Curly Like Me
By Teri LaFlesh
I had only one question for Teri LaFlesh. How do I avoid cutting my hair? She had an answer, but first a little background.
The Curl Whisperer trimmed my hair in November, and I had hoped it would be the very last hair cut I would ever have. I loved the cut. It’s just I don’t live in Florida, and going back to see her will be a tad expensive. I had read on Teri’s Web site — Tightlycurly.com — that she had not cut her hair in more than 10 years and that’s how she had grown her hair so long. For years, I faithfully got a haircut every six weeks. As a result, I was stuck with shoulder length hair. I figured I’d get one last haircut and grow out my hair.
I moisturized my ends and kept my hair in protective styles for most of the winter. When it warmed up a bit, I started to wear my hair down. This apparently angered my hair. It snagged, it tangled, it matted. I had tons of those little teeny weeny fairy knots. I trimmed my hair with a pair of shears. When that didn’t help, I made an appointment at a beauty school.
About a year ago, I went to the same beauty school and received a haircut on dry hair. (I also had visited the beauty school several times when we lived in Florida.) I like going because the students are eager to learn and exercise patience with my hair. It is also a steal. A haircut costs $15.
When my student saw me and my hair, I could see fear in her eyes. Not to worry, I told her. I will talk you through it. My last student received a good grade. She went to get her instructor, and I explained that I would like to have my hair cut dry just like last time.
“We don’t teach them how to cut like that,” the instructor said.
She explained the student would need to wash my hair, section it and then cut it. No, I protested. Stylists had done this before and I was left with all of these random wayward and droopy curls. She suggested the student wash my hair, blow dry it straight, and then cut it. I wanted no part of that. For starters, I have at least three curl patterns on my head. Treating them all the same sounded like disaster to me. I think the words I used were “hot mess.” Besides, I hadn’t had my hair straightened in more than a decade.
At this point, I should point out that Ken, my husband and best friend, says that I can be a bit forceful when I want something. While I think I am being the nicest person on the planet, he said that’s not the way I come across. That said, he said he was surprised by what happened next.
“Well, I don’t know what we can do for you. We can’t cut it dry because it has product in it. I can get another instructor. If she can’t help you, you may have to leave.”
Leave? But I am the customer. Isn’t the customer always right? I’m at a school where I received a dry cut a year ago, and today I may have to leave?
“Okay, get another instructor. If she can’t help me, I’ll leave.”
The second instructor took a look. Clearly, my hair was no problem for her.
“Hair is hair,” she said. That’s what I’m talking about.
I told her the same thing I told the first instructor. She got it. She said the student had to wash the product out of my hair, which was fine. I’ve had a wet cut with some success in the past as long as the stylist was gentle. It was what the instructor said next that made me agree to do it. She told the student to cut each section separately and not try to match one layer to another. The student followed the instructions, and the instructor checked her work. I walked out of the salon with a good cut two hours after this hair odyssey began. My goodness.
I don’t want to go through that ever again, which is why I had that question for Teri. I met her at the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival. When I asked her to sign my book, the schedule was tight. I saved her from the drama of the story. I just told her I recently had to get my haircut and I’d like to avoid doing so in the future.
She asked one question. “How do you put your hair up at night?”
“I cover it with a satin bonnet and sleep on a satin pillowcase.”
Teri suggested I braid my hair at night to protect the ends. When I get near the bottom, twist the hair, she said. I also know from reading her book and her Web site that she also folds up the very end of the braid and tucks it inside the plait. That has to be the key, I told her, and I’m on Day 2 of the new night regimen.
I devoured Curly Like Me during the plane ride home. It is chocked-full of science, practical advice and easy-to-follow hairstyles. Teri tells her own hair story and weaves in advice. Readers also will learn a few new words, including “sploosh,” which happens when the conditioner oozes through your fingers. I am putting Curly Like Me in our personal library and will purchase a few copies as gifts for some curly girlfriends. In the meantime, my hubby says he wants a full accounting of all the money I spend on books and hair products for the girls and me.
I didn’t want it to end. I went to the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival to read from the memoir I’m writing, to meet many of the authors and filmmakers I admire and to learn a thing or two about race. I got all of that and more.
The festival was held at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. Japanese restaurants and shops, including a Hello Kitty store, surround the museum. I stayed at the nearby Miyako Hotel and welcomed the instant immersion in Japanese culture.
I saw the most amazing films, including Off And Running: An American Coming Of Age Story. The film features Avery, a black teen living with her white Jewish lesbian mothers and two adopted brothers — one mixed-race and one Korean. When Avery starts wondering about her African-American heritage, she contacts her birth mother. The decision launches an exploration of race, identity, and family that threatens to distance her from the only family she knows. The movie will be featured on PBS in September.
I met writers Maya Soetoro-Ng, Kip Fulbeck, Teri LaFlesh, Heidi W. Durrow, Tara Betts, Carleen Brice and many others. There were poets, essayists, novelists and creative nonfiction writers. I was in good company and hope some of their publishing success rubs off on me. Durrow said she knew she needed to find one gatekeeper to get her novel published. It took her 12 years. The festival served as one stop on my journey to publication.
I saw and participated in Kip Fulbeck’s Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids exhibit. It is stunning. Fulbeck captured the personalities of the children in photographs and words. I am now a part of the exhibit. I placed my hand in blue ink and then placed it on a timeline. A photographer also took a Polaroid of me, and I wrote who I am below the the picture. My answer: Strong black woman, married to a wonderful white guy, mother of two beautiful biracial girls. The photo and my words were then pinned to a wire.
Like I said, I didn’t want it to end. I am already thinking about next year.
Simone and Nadia love arts and crafts.
While I couldn’t bring them with me this year,
I can take a little of the festival to them with this portrait project.
I will need some colorful yarn, people and clothing.
Glue will hold the project together.
One final requirement: creativity.
That’s some beautiful hair.
I bet I can find some curly yarn or the girls can use the yarn to make curls.
This father is getting his hair first.
Nope. The artist changed her mind and first glued on his shirt.
Here is one child’s beautiful family. What a wonderful project.
I am having so much fun at the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival I’ve had trouble finding time to post. Then there’s that little thing of getting — and keeping — a good connection. The good news is, I survived the first-ever public reading of my work. I made the mistake of listening to the reading group scheduled before my group and almost talked myself out of doing it. Many of the writers here are published authors, while I am an emerging author. I worried about the writing and the syntax and all those things writers worry about. I got through it. Folks said I did well. I will have to take their word for it.
I had the pleasure of meeting festival co-founders Fanshen Cox and Heidi Durrow. This will sound silly, but they are just like they sound on the Mixed Chicks Podcast. They are fun and creative and friendly. I am not mixed and somehow I feel a sort of kinship with them. I hope they don’t mind. With the reading out of the way, I have loosened up a bit, slipping on a pair of jeans and the T-shirt above. If you’re here, please say hello.