We walked into the lobby of the hotel rolling our suitcases behind us. As we stood in line with our fellow travelers to check in, I overheard two women talking. 
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“Oh, I live here in Vegas. I just wanted to get a room. It takes so long to get her ready.” Her hair was dyed blonde, and she was standing next to the couches that are always set up in hotel lobbies for lounging and, mostly, waiting.
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The woman she spoke to sat on the couch with two children. She wrapped her hand lightly around a long ponytail pouring like golden light from her daughter’s head.
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“Oh, her hair takes forever! Look how long it is!” The woman wailed as if to say, I’m with you, girl. We’re on the same side.
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But I knew better. I immediately knew that this was no friendly banter between two mothers meeting at the park. These women were here for a…
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Little Girl Beauty Pageant
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I sighed and I turned to my traveling partner. “Marilyn, we’ve officially landed in Las Vegas,” I said and proceeded to explain my theory that we might be entering the land of Little Miss Sunshine or, more accurately Toddlers and Tiaras.
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We came to Las Vegas for a professional development retreat for Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA for short) workshop facilitators. Writing group leaders like me traveled from all over the world to meet for the weekend, share ideas and inspiration, and…to WRITE.
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Later that evening, we discovered that not only were the girls and their mothers staying at our hotel, but that the pageant was taking place in the banquet room right across the hall from our little meeting room. 
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My terrifying beauty pageant theory had become reality.
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As we entered the building, little girls between the ages of 4 and 6 strutted and twirled, their faces airbrushed into powdery marshmallows, their hair tortured into submission, teased and hair sprayed into immobile cotton candy-like structures. 
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What does a group of quiet writing group leaders who love reading, healing, and helping people become more true to themselves do in a surreal situation such as this?
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We write.
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This is the magic of the AWA method. When you gather writers together in a circle, allowing them to let their voices flow freely through the pen and, later, through the physical act of speaking, it doesn’t matter where you are.
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To be honest, I wondered why on earth anyone would schedule a writer’s gathering in Las Vegas. I’m still unsure, but I know that wherever I am, I can find beauty.

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Real beauty. Authentic beauty.
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The next day, I saw some of the little girls at the pool. They splashed and played, make-up and fancy free. No matter what their mothers had done to them the night before, they could still be little girls the next day.
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It gave me hope (and, to be honest, loads of writing inspiration). 
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As I walked down the sidewalk towards the strip the next morning, I followed not the neon and glitter but, instead, turned my focus to the shadows and the shapes that made them.

The more I let go of my judgments (because I came with a suitcase full) and allowed myself to pay attention to the gritty, beautiful, TRUE world beneath the facades, I felt nothing but peace and gratitude.
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How strange to feel blessed in a place called Sin City! This, I did not expect. I think it has something to do with practice.
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Come, practice with me! We meet for Word Gathering Women’s Writing Circle this Friday at 10:00 am and for Yoga this Thursday at 4:30 pm and Sunday at 6:00 pm at Ritual and next Tuesday at 8:45 am at the Orangevale Community Center

~Holly

Finding Beauty in the Strangest Places
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