Thursday, December 18, 2008


On Faith

Last year, I admired the hair of the maitre d' at Blue Ribbon Sushi in Soho. She was mixed--half Asian and White--and had the kind of hair I've always wanted, but have never had because most stylists can't understand what my hair is doing. It's always straighter, stronger and more stubborn than they expect. Products do not help. This round-brush-dry-your-head-upside-down nonsense means nothing to my hair, which continues to hang heavily, elongating my face.

The girl referred me to her stylist, who spent much of our initial visit refusing to speak to me in Japanese, even though he was from Tokyo. "Don't worry," said his assistant. "He forces the Japanese to speak in English too."

My new stylist was six foot two, blond, rail thin and dressed in black leather pants with a heavy silver snake belt cinched around his waist. He did not smile. "He's all rock and roll," the assistant whispered to me. The stylist's portfolio included Christie (Turlington), the Hiltons, Catherine Zeta Jones and Prince. He flies regularly to Los Angeles. As I sat in his chair, perspiring with anxiety, he peered over me and said, "How did you get to me?" I felt very short.

The situation was so ridiculous, I couldn't help but want to try to win him over. And I did. He speaks to me now in Japanese, mostly because I was able to tell him about my favorite Japanese restaurant in New York City (which I'd intuited would be the same as his), while asserting: "It's a little on the salty side."

"You speak Japanese!" he cried. "How weird. And you have taste."

From then on he commandeered my hair, forcing me to grow it out somewhat against my will, because, he said, he could "see" that this was what would work best, and, taking note of my poor writer status, giving me free trims. I don't know why I managed to invoke pity in him, stylist to Christie, but I did, and even though he easily charges 4 times what my previous stylist charged me, I find that at the end of the year, I haven't spent nearly as much on hair cuts as I did the year before. Sometimes, you get what you pay for.

And now, after submitting to his instruction, I suddenly have the hair I've always wanted. It hangs the way I want it to. I can't believe it.

And this gets me to the point I wanted to make. I often stop and look to see if my hair is really still there. I can't quite believe that it is.

I am a person of limited faith.

When I really began making an effort to write, I worried a great deal of the time that I would fail. All writing, after all, is an act of faith. You start with a blank page. You cannot know that what you try to do is going to work. Maybe you should simply give up.

This kind of thinking can affect other areas of your life. Maybe you will not succeed. Maybe you will hurt. Maybe things will never get better. Maybe you should give up. Then, at least, you won't experience hurt and you will not fail.

All this is complicated for me by the fact that I am a generally intuitive person (see above comment about Japanese restaurants) and often rely on my ability to read between the lines. I take security from that. And when I am in a situation where I cannot read between the lines (is this story really ever going to work?), I panic, in a somewhat childish way. And yet, the greatest lessons I've learned have always come from this tension.

I asked a friend of mine today--an artist who works in a different medium--if he ever suffers from the same thing. He didn't tell me about his own creative process. Instead, he said: "You just need to write more. Then you'll know." But I wonder if this is true too. I wonder if some little bit of worry isn't a firm part of my process now. Does anyone ever get to the point that they know that diligence will absolutely pay off?

I do now know that I can work and work and work something until it is complete. Still, I have doubt. But I'm starting to wonder if this isn't part of the problem, if I require a little bit more faith, and then if the answers will come more easily. I wonder about this also because we recently had dinner with a friend who is raising his children in the Jewish faith, though he himself is Christian. "I want my children to grow up with a faith," he said. And I wondered: will they doubt themselves and the world less because they will have been trained from youth in the power of faith? Is that possible? Did I lose out on a kind of cultural indoctrination that would better help me to believe in and trust the future? Have I made it this far in life relying so much on intuition that I've fooled myself into thinking I have greater control than I do? And, if so, then I think the only possible new route to take is to develop faith.

But how to do this without blindly following things that are unrealistic and stupid! It's a quandry.

LOL! I love that last sentence.

This was a thought-provoking post. There's not a whole lot to have faith in nowadays; things that have "always been there" or that seemed like "sure things" a decade ago are gone or disappearing now. America's already a culture of transience; we don't have much history to cling to, we can't say "we've always been here and this is the same road my ancestors walked a thousand years ago". Traditions do help us feel connected to the past, which I think can add a sense of stability. But we have to work to maintain that feeling. We can't rely on our surroundings to always be there; next week they might be torn down to make room for a mini-mall.

We can't even count on other people to be there for us, except in very rare cases. Even our closest friends have such complex lives that they often aren't available. Our communities are fragmented, and bonds are formed across town and miles and bytes rather than next door, such that we don't even really expect to have true neighbors.

What can we count on, really?

All that said, I'm something of an optimist. I have faith in humanity. I've seen the horrible things we can do, but I've also seen great things. I've seen progress. I have faith that we are getting better and will continue to do so. I get mad when I feel like people aren't trying to improve themselves, but that doesn't make me feel discouraged. Instead, I think about what might be done. I believe in shining stars who will work to better our world, and I look for them every day.

I was a Christian once. I didn't just grow up believing in the Bible, though. I believed in magic. I imagined all kinds of things and believed that maybe, just maybe, they could be real. I think as long as a child is raised with love and stability, she will learn to have faith in those things, and faith in herself, and faith in a wonderful world...and that's all that really matters.
Heather--I share your optimism. When I get right down to it, I believe in people, and I love them. As hard as it can be sometimes, I find that this is fundamentally how I am. I have faith in people.

You'd make a great parent.
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