Change Your Hair, Change Your Life

My friend who works in the spa and beauty industry once told me, “Fate follows hair.” She said this after I went and chopped off all of my shoulder-length hair. My new pixie style felt free and wild, svelte and quick. Which translated to feeling all of those things about myself. And it’s a good thing too because I had quit my lucrative and stressful job only a month ago. I desperately needed to believe in myself and a new direction toward creativity and art.

Like many women, I’ve experimented with hairstyles and colors over my teens, 20s, 30s. Long and feminine, short and blunt, bangs, layers, asymmetrical, curls, pixie, purple highlights, silver strands, tinted henna, au naturel. When I get bored with the status quo of life, changing hairstyles is a low-risk way to freshen up routine or catapult into a completely new life. Sometimes the hairstyle causes the change, sometimes the change causes the hairstyle. Either way, it’s a physical signal that change is brewing.

The hairstyle that I have most wanted to dare but have been reluctant to plunge into is the shaved head. It’s a strong signal, often seen as a political act, to shave one’s head as a woman. Perhaps that’s the fascination and the fear: to take such total control of my own appearance in an irrevocable, in-your-face way. I would compare the feeling to vertigo, the dangerous what-if of jumping over the edge. There is no going back, and am I ready to know myself with a bald head?

So far my answer has been no. I’m not ready to face that fate or change my life in that direction. But I enjoy having it in my back pocket, an emergency hatch to a new life if I ever need it.

On the Passing of Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was the first person who told me I did not have to be good.

Using one-syllable words, she devastated and reconstructed me.

She told me and so many other young women that goodness was not a prerequisite for having a place in the world. Guilt and shame were not passports to personal worth.

She set many of us free when she slipped that smooth stone into our pockets: You do not have to be good.

The Book Buffet

For micro-post Wednesday enjoy the reading buffet I set up in my living room. Magazines, library books, an assortment of bookmarks, and an apple cider candle for ambience.

The vacuum cleaner in the background serves as memento mori: someday you must clean.

The Bookstore That Got Me Out of Accounting

Writers can’t stop talking about bookstores, and I am no exception. Today I am writing this in the downtown Denver location of The Tattered Cover Bookstore. The very same bookstore that I passed every weekday morning on my walk from Union Station to a corporate job. Stopping in at the bookstore before work was my nod to arts and creativity, a chance to breathe before the day rushed in. On paydays, I bought a stack of two or three books as my reward for keeping myself emotionally together in a work environment that caused me great stress and anxiety.

If I had 10 or 15 minutes to spare, I went through the heavy wooden doors on the east side. A quarter of an hour to put off the crushing responsibility I felt at my desk for babysitting the money of rich people. Reading gave me escape routes from work and family stress, but it also kept me in mind of those first thoughts of writing for a living. It took bravery to put that dream to rest while I gathered confidence and experience. Then it took another turn of bravery to quit the corporate world and get to work writing.

One Friday, I bought a beautiful copy of Emma (Austen) and the 50th-anniversary edition of The Master and Margarita (Bulgakov) with the art nouveau cover. I lugged them to the cubicle quad that I shared with Sales. They stayed on my desk for the day. Reminders that I was made of more than balance sheets, payroll deadlines, and catching the train.

I remember other just-bought books on my desk serving as talismans to keep my soul from being eaten up by finance. A few lines from Cat’s Eye (Atwood) sustained me through the headache of payroll. An essay from the Best American Science Writing collection kept me sane while deciphering an account that had not been maintained for two months when the accounting manager left. Caitlin Doughty’s essays about searching for the Good Death gave me perspective and watered the seeds of doubt that I had about continuing another decade of the work I was doing.

The bookstore on the corner of 16th Street and Wynkoop provided a testament to the life available to an artist. A testament that I needed desperately at the time. I still visit the Tattered Cover, still browse the shelves. Sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes hours. And in those visits, I appreciate all over again what a bookstore can mean to someone who is looking for a sign.

Migraine Days

Somedays aren’t yours at all / They come and go as if they’re someone else’s days”

Somedays by Regina Spektor

 

Waking up with a migraine is the biggest bummer. Like waking up and finding out your car has a flat tire and you’re out of coffee and you have a big presentation first thing in the morning. It’s a harsh reality that cannot be avoided or put off. It requires immediate resolution.

Migraines have been part of my adult life since I was 26. At first, I suffered through them. Three days of pain while hiding in darkness, lying as still as I possibly could, putting off my life. Day 1: the onset, sharp pain that can still be worked through and thought around. Day 2: the main battle, no movement, no work, only intense, exhausting, inescapable pain. Day 3: the hangover, the pain is gone but in its place a tenderness, a bruise that slows all thoughts and actions.

Then I figured out that the headaches followed periods of intense exercise as well as the general pattern of hormones. I wish I could say that I demanded pharmaceutical help sooner, but like a good, guilt-ridden young woman I thought it was simply mine to bear. My wife and my family encouraged me to see a doctor. This resulted in two medications, one to thin my blood on a daily basis, another for when a piercing pain above my right eye begins to curve behind my ear and nestles under my skull. I now lose only half a day at most to a migraine instead of nearly half a week.

I woke up with a migraine today. I did not take medication immediately because sometimes it just needs water, caffeine, a shower to clear the pressure away. So I followed the usual morning procedures: glass of water, cup of coffee, toast.

The pain continued but at a low frequency. This is the worst trick that a migraine plays because I have to weigh giving up my morning but squelching the headache against trying to work through low-grade pain but being productive. I have to weigh the risk that a migraine becomes full-blown and possibly forms a lesion on my brain against sleeping through a morning of work.

Hindsight, it always makes sense to swallow half of an oblong white pill and sleep while my brain sorts itself. In the middle of the choice, it is difficult to give up the belief that maybe I can power through it. Maybe it’s not really a migraine. Maybe I’m being weak or lazy.

Migraine days appear and demand that I practice self-care. Like a meditation practice, a yoga practice, a running practice. I often don’t want to take the time to care, don’t want to slow down, don’t want to admit that I am at the mercy of the blood flow in my brain.

But there it is, and here I am. Taking the time to care for me. Taking the time to heal.

Notable Reads of 2018: Micro Book Reviews

This list does not include every book that I enjoyed this year, but it includes the ones that I found unique, challenging, and full of good questions.

From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty – When searching for the Good Death, anything beats traditional American death rituals.

The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt – Short stories where everyone has a secret, and that secret is usually that they can turn into an animal.

The Power by Naomi Alderman – If women had the ability to run the world through force, would they run it any better than men?

Vacationland by John Hodgman – It’s E. B. White. He’s talking about E. B. White.

Relief Map by Rosalie Knecht – The police won’t let anyone in the town leave (no phone or electricity) until a fugitive is found.

Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax – A future Japan that mixes questions about immigration, war crimes, fertility, and artificial intelligence exquisitely.

Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht – Is Vera Kelly a spy? Is she in 1950s Argentina? Is she a lesbian? Is she a smart cookie? Yes.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – It’s a lot harder and also a lot easier than you would expect to sleep through an entire year.

Nothing Good Can Come From This by Kristi Coulter – Drinking keeps women from realizing their full potential, and alcohol is everywhere. Sobriety opens up new avenues.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee – Pain becomes story becomes myth becomes novel.

Severance by Ling Ma – If the fever takes hold of you, you lose yourself, becoming stuck in mindless routines. Hell in an office building.

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling – Daphne disappears off the grid with her toddler, trying to decide whether or not to join her husband in Turkey.

What were your notable reads for the year? Please share in the comments!

Moratorium

IMG_20181215_150709450I’ve decided to refrain from buying books during Q1 of 2019. And what do you do before the moratorium sets in for January through March? Buy as many books as possible, of course!

Seen here: The Best American Travel Writing 2018 edited by Cheryl Strayed, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee, and The Best American Food Writing 2018 edited by Ruth Reichl.

Books purchased at The Tattered Cover on Colfax.

Picture location at Hooked on Colfax.