While I am sitting in the student center Pit noticing the pattern of the carpet, blue and green leaf pattern, and the lights, groups of three cylindrical lamps suspended high above, a young woman sits at the next table. She swoops passed me, drops a large bag on the floor, and places her laptop on the table. She settles herself into a chair facing the pit and back to the wall. Her full, dark brown, almost-black-in-this-dim-light locks are cut in layers around her circular face with the longest layers in the back grazing her mid-upper arm. It cascades toward her face and into her eyes like curtains in a breeze. It is mostly straight from the roots down, but twists into fist-size curls at the bottom. She flips it out of her face over her left shoulder daintily with her left palm down fingers together in a tai chi slow motion. Then she rakes the fingers of her right hand from the roots at her forehead through her center part to the whorl on her crown. It’s a real supermodel move. The dim lighting showcases the iridescence of the thick and plentiful strands, dark as pitch one moment then suddenly streaked with browns: chestnut or bronze.
I have been observing from afar, but go up to her now. “Excuse me,” I start and then explain I am a graduate student who has to observe someone’s hair for later description. Would she mind if I ask her a few questions? She has about five minutes before she has to go to work she says, but will answer my questions. I ask her the color and as she describes it as a transition between a dyed black and her natural dark brown I try to concentrate but am mesmerized instead by the darkness and thickness of her hair close up. I cannot see the highlights and lowlights she is describing and that I saw previously from the adjacent table. Her hair is everything mine is not. I innocently covet thick dark masses of mane, reams of Rapunzel ringlets I can braid into ropes and configure into elaborate updos. This is why I have developed an appreciation for wigs. I realize I am lost in her hair, not looking at her, and redirect my eyes to her face nodding at what she is saying about not using any hair products beyond shampoo and conditioner and some anti-frizz serum in the summer. I engage in the conversation again asking if it is normally curlier and she says yes. I tell her it reminds me of my daughter’s hair and imagine it wet and sprung up and out into spiraling tresses as my daughter’s much lighter brown hair does after a bath or in the midday heat at the beach. I jot down keywords and thank her for her time. She wishes me luck on my assignment and I leave her to her laptop and locks.
Reflections on Observations
In thinking on my experience of observing and taking fieldnotes in the student center I have come to the realization that initially I felt anxious and probably went into the ladies room because of that anxiety. On second review, however, I know that I was reflecting the feelings of some of my group members and regressing to the more timid and apprehensive self I was in my late teens and early twenties. I soaked in the intimidated energy of my group and manifested that in my own approach at first. That would soon change though.
I felt uncomfortable and annoyed waiting for the handicap accessible stall as I normally do when an able-bodied person uses the stall. I think it is only fair if there is a line and an able-bodied person uses the stall as long as she is ahead of me. When many general stalls are open though I get aggravated. This is why I added my comment “I observe there is only one handicap stall” to the banter of my cohorts humorous comments. It’s probably why I mentioned that the person who used the stall did not wash her hands, something initially that one of my classmates noticed.
Once out in the hall above the Pit I was confused about how to get down. I initially assumed I would use the elevator, then noticed the chairlift only to find that was out of order, but finally to be directed to the more modern chairlift/elevator. In the past I would have been agitated and frustrated by the fact that it was not readily transparent to me how to get down to the Pit. Now however, after years of using my wheelchair I find that whoever is with me is usually more upset about the lack of handicap accessibility. The fact that two people were willing to point me in the right direction , literally, helped me feel relieved. It also made me feel appreciation for their kind and friendly assistance without even being asked.
Using the chairlift harkened me back to a time when I have used other chairlifts at my previous place of business and gotten stuck midway up or down a staircase. I pushed passed that though and did not let it deter me. I followed the instructions on the wall even though in instances in which I am unsure in public I get nervous. I blocked out the fact I was in a public place as is my coping skill to do and got myself into the chairlift/elevator and down into the Pit. I even felt a little giddy at the fact that I got it all to work without help, much like all the technology I am learning these days from my research class to PARCC testing in my own classroom.
In the Pit it was comforting to see my classmates and instructive to follow their lead in finding an unassuming spot to observe from. I never settled in one place for too long because I had lots of energy coursing through me by that time. The longest I stayed still was first while talking to the worker who was closing down the Starbucks Café and she told me the medallions around the Pit’s uppermost walls were club insignias. I learned that she heard that during orientation. The second time I sat put for a bit was while observing the young woman’s hair I described above and then a few minutes later while taking to her.
I was glad and proud of myself for speaking to her, because I proved to myself what I already knew. I am no longer as timid and anxious as I used to be even if I tend toward more reserved behaviors in most instances. I was able to glean more information about her hair and observe it up close. I did briefly consider asking her to touch her hair, but I did not want to get so bold as to border on creepy. I was genuinely impressed that she uses minimal amounts of product because my sister, a curly haired girl I grew up with, was always trying different products to tame her hair.
I appreciated the muted lighting and could imagine getting comfortable on one of the upholstered chairs and having a cold or hot drink from the Starbucks when it is open. The environment reminded me of when I was working on my undergrad degrees and how as a commuter I never really felt part of campus life unless I was in the cafeteria or the library. I became sentimental about being a commuter and my thoughts that I do wish I had lived near campus at leat one year.
Soon I reconnected with classmates who were winding down or finished their own observations as was I and we headed back to class. I was comfortable on the chairlift/elevator on my way back up and am glad to know it is there for future use. Once back in the room we were using for the evening I decompressed and let the “on” energy of the assignment drain out of me as I relaxed and began to reflect.