Jess (9.4)

I met my friend Jess about 6 years ago when I wandered into a tiny much-hipper-than-me hair salon in the area my loft was in. She happened to be there, and I needed a hair cut, and I told her I didn’t want suburban mom hair, and she laughed and made me look like I belonged in the neighbourhood. And then it was what I did, go to Jess. Monogamous hair relationship and friendship born.

She’s 15 years younger than I am, and a luminous cherub with a full landscape of tattoos, and has the kind of friends who are far cooler and more interesting than any of mine have ever been. And over time, we’ve had some strange parallels in life — I was in Uganda and Tanzania nearly 3 years ago when she made her first trip to Africa, to Rwanda and Uganda, and she met a guy who kept her traveling to Kampala for a while. We’ve had comings and goings in relationships in parallel, and over the past few years, she transformed her incredible natural talent for making connections between people and ideas, for talking simply and powerfully about huge questions and emotions, into community activism.

On September 4, I had the incredible privilege of being at her final presentation of her portfolio and research for her Master’s in Environmental Studies.


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She did her research project on a kind of action research model she developed called Tea Time, where she created dialogue groups for HIV + women, and connected them by story, and created a network by passing tea cups and letters between the different groups. Activist art and research, in the category that one of her influencers called “trickster pedagogy.” A woman in pearls and a floral dress with generations-old teacups disrupting the untold and untellable stories among us.

I have played a little bit of a mentoring role with Jess, and we talk about all aspects of our lives as well as community development and global inequities. But she teaches me far more than I do her. About living bravely and fully, about using her body as activist space, about owning her sexuality, about honesty about what she wants in relationships. About being aware of class and privilege. About living in tensions with incredible grace.

She has a full time job doing other things now, but she still cuts my hair, and I still pay her for it, but it’s one of those transactions that creates a container for something far more powerful. I know one day she won’t want to do that anymore, and I know that when that happens, I won’t have this built in channel to the questions she raises for me, the reflection she brings me. And I’m afraid I’ll get suburban mom hair again.

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