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The Moth’s Kate Tellers Embraces Going Against the Grain

February 3, 2021

5 Min read

This feature originally appeared in Issue 04: Intention of our print magazine At Length as Blown Straight.

Kate Tellers is known for captivating audiences around the world with stories for nonprofit storytelling organization The Moth. Here, she recounts a very personal tale of finding self-acceptance through a haircut.

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When I was 22 years old I moved to Boston to live in my best friend’s closet. J and I used to go streaking and belt Indigo Girls lyrics but after college she did an extreme about face and took a job doing market research. I was simultaneously appalled to hear her tell people she’d “shoot them an email” and thrilled that she rearranged her running shoes to ofer me such a reasonable rent.

I moved in with $76 in my checking account and an optimistic stack of my headshots, taken in a suburban basement which I prepped for the night before by chopping my frizzy hair into an uneven bob in my bathroom. On the back I stapled my resume, whose most signifcant and recent credit was a season doing Astor family cosplay during high season in Newport, RI. I was ready to bring my art to the world. Via New England.

I bought a $25 mattress at a shop by Boston University that was so thin I folded it in half, wrapped it in duct tape and carried it home on the T. With my domestic life in order it was time for me to get a job, just for now, to float me until my career took of. I signed on with a temp agency and, despite the fact that I flunked the typing test after mistaking a blank screen for an invitation to do a free write on creativity in the workplace, I was told to report to a global financial firm in a glass building downtown and ask for Eleanor.

I thought I would use my time outside of work to learn a monologue from the Children’s Hour or go to an open call audition or do anything closely related to the actual reason that I moved to this city but instead I threw every ounce of my creative energy into envisioning ways that I would fall into fnancial ruin and have to crawl home a failure. I had always thought a great artist was wild and free, running their fngers through their naturally wild hair, spewing brilliant ideas and observations that would be repeated for generations to come. Instead I was not free, I was in my closet, crying over my share of the grocery bill while I rage ate carrots. When friends ofered me tickets to a show I said no, nervous that it would let out after the T stopped running and I’d have to take a cab. I never once bought a cup of cofee.

Back at the office I became obsessed with Eleanor and the other admins. Unlike me who wore the same black skirt every day, the lucky one I wore to nail my audition for a feminist acapella ensemble in college, they were the only people of my age I’d ever met who shopped at Ann Taylor straight of the rack. They had sensible flats. They woke up early enough to style their hair with hot tools.

I had been so proud of the fact that I was going places, that this was a temporary spot before the real me set flight. But the real me was sick of getting annoyed at my roommates for leaving the lights on in the bathroom because what did they think, electricity was free? The real me was vibrating with anxiety, Eleanor(s) seemed happy to do the same thing every day, to shop at the same stores, to go home and watch Friends reruns, to come back and do it all again. Maybe they were the ones who were living.

I opened up Netscape and typed in “hairdryer ebay.” Maybe I could join them. I’d need to polish myself up, smooth out the rough edges that started with my frizzy hair. Images of Vidal Sassoon and Conair models popped onto my screen. I hovered over them. I had said “no” to so much that cost less than these plastic hot air guns. I tried to picture myself blasting myself with one to look like people who did not excite me. Sweating as I turned into the alternate “Macy’s me”. But I couldn’t click. The way out of my closet wasn’t spending the tiny bit of money I’d saved to get deeper into this job. I had to take a risk.

I wish I could say that I walked out that day and onto a bus to New York. I did not but I did get there eventually. I got a job at an acting studio where I took classes and made friends who made me laugh and thought I was funny, too. I cut a rat tail into my hair because I could, and I thought it was funny that my new friends hated it. But I didn’t care. I got on one stage and then another and now I get to fly to stages all around the world to tell stories and laugh and cry with strangers. I did buy a hairdryer but I never use it. It’s just not me.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Tellers is a storyteller, host and director on staff at The Moth. Her story, “But Also Bring Cheese” is featured in The Moth’s All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the Unknown and her writing has appeared on McSweeneys and The New Yorker.

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