Learning to be Spicy

I’ve always had a hard time speaking up. Maybe it was a conservative upbringing coupled with my naturally quiet nature. I prefer to go with the flow, stay quiet even if I’m suffering, let others have their way so I don’t have to make a scene.

People have told me I’m sweet and flexible, and I like to think I am (thanks guys). But more often than not, my reasons are less than noble. I’m not always sweet and flexible because I want to be; it’s often due to the fear of conflict that I keep my mouth shut.

My senior year of college, I was in a play, and our tradition in student theater was that each senior would get a notebook in which everyone would write a parting note or thought. The note from our director stuck out to me:

“I know there is a little spice in there with all the sweet,” she wrote. “Stay spicy.”

Those words have remained in my mind ever since, and I’ve tried to figure out what they mean to me. It’s hard, as a shy person, to feel okay with being spicy. It’s hard to be okay with the idea that people may not like your flavor.

I think the internet has magnified my fears in this area. The internet, of course, is a place where everyone speaks their mind, whether it’s well-thought or not, and on the internet people form mobs and crucify each other while, in the real world, eating breakfast or pooping. On the internet, if you give a moderately controversial opinion, or even worse, your raw and unfiltered opinion, you get a bunch of comments from people who are supposed to be your family and friends, who all say things to you with varying degrees of anger or encouragement. These people say things, to you and to each other, that people would rarely say out loud, making vast assumptions about your motivations, your level of education, and your overall character.

Interestingly, I’ve found that this feature of the internet bleeds into my physical conversations, in that I’m so used to seeing bombastic opinions, terrible rhetoric, and knee-jerk reactions that I assume a real-life conversation will contain those too. I might venture that, “Fall is my favorite season,” and I expect a “OH MY GOSH YOU STUPID PREPPY WHITE GIRL WITH YOUR BOOTS AND PUMPKIN SPICE LATTES WHEN WILL IT ALL END?” in return.

Of course, no one in real life says that. (If you do, shame on you. I wish an afterlife of Pumpkin Spice Latte Hell upon you. May you burn in 160 degrees Fahrenheit milk foam.) But the internet, which has succeeded in making so many people stupidly loud, has bullied me into staying quiet.

Of course, being too timid and people-pleasy has been a fault of mine for a while. As a shy and quiet teenager, I got used to coming up with excuses for what I didn’t want to do, because I was terrified of saying, “No.” I’m so busy with schoolwork. I have to watch my little brother. I wish I could, but I… can’t. Or, I went for a compromise: I can’t help with the whole thing, but I’ll help with some of it. When I didn’t want to do any of it.

A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany. Someone asked me if I would be willing to do a certain thing, and while, ironically, I actually did, I was so used to feeling pressured by my internal fears that I was trying to come up with an excuse for why I couldn’t do the thing. And in that moment, I realized how ridiculous and self-sabotaging this was. My fear of speaking up had slowly eroded my sense of what I liked and didn’t like, what I wanted to do and didn’t want to do. I honestly didn’t know, because I didn’t feel like I had the freedom to choose.

I can say anything I want, I thought to myself. I’m an adult. I can say anything I damn well please. I don’t have to come up with an excuse. I can say yes, or I can say no. I can make a decision for myself, and whatever I say won’t be met with an OH MY GOSH YOU STUPID GIRL SHOW SOME RESPECT, because real people don’t say that. Or if they do, well, they have their own problems and I can just turn around and go home.

So in little ways, I’ve tried being more honest with myself. I take the chance and say the thing I think, instead of pretending I agree when I don’t. I take the chance and say what I’d really like to do, instead of pretending that everyone else’s plans sound good to me when they don’t. These decisions aren’t ones I make lightly, and they often cause me a lot of pain.

But I realize it’s an important thing to do, because this is what builds character and integrity: living according to your convictions, even when you want to take the path of least resistance, to keep quiet, to not cause a scene. I’m learning that the voice inside my head which tells me people will be angry, or react like they do on the internet, isn’t telling the whole truth. Because I can be a kind person, and still have convictions. I can disagree with others, and still have friends at the end of the day.

I can be sweet, and still a little spicy.

To My Curls

 

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I used to hate you.

I think I spent all of 2006 in a grocery store aisle, looking for the next product that promised to smooth you out. The next brightly-colored bottle of goop that promised to slick you down. The next electrical metal contraption that promised to iron you flat.

I used to hate the little tendrils that framed my face like grapevines. I used to hate the ends that curled up and out instead of down and under. I used to hate how you stubbornly held your shape, even when all the other girls’ hair could bounce from hairstyle to hairstyle with barely a ripple, fanning out thick and glossy like a yard of silk.

You were too poofy, too voluminous, too Victorian for a time when sleek, slender hair was all the rage. Funny thing is, I don’t think I would have minded you, if it were up to me. But it was middle school. It was 2006. And so it wasn’t up to me.

I wanted to blend in, to be cool, to be like the others. And you refused me every time. You forced me to stand out, to be unusual, to be myself. And I hated it. I was awkward as it was. I didn’t need any help from you.

“Your hair is gorgeous. Trust me,” my mother would say. “I used to pay good money for hair like that.”

I didn’t trust her, because most preteens don’t. Especially when it comes to hair. And the fact that she paid good money in the 90s to look like me wasn’t comforting. The 90s weren’t cool then like they are now.

When I was seventeen, I finally learned how to use a straightener. I ironed you out every day. You were finally glossy and shiny and slippery, like everyone else’s hair. You were hell to keep in a ponytail, and I had to use twice the amount of bobby pins, but I didn’t care. I blended in. I was cool. I was like the others.

(Until it got humid. Or rained. Or I went swimming.)

I snagged my first boyfriend the year I started ironing you out. One day I went to his house and we took a walk through the woods. It started to rain, heavy sheets of water over the trees. I was aghast. You were returning to yourself with each heavy drop.

“Can I borrow your sister’s hair straightener?” I asked him.

“But why? Your hair’s so pretty,” he said.

And then I got braver and let you out. I let the tendrils frame my face, the ringlets twist tighter and tighter, the waves squiggle up and down. I let you fall down my back, fanning out like a cut of heavy brocade. I let you play with the wind.

And slowly I realized I loved you. On days I ironed you out, I missed you. I didn’t recognize myself until I let you come back.

(I married the man you helped me snag.)

We have a lot in common, you and I. We’re moody. We’re whimsical. We’re hopelessly old-fashioned.

And sometimes, you still have a mind of your own. Sometimes you’re belligerent. Sometimes you frizz over yourself like mist on a lake, or you feel coarse as wool and you scratch my hands.

Sometimes, usually on days I’m most frustrated with you, my best friend will tell me, “Your hair is so happy today.”

And I realize she’s right.

So every day I try to notice how happy you are, now that you’re not always smoothed out, slicked down, or ironed flat. I start to notice how lovely it is that you’re happy. How lovely you are because you’re happy.

And it makes me happy too.