Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"I want to do hair"

Woman and her stylist-therapist
I've been reminded of a hard thing I want and love, but which I have been avoiding because of its potential to be very, very painful.  Naturally, this occurred at the salon. 

I met with my stylist on Saturday morning after a week of unmet writing goals, with a head full of half-made plans for the upcoming week, and jumpy focus that had me on my own nerves. 

The thought of two hours in a chair discussing the sliver of things that my stylist and  I have in common just seemed like work. Worse though, would have been to say, "You know, I  just don't feel like talking today, okay?" The "what's wrong" question this would have generated was beyond me. So instead, I soldiered over to my chair and prepared to get my chat on.

"So," said my stylist, lifting sections of hair, "What are we doing today?"
"You know, I don't know. I don't even feel like making a decision on my hair, so just do whatever you think will work. I trust you."
It was an atypical start to the session but she fell in and got stylist-serious. 
"Okay, first it should be shorter," she said.
"And I'm thinking let's do the caramel highlights."
"You need some angling toward the front."
"Whatever you think."

She left to mix the color and I opened my book.
She came back and went to work. A few minutes later, I watched what she was doing in the mirror.
She caught my eye and said, "So? Famous yet?"
"No. Not famous, and the writing thing is everywhere. I'm all over the place. Doing everything, doing nothing. Submitting my book that took me forever to write. In a week, I'll be opening 'thanks but no thanks emails' and  I'm trying to write short stories, and I'm trying to submit essays and everything I do feels like it's keeping me from something else —"
"Tilt your chin."
"—and I'm wondering what I really want out of this, and so I'm pulling back for a while. Taking stock. Less time on social media, less worry about stats and traffic and not meeting my fiction goals and not keeping up with my blog. I'm just tired, tired, tired. Period."

"So you're overwhelmed."
"I'm overwhelmed."

There was a long pause. And then I said, "I have no right to be overwhelmed. I have the life I want, I have great kids, husband, friends. I can write whatever I want. I've been published where I didn't think I would be. But last week, I had an editor turn down my essay. She said, 'I'm afraid this doesn't quite work,' and I thought, 'she's right. It didn't work because it has no me in it. It was empty.' What the hell is my problem?"

"You sound like me when I decided to stop teaching."
I looked at her in the mirror. "Tell me."
"I was a teacher. I studied classical music, and got my teaching degree. I worked with kids on the violin. Every day I woke up to a stomach ache. Kids didn't want to play. Parents didn't make them practice. I forgot what the point was."
"You taught the violin?"
"Yes, and I hated every minute of it."
"You taught the violin?"
"It sucked. And then, one day I drove by a hair salon and remembered how I did my friends' hair when I was younger and how happy it made me to create and make other people happy."
"And," I said.
"Well, I remembered what that felt like - to love something - it made me realize that I didn't love what I was doing now at all. I thought, 'Well, I want to do hair,' but...okay, how do I say this, hair stylists back then were sort of...there was a stereotype. Did I want to be seen as someone who was doing hair because she couldn't make it in her profession? Did I want to go to my parents and say, 'guess what, you know that college education you paid for?' No, I did not."

I imagined my twenty-something stylist driving past that salon, not wanting to want that.

"But," she said, tools poised, "I did want to be happy, and I was not that either. And even with the tears and frustration and stomach aches, I was still doing it. And then I said, 'enough.'"

For a long time, I wondered if I was holding onto my book to avoid starting another. The truth is, the harder you love something, the harder will come the rejection. If writing an impossible scene or sharp line of dialog made me feel alive, it was hard to think the failure to publish it wouldn't kill me. 

Writing essays is easy love and publishing them is instantly gratifying. Not publishing them stings like it stings to sit in your car on a cold morning before the heat comes on. Eventually, you'll forget you were cold. 

But easy love can be habit forming, while the hard love stands there and says "still here."

I want to do hair.

I didn't say that to my stylist. 

But I did say this:

"I'm not writing new fiction right now. I miss that."
"So, do that."
"I'm worried about how my book will do."
"So you're avoiding it."
"And I don't have time for non-fiction."
"So stop for awhile."
"And if my book fails, I'll write another one but what if that one fails too?"
"Tilt your chin."

I left the salon with two things: First, a reminder that what we love, but which may never love us back, doesn't go away. Whether we have time or freedom for it or not, whether we crave or fear its joy, it comes back and says, "still here." And yet, to feel an unending  pull toward it is better than feeling no pull toward easier things.

The other thing I left with was much shorter hair than I would have asked for.  But it was what my stylist thought I needed. On Saturday, she also knew that I needed an example of someone who figured out a hard love, faced her obstacles and said, "Screw it. I want to do hair."

I still can't believe she taught violin. 


  1. Great piece Susan. I think the thing I liked most about it was your hair stylist. My stylist is one of my best friends and our busy lives don't allow us to get together often so my appts. turn into our visits. I love what she does to my hair but I love our visits even more...hmm, I think I'll write about that. ;)

    1. It's true Tammy, and I think men might have the same rapport with barbers. Actually I see men have the same rapport with my hair stylist.

  2. i totally relate with this. i'm out trying to sell my latest manuscript and i'm exhausted by all the 'positive' rejection. my essays have been a lot of place i never thought they'd be and i'm proud of all of it. i try to remember that i love the journey. if i don't publish the books, i'll still have loved the time writing them. that's what makes us writers. no one said it was gonna be easy right? but if you love it, keep doing it and if you don't, well find your hair salon. :)

    1. You said it. It's not easy, but is there a choice? Nope, there isn't. Somebody said, "I have two choices. I can write or I can die." A little extreme, but I get it and I'll be you do, too. That said, we all need a great hair stylist, whoever they are, for sure.

  3. Fabulous! Loved it!!! :)

    1. Well, thank you Anonymous. Especially thank you for using the word "fabulous" which just makes me happy, especially in connection with a post.

  4. Great piece. What I took from it was this: never assume what you see is what you see. The hairstylist next door may once have been the violin teacher next door. We all have dreams, and some dreams are not to head to Carnegie Hall, but to the hair salon...and that's okay!

    1. I agree Mindy, completely. Actually, I am a special fan of reverse-dreams - the surgeon who opens an antique shop, that sort of thing. My hair stylist's story was a gem. She's kind of my hero now.

  5. This nearly made me cry.

    I loathe what I do for a living. But I feel like I have to...well..I do HAVE to pay bills and I can't make this kind of money doing anything else. So far, writing has earned me a few free books and a t-shirt.

    But I haven't TRIED to earn any money writing. Because I'm afraid to. Because I'm not a 'real' writer. Because underneath it all, I'm afraid I'll find out I am right and I suck at it.

    So I keep programming computers and lose a little of my soul. Every day.

  6. Okay, first I checked to see that I was really getting this comment from Rubber Shoes in Hell. So, now I can say, are you kidding me? You don't think you're a real writer. I save, SAVE your posts for when I have my toast and coffee and want to start my day with solid, sharp writing. Your blog ( www.rubbershoesinhell.com ) is as good and as funny as it gets in my book. Real, schmeel. You got write.

    Thank you for visiting and commenting. Made my day.

    1. This means so much to me. Thank you!!!!

  7. Just found you (thanks to The Women of Midlife's FB post that we both commented on) and so glad I did! I LOVE this post. Can so relate. I also love your style of writing :-)

    1. Hi Mona! So glad to connect through that group. I'm not usually this sluggish about updating, so visit again and thanks for the comment!

  8. I AMY a hairdresser. Retired a few years, 3 to be exact, but always a hairdressers heart. One reason I loved my profession is that it allowed time and ,privation to write. Second reason was that I spent my day making people happy and more confident. Third reason my clients became my extended family for the period they chose my chair. When they moved on, it was always a little painful for me. But guess what? I learned to let go from that experience. Sometimes even without the pain of letting go. I'm a very sensitive and compassionate soul so leaving me, rejecting me is very difficult for me to accept. Years of it happening over and over tight me that old truth that people cross our paths for a reason. Sometimes for us to learn and sometimes for us to teach.
    Being a hairdresser made me happy and paid my bills. Being a writer makes me me.

  9. "Extended family", perfect. And I'll bet you and Allison would be fantastic friends. I've often said, who needs a therapist if you have the right hair stylist and that's why.