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Last week, I posed this question on Facebook and Twitter: Is it a compliment or an insult when someone says you have “pageant hair”?

The responses varied from “Who cares, I like your hair,” to something along the lines of “Um, 1986 called and it wants its hairstyle back.”

The surprising amount of conversation invoked by my question caused me to ponder my hairstyle, as if there aren’t more important things I could be doing with my time. For those of you who don’t know what is meant by “pageant hair,” it’s the big, meticulously-styled bouffant that takes time and a variety of tools to create. If you really wanted to do it right, you could go the distance to “helmet hair,” which is the look one gets after applying layers of Aqua Net hairspray so your hairstyle can be preserved for posterity, like a butterfly in a glass paperweight. I am sure I don’t have helmet hair…at least, not anymore. Don’t blame me, blame 1986! By the way, it works best if you let the Aqua Net dry between applications.

Fine. I insist on poufing my hair, but I really don’t have any choice. I don’t have the kind of effortless mane that some bitches – I mean, friends of mine – have. I am referring to the type of hair that can be washed and air-dried, so its proud possessor can simply shower and waltz out the door looking great. If I wash my hair and then do nothing to it – no blow-drying, no teasing, no curling, nothing – within twenty minutes I look like a drowned rat. I have the type of hair that needs round brushes, hot rollers, and various other instruments of torture to prevent it from sitting flat on my head. That is in large part the reason I toil, blow-drying my hair upside down even when it’s 80 degrees outside and doing so makes me a sweaty mess.

But the fact that my hair doesn’t air-dry well is not the entire story. In fact, it’s not even the main reason why I want my hair to be big. Much like my reason for wearing black clothes (not because I am cool or fashionable, but because I tend to spill food on myself frequently), my reason for having big hair might surprise you. It is the same reason I don’t wear ponytails, the reason I leave my hair long and loose and full.

My head is too small for my body.

There. I said it. My head is too small for my body.  And the only way to deal with it is to make my hair bigger and hope that its sheer volume will make me look in proportion overall.

Right now you are thinking one of two things: either “This woman is completely vain and neurotic,” or, “Don’t be silly, honey, your head is the perfect size” (Thanks Mom!). Either way, my response is the same:  I have third-party verification that, yes, my head is oddly small for my body. This confirmation came in the form of Thomas, a hair stylist at the Macy’s Salon in Menlo Park Mall in New Jersey, with whom I had the following conversation in 1998:

Thomas:  So, how do you like to wear your hair? (AUTHOR’S NOTE FOR THE MEN: This is a routine opening question whenever you go to see a new stylist.)

Me:  Well, I usually blow it out and put Velcro rollers in to make it fuller.

Thomas:  Really? But right now the straight and sleek look is so IN. And your hair texture is perfect for that.

Me:  Ummm….I don’t really like to wear it too flat. I like it on the bigger side.

Thomas:  But maybe we should try it…

Me:  No! My head is too small for that.

Thomas (incredulous):  What?! What does that mean?

Me:  Look at my head in relation to my body. It’s too small.

At this point, Thomas actually stops what he is doing, which was touching and fluffing my hair. He stares at me intently with one hand on his chin and one folded across his chest. To his credit, he makes the effort of surveying my head from a couple of different angles by circling me as I sit in his chair. After two or three minutes of this, he announces his findings.

Thomas:  OK, I see what’s going on here. From here to here (he points from my right ear across my face to my left ear) your head and face are actually somewhat narrow. But, from here to here (he points from the tip of my forehead to the back of my crown) your head is actually quite long.

There is a pause in the conversation while I process his remarks.

Me:   So…I think what you are telling me is that I look like the creature from the movie Alien?

Thomas:  Is that the one with Sigourney Weaver? I love her!

So there it is. My head is too small relative to my body. At least, it is when you look at me from the front.

There is one other possible response you could have to my issue with my small head. I am sure that at least one of you is thinking, “Well, maybe it isn’t that your head is too small. Maybe it’s that your body is too big. Maybe if you worked out a little more, or went on a diet, or did something to make your body smaller, everything would balance out.”

You know what I say to that? Suck it. If making my hair bigger means I get to eat ice cream or cheese fries when I feel like it, then give me some hot rollers and Aqua Net and call me Peg Bundy.

Bragging rights go to the first person who guesses the relevance of this entry’s title. This contest is brought to you by Mike Ingrassia.

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A disturbing thing happened to me this past weekend.

My parents and I were watching college football. We were having a blast watching Navy outplay Notre Dame. There was shouting and taunting and pizza. It was a great day.

At least, it was a great day until I tried to read something to my dad during a commercial. As I held the paper up, I said to him, “I guess I should go to the eye doctor. Lately, when I try to read my eyes jiggle.”

“Jiggle?” he asked with a smirk. “What does that mean?”

“You know, they go like this.” I held my finger up and waved it back and forth, which is the universal sign for eye-jiggling.

He instructed me to remove my eyeglasses and try again. I did so and the jiggling stopped. “Well,” he said, “you need progressive lenses.”

“What?”

“You know, they have different prescriptions depending on the distance.”

“BIFOCALS?!” I shrieked.

Ugh. I am 40 and a half (as of October 24, and yes, I still track my half-birthdays). Why is it so hard for me to believe that I am that old? All of the signs are there: over 50% of my hair is gray (although I’ll never let you see it), I get tired at 8:00pm, and if I sit on the floor for more than a couple of minutes it takes me twice as long to get up. Even so, I am completely surprised when I am faced with hard evidence that I am, in fact, middle-aged.

I always joke with people that the key to staying young is to act really immature, and I stand by that. In fact, a couple of seconds ago, while I was writing the last paragraph, my husband interrupted me to ask what we should do with the gigantic turnip that was sitting in our fridge going bad. I said, “Oh, I don’t know…maybe we should….stick it up your butt?” then went back to writing. (See Mom, you aren’t the only one who is subjected to my immaturity.) I believe that to think young is to be young, and I extend the idea to acting like a seventh grader so I can feel really, really young. I am totally fine with that.

But even if I feel young in my head, every once in a while something happens to snap me back to reality. Below are a few examples. I know that a bulleted list is a sign of lazy writing, but in this case it’s a sign of me trying to hurry and finish this before the baby wakes up. Here are some of the incidents that have made me feel old, in chronological order:

  • The first time I noticed that a weatherman was probably younger than I was, I was dismayed. These are authority figures! They use science to guess what the weather will be in two days! That was the first time I remember feeling old and it was a weird, sad moment.
  • When I was teaching seventh grade, I once heard myself say, “Trust me, someday you will thank me for making you do (such and such)” I don’t remember what important task I was making the student do, but do I remember that I sounded like a caricature of an adult. I might as well have been going “Waa waa. Waa waa, waa.” like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons.
  • Then there was the time I first noticed how much younger the players in college sports were. I mean, I was out of college already so of course they were younger, but I guess I never thought about it. Then one day I saw a quarterback being interviewed after a game and I was like…Whoa. He’s a baby.
  • Then there was the time I made a comment like, “I swear, kids these days tailgate so much!” The woman I was referring to was on her way to work during rush hour, so she was definitely older than the college quarterback. It was getting worse…
  • Then there was the time that the kid (again with the kid!) working the register at a convenience store said “Have a nice day. Ma’am.” I froze. Excuse me?!  Fortunately, I resisted the urge to bite his head off. Instead, I just said, “Oh, calling me ‘Ma’am’ makes me feel old.” He smiled and said “Sorry, Miss.” But while his mouth said ‘Miss’ the rest of his face said “Oh, you are sooo pathetic.”
  • Then there was the time I was dating a younger guy and found out that he had never seen Caddyshack. I wasn’t even sure he knew what I was talking about until I explained that it was movie. Yikes. That relationship ended a few weeks later, when I realized he was born the same year that the movie came out.
  • When my future sister-in-law started dating her fiancé, she mentioned where he grew up and I realized he went to my high school, Shore Regional. I was so excited, and the next time I saw him I was like, “Do you know the so-and-so family?” After a couple of seconds of that I asked, “Wait, what year did you graduate?” only to find out that it was TWELVE years after I did! My husband is five years younger than I am, and his sister is two years younger than he is, and her fiancé is five years younger than she is. That makes twelve. Needless to say, when we all socialize together I have a lot of similar conversations with their friends. I suppose that’s what I get for robbing the cradle.
  • I became pregnant with my first child at 39. During the first doctor’s visit, I had a quick conversation with the office manager about insurance: what would be covered, what wouldn’t. She said, “Well, due to your advanced maternal age, we will probably have to give you more tests.” I gave her the stare down – I couldn’t help it, I was really hormonal – and said, “Advanced maternal age is just a euphemism for old.” She looked startled, and I didn’t even feel bad. Did I mention that I was hormonal?
  • A few months later, I was sitting on the beach with my younger brother, who made some crack about me being old. I shot back, “It’s not like I‘m 40 or something!” Then I paused and remembered that I was 39 and was like, Oh…scratch that.

There’s more, but those are the highlights – or the lowlights, depending on your perspective. People often tell me I look young for my age which is feeling less and less like a compliment. I used to always say that I looked young because I had no kids to stress me out and age me, but that’s all changed. Nothing makes someone hit the wall like having an infant at age 40. I am pretty sure I have aged at least five years in the last ten months.

Whatever. You can’t fool Mother Nature and you can’t stop Father Time. But I still make a big deal about my birthdays and I am still honest about my age. And, I only have nine and a half years before I qualify for AARP insurance – so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

The following is an actual conversation I had with my husband when I was eight months pregnant:

ME:   I want to go to the city on Friday to visit the energy healer, but I’m nervous. (Author’s Note: File “I want to…visit the energy healer” under things I never thought I would hear myself say.)

MATT:   Why would you be nervous?

ME:   Because. What if someone sees me and realizes how pregnant I am? Then they might kidnap and kill me and cut the baby out and sell him on the black market.

MATT:   (Pause.) What? Why would you think that would happen?

ME:   That sort of thing happens all the time. It’s not uncommon. I heard it happening recently in the news!

Matt’s incredulous, wide-eyed stare indicates that he is weighing the pros and cons of making his next statement….

MATT:   Ummm…Baby? I believe that was actually a Law and Order episode.

I was speechless for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that I had been completely serious in my concern that someone might steal my baby. I was also stunned when it hit me that I had been watching so much TV that the lines between reality and my fantasy-TV-world had become so blurred. I was impressed at how brave Matt had been to break the news to me, because it was entirely possible that in my anger at myself for being such a big loser, I might have shot the messenger.

Reality-check in Aisle 5, please.

In fairness, Law and Order episodes are “ripped from the headlines.” If I was honest with myself, though, the true cause of any confusion was the fact that I had been watching about four hours of Law and Order a day for the previous month. I blame TNT for allowing this to happen – damn them and their beautiful syndication!

Yes, I know there is research that television is bad for you: it’s linked to obesity, depression, homicide, suicide, acne and excessive spending.  So I made some of that up. Nonetheless, most people agree that doing things is much preferable to watching imaginary people do things. But when I am stressed and tired and life is getting me down nothing makes me feel better than snuggling up to my flat-screen high-definition television and some wonderfully cheesy Lifetime movie.

Am I the only one who gets so invested in the television I watch that I sometimes start to think about these people as real? What is it about watching a series regularly that makes you feel as if you know the characters personally? Cheers and Seinfeld, two comedy classics, were hilarious partly because the characters were so well-developed that you could actually predict how they might act or what they might say in a certain situation. This familiarity created anticipation that heightened the comedy, and it also made the characters become friends-in-your-head.

Then there is the consideration that these characters come into your home. They visit you weekly or nightly or even four hours a night like my friends Briscoe and Curtis. They can be in your life for years, especially if you’re willing to mindlessly sit through reruns. In fact, some of my TV friendships have lasted longer than my friendships with real people. As life gets busier, it’s just easier to stay in touch with the friends you can record on your DVR.

Five years ago, when I was going through a divorce and I was feeling very low, I had no energy to do anything other than go to work and pretend that everything was fine. By the time I got home I was completed drained; as a result my evening ritual consisted of sitting on the couch eating Mexican food and watching reruns of the Gilmore Girls. If you need to escape a sad reality, why wouldn’t you go to a place filled with eccentric characters who say witty things while hanging out in a diner? Why wouldn’t you want to visit with people to whom bad things don’t happen, where the worst thing that ever happens is that the main character gets into a fender bender with the car her boyfriend gave her? I can think of worse places to visit than Stars Hollow, and my spending time in that imaginary town went on for months.

So it should come as no surprise that, as I was walking through town with a friend last Friday, I had another mix-up. I started to wave at someone before quickly retracting my hand.

“Do you know her?” my friend asked.

“I thought I did, but it was someone else,” I replied. I had thought it was Lane Kim…one of my friends from the Gilmore Girls.

How pathetic.

While we’re on the subject of me embarrassing myself in front of people I admire….

In the summer of 1997, while I was working at Lucent Technologies, we hosted a conference for the industry analysts – a multi-day event for anyone who was writing about the technology or telecommunications industries.  During this conference, the leaders of Lucent addressed the analysts, following which the analysts would go back to their offices to write their opinions of Lucent and its future outlook, and ultimately investors would make decisions based on what the analysts wrote.   

At that time, Lucent was a huge company with over $28 billion in revenue and over 100,000 employees.  So I felt fortunate to be one of the people able to attend the session during which Henry Schacht, Lucent’s CEO at the time, addressed the group.  During his talk, Schacht posed a question to the group of analysts:  “What do you think is Lucent Technologies’ greatest asset?”

I sat and listened as people called out answers only to hear Henry Schacht say, “No.”  Suggestions were made, such as “Your technology!” or “Bell Labs!” (the R&D arm of the company, from which many amazing inventions have come) to which Schacht replied, “No.”   Wanting to get to the right answer, analysts started to be more strategic:  “Your customers!”  “Your global presence!”  “The breadth of your product portfolio!”  Again, “No” and “No” and “No.”  This went on for almost ten minutes, which is a really long time when people are trying to come up with the answer to a question.

Finally, as suggestions were called out with decreasing frequency, Schacht put all of us out of our misery.  “I’ll tell you what Lucent’s most important asset is,” he said, “our people.”  I wasn’t the only one in the room who hadn’t seen that coming.  As I listened to Schacht talk about the innovation and creative thinking, the customer focus and determination, and the teamwork and integrity of the employees of Lucent Technologies, I realized that I was beaming.  I agreed with him; in the few months that I had worked at the company I was continually impressed by my coworkers, how committed they were to our company’s success and how good they were at their jobs.

Most importantly, I was impressed with Henry Schacht for his recognition that the people of Lucent Technologies weren’t just critical to the business, they were the business.  All too often I had seen a corporate executive lose sight of the fact that his or her company was not made up of projects, technologies or buildings – but of people – people who will be successful, or not, based on how they are led.  But Henry Schacht knew better, and I instantly became his biggest fan.

A few months later, I was running a customer meeting in our corporate headquarters.   The meeting was being held in the Board Room on the legendary “fifth floor” of that building – the floor where all of the C-level executives lived.  Shortly before the customers arrived I realized I needed to see someone in the Public Relations department on the third floor, so I hustled to the elevator.  Who is standing there but…Henry Schacht!  There was a ding, a door opened, and before I knew it the two of us where in the elevator, together and alone.

What a great opportunity!  Here was someone who truly motivated me, who made me want to be a leader in our business.  Just the two of us, riding together, on our way down.  I could let him know that his presentation at the analysts’ conference was really inspiring.  Or I could say that I am so happy I came to work at Lucent because of the great things we were doing in the marketplace.  Or I could say that I would be sorry to see him go, since he had recently announced his departure. 

So many things were running through my head.  Which did I decide to go with?  None of them.  In a rare moment of speechlessness, I couldn’t think of anything to say.  I just looked at him and smiled and said nothing.  I am sure that even the smile was a little bit off and somewhat strange, because all the while I was smiling, the wheels in my head were frantically spinning trying to come up with something pithy and smart to say.  Please stop here and try to picture that…it was sort of a wide-eyed grimace.

Suddenly, there was a ding.  Mr. Schacht, ever the gentleman, held the door and said “After you.”  That was when I realized we had just ridden from the fifth floor to the first floor.  Whoops.  So I said, “Oh, thanks, but I have to go up to the third floor.”  I wish I could describe the look of confusion and mild fear on his face as he realized that I had just ridden all of the way down with him even though I wasn’t going to the first floor.

There you have it:  Jen Crews making a lasting impression as a CEO-stalker.  Great.  Just great.

The following shall forever be referred to as “The Deepak Chopra Incident”. 

As I wrote about in “My Backstory,” I went through a very difficult personal time and got through it by turning inward.  I spent a lot of time by myself, reading and reflecting and generally trying to make sense of how I ended up in the situation in which I found myself.  Even though I was in a lot of pain, it was a special time for me because it changed my life profoundly and for the better.

There were quite a few books that really helped me during the journey from personal crisis to rebirth, and the one that was especially meaningful to me was The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.  In this book, Deepak Chopra presented me with a new way of understanding the universe and my perception of it, which caused me to reevaluate my life in every way and make some positive, necessary changes.

So, three years later, when I saw that Deepak Chopra would be doing a lecture and book signing through the Open Center in New York City, I was thrilled and excited to attend.  I signed up six months in advance when I first saw the promotions for the event.  Having recommended the book or even given it as a gift to many people, I also reached out to others who I thought would like to attend.   Through my suggestion, more than ten people registered for the event, including my now-husband and my parents.

A few days before the Big Night, I made a point of taking time to think about what I would say to Deepak Chopra if I had an opportunity.  So many things to talk with him about!  Knowing I would have a minute or two at the most, I needed to cull down the volume of thoughts and topics into something short that would impress upon him exactly how much his book, and he as a person, impacted me.  Should I tell him how many people to whom I had given his book?  Should I let him know that reading his book inspired me to move on from a marriage and abandon a career track, completely revamping my life in one fell swoop?  Should I explain that his words got me on a path to rediscover my personal creativity as a form of spirituality?  That I look at the world so differently now and I am a better person as a result?  Should I let him know he inspired me to write a book on leadership, and plant the seed so that he might write the introduction for it when it is finally completed?  Or, even better, maybe I could ask him to collaborate with me on it?  So many things!

Clearly, I had a challenge ahead of me.  There was no way I would be able to get an audience with Deepak Chopra.  In fact, as my father pointed out, it is possible that the books would have been signed in advance and handed out; after all, he must be a busy man and signing all of those books would take hours.  That was the worst case.  The best case was that I might be able to say hello to him while he signed my book.  Nonetheless, I hoped for the best and set about figuring out what to say to this man with whom I had developed an imaginary relationship in my head.

I utilized my sales training and developed an “elevator pitch.”  An elevator pitch is what you would say if you happened to run into a potential customer in an elevator and had only a few seconds to close a sale.  I honed my message carefully, trying to walk the balance between letting Deepak Chopra know how much he influenced me and sounding like a complete stalker.  After mulling it over for a few days, I felt I had developed the perfect thing to say and, as I sat on the train on my way to New York, I jotted the final version down in my journal.  Feeling satisfied and giddy with anticipation, I put my pen down, sat back and relaxed, enjoying the rest of the train ride with my friend.

When we got to New York City, we met our friends and family for dinner first.  I tried to exchange pleasantries but I couldn’t focus.  I wanted to get to the venue and get a good seat.  I was trying to relax and enjoy the meal, but I was getting stressed that we would end up too far in the back to see Deepak Chopra.  Dinner finally ended and we headed over.  We easily got in line and found seats near the front – enough for our entire group – and I started to feel blessed that things were falling into place.  This would be a very good night.  I couldn’t stop smiling.

This is probably a logical place to stop and make a brief mention of my relationship with my mother.  It’s complicated.  In a nutshell, my mom and I are very different personalities and in some ways polar opposites:  I am a tomboy and she is a girly-girl, I am a risk-taker and she likes for play it safe, I like my independence and she craves closeness, I spend Sundays watching football and she spends Sundays shopping.  We love each other, and we just have two very different ways of approaching things in life.

Back to the Big Night.  Deepak Chopra comes out to speak about his book, The Third Jesus (which is excellent, by the way).  His talk is amazing and I hang on every word.  He is funny, insightful, thought-provoking and inspirational.  He talks for longer than any of us expect and we all enjoy it thoroughly.  When he is finished, an announcement is made that Dr. Chopra will be signing books!  I look at my father, wide-eyed.  He is signing the books!  That means I can meet him!

I am in line to get my book signed, and my heart is pounding.  Everyone else in our group is making conversation while we wait, but I can’t participate because I am rehearsing what I had planned to say to him.  I watch the people who are ahead of me, and notice how much time they have with Deepak Chopra before they need to move on.  It doesn’t seem like they are being rushed, and I appreciate how patient he is and how willing to take his time with each person.  I am so looking forward to having my moment with Deepak Chopra that I can barely contain myself. 

Only a few people in front of me.  My heart quickens its pace.  Now only two people.  I am taking deep breaths and trying to stay calm, because I don’t want to miss my opportunity to make an impression on him.  One person ahead of me, and I can tell they are finishing up.  My turn!  It’s go time!

As I walk up, I am very focused, yet vaguely aware that my mother is right at my heels.  That’s alright, I think, she can hear what I have to say.  I move in front of the table where Deepak Chopra sits.  As he looks up at me, I hand him The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and say:

“I was hoping you would sign this book for me as well.  I just have to tell you that this book had a tremendous impact on me.  It caused me to shift my perception in such a profound way that I ended up changing virtually every aspect of my life.”

He looked up at me and, before he could say a word, my mother said:

“And my book club loved it!”

I was shocked and appalled.  This book gave me the wisdom and strength to leave a toxic marriage!  This book caused me to abandon a high-powered job for a more fulfilling career!  This book allowed me to manifest a completely new life for myself!  Your book club loved it?!?  Are you kidding me?!? No offense, but there is really no comparison here!

Then, before Deepak Chopra could say a word, I said:

“Mom, it’s my turn!”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized what I had done.  In one second, I went from being who I wanted to be – a woman on the path to enlightenment – and ended up back at square one – a girl arguing with her mother.  Great…just great.

Everything after that was a blur.  I don’t remember what Deepak Chopra said to me.  I do remember that he seemed mildly amused.   I remember feeling totally deflated that, while I had made an impression, it was not quite the impression I had intended to make.

So I ask you:  Am I enlightened?

Or maybe a better question is:  Is it possible to be enlightened while you are in the same room as your parents?

What would Deepak Chopra say?

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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© Operation Peace and Serenity, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Operation Peace and Serenity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.