The Anguish of the Butterfly

I am in the midst of major life changes. Some days it feels like a high-dive jump with rolls, flips, and tucks. Exhilarating. Other days it feels like sinking to the bottom of the ocean, the weight of the water growing heavier, darker, colder.

All of it is transformative.

This week I want to share something from Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost that has stayed with me ever since I read it several years ago:

The people thrown into other cultures go through something of the anguish of the butterfly, whose body must disintegrate and reform more than once in its life cycle. In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who “knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is psyche, the word for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawal, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.

(Emphasis mine)

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.

Metamorphosis

Here is why I think people can change:

My mom just shared a trans rights supportive post on social media, saying how valuable trans people are. My mom used to be a fundamentalist Christian. But when my wife came out as trans three years ago, my mom did not hesitate to love and accept her. When who she loved came into conflict with her beliefs, she changed her beliefs not her love.

Love is transformative, and I’ve seen it happen.