There are few situations in life that require the precise degree of clear communication between two people as the every day haircut. The interaction is brief and rapid. In that time, you must explain what you want and what you don't want, and if you fail to pass along the intended information, you may well end up far more bald or Farah-Fawcett-layered than you ever hoped to be.
Perhaps that's why I've been putting off visiting a peluqueria here in Salta. Until now.
I told Delia, the woman who would be cutting my hair, the following:
"Quiero mas forma. Los puntos son muy seca. Pero no quiero corto en el frente." I repeat because I really mean it. "No quiero corto en el frente."
This is what I intended to say:
"I want more shape and to remove the dead ends, but I really don't want bangs. Really, please, please don't cut the front of my hair short."
Delia repeated back to me mostly what I said to her. I nod. She begins. Then I sat back and hoped for the best.
In most conversations, you don't need to understand each word stated. For example, there's a coffee shop Noah and I occasionally frequent. In order to go to the bathroom, you have to get a key from behind the counter, walk out the shop to the left, down stairs and then up another short flight of stairs on the right to find the bathroom.
The last time we were there, I went to ask for the key. The man behind the counter smiled and said something to which I said "Si,"even though I hadn't actually heard what he said. A couple seconds after I responded, I realized his sentence included the word donde -- where. And somewhere else in there was sabes -- "you know", second person informal.
"Do you know where to find the bathroom?"
So much of language is context. I knew what he would ask, because I'd been through this same interaction with him previously. The two words that eventually landed in my brain confirmed my initial assumptions.
All that said, had I been entirely wrong, I would have either lived without whatever information he gave me or I would have returned to ask again. In this case, no harm done. Not so in many other situations, such as "What is your child's blood type?"
It got me wondering. How many words in a sentence do you need to understand? And how much of what we understand and say is based on repetitive patterns?
In Spanish, my vocabulary and thus speech is still limited, so the sorts of conversations I have are also -- while expanding daily --still limited. Thus, I find myself repeating the same things over and over to many people. I can talk rather brilliantly and fluently about how long I've been in Salta, the kind of work I do, just about anything related to Lila and her understanding of Castellano and quite a few other topics. Each time I repeat a conversation, I improve on it, clean up the grammar, tighten the diction.
It makes me realize how often we all tend to repeat the same memes. But when we're entirely fluent in a language, the number of memes and themes are greater, so it is easier to hide how often we're saying exactly the same thing.
This reminds me of some research I did while working for Madeline Gins and Arakawa. It was my first job out of college, and I was charged with, among other things, researching psychology and perception for their book Helen Keller or Arakawa. Most days, I logged into Bobst Library at NYU and began combing through the card catalogue looking for books that would answer the following: On how many visual points does the human eye focus when seeing the visual field? Basically, how much do we really see and how much does the brain fill in? The answer I found through my research wasn't specific, somewhere between 7-20 points, but a consensus is clear. We do not see everything. I extrapolate that research to say that we also do not hear, feel or understand everything around us either.
In some ways, I find this rather depressing, particularly as a writer. Will I never be able to truly communicate the thoughts and ideas I have?
I quickly move past that intial negativity, though, when I start to see the endless possibility of creativity that lies in between the words and images that we understand. This allows us artistic and literary interpretation. It allows for two images of the Mona Lisa to become entirely different works of art depending on if you see her live in all her tiny glory in the Louvre or if you see a photograph of people viewing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre blown up wall size in a gallery in Atlanta. It allows for the enormous lattitude we give to James Joyce. And it gifts us all infinite ways of seeing the world.
So those were my thoughts as I sat in Delia's chair while she snip-snipped all around my head. I'm happy to report that I walked away without bangs or split ends. I also did not end up with anything like what I call "The Duck-Butt Cut" that I received from an overly enthusiastic woman named Leather at a salon in NYC.
So for all intents and purposes, our communication was a success.