No, this post isn’t necessarily about fall, although the last day of my trip occurred in September. But we’re flashbacking today, so it’s all good. Anywho, this past Labor Day weekend, I left on a jet plane to visit a good friend of mine who lives in Orange County, CA. Despite the fact that it was a short trip/brief vacation, it was also the respite I needed and thoroughly welcomed. We haven’t had an in depth discussion of my enduring love of California, have we? Well, if I had all the dollar dollar bills in the world, your Square Peg would hightail it to San Diego faster than you could say high cost of living. (Which is why I chose Texas instead of my beloved blue sky San Diego.) See below for a slide show of my fun trip.
This Square Peg in college: ’twas an interesting time. When I look back, though, I can honestly say that I loved my college days. It was the 90s. The soundtrack of my life was lit, as the kids say, and the life lessons abounded. Here are 10 things I learned in college:
My education really did belong to me. Other than that pesky Math credit, I basically curated my path of learning. If a class and its content didn’t interest me, I found one that did. I explored avenues of thought and learning that were entirely my choice. I was paying for it, after all. (Still am. Le sigh.) In other words, it was an interesting lesson in reaping the results of my academic decisions. When K-12 isn’t really about you, this was all about me.
Don’t do #2 for professors you don’t much care for, either. I was in the cafeteria complaining about one of my not-that-nice professors and she was right behind me. Not pretty. Thank goodness I passed.
College boys will be college boys. There were some doozies, y’all. One kid, a fellow English major, asked me if I used mushrooms to find inspiration when writing. I asked him if he meant the gross things in the ground. He said no. I then got it. I then walked away, laughing. *insert eye roll here*
There’s an amazing literary world out there, people. I discovered some of my favorite authors, primarily female, during those four years. Flannery O’Connor. Edith Wharton. Alice Walker. I delved into their works and never looked back.
Sarah McLachlan has a song for every situation. Case in point: I lived the entire Surfacing album during my sophomore year.
There are educators out there who passionately care for their students. I met a number of them.
Overconfidence + higher education + assumptions = a D on your first paper for an English class. I learned to be humble and ask for help and advice.
One will freak out about classes (four essay-heavy ones, to be exact) and working two jobs and believing you will flunk and one’s Mom will assure you that you’ll be fine and will command you to stop writhing around on the floor. College breakdowns are a dime a dozen. *shrug*
After four long years, a seminal moment will occur when you finally begin the path to discovering just who you are and were meant to be.
Good times, indeed. I learned more than ten things, but we’ll pause for now. More lessons–and declarations of love–will come in another post.
There we all are, sitting in our living room in our old house in Ghana, surrounded by endless laughter and fascinating conversations. My parents are there; also uncles, aunts, various relatives, and longtime family friends that might as well be kin to us, being that I’ve known them and have been around them for as long as I could remember. Some of my earliest memories involve evenings like this, where my parents hosted friends, family, our neighbors. The joyous faces and smiles. The gentle teasing and ribbing between my father and his pals. The beautiful women I observed reverentially. And the food. Ah, the food. Without really understanding it, my parents were establishing, for their children, a blueprint of hospitality. Things didn’t change when we settled in the United States. From our little apartment to the townhouse we later lived in, there were always people. Family, friends, relatives, all part of our immediate family of six. My parents never hesitated to help friends in need; if someone needed a place to stay, he or she was staying at our home. As I got older, it was incredible to see the generosity and love my parents showed to others.
This posed a bit of a problem growing up, however. Sure, my parents could invite loads of people over because they were adults and could do whatever they, the payers of rent, pleased. But their kid inviting other kids over without telling them?
It happened more than once. I’m convinced my mother had moments of stopping herself from doing permanent damage to my hind parts. No worries, though: I learned my lesson at the age of 14. We won’t get into the details, but it was the last time I didn’t check with my parents first before making invitation. Believe me.
Here’s the thing (if you’ve experienced it or are experiencing it, you’ll agree with me): living alone is glorious. There’s really nothing like being the queen/king of your castle of one; laying about, doing whatever strikes your fancy. I moved out of my parent’s house and lived on my own in my first apartment when I was 24 years old. It was amazing. It was eye-opening. It was frustrating. It was the best. After that, there was an interesting journey of roommates and housemates and then moving back home when Dad got sick and then, a year and six months ago, leaving VA and moving to the Lone Star state and living solo once again. All that said, I’m happiest in the company of my own solitude. But I’m also the daughter of two people who kept that open-door policy we discussed above, and so it’s necessary to tell you I love a house filled with people.
I’ve hosted gatherings, game nights, movie nights, come-over-and-chill evenings (my personal favorite), girls-just-talking-into-the-wee-hours-of-the-early-morning events, etc. It’s thrilling to look around my living room and see people, to hear the laughter, to go deep into conversation. Last night, I hosted an impromptu dinner with friends. I actually cooked dinner–chili a la Square Peg–and we ate and watched movies and had a smashing good time. You can’t beat that on a Sunday evening. (But it was also nice when everyone went home and I resumed my relaxing spot on the couch and watching cheesy Hallmark movies.)
Can’t thank my parents enough for showing me how to love people, how to be generous, and how to say welcome.
If you haven’t heard, a total solar eclipse took place yesterday, August 21. Pretty historical stuff. I was excited beyond words, not necessarily because of the historicity of it or the celestial phenomenon, per se. I, This Square Peg, a writer of words and a purveyor of poetry, have used the moon as an allegorical foil/subject since I started writing eons ago. There was something about that big, gray, somber ball in the sky, not peppy and cheerful like the sun, ruler of tides, that struck me in a purely deep and artistic way. To me, there wasn’t a man in the moon. Symbolically, she was a woman in every way. My kind of girl. Powerful and moody and boss. Naturally, I frequently turned to her in my poetry. In my fiction, she’s always a character; whether providing silvery light for my character before his/her eventual epiphany or the third person in a two-person scene, viewing the action with a cool, disaffected gaze. In my poetry, though? In my poetry? The moon runs things.
When I was moving to Texas and engaged in my bout of horrifying packing, I found a poem that I wrote in college. The subject? Frustrated love. (Nothing new there.) The allegorical character? The moon. The denouement? An eclipse.
So college-y. So eclipse-y. So moon-y.
I was able to see the eclipse yesterday, courtesy of a co-worker who shared his special sky glasses with me and some of my other colleagues. Because our city here in Dallas wasn’t on the path of totality–those cities would see the full, total eclipse; we would see a partial eclipse–I didn’t get to experience the moment my moon met the earth and the sun. But halfway is still pretty cool, no?
Here’s to my fabulous moon and her big moment yesterday.
When I was a senior in high school, I did something that defied all the parameters of shy girl status: I auditioned for a musical in my high school.
Yes, your Square Peg, who enjoyed life behind the shadows, who always volunteered to be the narrator (and when she wrote her own stuff made herself the narrator, thank you very much), decided very much on an adolescent whim that she would audition for the spring musical that her high school was putting on, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Lots of innuendo, lots of farce. I knew nothing about the musical prior to auditioning. There was no Wikipedia back then. Anyway, I loved the title, I loved musicals, I loved theater, I loved my school’s drama teacher (who was also my beloved Film Studies teacher when I was a sophomore and introduced me to the wonder of Citizen Kane, among other things), and I was high on this adolescent whim. I knew I could sing. So why not?
How to Audition for a Musical (Or How Not to, Depending on your Perspective)
If you’re 17 (or 35 or 59 or whatever) and a veteran of several chorus classes, it would be nice to know how to read music. Because guess what? I didn’t know how to read music. (Still don’t.) When I was handed the music for the songs I would be singing that afternoon, Comedy Tonight and Lovely, I might as well have been handed stacks of hieroglyphics. And I probably had a better chance of deciphering those than the music I was given…
…but because I was learn music by ear, I waited until dead last night to audition for each song. This gave me time to listen carefully to the notes, the melody, the arrangement, and allowed me to actually stand on stage and sing. Not too shabby, either.
It might be a good idea to remember that even though you’re one of dozens that are auditioning, you can’t go up on stage with those people. You actually have to stand at the front of the stage and sing. Alone. And yet, moments before cardiac arrest took over as I approached the stage…
…I found a way to position myself by the piano and not really at the front of the stage and I focused on my drama teacher, who was awesome and encouraging and likely CPR-certified in case I did keel over from the fright and butterflies.
I got through it, you guys. And I had fun.
But remember when I said I knew nothing about the musical? Well, although I didn’t score the lead roles of Philia or Pseudolus (and this was really no surprise; other than pretending like I don’t want to strangle rude people, your Square Peg is hardly an actress), I still got a role in the musical.
The role? A courtesan.
If you check out the link to the musical, you’ll see see that the story takes place in ancient Rome, where a slave (Pseudolus) tries to win his freedom by helping his master woo a courtesan named Philia. Well, there would be a house filled with other courtesans along with Philia, and I got a role as one of them. I think her name was Vibrata.
Except, even though your Square Peg is a wordsmith, she wasn’t quite sure what a courtesan was. So, while overcome with excitement at landing her first role in a musical, she went home and went to her trusty dictionary, where she looked up the word.
courtesan (noun): a prostitute with a courtly, wealthy, or upper-class clientele
Yep, I went right to my beloved drama teacher and told him that there was no way I could be in the musical. Excuses about my parents not really feeling the amount of time I would spend outside of school were given. And no, they wouldn’t have cared for that, but you know the bigger issue, don’t you? My mother would have somehow learned that I was playing a hooker. And she would have killed me dead. I mean, as sneaky as I was in getting away with staying out late or hanging out with people she didn’t really know, the heavens would have revealed it to her in a dream. No doubt. Just like she knew that her oldest daughter was making funny faces behind her back one day (without turning around), my mother would have discovered the truth. And your Square Peg would be no Square Peg at all, because, again, I would have been killed dead.
My drama teacher was very understanding. Maybe he knew the real truth, that an African girl playing a hooker–no matter how tame it would be for a high school production–would have been shipped back to the Motherland in a pine box.
I was in the audience on opening night, cheering on my friends in the show, cheering on the director, cheering on the brave girl who replaced me. And in the back of my mind, imagining the death that would have been unleashed by my mother’s hands. So along with all that cheering was massive, massive relief.
I still love the theater, of course. Musicals, plays: the stage continues to thrill and amaze me. And it’s even sweeter from the comfort of my seat. Haaaaaa.
Our intriguing, perplexing, awesome, mind-boggling, revolutionary, interesting, and life-changing relationship/journey began when I was 11 years old. This was when my mother took me to my first hair salon. It was owned by a Ghanaian woman who ran the salon
from her apartment. I was terrified. No surprise there. If you know anything about me so far, This Square Peg didn’t really feel changes and strange people and strange experiences. Nevertheless, as I was prone to do, my fears were all internalized, visible only through my wide, horrified eyes. The horror grew exponentially when 1) my mother had to run out for a moment, and 2) it came time to wash my hair.
My mother promised she’d be right back. I knew she’d be right back. This didn’t stop the tears from springing to my eyes, however. Never a prolonged crier, though, I sniffed and nodded and hoped that I wasn’t being abandoned.
I didn’t like water. Still don’t. So when the stylist stood me up and guided me to the sink, I began to hyperventilate. When she placed my head underneath the faucet, face down, to rinse the burning relaxer out of my hair, I began to wail. Like this wasn’t a silent cry, readers. As the water spilled around my face and into my ears, I wailed like I was being murdered.
When she was finished, saying over and over again that we were done and wiping my face/tears, I sat, breathless, while she continued with my hair. This was when the women began to mock my fears and my recent wailing. They laughed at my behavior; they called me a baby; so on and so forth. Bold, no? Except they spoke to one another in Ga, one of the languages spoken in Ghana. What they didn’t know was that I understood (and still do) Ga fluently, having spoken both Twi, one of the primarily-spoken languages, and Ga since I was a little girl. (Alas, they have since left my tongue, but the comprehension is still there.) Anyway, as I sat quietly and listened to adults making fun of a child, my stomach burning with each sound of laughter at my expense. When my mother thankfully returned and picked me up, my hair was lovely. In the car, I told that I would never go back there again and I told her why. Infuriated, she ensured that I didn’t.
But my relationship with salons and hairstylists weren’t all bad, and they certainly didn’t end there.
There was the stylist who repeatedly asked me in 2012 whether I was indeed ready to chop off my relaxed ends. I assured her that, yes, I was ready. As those pesky, straight ends fell to the floor around me, I stopped myself from fidgeting in my chair, anxious to see what the end result was. When it finally came time, she turned me around to face the mirror, her eyes wide with anticipation on what I would think of the teeny weeny afro I now sported. My wide, bright grin was the answer she needed.
And I’ll never forget the stylist who, according to my request, shaved one side of my hair and shared my delighted reaction to this unique new style I wanted to try. Of course, this when she worked for one of those brightly lit, techno-blaring salons in the city. Because I liked her and I liked her handling of my hair, when I learned that she also ran her own salon, I left the big salon and drove quite a distance to this new place…where it took hours to finally get to me, long after my scheduled appointment, where she took advantage of my niceness and had me leave the salon and buy hair dye for one of her other clients, where she nearly yanked the hair out of my scalp during one style…Needless to say, our relationship ended then. Le sigh.
There’s my current stylist, who’s also a good friend, who gets me in her chair on time and does her thing and sends me home utterly satisfied. Can’t beat that. There’s something to be said about pals who are also quite professional when it comes to their business.
One stylist was a weave master. She also had the most melodramatic life. And I loved it. While she whipped those fingers masterfully around my strands, cornrowing my hair before installing the weave, I responded to her request for advice about love, marriage, children. Even though I’d never been married or a parent. Interesting, indeed.
I’ve met women–and some men–from all walks of life: entrepreneurial, utterly weird, demanding, lovely, hilarious, kind. These people have all had a significant role in my eventual discovery that beauty has nothing to do with hair. Hair is the accessory, the accentuater. But it sure needs to look good. These days, I mostly do my own hair. The salon visits are for trims (I don’t trust these fingers with a pair of scissors), braiding, the odd haircut when I want to start fresh with my hair/life. In the end, with all the adventures I’ve been through, some good and some bad, some odd and some fantastic, I’ll always have a story to tell.
When I was a teenager, the answer to that question would have been yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. Back then, I was a connoisseur of all things glossy reading materials: the goal was to spend every bit of my pocket money (the African parent’s version of allowance) on any magazine I could feast my eyes on. From the fashion bibles (Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, etc.) to the women’s magazines brimming with articles that I totally didn’t identify with but read anyway (looking at you, Cosmopolitan), to my beloved teen mags (Sassy, Seventeen, Teen, YM, etc.), to the entertainment magazines that I loved so (Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, etc.)–the addiction was so, so real.
In hindsight, I think the magazines represented a version of life that seemed so glamorous and glitzy; hardly anything like my boring teen life in Somewheres, VA. These days, you can hardly bribe me to spend money on a magazine. Funny, how something that was once a crutch becomes unnecessary when you 1) grow up; 2) realize that “glamour” is utterly relative and fleeting; 3) would rather spend money on dinner and a play than a glossy read about something that won’t matter the next day. My sharp-eyed readers will read that last two statements and wonder about all the magazines that bear the lovely chocolate face of my Lupita, muttering to themselves that they know I’ve purchased those. No, my dear ones. I read the articles online and gaze at my queen through a computer screen. Welcome to the dawn of a new generation. The few mags I’ve actually flipped through have come to me via my mother’s subscriptions. I will admit this, though: the best thing about that airport life is flipping through those silly gossip rags. The best thing, as well, is recycling them once I get back to reality. (Do you view the airport like I do? An Oz where things like carbs and healthy eating don’t matter, where pretzels can be chewed with abandon while you chuckle over the latest antics of yet another starlet unable to make good life choices?)
I digress, as usual. The point of this post isn’t to look back in anger or regret. Here’s to that 15 year-old eagerly taking in the words and images crowding the pages of yet another shiny magazine. Because a few good things came out of the obsession. For one, I didn’t just stick with fashion and teen journals. I also devoured Time, Life, Newsweek: all of which fed my hunger for stories about real people and real life, certainly a boon for my fiction. Another thing: I accumulated enough facts to join any trivia team and win it for the team. Use my brain. I don’t mind. Lastly, it was fun! I have awesome memories of afternoons spent on my unmade bed, going through magazine after magazine, smiling at the sights I saw, reading until it was time for dinner. It really did make Boring Teen Life slightly less ordinary.
Sometimes in life, people, strangers, pass through and offer us what we need at the right time. Whether it’s a smile, a seat on the train, or offering you half of their sandwich because they caught you eyeing it on an airplane and heard your belly grumbling angrily and likely wanted to avoid some type of violence (true story), you just never know what the kindness of strangers may bring. Here are a few times when the random actions of others both took me by surprise and made my day.
To the gentleman at Phoenix Sky Harbor *Airport who saw me vainly struggling to attach that tag thing (seriously, why is that thing not user-friendly?) to my luggage and gently took over and attached it for me, thank you. May your proactive nature and lovely conversation be rewarded by someone who isn’t savagely commanding her suitcase to behave.
To the lady here at the OK Corral who was in line in front of me at the cafeteria and paid for both her meal and mine (to my everlasting shock and surprise), thank you so, so much. I don’t know what I did to gain that kind act, but please believe that anything related to food and the acquisition of food binds you and I together until the end of time. (By the way, I see her from time to time, and she continues to be one of the sweetest persons walking these halls.)
To the group of concerned fellow *flyers who realized that after hours and hours of waiting, my gate was changed without an announcement and my flight left without me: thank you for ensuring that once I boarded a plane, I was able to quickly get off for the connecting flight and finally, finally get home. Your outrage on my behalf was enough to soothe the wild, combustible emotions going on inside of me, and to the guy who firmly informed the other passengers to let me off first: you, sir, will always be golden.
To the charming gentleman on the train who announced to the entire car that no man should be seated while women stand around them: will you marry me?
To the lovely woman who stood next to me in London while we watched Renée Zellweger film scenes from the third installment of the Bridget Jones series and held on to me while we breathlessly considered the possibility that Colin Firth was also waiting in the wings (alas, he wasn’t), to have my excitement equaled with a stranger was awesome. Thanks for waiting with me until we realized that our Colin wasn’t there that afternoon and for being someone with whom I can say “our” Colin. (Because I rarely share, y’all.)
Just a few moments in life when I was astonished by people, and in a good way. Have any random acts of kindness you’d like to share?
[*Not lost on me that so much stuff happens in the airport. If the terminal didn’t offer such sweet opportunities for carby, vacation eating, I would side eye it more than I already do.]