How I found therapy in hair braiding while quarantined
Writer Queen Muse shares how she's reconnecting with herself by embarking on a 30-day plus hair project
If there is one thing for certain, from this point forward, people living in this age will forever describe their lives in terms of two distinct realities: life before coronavirus and life after coronavirus. Everything about our way of living has changed and life with social distancing has been hella challenging and hella different.
Our work lives have morphed. The university I teach for recently announced all face-to-face courses must be converted to online, leaving me with about a week’s time to transform the syllabi and assignments for the four courses I teach to a virtual learning environment.
Our parenting skills are being tested. As the mother of two children—a rambunctious, two-year-old son and a precocious, 11-year-old daughter — my love and I are both stuck in the house splitting 12-hour shifts of cooking, changing pull-ups, and engaging in an endless loop of puzzles and board games because both our sons’ daycare and our daughter’s school are closed indefinitely.
Our sense of time and the uniqueness of each day are completely lost. My birthday came and went without much fanfare because we weren’t allowed to have more than 10 people in a room at a time. And every day feels like a long weekend in summer. I’ve found myself asking more than once, is today Saturday or Thursday?
My story is not super unique. Millions of others are struggling to find their new normal. While we’re in this awkward place, this uncharted territory where none of us has ever been and no one knows what’s to come in the days ahead, we really only have two choices: cower in fear while we await the unknown OR look for the bright spots, reconnect with the center of our joy and have a little fun.
I’ve opted for the latter. To keep myself sane in a socially distanced reality that feels more like a quarantine, I’ve decided to embark on a project that I’ve been wanting to complete for years, ever since I saw my fellow Piscean, Erykah Badu a.k.a. Fat Belly Bella, rocking the microscopic beauties that trickled from her crown to her ankles: I’m giving myself a fresh set of atomic micro braids; braids so small each lock looks like a single strand of hair.
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Braiding has always been my recipe for calm and connection. Long before we were sentenced to self-isolation, I found joy in braiding, a cultural legacy first discovered during my childhood. For years, I’d watched my mother run a successful hair-braiding business that attracted women from all over the city to her living room chair.
Beyond being amazed by how quickly my mother’s hands moved as she twisted strand after strand like a careful artist strokes away from completing a masterpiece, I was even more intrigued by the conversations.
The “hair chair” seemed almost equivalent to a therapist’s couch. I watched women transform in that chair. Something about the vision of a style coming to life; the comfort of hands touching the scalp, it made those women open up. They’d share everything from humorous tales from their workplace to worries about the future and secrets they’d never even told their own spouse. But when they left my mother’s living room, they seemed less burdened, more confident, more whole.
I took up my mother’s mantel and started braiding my own hair when I was eight years old. Years later, when I began braiding my friends’ hair in high school and college, I discovered the same magic.
We’d begin with a blank canvas: a bushy afro, a comb, a few packs of hair, and silence. By the end of an eight-hour session of parting and twisting, open dialogue, laughter—and sometimes tears—we’d have created a beautiful work of art and forged a bond as strong as the strands of hair I’d carefully enmeshed.
In braiding, I found a sense of peace, something we’re all searching for during this anxiety-inducing time.
In my city, our lockdown went from 14 days to ‘until further notice.’ So, I won’t be able to connect with my sister-friends in the ‘hair chair’ anytime soon, but I’ve decided to connect in other ways: with my children, who get on my last nerve but whom also make me laugh and feel more alive than I’ve ever felt before; with my love, who feels just as caged and stressed as I do but has managed to make some of the best meals and ‘quarantine’ I’ve ever had; and with myself, by getting back to doing the things that bring me the most joy, writing and braiding hair.
Badu’s atomic braid installation took 30 days. I’m only two weeks in and I’m in no rush to finish. After all, I’ve got nothing but time.
Queen Muse is the lead writer for Philadelphia magazine’s latest digital platform, NextHealth PHL. Her stories and commentaries have been featured in various outlets including Huffington Post, WHYY, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Philadelphia Business Journal, and on NBC10.com. She holds an M.A. in Strategic Communication from La Salle University where she currently serves as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication, teaching courses in journalism and public relations. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and thequeenmuse.com