Once there was a brave girl with beautiful long red hair who could run very fast and was very good at math. When the time came for her to join a school she went first to the School of Fast Runners. She showed them how quickly she could run. They were very impressed and accepted her at once. She was proud and worked hard on her running until the day came that they told her she must cut her hair. It interfered with her running and must be cut off they said. She refused but they were unbending and said she could not stay at The School For Fast Running if she would not cut her hair, and so she left.
As she was leaving one of the fast runners shouted at her “why don’t you go join the Beautiful Haired? They are all as stuck up about themselves as you are”
Well, she didn’t feel that she was stuck up , so for a long time she wouldn’t go to The House of the Beautiful Hair. But finally, she was so lonely without a place to belong that she went and knocked. The door was thrown open to her and she was welcomed by people who taught her to care for her hair properly and style it in many wonderful ways. She realized that people with hair like hers weren’t all stuck up (though some of them certainly were) and she stopped feeling like her hair was something to be embarrassed of, and indeed learned to love it and feel proud of it.
She was happy there until one of the teachers caught her with a math book. The teacher was very kind, but explained that books in general, but particularly math books, drained blood from the scalp and should be avoided as it would eventually damage the hair. The girl tried to stop, but she found herself irresistibly drawn to math.
She’d catch herself doing arithmetic in the shower or find formulas in her doodles. The more she tried to avoid numbers, the more she seemed to encounter them. She felt terribly guilty and sought advise from many of the teachers on how to best excise this destructive part of herself. Though everyone was very gentle and understanding, they could not help her. They didn’t ask her to leave but, ashamed and embarrassed she eventually snuck away one night alone.
Her hair was still beautiful and they would always have welcomed her for that, but she couldn’t stay. She wandered for a while until she came across girl who was walking along carrying math books. At first she looked away, embarrassed for the girl who didn’t seem to have the sense to hide the shameful books, but carried them about for all to see. Eventually though her curiosity got the better of her and she struck up a conversation. They had so much in common that the girl quickly forgot her own shame and reveled in the company of her new friend. They walked some distance before she even bothered to inquire where they were headed.
Her new friend, it turned out, was headed to Math School and invited the girl to come along. She was doubtful at first, she’d had such bad luck at the School for Fast Running and the Home for the Beautiful Hair that she was afraid to try again. But at last, because she liked her new friend so much, she decided to apply. The entrance test was very difficult and even though she was very good at math, it had been so long since she’d done it and since she’d not had any instruction, she did not pass the test. Her new friend said good-bye to her sadly and went inside.
For a while the girl was very sad indeed. She had never failed at anything before and couldn’t help feeling like it was her own fault. She was lonely without a school to belong to and she missed her new friend. She decided to get to work on getting into Math School. She hired a teacher who was willing to coach her and she worked very hard for a long time learning everything she’d missed in her time at the Hair and Running schools. She hardly noticed time passing because she was working so hard, but she was really happy during this time. She had a goal and a plan and even though she was alone and tired most of the time she felt really good.
Finally the day came to try the test again. This time she passed and was admitted to the Math School so proud to have won at something. She had never gotten to compete at Running or Hair school because, though everyone had said she was very promising first the hair and then the math had stopped her before she’d been there long enough to enter a completion. She was confident now that she’d be able to win at Math School.
It didn’t come as easily to her as the other things had though and she found she had to get up extra early to go running and wash her hair before classes began and she began to get very tired. Soon, in fact, she got so tired that she began to hurt herself running and had to quit brushing her hair before all the knots were out. She began to make stupid mistakes in math. This frightened her and she resolved to stop getting up so early to run. This helped but she quickly found she had to give up the hair care regime too in order to get enough rest.
She was miserable. She hated the way she looked and felt and she began to resent the math, even as she was getting better at it, but every day she woke up early enough to do her hair or run, her math suffered. She was tired all the time.
Because she was brave, she began to try and find a better way. She looked back over her life trying to find when she was happiest, and realized, to her surprise, that it had been while she was training to get into math school and yet she knew she couldn’t live her whole life in training. Training implies that there’s something you’re aiming for and while she could train for Science School perhaps, she knew that she wouldn’t fit in once she got there any more than she had at Math school.
Finally, she decided to start her own school. She found a little building on a crowded street and opened The School for Long Haired, Fast Running Math People. Once again, she was happy. She worked hard cleaning up the building and getting everything in order. She learned how to set up the books and arrange desks. She made up brochures for her school and took them around. She imagined the people who would come and be so grateful to have finally found a place that fit them well. And then one day everything was ready and she opened her doors for business and no one came. No one came the next day either. Or the next. On the day after that a young boy knocked. The girl ran to the door and opened it.
“Hi” she said excitedly. “I can see your hair is long and beautiful. Can you run and do math?”
“No” said the boy. “I can run and write really well though”
“Oh” she said, bitterly disappointed “I’m sorry.” And she closed the door.
In the days that followed, no one else knocked and she began to wonder if she’d done the wrong thing. She was lonely again. Perhaps she should have let the boy in. Perhaps she should open a School for People with Beautiful Hair who Run and do Something Else. But she knew that wasn’t right. She was very sad because she knew this really was the right school for her, but there was no one else there. She thought she would be lonely the rest of her life.
She began to take walks in the afternoon around the streets by her school. One day she passed a new school being opened. She watched it for a while fondly remembering the days she had worked setting up her own school. Several days later when she passed that way again, the sign had gone up. School for Short People who Dance and Read Books.
She sighed. She read books and liked to dance, but she was definitely on the tall side. She knocked all the same. The person who answered was confused to see a tall girl standing on the step, but she was polite all the same. She said she had had only one other person come by since she’d opened, a short dancer who sang. The short dancer who read and the long-haired runner who liked math talked for a long time. They had both opened schools, they both liked books- though different kinds, and they found they had a lot to talk about.
They became good friends and since no other short dancers who read or long-haired mathematicians who ran showed up at either door they both had a lot of time. After a while though, the girl began to feel bored. She remembered the busy days at Math School and wished to feel that involved in something again. Then she had a very strange thought in deed. Maybe she didn’t need to belong to a school at all- not even her own school. She went to visit her friend the short dancer who read and told her:“I’m going to leave my school. I will be a Tall Mathematician with Beautiful Hair who Runs Fast doing something else completely, a school of one, but I’d still like us to be friends because even though we belong to different schools because I like you very much.”
“OK” said her friend.”What will you do?”
“I don’t know” said the brave tall mathematician with beautiful hair who ran fast and had one good friend. “But that doesn’t matter. I know who I will be while I’m doing it.”