For the last 30 years I’ve cut my own hair. I love to have people run their fingers through my hair (easiest way to get out of chores at my house), so there have been a few professional cuts – maybe about ten of them. The rest have occurred, often at 3AM, by my own hand.
My oldest daughter has come to refer to my cosmetological adventures as The Three-Day Haircut. I decide, usually quite impetuously, that I want a change, and whip out the scissors. I’ve often given thought to what I’d like my head to look like (though not always) and I trim away. I’m not bad, having learned a few of the principles necessary through experience (yes, you can laugh out loud at the images that brings to mind.) But still, when I wake up the next morning, I often think it needs a bit of alteration. And the next day as well.
Sometimes I have to get used to big changes in stages, and will have three completely different hairstyles in the three days. Sometimes I miss spots and have to go back and find them. Sometimes what I tried just doesn’t work and I have to modify my original intent. By the time I’m finished, often after three tries, I’m usually happy with the result, at least for a couple of months until the urge to change returns right on schedule.
I find that converting thoughts to speech in a public conversation is rather like a three-day haircut. We often begin with one thing in mind, and midway through we find that a part of it doesn’t work or we just don’t like the way it looks once we’ve put something into words. We tweak it and alter it until it looks right and we’re comfortable with how our thinking stands.
If we know this about ourselves, that our thoughts are less well-formed and well-framed than most of us would like the rest of the world to know, this isn’t a threatening process. Conversation becomes a process of self-awareness, self-discovery, and connection with others outside ourselves. One of the catchphrases of this comfort is, “that’s an interesting thought I’d not considered…”
If we are not comfortable learning as we speak, we are often threatened by conversation, more adversarial and defensive, more prone to continue to talk until we are sure we’ve made some point or another, seeing conversational colleagues as combatants and conclusion as a personal win or loss. One of the catchphrases of this discomfort, I’ve noticed, is “what I meant to say was …”
This process of learning as we converse is easier for some than others, and people who like change tend to be fluid rather than static thinkers. I recognize that I like change more than the average anyone which, though it complicates my life in myriad ways, simplifies other aspects of life. I change my world around regularly, suffusing new life into my soul through my surroundings or my appearance. I change my thinking sometimes too.
Tonight I was sitting with a friend who has been ill for awhile, and we were talking about Mt. St. Helens. I learned today that after the eruption more than 3 decades ago, which I remember watching on TV, ash fell until it was 6 inches thick. Not the kind of ash from your firepit, but the heavy ash of a mountain pulverized. I learned that people could not drive in it because it would get in the engine and ruin it. I learned that it was heavy, this 6″ layer of flour-like ash, and it had to be shoveled off of roofs much as 50-lb bags of flour would need to be removed. I thought about moving 6″ of acidic ash off of lawns and gardens and farms. I thought of what happened when it rained and how cows survived. I thought of school being cancelled for the rest of the year and no grocery trucks for weeks. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same when I hear the word “volcano.”
I have learned about life and health and independence through watching over and being with my friend as well, and I’m much less likely to be blithe about many things each time I walk with someone through an experience like ours has been. My life feels like a three-day haircut, continually tweaked and educated as I try on ideas and outlooks and discover that they require alteration because I learn something as I look in the mirror. That’s actually kind of an adventure. Who knew conversing was an adventure?
I have no illusions that I’ll get it right the first time I pick up the scissors or open my mouth, and that’s okay. I’ll fix it tomorrow. And maybe again the next day.