Sunday, February 23, 2014


My adventures as a redhead, no matter what hue, illustrate the personas I tried as I grew into womanhood. The color, the length, and the style reflected my mood, my outlook, my perception of my place in the world.

I became a redhead the summer between junior high and high school, thanks to Miss Clairol. Born Irish-American I had the peaches and cream complexion of a redhead, even had a splatter of freckles scattered across my nose, but my mother's genes from her luscious dark brunette hair mixed with those Irish genes of my dad's and the combination resulted in a mousy bland brown on my head.

That all changed in 1960. In less than an hour I became a reddish blonde.

I stayed that way for the summer, but I quickly selected more exotics reds as I moved through high school and college: Coppertone, Sparkling Sherry, Red Ginger. Oh, how I loved those rich, vibrant colors. If I were meeting  you for the first time, I didn't have to describe what I'd be wearing. Instead I'd say, "I'm a redhead." And sure enough, you could pick me from the crowd. Being a redhead was bold.

When I graduated from college and started working as a journalist, I changed from Clairol to L'Oreal. It cost about a dime more, but as the commercial said, I was worth it. It was the sixties and I was feeling the feminist stirrings of self worth. Of course, in Texas, that meant Big Hair--and the attitude to go with it. Bold became bodacious.

The length and style changed over the years as well. I wore it shoulder length. I wore it in a French twist. I wore it in a ponytail. I cut it short and spiked it with hair product. I grew it into a classic bob. I adorned my hair with turquoise burettes, silver clips, velvet headbands, fresh flowers, and braided leather. My hair was silky and thick, with a natural curl that I hated in my teens and twenties but embraced from my thirties and beyond.

For fifty years, until my hair turned so gray that the auburn dye faded too quickly, I lived life as a dramatic redhead.

Truth is, I felt unsure and insecure at many stages in my life, always thinking I needed five points added to my IQ and ten pounds deducted from my weight. So I hid behind fiery bravado. In essence, color from a bottle transformed me from blah brown to radiant red; it was an affordable and immediate transformation. I might be quaking inside but my exterior shouted brassy and sassy. It was the narrative I was writing for myself and eventually I became the character of my own invention. With each new chapter in my life, when it came time to reinvent myself, the color red was always a part of the ritual.

What is the story of your hair? How has your crowning glory changed through the years?

Sunday, February 16, 2014


When I was moving this year, I found an old Valentine’s card from my ex-husband. The card had the inscription: The best is yet to be. We divorced two years later. He broke my heart, and I didn’t think life had much to offer… I was just marking time, wanting and waiting to die.

In the cycle of life, after all endings come new beginnings. Not immediately, however. There is a middle ground—I call it the wasteland, that desert where you wander in your howling grief, being stripped down to the bare bones of you, sustained only by daily manna from God.

Barbara, Jackie, Maya, Elda, Charlotte and Wynell were my manna. They were unrelenting in their care; they fed and comforted me when I could not.

I stayed in that wasteland until I could let go of my old way of being and walk out, a “new” person. I did not jump into a new relationship after my divorce (Thank you, God!). I don’t think it was because I had good sense; I believe it was because I trusted God to lead me rather than my pushing or rushing to a new beginning. It has been a long road, but as I always believed in my heart, when I got to the other side, I knew it would be worth the hard lessons and time alone to find out exactly who I am at my core.

There is a new man in my life. We met twenty years after my divorce, and we have been together for almost three years. For Valentine’s Day, I received such a surprise when I arrived home… the sweetest bouquet of pink tulips sat right inside the front door, a bouquet of long stemmed red roses greeted me in the kitchen—along with a box of chocolate truffles—and a bouquet of red roses awaited me in the bedroom. Ron did not do this because he felt he had to compete with a memory or impress me with grandeur. He did it because he knew I didn’t expect it, and he delights in surprising me.

On Valentine’s night we went out to a local restaurant to listen to a band we know. Misslette reminded the audience that God loved us first, so if anyone was alone, to remember that none of us is alone or unloved. Truer words have never been spoken.

The last song Misslette performed was Etta James’s “At Last,” and Ron danced with me. The next morning I thought about the line in Robert Browning’s poem. The entire first stanza of the poem—not just one line—describes my life today.

GROW old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:

Our times are in his hand

Who saith, ``A whole I planned,

Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!''


Where are you in the turning points of your life today—at an ending, beginning or betwixt (in the wasteland)?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Game Changer

The chancellor sent an email Friday morning announcing his retirement as CEO of the Lone Star College System, effective in August. This comes only months after the board of trustees voted to move to single member districts. Just one of these decisions is a game changer. Both are sending seismic currents through the organization.

I do not know how, but I can safely predict the institution will change as a result of the personalities and philosophies of the new players. There will be change--both in small and in significant ways.

New beginnings are on the horizon; the future is unclear. How will the changes affect those of us who are faithful servants of the educational enterprise? Folks are concerned because we know things will be different--but how different and in what way?

I have gone through other changes similar to the one facing Lone Star College System, and I can attest that all have led to changes in direction and new beginnings. Transitions can be revolutionary or merely small modifications, but all require adjustment and acceptance.

The game changers in my adult life include job changes, marriage, childbirth, divorce, diabetes, menopause, deaths of my parents... the list goes on. I've hit the wall and thought I was stuck in a very dark corner of life until I learned (over and over again) that we have to let go of what no longer serves us in order to change direction and explore new territory.

The same is true in life as it is in organizations. Life takes sharp, unpredictable curves. Truth is, I've never met anyone whose life followed the storyline he or she imagined. For example, I can tell you honestly, my childhood dreams of the future did not become my reality. My life is not the one I envisioned. But, holy moly, it has been one exhilarating ride!

And that may be the trade-off: predictability is exchanged for interesting. So... interesting times are ahead.

Life is about change, and as we shuffle, traipse, ramble, swagger, and race through it, one of the important ways we can navigate is by sharing our experience, our strength, our hope through our stories.

What changes have you faced that became game changers?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Writing true

I'm reading Elizabeth Berg's book Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True. (A book worthy of your bookshelf!) She encourages writers like me to be authentic and honest in our writing.

Writing true requires a writer to go deep beneath the surface feelings to the emotional core. It means using the senses to describe the details of the narrative, for it's in the details that our stories engage the reader and bring her into our minds so that she can see how we think, so she can get under our skin and feel what we feel, so she can touch our exposed vulnerability and become that vulnerability, if just for the time it takes to read our story.

To paraphrase another author, Red Smith, we only have to sit at the keyboard and open a vein.

Why would any writer want to do that? The answer is simple.  Writers like Elizabeth Berg, like Red Smith, like memoirists and storytellers like me--we are driven to write because we want to share in the collective human experience. By writing true, we yield pieces of ourselves in the pieces we write, and we connect with people we may never meet in the most profound and intimate way.

Not a bad deal, if you ask me.