance on the whole “nature versus nurture” debate. She believed it was nurture all the way, that humans are irrevocably shaped by experience and that explains everything. I agreed to a point, but also revealed that I believe it’s more nature that determines who we are as human beings. I offered up the example of my twin sister and me. Both came from the same nurturing environment and have arrived at completely different results. Dana countered, explaining that my twin sister had life experiences without me that shaped her and molded her differently, encouraging me to be empathetic, sympathetic and open-minded. I’ve refused to do so as of late when it comes to my sister. Rage is simple; it’s so much easier to be angry and infantile, but is it fair? Is it right? Why should the focus switch to me the second time around? Shouldn’t I still be concerned with Sammy’s well-being and recovery? Isn’t there a happy medium, some sort of balance between caring for my other half and myself?

During this discussion, a charity for recovering addicts came into the salon, handing out flyers and asking for donations. Dana asked for a flyer and donated a dollar. I was touched. Rather than ignore and dismiss these men who intruded upon her place of business, she was encouraging and kind. She never dismissed anyone. She was so kind, a truly remarkable woman. And she was so humble, paying as many compliments as she received and then some. This woman restored my faith in humanity in the most unlikely of places.

As our conversation continued (I was in the chair for like three hours; I have a lot of hair), I learned that she also has aspirations to be writer, that she has plans for a memoir and a children’s book. I told her all about my struggles and successes, and we discussed talent and how we both believe that if someone – anyone – is blessed with talent, that it becomes necessary to pay it forward, to use whatever blessings (specifically monetary) come from that gift to better the world. A lot of big ideas fell into place and connected with one another as she spoke so that I began to understand and believe that I was given this writing talent – or ability, depending on how you feel about my writing – for a reason, and that because I am not distracted by a love interest or a family, now is the time for me to hone my talent, to focus on becoming published and getting my work out there. What a positive outlook, to give my loneliness a purpose, a reason, a meaning. She confided with me she’d been with her boyfriend for seven years and while she’s in love and it’s all wonderful, it is still limiting. She can’t just do whatever whenever because she has someone else to consider, from the small sacrifices (like eating at Chipotle because she’s gluten free when they’d rather eat elsewhere) to the major ones (time, money, energy, etc.). I’m not a lonely loser unless I choose to be; this time alone is an opportunity to fulfill a destiny and should not be wasted wallowing in some self-created despair.

Dana told me I was an amazing person, and told me she could figure that out after only an hour of conversation.

At one point, she said, “You can’t control your heart, but you can – and you have to – control your mind.” She encouraged me to choose to be happy. What else can we do?

Needless to say, it was the best experience I’ve ever had at a hair salon. Ever. My sincerest gratitude to Dana at Shear Glamour.

newhairnewme

 

On permanent solutions to temporary problems.

Published March 18, 2014 by mandileighbean

It has been quite some time since I updated this blog, and it has been quite some time since I offered up any type of creative writing. I plan to rectify both errors in this entry, but be forewarned: this prompt is quite sad and lacks any optimism. Perhaps it’s because today is Monday.

Enjoy.

depressedman

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #13: “Lucky you, I’m free tonight. One show only, though, okay?”

“Don’t let it come apart. Don’t want to see you come apart.”
– “Caught by the River,” Doves

It was only about 90 minutes into a random and mundane Tuesday morning when Walter took his usual seat on a worn, overstuffed barstool. It was another 90 minutes before the lights would come on and then melancholy tones of “last call” replaced the colored lights, conversation, and pounding, thumping bass. For Walter, that’d be plenty of time to see his girl, tell her all the things he wanted – needed – her to know, and then blow his brains out in his dilapidated car in the parking lot. Walter had this all figured out and planned for the last month or so, ever since things went far south at work and management began to demand his head on a plate, and ever since his daughter slammed down her receiver in Houston, Texas and neither party had bothered to reclaim the connection. Audrey, his only daughter and only child, had been more than a little upset that Walter had canceled his visit. It had been just over a year since they had last seen each other and both had been eagerly anticipating the reunion until the new, ominous situation at work caused Walter to horde money, like squirrels do nuts. Rationally, calmly, he tried to explain to Audrey that he simply had to cut costs and expenses and logically, the expenditure of a road trip almost halfway across the country, which was certainly not necessary, would be the first to go.
Audrey quickly became furious and inconsolable. Feeling hurt and wanting only to wound others, she ruthlessly asked her father why he didn’t cut out the booze or the smokes or the porn. She vehemently exclaimed that she could not understand why her father was so determined to push away the only people who gave two shits about him, the only family he had. Walter ordered Audrey to shut up and calm down, implored her to listen the way only a father thinks he can when speaking with his daughter, and that had been enough for Audrey. She hung up and that was it, all she wrote. Walter had thrown the entire phone across the room before dumping himself into the battered recliner in the sparse living room. Nearly all the lights were off – extinguished to save money on the electricity bill – and only the mindless, bluish, electric glow of the television illuminated anything. In this dismal, depressing space, he thoughtlessly rubbed the back of his hand across his ragged, dry mouth and simply inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, and exhaled. Later, when his brain surmounted the blind fury that had so completely clouded and confounded it, Walter knew he would be better off dead. Walter knew with 100% certainty that many others would be better off with Walter dead as well. All that was left was to do the thing.
The next day, Walter had risen with the sun. He had walked the seven miles to the nearest convenience store and purchased a carton of cigarettes. He lit one and smoked it down to the filter. Walter repeated this several times before he made it to the liquor store and purchased a case of cheap beer. He lugged the case and the carton back home, loaded it into his car that was essentially held together with rubber bands and chewing gum, and drove to the nearest strip joint. There he sat, listening to the greatest hits of the 80s, 90s and today that were only barely audible above the static, until night came. He smoked and drank and drank and smoked until night gave away to the wee hours of the early morning, and then he stumbled inside the strip club.
He had been going to that particular establishment once a week since 2002, once his divorce was finalized and his bitch ex-wife took Audrey and her handsome, wealthy, and chivalrous new husband to Texas. Every Tuesday night for over a decade, he had sat upon a stool to wait until the place emptied and he could talk to his girl. She had some sort of awful, degrading stripper moniker, but he would never call her that. She listened to him, held him, stroked him, and smiled like he was the only guy she’d ever want to see ever in the history of guys. It was fleeting and he had to pay for it, but it was all he had and that was that. He owed her honest gratitude, and an explanation for his upcoming absence. So on a random Tuesday morning, he was ready when she came up behind him and carelessly slung her arms around his neck. “Lucky for you, I’m free tonight. One show only, though, okay?”
He smiled sadly. She said the same thing every time. He turned and nodded. She took his meaty hands and led him to the back, to a private room with heavy, velvet drapes. She pushed him down onto a cheap, red leather sofa and straddled him, and it was like it had always been, except Walter began to cry. It was the last night of his life, and the knowledge of that decision had changed nothing. The world did not stand still; he was just as insignificant as he had always feared. The tears poured down Walter’s wasted, gray face and his body shook with sobs, and he was a little boy. The girl moved to sit beside him and she asked him what was wrong and rubbed his back. Her concern seemed genuine, but Walter was ashamed. He had never intended to cry in front of a woman, especially some half-naked girl he could barely afford, and so he could not tell her that it was all he had. Suddenly, he stood up and marched from the room. He had rapidly decided ending one’s life should be like removing a band aid – quick and painless, best to get it over with and not drag it out.
But the girl’s genuine concern was intuitive as well. She hurried to the dressing room and threw on some sheer robe that didn’t really cover anything but did enough to give the impression of modesty. She hurried to the bar in the center of the establishment, where her burly manager was counting out the first of many tills, and asked him to call an ambulance. She had to take some precious time to explain that she was all right, and so were the other girls, and that nobody was actually injured, but she feared a regular might do something awful to himself and she wanted to stop him. As she was pushing open the doors to the parking lot, the shot rang out.
She was too late.

policetape

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