Live like a local.

I’ve been in England for a little more than two months now, and whenever the “why are you here?” question inevitably pops up, it’s also tied in with this qualifying-statement-meets-question-that-we-hope-is-not-true: “I don’t mean to be rude; it’s just that — don’t less than something like half of Americans even have a passport?”

Cringe.

It’s mostly asked with complete innocence. A few people have even defended Americans: “But America is so huge that you can travel your own states and have covered as much ground as Europe.” Others are noticeably disappointed, suggesting that many Americans live in an imperialistic bubble, because they’ve never ventured out of their safe zone.

When you’re in the U.S., there’s a false sense of security. Millions would like to think it’s the safest, cleanest, freest, bestest, most awesomest place ever. To challenge that is entirely un-American. That’s why this clip resonated so intensely with people around the world. Internationally, there were cheers because someone — even if it was on a TV show — finally validated that there are multiple amazing, safe, clean, freedom-filled places to live on this planet. Americans with a more expansive worldview appreciated that. Those who are decidedly less so, pretty passionately did not.

I love America. I love that country roads still have pick-ups and that we all patriotically sing the Star Spangled Banner whenever the familiar tune is heard. I love that we fervently support the causes we believe in, that gas station nachos are still a thing, and I really love that the entire autumn season is a celebration of comforting nostalgia: fall trees, cool breezes, pumpkin spice everything, baked apple pies, knitted sweaters, corn mazes and hayrides, time with family and the introduction of cheesy holiday-themed Hallmark movies that just make you feel good.

What I’m less fond of is the fear that is etched into us from the time we are born. The fear that tells us we are the only good place, the only safe place, the single best place. I guess I want to have my Red, White, and Blue slice of cake and eat it, too. I want to sing about how great and awesome we are, but I also want to feel the awesome robustness of many places around the world. I don’t want to live with the belief that the American Way is the Only Way.

So I suppose it is fitting that my latest life lesson came in the form of a haircut, the second time a haircut has taught me something this year.

I’ve been eyeing my roots for the last week. They’ve looked horrendous. I tried a box dye in desperation, which wound up giving me passable chocolate roots that blended into my dyed black hair. My cut had grown out almost three inches in two months. It was time. It was just time.

I knew the day would come, but it’d been a little fear in the back of my mind. Will they understand what I want? Will they do a nice job? Will I look stupid? It doesn’t matter how many times you travel — comfortable or not, there is a sense of foreignness, a realization of cultural nuances that are — and should be — there.

The thing is, you can tailor those nuances to be a benefit or a detriment. You can embrace them, have fun with them and go with the flow or you can be fearful and resistant. I had to be brave and choose the former.

So, appointment made, I went into the small, local salon with slight trepidation and confirmed my arrival at the front counter. I was led to my seat. I was asked what I wanted. I was welcomed. I became an active participant in the conversation. I laughed, I asked questions, answered questions, and made a friend. By the end of it all, I’d enjoyed a nearly two hour salon experience alongside lovely British ladies, our heads all wrapped up in caps like the 1950’s while we relaxed and chattered and did nothing of particular importance.

It was a human interaction and one that left me humbled. Not only do I now have an adorable black bob, but I have also conquered a social fear and can’t wait to go again.

If there’s one, single lesson I hope I can convey through my blog and Instagram, it’s that people are people, and the more you see of the world, the more you realize there is beautiful diversity but also a strong, common thread of humanity that unites us all.

Jelly shoes.

It was the summer of ’97, and jelly shoes were all the rage. I met up with two of my best friends, and we ventured over to the middle school to pick up our schedules and see what teachers we’d been assigned to, crossing fingers that we’d share a class period or two.

I remember my outfit like I just wore it yesterday (let’s thank God I did not). The palest of pale lime green shorts, a horizontal striped shirt with pink, orange, green and white in similarly soft hues, and jelly shoes. Same style — one orange, one green.

Yes, I wore two different colored shoes around. I was a weird kid, okay? I’m a weird adult, too. It’s cool.

I was so proud of that outfit. I felt like the most creative kid on the block. I was daring, I was unique, I was me.  I was Jelly Shoes Girl.

Then two girls on the sidewalk across the street saw me walking home and started pointing and making fun of me.

“Haha, are you wearing two different-colored shoes,” one girl belted out.

“Oh my God, she’s totally wearing two different shoes!” Her friend pointed at my feet, and they both bent over in an exaggerated laughter.

They continued to taunt me while I walked on the opposite side of the road, telling me how “stupid” I looked and that I should “go home and figure out how to dress.”

Eleven years old. The prime age for bullying and its nasty side effects. I thought about my shoes, asking myself if I’d made the right decision.

“Well, you could always just go back to wearing the same color,” I thought, pondering whether my outfit would somehow be more acceptable if I were to succumb to peer pressure.

“But I like my shoes!” I interrupted my own thoughts with exasperation. And with that, I rounded the corner and walked on home.

I continued to wear my mismatched jelly shoes until autumn arrived, and they were traded in for penny loafers, because I didn’t want to match all the kids wearing Doc Martens. This theme of doing my own, weird thing continued into high school with a terrible auburn-colored perm, the 80+ bracelets I wore on my wrists — all at once — during college, the lip color that was too dark and too glossy in my 20’s, and on into my 30’s, which seems to be a mixture of DC chic and Daria rolled into one odd ball. Oddball. See what I did there?

So, you know, embrace your weird. Carve out who you want to be and chase it with vigor, even if it hurts. You’re your greatest masterpiece and the thing you spend the most time with. Rock those jelly shoes.

 

(Top Photo: Younger sister on left; me on right wearing ankle boots with yellow ribbed socks…’cause, you know, Jelly Shoes Girl. Oddball.)

 

Mirrors.

Two months ago I saw a picture of myself and gasped. Like I literally gasped. I can’t even show you the picture, because I deleted it after throwing up in my mouth a little.

My long hair — my security blanket, my love, my I’m-afraid-to-be-seen-so-I’ll-just-hide-behind-this-big-ass-blanket-of-hair — was weighing me down. I looked tired, weary, and uncomfortable. Despite having almost always been “the girl with long hair,” I suddenly wasn’t me.

I booked a hair consultation the next day.

When I went in, I told the stylist I wanted my hair to look like this (and if she could make the rest of me look like her, that was cool, too). After trying to bleach some of my raven tresses to no avail, we settled on purple extensions to complete my foray into the goth-lite realm, scheduled a full appointment out for the following week, and I spent the next several days emotionally parting ways with hair that was mere inches from my waist in the back.

It’s funny how, when something feels right, the fear subsides.

I sat down in the salon chair five days later; the stylist asked, “Are you ready?”

I took one blurry sans-glasses look into the mirror and emphatically responded, “Yes! This is so overdue.”

And with that, a foot of hair was chopped off in a matter of moments. Some two hours later I emerged a new person, not because I’d made a physical change, but because the physical finally matched the girl on the inside.

After a long two years of what I realize now was a severe struggle with depression, I looked in the mirror and finally saw myself in the reflection. I wasn’t the drab girl that “could be”; I wasn’t the girl who “if only.” I was me. Andrea. The girl with sexy — and much shorter — black and purple hair, who suddenly felt like she owned herself.

Mirrors. They only work if we’re brave enough to look. IMG_1666-1.JPG