beauty shop wisdom


a guide to writing

cynthia gregory

Have you ever been to the inner sanctum of a beauty salon? I mean, seriously in? The beauty salon is the modern equivalent of the Acropolis, a center of culture in ancient Greece. A symbol of the formerly glorious apex that still stands is the temple dedicated to Athena, warrior goddess, who is said to have been born fully formed from her daddy’s head. That would be Zeus, propagating some kind of mad magic, birthing an idea like that femme fatale.

Beauty is its own wisdom, and to enter the beauty salon is to enter as a clean vessel and to leave equipped with what a warrior goddess needs: beauty and a dose of attitude.  What goes on in there, you wonder? Here’s a clue: it isn’t about hair. A salon is where women share their magic. It is the adult version of the Saturday night sleepover, where we braided each others’ locks and dreamed of traveling to exotic places. It is a church where wisdom is currency, and where every woman is a goddess.

My friend Sedona is a hair styling genius. She’s also a princess, as in “I don’t do windows, and I don’t do floors” kind of girl. She is exceptional at the art of alchemical science, and she allows other people to be good at what they do, too, especially if those things hold no appeal for her. Sedona is a big believer in the service trade. “Just let them in,” she advises. “You contract with a helper, and then when you need them, they have permission to enter.” Just let them in, she says, and they fix what needs fixin’.

The idea of ‘permission to enter’ also lives behind the idea of setting up a special place in your home to write. It is also behind the discipline of setting aside a certain amount of time each day, ideally at the same hour, to do nothing but write. By doing this, you give your subconscious ‘permission to enter’ – and then you stand back and let the gods whisper in your ear, give you enough luscious lexicon to fill pages and pages.

You can go so far as to set aside an entire room, decorate it with art that you love, art that inspires you to write. Fill it with flowers and music and artifacts like an ancient Remington typewriter, and fountain pens, and framed manuscripts, first edition books. And then when you enter that room, that sacred space, that temple of contextual creation, you have given yourself permission to enter. It’s just a logical next step to open your journal, gaze out the window, allow your thoughts to unfocus for a minute, fire up your unconscious, give your creative self permission to enter.

Or not. Not everyone has a whole room that has no other purpose than to provide a gorgeous backdrop for journaling. An entire room isn’t necessary. Sit on the bed or an old wooden bench at on the back porch. Write with pencil, write with crayon, an old eyeliner stick. It doesn’t matter. What is significant is that you make an appointment with yourself, and you do your best to show up. Reliability doesn’t guarantee genius, but it doesn’t diminish it, either. It isn’t your job to judge your work to be genius or whatev. Your job is to show up and write. Really, it’s that simple. You just show up and write and let the gods take care of the rest.

This is the best advice I can offer: show up, pay attention, and give your highest creative self permission to enter. See what kinds of ideas your head can give birth to. Find out how many kinds of love your heart knows how to express. Write with your body, write from your soul. Make a date with your highest, deepest self, and see what kinds of genies spring fully formed from your godhead. Give genius permission to enter and then sit down and get ready to write. You may not get thunder bolts and crashing seas, but you might get shopping lists, thank you notes, rampages of appreciation. It’s a good start.

The creative gods are unpredictable, but one thing is for sure. If you show up, they will too. Give them permission to enter.

to be continued. . .

The Imperfectionists

There are certain professionals that seem to be the darlings of fiction: lawyers, doctors, cops, writers. In The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman takes great glee in shining a light on journalists, and as the title of his debut novel implies, they are best at their worst.

Newspapers are not what they used to be. And certainly, Rachman’s unnamed global English language newspaper launched from Rome in the 1950s, is no exception. Before CNN and the Internet and iPads, there were newspapers.  If you wanted hard, cold, facts, you got them printed in black and white on newsprint and by gum, there were people who ate and breathed deadlines to bring them to you.

Newsmaking was a noble profession. It was gritty and real and yet, there was something a little glamorous about the paper and the men and women who made it run.

This fact however, bears little relevance to Rachman’s book. None of his characters are quite likeable. Their noble profession is to deliver the news of the world, and to that extent, they are quite good. And yet personally? Well, it’s probably best not to look too closely.

The Imperfectionists is more a collection of short stories than a novel in the traditional sense, with all stories related by the terribly important international English language newspaper printed in Rome.  Stringers in Cairo and Paris, Davos and Nairobi, feed the ravenous paper its content. Devoted editors and tyrannical staffers ensure that all twelve pages of the paper are crammed with the activities of the world and presented daily, to a circulation of 10,000. They are all perfectly imperfect, smart and sassy people giving their all to do something meaningful and right.  Beyond news however,  the paper is just an item on the balance sheet of the newspaper’s corporate owners, nitwit offspring of the original founder, nested safely in far away Atlanta.

Meanwhile in Rome, Herman Cohen has created an encyclopedic style guide with which he tortures his editors. Editor in chief Kathleen Solson enjoys the sophisticated patina of living abroad, even as she discovers her husband having an affair.  Copy editor Ruby Zaga is a spiteful, friendless staffer who secretly hungers for connection. Business editor Hardy Benjamin is so desperate for a boyfriend that she supports her loser of an Irish lover to shield herself from living alone.

The terribly important international English language newspaper is fading by the hour. It’s gushing red ink. Its loyal readership is dying  off. It’s not even on the Internet, for pity’s sake! The ship is going down, yet each character has a vested interest in believing that the ship is unsinkable. At a publishing conference at the Cavalieri Hilton in Rome, Kathleen Solson is asked if the newspaper will survive.

“Absolutely,” she tells the audience. “We’ll keep going, I assure you of that. Obviously, we’re living in an era when technology is moving at an unheralded pace. I can’t tell you if in fifty years we’ll be publishing in the same format. Actually, I can probably tell you we won’t be publishing in the same way, that we’ll be innovating then, just as we are now.” Unfortunately for Kathleen and her crew, the paper is doomed. Fortunately for the reader, it’s a heck of a ride down the rails.

Review by Cynthia Gregory/