Sunday, December 14, 2014

Guest Post: All the Pretty Highlights

I'm not even going to be coy about my third guest blogger, Callie Feyen: I have a huge crush on her writing. I want to make out with her stories underneath the bleachers. I want to make her stories a mix tape and take them to blogger prom. Callie somehow blends what is funny and approachable with what is philosophical and deeply spiritual. Today's post takes us back to the summer, when Callie, after years of hard work, graduated with her Master of Fine Arts degree. She could have written an essay that went something like, "Neener neener, I'm smart and super talented." But instead, she wrote an essay about accidentally ruining her hair while wrestling with fear and hope and grace.

I met Callie thanks to Listen to Your Mother DC. You're going to want to check out her hilarious reading of "Superbuns" on YouTube (you will never call a bra a "bra" again). Callie is also a regular contributor to Coffee + Crumbs ("In Trouble" is a must read . . . and not just because it's about the word "butt). I also insist that you read "Dodging Skittles and Other Fears" and "Stop This Train." And though I'd love to keep Callie and her essays all to myself, I'm gonna do you a solid and suggest you follow her on her blog,, and on Twitter

All the Pretty Highlights

by Callie Feyen

Today is the day the wheels go up for Santa Fe and I head to my last residency, where I will graduate. So a post reflecting on my time as a Seattle Pacific University grad student would be timely. But over the weekend, I had a hair disaster of epic proportions so I’m going to tell you about that instead.

I wanted to color and highlight my hair so I bought a box with a model on it that seemed to resemble my hair and skin coloring. I wasn’t exactly sure but don’t worry, I’m a savvy consumer. While my daughters Hadley and Harper played tag up and down the aisle at Ulta, I asked a lady who was sharing the aisle with me (and dodging my kids) if she thought this box was the right box to get. She said it was. She might’ve worked there, but I’m not sure.

I brought it home, took out all the contents, read the directions, and texted my husband, Jesse: Can you color and highlight my hair tonight? I don’t understand the directions and also it says that if I do it wrong something could explode. His reply: Sure. We need to take more risks in our life.

So we’re in the bathroom after the kids go to sleep, he’s cut a hole in a garbage bag and slipped it over my head so the dye doesn’t get on my t-shirt and skin, and I begin to tell him about David Sedaris.

He’s rinsing my hair after the first part, the all over color, has been completed when I bring Sedaris up. “Did I ever tell you about that essay where David Sedaris writes about a boil on his butt and his husband Hugh decides to take care of it?”
“No,” he says, “stop laughing. I don’t want to miss any color.”

“Well, the essay is totally disgusting and funny but it’s haunting, too. No topic is off limits for Sedaris, you know? But he doesn’t exploit. I mean, he doesn’t write a story just to write it. He’s examining stuff, you know?”

“Close your eyes,” Jesse says and sweeps his hand across my forehead and past my temples.

“I think he and EB White are my favorite essayists,” I tell him. “Anyway, Sedaris says this funny thing about how if he has a health problem, he just let’s it simmer until he’s paralyzed with fear, whereas Hugh complains about every pain immediately. Sedaris says Hugh’ll get a splinter and say he understands how Jesus must’ve felt. HAHAHAHAHAHA!” I can barely sit still I’m laughing so hard. “You have to read it,” I tell Jesse.

“I think the water looks like it’s clear,” Jesse says, helping me up from craning my neck at the sink. “Sorry if that was uncomfortable. We need one of those salon sinks.”

“I’m fine,” I say and look in the mirror. “Woah. It’s kind of red and purple, isn’t it?”

Not Callie. I think. (Courtesy of

I blow dry it, as the directions say, and Jesse begins the next step: highlighting. I continue telling him about David Sedaris.

“I want to do what he does,” I say and Jesse pulls bleach through a strand of my hair. It’s blue to mark as a guide. “I want to be funny and haunting and I want to write essays.”

“Sounds good,” Jesse says. And then, “It says here to put highlights close to your face if you want to look younger. I don’t think you need that.”

“Eh, just do it. It’ll look cool.”

So he does and I tell him that I think Sedaris might be like Flannery O’Connor because of his examination of the grotesque except he doesn’t claim to be a Christian so maybe he’s not aware of the grace in his essays. “But I think it’s still there,” I say, “the grace. I think so, anyway. Do you think it’s OK if you don’t know if you’re writing about grace?”

“I think it’s OK to not always know what you’re doing,” Jesse says and I look in the mirror. My hair is very blue and dark brown.

“When you get to Santa Fe next week, don’t tell anyone that I compared Flannery O’Connor to David Sedaris, OK? Flannery O’Connor makes me cry. And she scares me. She makes me want to give up a little, too. Not with writing so much, but you know, with life. I see myself in all those freaks. I mean, take the grandma in A Good Man Is Hard To Find. I think I’m her, just being a nuisance all the time, and always worrying and not understanding any of it. I get on everyone’s nerves.”

“No, you don’t,” Jesse says.

“Yes I do, and I cry too much. And what if I figure out grace in the last few seconds of life? And did the grandma even figure it out? Ugh. Just don’t tell anyone about this, OK? I don’t get Flannery O’Connor and I think I get David Sedaris, and I feel stupid about it so don’t tell anyone.”

Jesse takes the gloves off and throws them in the trash. “I won’t say anything about David Sedaris or Flannery O’Connor in Santa Fe. Time to rinse.” He leaves and I’m in the bathroom blow drying my hair again and it seems to be getting more red because of the heat. When it’s dry, I flip my hair up and look in the mirror.

I’m not a screamer, so my reaction doesn’t seem dramatic. Not yet. But I walk downstairs to where Jesse is, sitting on the couch going through emails. He sees that I am crying, closes the computer and does his best not to laugh.

“Jesse,” I’m sobbing now. “What am I going to do?”

“Did you not see the box said, ‘red’? I thought you were going for something new.”

“I look like I listen to Depeche Mode!”

“Hon, you do listen to Depeche Mode.”

I get up and go to the bathroom to check my hair out again. Maybe it’s not so bad.

We had a bathroom once that we painted orange and it was so bright you could see it radiate from our kitchen. That’s what my highlights looked like. My hair was a dark, dark red with purplish hues and firecracker highlights.

“What am I gonna do?”

Jesse’s next to me now giving me a hug.

“I just wanted to do something nice for myself, you know? I’ve done all this work, the girls are going off to school full time, and I’m teaching again. I just wanted to step into this next phase boldly, you know?”

“Everything you do is bold,” Jesse says. “But if I had known that, I would’ve said to get it professionally done. Callie,” he holds both my shoulders and looks at me and I can tell he’s trying so hard to peel that smirk off his face. “I have no clue what I’m doing here.”

The next morning, I call the place I get my hair cut and tell them what happened.

“When can you come in?”

“Whenever you say.”

I’m there an hour later, and when I walk in the ladies all look at me with wide eyes. I point to my hair and say, “I’m the one who called earlier.”

Sarah snaps out a cape with the expertise of a surgeon and nods me over. They don’t even let me explain, or sit in the waiting area and read InStyle. Other hairdressers hover around sort of subtly and I think they’re jealous that Sarah gets to work on me and they don’t. “I’ve never seen anything like this before! Let me at her,” is what I think they’re thinking.

Tracy, the girl who usually cuts my hair, looks at me with slight disdain.

“What’d you do?” she asks.

“I’m sorry.”

“I tell you, stop messing with your hair.”

“You told me to stop straightening it.”

That was two weeks ago, when I went in for a cut and Tracy said to stop using a flat-iron on it. “I love straight hair, though!” I whine. “I want to look like Jennifer Aniston. I’ve wanted to look like her since 1994.”

“We can’t have everything we want,” Tracy said.

“I don’t understand those words,” was my reply.

Sarah flips open a huge poster-like magazine with about seventy five hair color samples. She immediately points to a brown color that my hair used to look like.

“We’ll do that,” she states.


There is a pause and Sarah looks at me. “Is that what you want?”

I look at my lap. I don’t mean to make this into a metaphor, but I don’t want to go back to where I started. “What do you think I should do?” I ask Sarah.

She takes a deep breath and lets it out. I’m sure I’m at least ten years older than her, but today I feel like a kid. She taps on the loop of medium brown hair that she showed me before. She thinks one color is best.

Conversations are not easy to have at Extreme Hair, the salon that’s tucked in between Diamond Nails and a Mexican restaurant that serves margaritas in glasses that look like soup bowls. The ladies, who all have the most beautiful hair on earth, are Asian and English is not their first language. I love coming here because nobody makes small talk with me. But today, Sarah picks up on something in my face and asks, “You want highlights?”

“I do,” I say, trying not to sound like I’m pleading.

“OK,” she says and gets to work.

The ladies begin to speak in another language and I quickly learn that there doesn’t seem to be a translation for highlights because that’s the only word I understand. That, and the giggling. It’s OK, I think. This is all going to be funny to me too, in a little while.

Tracy’s working on a woman who looks like she could be my grandmother or aunt, and I wonder if she’s Greek or Armenian. At one point, Tracy walks away and the woman lifts her cape up above her mouth so all we see are her cheeks and eyes. She holds it there until Tracy comes back with a flat iron, and the woman lets the cape fall. She shakes her head at the flat iron. I can tell she thinks it’s frivolous.

“I have to,” Tracy says. “You’re hair is big now. I need to smooth it out.”

The woman says nothing and Tracy begins. “I’m trying to help you. Trust me.”

I watch Tracy as she works her magic and about a half an hour later the woman, who I thought was pretty before, is stunning. Her hair is not complicated, but you can tell it’s a good cut. A well crafted cut.

The lady is smiling in that Mediterranean way I know too well. You know at the end of Karate Kid when Daniel is screaming, “We did it, Mr. Miyagi! We did it!” And Mr. Miyagi is sort of nodding vigorously and fighting a smile? Like that.

She stands up, still smiling, and thanks Tracy. Tracy nods as she cleans up, and the woman walks to get her purse. She pulls out a scarf that’s turquoise and green. It looks like what I think the sea in Greece probably looks like. She drapes it over her head, and sweeps the extra material over her shoulders and the scarf is striking against her skin and brown eyes that I can tell are still gloriously happy.

Some of the other hair dressers gasp after Tracy’s work has been covered up. “For her husband,” Tracy says, and we are all quiet as she pushes the door open and glides outside.

As Sarah finishes up with my hair, I think that all this is a big fuss. I think I’ve made a huge deal out of something small. After all, didn’t I just finish my coursework for grad school? Can’t I be happy with that? Aren’t I above all this now?

No. I am not. I might by shy. I might be introverted. But I am not humble. I am self-centered and selfish and I might’ve joked with Tracy about having it all but I want what I want. And right now Sarah’s giving me what I want.

It turns out that what I want is a hairstyle that was trendy around 2000-2001. I understand that as Sarah finishes blowing out my hair. I look like Snooki.

But I’m smiling. For real smiling. Because you know what? I’m going to embrace it. I wanted something different and this is something different. This makes a statement. I bet Snooki is the grandma in A Good Man Is Hard To Find, too. And I hope I don’t start to understand grace moments before I’m offed, but damn it, I earned a Master in Fine Arts. I am learning to sit in a world where I feel “wholly alien although [I] love it still.” Maybe the Misfit isn’t all that bad. Maybe he’s read All The Pretty Horses and was crushed by John Grady Cole’s realization “that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of divergent equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.”

I might be the grandma, but I’ve found those words because of Seattle Pacific University. They make me scared, and ashamed. They make me cry and they make me see a little bit of grace before it gets dark again. I’m clutching onto them as I make my way into this world.

Ridiculous highlights and all.


  1. Loved this the first time I read it, and I still laughed just as hard at "I look like Snooki." Knowing what you want (even the unrealistic "it all") is huge. And as someone who has spent 40+ years expecting very little for herself...I admire people who don't settle. Your "go big or go home" approach to life is one of the things I like best about you Callie.

    1. Thank you, Kate. Your comment made me cry. Thank you so much!

  2. Callie- this is SO GOOD. You have such a distinct voice, and I love the way your brain works. I love my deep think-y things with a healthy side of silly- it's my favorite kind of writing. Well done.

    1. Thank you so much, Laura! I really appreciate your kind words. You make me want to write some more stories!

  3. This is brilliant, Callie! Loved every minute of it.

    1. Thank you, Jessica! I really appreciate you reading it!

  4. Loved this post! Somehow you made a trip to the beauty salon a lyrical insightful visit!