I wrote an article a few months ago called Stripping Down, in which I wrestled with the definition of minimalism. The essence was that what I sought to obtain from my foray into living smaller was to exist in such a way that my insides and my outsides matched.
Self-examination has been a tremendously useful tool to simplifying my life in about a million small ways. From decluttering the actual space I live in so that things are easier to find, access and put away, to decluttering my closet and drawers so that the contents of them don’t stir up painful memories, or even to decluttering my calendar by releasing certain responsibilities and activities so that I no longer live in the stress of being go-go-go.
This started when I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Her first step to decluttering is to articulate your Ideal Life, an art which I have taken to a whole new level by creating a three week rotation of daily themes.
Imagining the Ideal Life is only useful, however, if you take the time to examine where you are coming from. Who you are. Then, and only then, can you start to take steps to bridge the gap between the life you live now and the one you want to live.
In any case, I thought I had this all figured out for myself.
Always, when I think I have something figured out, life has a way of coming in and cutting me off at the knees.
I stand by my Ideal Life Exercises. I stand by everything I said up until now.
However. I have a friend.
The quintessential French woman
She is a woman who has always been the utmost in fashionable, always perfect. Her hair, actually, is one of those small details which I spoke of in yesterday’s post: A long time before we ever even knew we would be coming back to France, I had seen her picture on a website. She was directing a choir. She had the most beautiful red hair. Her image always stuck with me. The quintessential stylish French woman.
To say that this stranger I saw online in 2006 would become one of my dearest friends by 2010 makes me out to be some kind of stalker. But life is made up of strange coincidences like this.
When I met her in real life and we started making music together, I realized just how much I had been prepared for this move to France, even in the tiniest detail of her red hair.
Now, she has no hair. She is going through chemotherapy for breast cancer. She is 21 days into her treatment. She lost her hair on day 18.
Our friendship has given us each front row seats to the struggles we each have faced. She was the one I called at 6AM to come sit with me the morning after I learned my twins wouldn’t survive. She sat with me in silence while I cried, just to be there. She’s that kind of friend.
Detachable bangs and four hands piano
We had a visit recently. When I arrived, she was wearing her wig. I wanted to see her hair, or lack thereof, and she wanted to show it to me. For about an hour, we cried and played with scarves and detachable bangs. Then we played four hands piano. It was a great morning.
What I admire the most in the way my friend is living out her cancer and its consequences is that she refuses to take herself too seriously. This is a skill (?) a character trait (?) a gift (?) that I do not possess. She is doubling down on what gives her a sense of self: Music. Friendships. Laughter. Walks in nature.
She had always been the red haired lady from the picture I saw in 2006. Now that she isn’t, is she still the same person? This question left me uncomfortable.
It’s a semi-rhetorical question. Obviously, yes. She still has the same name and laughs at the same jokes. But on another level, no.
What angers me is how reductive I am about her identity. I literally had no idea I was that superficial. I mean, I know I am superficial. But I didn’t realize just how superficial I am. This is one of my most intimate friendships, and yet I couldn’t recognize her without her hair.
On the other hand, when we made music together, my heart instantly recognized her.
“Who I am” or “Who I think I should be?”
I got to wondering: what would happen to me if I lost my hair? Would I lose my sense of self? How much of my own identity is wrapped up in these superficial outward symbols of my hair, my clothes…
It’s by no means a judgment, but a genuine question. Without my hair, my clothes…who am I? As a singer, I have had a few scary bouts of laryngitis (which have mercifully passed). But without my voice, who am I?
Throughout every dang day of the lockdown last year I got up, did my hair and makeup and put on a dress and heels. During a time when people were being themselves on a global scale, I had doubled-down on being who I thought I should be. I have absolutely no idea if that is who I really am or not. But it’s who I think I should be.
I said that I wanted my inside and my outside to match. I’m okay with the good stuff being visible. If, like the Portrait of Dorian Gray, all the nastiness in my heart were visible, I wouldn’t be so worried about my clothes or my hair anymore. They would be the least of my worries.
I love my hair. But if that is all I can find to love about myself, then I’m going to be in trouble if that ever goes away.
I need to start thinking about what would remain for me, if I lost everything I think I am. And then I need to start living as if those were just as important as the things currently occupying my thoughts. I have to believe that this would get me just a step closer to zen master minimalist status.