Protected: 50 Stories, Week 33: Far From Home
Protected: 50 Stories, Week 32: California
Protected: 50 Stories, Week 3: Strangers of Sacre Coeur
So, I shaved my head.
It’s not alopecia (but I feel for you, Ricki Lake!)
I’m not having a breakdown (remember Britney’s bald moment? though looking back, who could blame her?)
I’m not ill (fingers crossed, though cancer may get us all eventually.)
And I’m not trying to make a political or power statement.
What I am is a 49 year old woman working in the advertising industry in NYC. I am a woman who started dying my roots before I had gray hair and had no idea what my ‘real’ hair looked like. I am a woman who spends thousands of dollars each year to look younger, better, and different than I am.
A few years ago, I started to see and feel the real signs of aging – sagging neck and jowls, constant dry skin, waking up in the middle of the night feeling like someone turned the oven on, and an inability to power through even the slightest hangover or exercise injury. But still people would say, “I can’t believe you’re 40+ years old! I can’t believe you have a son in college!” And my little ego would perk up and it would validate the work I was putting into looking young.
My industry, like many, is not kind to aging women, in particular. And in our society, you’re forgotten, dismissed, literally not paid attention to once you are no longer aspiring to be a beautiful young thing with tits up to here and an ass you can bounce a quarter on. Though, to be fair, I do still have a fine ass. (Thanks yoga and genetics!) So I get it – we work hard to stay relevant, or at least look like we’re trying to. Not to mention all the work we do to our faces to stay ‘youthful’! But there’s a difference between a nice hydrated dewy face and spending thousands to literally keep your chin up.
Listen, I fully support anyone who dyes and decorates their hair, wears wigs, cuts it all sorts of ways. I just hope they’re doing it because they want to – not because they think they need to.
For me, though, I’m tired. And curious. What would it look like if I was just myself for a while? If I came to love the extra five pounds I’ve been carrying around my gut? If I accepted my graying hair and loss of collagen in my neck? What could I do with the energy spent trying to be someone else?
It can be difficult to live a life where people question your decisions, when the things you know are right for you aren’t right for most. Especially for the people who love you. I’ve been doing this since I was a child. The decisions that feel right in my gut, in my soul, have rarely been traditional. I’m not saying they’re interesting, they’re just different.
I don’t want an ordinary life. I don’t want to look like or be like anyone else. And for maybe the first time in my life, I give zero fucks (ok, maybe I give a little fuck, but I am pushing that voice down,) about what others think. Of course I care about what my husband and son think but all I can do is hope they love me, as I am.
This act feels rebellious, yes, but it also feels natural. Right. For now. For me. I can see my gray! I can see my misshapen head. I can feel my scalp. And my curiosity is satiated, for now. When I look at the mass of hair in my trash bin, I don’t know that person any more. That isn’t me.
This is me.
Or maybe I’m just bored.
In a few hours, I’ll be boarding a flight bound for Delhi to spend the next 40 days in India. If you asked me in the last 25 years why I wanted to go, I’d give my shpiel about having a best friend who is Indian since I was 16 or having practiced yoga since I was 20. And while those things are true and absolutely inspired the dream of visiting India, today my reasons are different.
When I started practicing yoga, I had zero understanding about my intentions, my anxiety, my joy, or my limitations. Yoga quite literally saved my life, body and mind. I read the sacred texts (though not sure I understand all of the sutras!) and stories, learned anatomy and did my teacher training. I had friends and acquaintances who made the journey or pilgrimage to the motherland, most of them in their younger days or without little kiddos waiting at home. I’d fantasize about going with my BFF and we’d visit her relatives. I had in my mind that she must have the same desire for travel as I did. But life kept moving along, and I never made it a priority to go. I had a small baby, I was in transition from jobs, I was in debt from college, I was a single parent, I had GI issues (true!) There were endless excuses but the dream never died.
The truth is, I was terrified. Of anywhere I have wanted to visit, India is the one that scares me the most. (Close second is Africa and I’m going to get there, too.) Its not the overwhelming population… or the lack of sanitation… or the waylaid trains.
Its the areas of poverty, the inequality in education, the mistreatment of girls, the old culture that is hanging on to the way things used to be done when the world is changing rapidly around them. I’ve never been much for filtering my thoughts, so I knew I would have to be a more mature human being to visit these places and be respectful. Now, time has passed. I’ve traveled and volunteered enough now that I can see the gray. My passion for justice is tempered by a willingness to hear both sides of a story. And then to see if I can take action, to work within the gray.
Oh I have loads of other fears, too. My anxiety has been on red alert since I decided to go. Malaria, dengue, dysentery, oh my! But I am facing these fears the way I have most of my life. Acknowledge, ask questions, be prepared, and then LET GO. I had a wonderful therapist who used to make me write down my fears on a piece of paper, put them in a box, and put the box in the back of the closet. Over time, I forgot about the box. The brain is bananas powerful, people.
So, I’m off. (Like a prom dress, har!) I’ll get a sim card when I land and share my number here on my next post, if you want to say hi. First few days and nights are in Delhi where I’ll be donning my mask because #smog and getting over jetlag.
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” – Helen Keller
Jackhammers and hummingbirds
Last week, I saw Elizabeth Gilbert speak about her new book, Big Magic. At one point, someone from the audience asked a question I’ve been asking myself for years. What if you just aren’t the type of person who is going to be obsessive and committed and dedicated to one thing, your whole life? Does that make you any less of an artist, writer, poet, painter, baker, banker, etc.? What if you’re good at a few things but not great at any one? Should I give up now and save myself the trouble?
One of the things the Live Your Legend group requires via self-exploration is to find the thing at which you are an expert, and be an expert at the thing you are passionate about. When Elizabeth received the question, she gave a great analogy. She explained that she is a jackhammer. For as long as she could remember, she wanted to be a writer. She announced it at a young age, and pursued it relentlessly, obsessively, admitting that this often made her unaware of many people, feelings, and things around her. She became the great writer she wanted to be. But then there are the hummingbirds. Those who bring nectar and curiosity from one blossom to the next, who find things beautiful that she might have missed. The cross-pollinators, who are inspiring in their own right, trying new things along the way. It was a kind way to answer the young woman’s question. The truth, of course, is that if this woman wanted to BE any one of those things, she probably would have pursued it by now. Or maybe she’s just flitting, floating and years from now she’ll discover she really loves knitting and open an online shop selling her wares. Or not. The percentage of people who fully commit to their craft, their business, their talent, is small – relative to the population of the human race. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, that’s not what I’m saying. Most of us are working hard, maybe even loving what we do, but we’re not all capable of being geniuses, of being the next Elon Musk or a Pulitzer Prize winner. I know – I sound like Debbie Downer but I think a healthy dose of realism wouldn’t hurt. It doesn’t have to be a depressing fact. It might actually be liberating to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves that because we live in America, we must innovate/create or die – each and every one of us. Maybe its alright to just enjoy a bottle of wine and a good meal with the people you love, talk about what’s going on in the world, plan a trip here and there, learn something new, and age healthfully. Maybe the only thing I will ever be an expert at is loving my son and my husband, or how to find the best desserts while traveling. And that doesn’t feel like defeat, it feels like acceptance. Maybe even relief.