Sharing Mana‘o

I’m seeing the world through new eyes, having just come from my annual eye examination and contact lens fitting. I had expected the doctor to tell me that I needed stronger lenses because I’ve noticed a slight blurring of vision over the last couple of months. But Dr. Truong, whom I adore, gave me the surprising news that my eyesight has actually improved considerably since my last visit, to the point where my lens prescription is now a good deal weaker. That’s why my vision was blurry-my contact lenses were too strong.

He didn’t offer an explanation, and I didn’t ask; I was just happy to hear that my astigmatism is no longer a problem, and I can now wear daily disposable lenses instead of the more expensive ones I’ve used for the past couple of years. Dr. Truong was as tickled as I was, which is why I adore him. He’s always cheerful, enthusiastic and empathetic. He did offer a tongue-in-cheek theory: “Your new haircut makes you look 10 years younger, so maybe your eyes are behaving that way too. You are getting younger.” I love that man.

My first eye doctor was also a pleasant, likable sort. Dr. Tofukuji prescribed my first pair of eyeglasses more than 40 years ago, when I was an 8th-grader. Back then, we used to have annual vision tests in school, and notes were sent home with those who didn’t make the grade, suggesting that parents follow up with a visit to the ophthalmologist.

(Side note: You’re an old-time local if you remember not just vision and hearing tests in school, but uku checks as well. The teacher would give each of us two brand-new pencils, and we’d use them to search through each other’s hair for nits and lice. I don’t recall anyone ever finding any.)

When I was 12, I was given one of those notes (for glasses, not ukus) and my parents acted upon it immediately. My dad said he’d gotten his first pair of glasses at around the same age. “I didn’t think I needed them, but then I looked at a tree and saw individual leaves for the first time.”

I thought that was silly. How can you not see the leaves on a tree? And then I walked out of Dr. Tofukuji’s office with my first pair of glasses – gold-framed granny glasses, very hip for the time – and looked at a palm tree. Sure enough, it was an eye-opening experience, pardon the pun. I had never seen the details of the fronds before. I was amazed. Up until then, I thought faraway objects were supposed to look fuzzy. That’s how you knew they were far away.

I’ve worn corrective lenses ever since. At first, I only used my glasses to read the blackboard in class or watch the living room TV from the dining room table. Later, I needed them for driving, and for the past 20 years or so, I’ve worn contact lenses throughout my waking hours. Every few years, I’ve had to get stronger lenses. This is the first time my eyes have changed in a positive direction.

So I have my own theory: Cutting off 15 inches of hair affected my inner balance as well as my outward appearance. Maybe the weight of all that hair was putting undue pressure on my eyeballs, tugging at them from the inside.

My best friend Robbie had a more logical explanation. She suggested that my improved vision might have come about when I made some drastic changes to my diet a few months ago. I think she may be right. I’ll have to ask Dr. Truong what he thinks.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying my new outlook. New hair, new diet, new vision . . . I feel, well, renewed. Oh, did I mention my new bra? I recently went to Perfection for a professional bra fitting and the results were positively uplifting. But that’s a whole ‘nother column. Stay tuned.

* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is

Sharing Mana‘o

This is the first column I’ve ever started without a clear idea of how it would end. As I write these words, I’m sitting in the lobby of the Maui County Department of Motor Vehicles and Licensing Service Center at the Maui Mall. Yup, the dreaded DMV.

You see, I misplaced my driver’s license over the weekend, and when I realized that I’d have to spend part of my Monday at the DMV to get a replacement, I figured I might as well make it a productive hour or two or four. It’s been a couple of years since I was last here, and I’ve heard mixed reviews about the service. So I put off writing this week’s column until now, thinking that it would be fun to write about today’s experience, kind of like being a reporter again. Besides, I need to wean myself off the word games on my phone; I’m pretty sure this trigger-finger problem I’ve had for the past few months is due to excessive and intense Scrabbling.

When I walked in, I counted 18 people waiting in the lobby, with another eight or nine already being served at the windows. The first thing I noticed was how cool and comfortable the lobby felt, not just in terms of air conditioning, but in the general atmosphere. I thought maybe the subdued mood was due to the somber news of the Boston bomb attacks being shown on one of the two large flat-screen TV monitors, but hardly anyone appeared to watching the CNN news feed. Whatever the reason, there was none of the tension I remembered from previous visits.

The ladies at the first counter were cheerful and courteous as they checked our documents and issued us numbers. They’re probably more responsible for the relaxed state of the lobby than the very efficient AC system or the ergonomic chairs. Being the first point of contact, they can put us at ease or on edge. Fortunately, they seemed to genuinely care about our customer experience and sent each of us into the limbo – I mean, lobby – with a smile.

I’ve been waiting for more than an hour, but between the CNN footage and my daydreaming, the time has flown by. During the last 15 minutes, I’ve traveled 40 years in my head, back to my very first visit to the DMV. The office was located inside the War Memorial Gym and driver’s license applicants moved from counter to counter for each step of the process. I didn’t have to concern myself with vehicle registration; I just drove my parents’ cars, so I’m not sure when that office moved to the other side of the gym, facing the pool.

I do remember what an uncomfortable ordeal it was, especially during the midmorning when the sun enjoyed direct access to the waiting area. We sat on hard wooden benches, our backs against the wall, squinting into the sunlight. Proper protocol called for everyone to get up and move down the line each time the first person left the bench. Even if you were lucky enough to land in the occasional sliver of shade, you had to move to the left as soon as space became available, or you’d get the stink eye from everyone on your right. And then there were those menehune-sized windows. The counter was placed at the right height for the workers seated behind it, but those of us on the outside, even 5-foot-tall folks like me, had to contort our bodies to conduct business. Eventually the county installed seats, but it still looked like parents’ night at preschool. And those benches were still hard. And hot.

I suppose the discomfort might have been intended as an incentive to renew by mail. For me, those visits were made more unpleasant by the knowledge that I could have avoided the bench, had I not procrastinated . . . again. But no, each year I found myself sweating and swearing at myself for missing the mail-in deadline.

Fast forward to the end of this visit. My number came up an hour and 45 minutes after I arrived. The clerk at counter 10 was friendly, and she remembered those windows and benches too, although she hadn’t worked at the old office. The young woman at my final stop, the photo counter, was just as pleasant and efficient. I appreciated her retaking my photo several times until she caught me between blinks.

It took less than 15 minutes to complete the whole transaction, and I walked out happily with my temporary license (with the best ID photo I’ve ever had) and most of this column written. Not bad for a Monday afternoon at the DMV. And I didn’t shed a drop of sweat.

* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is

Sharing Mana‘o

I seem to be having an identity crisis, although I hesitate to call it a crisis, since it’s not causing me any stress or anxiety. In fact, it’s more like a coming-out, a celebration of selves.

Like the perfect storm, this identity carnival came about through a rare combination of circumstances, the most obvious one being my involvement in “Fresher Ahi.” As you may know from reading last week’s column or from the extensive publicity we’ve enjoyed, I’m one of three actors who play a total of 16 characters. And what a crazy collection of characters it is!

Six of these local folks are mine. Actually, they’re not all local; I play Melinda, one of two Brits who have joined the Ahi ohana through marriage. It’s my first time playing an Englishwoman, so I’ve been practicing my British accent in everyday life. Only I don’t want anyone to hear me, so I just talk to myself. I’m getting used to the strange looks I now get at stoplights.

The rest of my people speak in various degrees of pidgin. That’s my native language, so I’m much more comfortable with Auntie Chin, the dragon lady who roars but doesn’t bite. She is what I will probably be in 20 years or so, assuming I find another husband to bark at.

And there’s jumpy Jeanette, the little Asian girl in love with stoner Jesse (played by Derek Nakagawa), and Ilona Flavin, the well-off widow who is the former girlfriend of Daddy Alan Ahi (also played by Derek) and hopes to seduce him away from Mommy (Francis Tau’a). I also play Jody, the flamboyant drag queen. Oops, I mean, gender illusionist.

But my favorite role is that of Roland “Bang Bang” Macadangdang, a diminutive mixed martial arts fighter. Roland is full of bravado (some might use a different word), a champion in his own mind. When I’m in Roland’s rubbah slippahs, I get to poke fun at all the testosterone-driven disco kings that my girlfriends and I would studiously avoid at the Foxy Lady or Spats, the kind whose pickup line consisted of two words: Get chance?

Months ago, when I learned that I’d be playing multiple roles, male and female, I decided to shed my long hair in order to portray all of these characters convincingly. Janice, my regular hairdresser who has done wonders with my thick Okinawan hair, referred me to Roland at Vegas Hair for the big cut. Fortunately, Roland Vegas has nothing in common with Bang Bang, beyond their first names. Although “Fresher Ahi” was the impetus for my haircut, Roland V’s focus was to give me a new look that would complement my lifestyle beyond the play.

Complement means to complete or enhance, and that’s just what Roland did. Cutting my hair was a major milestone for me, a transition from widow to independent woman. He understood my motivation and my apprehension, and gave me the perfect hairstyle. I feel renewed, fresh and sassy. And younger.

So the new me and all six of my Ahi selves have been spending a lot of time at the mall. “Fresher Ahi” is a Maui Academy of Performing Arts production and is being presented at MAPA’s Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. With our intensive rehearsal schedule, QKC has become a second home. Every time I go to the food court or the drug store downstairs, I see people who could be Ahi family or friends. There’s always a Bang Bang or two at the bus stop, an Auntie Chin at the farmers’ market, an Ilona laden with Macy’s shopping bags.

Derek and Francis created these characters from real life, and even though I had nothing to do with the playwriting, I feel like I own them. Over the past month and a half, I’ve spent all my spare time memorizing lines and analyzing roles, immersed in an Ahi state of mind. I’ve developed a sort of multiple identity disorder, going through my day in various personalities.

Melinda isn’t the only one who gets stared at in traffic, as I use my drive time to rehearse lines and practice character traits. I try not to let Roland get behind the wheel, though. Not only is he prone to road rage, he’s too short to drive my car.

With only two days left before opening night, I’m already dreading the inevitable post-show depression. I always feel a huge letdown after closing a show, more so with plays than solo performances. Of course, that won’t stop me from having the time of my life and relishing every moment of the next three weekends.

But I’m sure going to miss my Ahi selves. Maybe I’ll keep some of them around. After six years of widowhood, it’s kind of nice to have company.

* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is

Sharing Mana‘o

I lost a dear old friend last Friday. I had my hair cut into a bob, after decades of wearing it long and loose. So technically, it was more like 100,000 old friends, give or take a few thousand – if we’re splitting hairs.

Almost all the folks I’ve seen since my haircut didn’t recognize me at first. And I’ve had the same conversation dozens of times. Yes, I really did it. Yes, it feels strange and yes, I miss my waist-length hair. No, I don’t regret chopping it off. Why did I do it? Well, the answer to that isn’t as cut and dried.

I suspect I’m not the only local girl who’s had a lifelong love/hate affair with her hair. Through most of my childhood, my mother cut my hair and kept it short, very short. The closer I got to my teens, the more I resented my pixie cut. I longed for long hair like the cool girls had. Finally, when I started high school, Mom said I could wear my hair any way I wanted. I let it grow to my hips and I’ve kept it long ever since, except for a couple of short-lived experiments with a short shag.

When I was a teenager, I thought of my long hair as a badge of honor, the thing that immediately identified me as a local girl even before I opened my mouth. I loved the way it looked, the way it felt on my arms and my back. The fact that guys seemed to love it too was a bonus.

As I grew older and my world expanded, I found that my long hair didn’t just identify me as local; it defined me to a great extent. I dated quite a few Mainland transplants, even married three of them; every single one professed his affection for my exotic, erotic locks. Their words, not mine.

I came to see my mane as my one outstanding physical feature. Cutting it was out of the question, especially after I married Barry. The first time I snipped off an inch of split ends, he went ballistic. I finally convinced him that periodic trims were necessary, but he still sulked after each one. It got to the point where I resented not only his attitude but my hair as well. Especially since he refused to even discuss changing his own hairstyle. Once, I defied him and came home with 3 inches less than I’d left with. He reacted as if I’d killed a cherished pet. Which, in his mind, I had.

So you can see where this is going. Six years after Barry’s death, I’ve come around to reclaiming my hair as my own, subject to no one’s whims but mine. I may keep it short, I may grow it long again, I haven’t decided. The only thing I know for sure is that no one else will make the decision for me.

But liberation wasn’t the real reason for this drastic change of coiffure. Actually, it turned out to be just an added benefit, an unexpected side effect. I made the decision several months ago, to sacrifice my hair for art.

I landed the role(s) of a lifetime, playing opposite Derek Nakagawa and Francis Tau’a in the sequel to their brilliant two-man “Lesser Ahi” show. The three of us play a total of 16 characters in “Fresher Ahi,” which opens April 12 for three weekends at the Maui Academy of Performing Art’s Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. With six roles (two of them male) and rapid-fire costume changes, I can’t be fussing with an extra-full head of hair. Even tightly wound around my scalp, that much hair won’t fit under a wig, let alone four or five.

Hair issues aside, the idea of committing myself that deeply to this play appealed to me. The first Ahi, under the direction of David Johnston, was a hilarious look at local life, so enjoyable, I went to see it three times. When Francis and Derek invited me to join the Ahi family, I literally jumped for joy. It was the biggest thrill I’ve had in years. And now that we are immersed in rehearsals, I’m having more fun than ever.

You’ll have fun, too, if you catch “Fresher Ahi” this month. I’m especially urging local folks to see this play, not just for the laughs, but for the loving treatment of local culture and universal themes. The Ahi plays are beautifully written and masterfully directed. While the subject of hair isn’t addressed, other common issues are, like romance and envy, tolerance and turmoil. And whether you’re local or not, garans ball-barans, you’ll leave the theater feeling like you’ve just met some great new friends, the kind who seem like old friends the moment you connect.

* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is