Occasionally I’ll become deeply obsessed with something, and just go crazy learning all about it, to the exclusion of almost everything else. I did this with knitting, and I have more lace shawls and hand-knit socks than is reasonable for any one person to own. I did this with cooking, too, and I can make a wicked pavlova or amazing pizza crust. I did it with photography, and I can tell you more about lighting and F-stops than you’ll have the patience for, unless you happen to also own some camera equipment and shoot in manual mode. I’ve sketched, painted, and danced. What is the thing I’m obsessively into right now?
You might be balking right now. You might be nodding sagely. You might be rolling your eyes. I’d have probably run from the room screaming a year ago if someone told me that I was going to develop a thing for that dead stuff that sits on top of my head. Most of my adult life, my hair has been in a pixie cut, because I really just couldn’t be bothered, especially not when it did that weird stuff it does. So I kept it short and ignored its presence as much as possible.
And then my divorce happened. And you know how most people do crazy stuff with their hair when their life has changed massively and unpleasantly? In a lot of cases people go chop off all their hair. I started growing it out and dying it blue. And as it grew, there was this one piece, right in the middle of my forehead, that insisted on twisting into a spiral, right over my eyes. I spent a lot of time in my tiny bathroom apartment trying to get that unruly piece to flatten as it grew, to no avail. Did that piece of hair not understand that everything around it was kinda sorta straight?
It took about another year, and the return of my more brown-ish hair color (Oh, how I miss that blue!) before I realized that maybe my hair wasn’t exactly as straight as I thought I was. That the curl right there in the front was an indicator. A cherry red (I’ve dyed my hair a lot) sign that I was fighting against what I’d been born with.
My hair – was wavy. And it was time to let it do what it wanted to do. And maybe even encourage it.
So yeah, right now I have a lot of things in my life I never thought I would. I watch tutorials on getting curl clumps and I experiment with the protein/moisture balance of my hair. It’s a perpetual science class, with real-world application, and it’s exactly the kind of thing I like best.
* * * *
In her book Braving the Wilderness, Renee Brown talks about becoming the head of her own corporation, and learning how to be a good leader. She touches on something that I think a lot of us go our whole lives without fully realizing it’s import. In the book, she’s having a discussion with her husband about how other people see her. To Renee, she’s a sort of bubbly, warm person, like the lead lady in a romantic comedy. Approachable and a little silly. She was shocked to discover that her employees considered her to be a very serious person. She’d never thought of herself that way, not even a little, but her husband confirmed that, yes, when she became passionate about a topic, she was a force of nature. She was warm and approachable, for sure. But carefree? Bubbly? Not remotely.
I think a lot of us have something like this going on. In our heads, we imagine ourselves as a certain kind of person, when in reality, everyone else interacting with us gets an entirely different image. I, for example, have always thought of myself as being quiet and thoughtful. Mostly a chill observer of people. A strong and quiet tough-it-out kind of character. These are the kinds of personality traits I most want to embody.
But those things I most definitely am not.
Not even a little.
I might be thoughtful and observant and a little introverted, but calm and quiet, not so much. When I get feelings, they are big and overwhelming. I cry rather a lot more than most people are comfortable with, mostly because I cry when I’m angry, sad, frustrated, or even very happy. Am I tough? Well, I don’t know. I tend to get distracted by – hey, that bird over there is a great blue heron, by the way.
What I think I am, and what I actually am are two really different things. And I wonder if maybe that’s because I just don’t like what I actually am. Like trying to flatten that one curl falling in front of my face, I do my best to face the world with a placid, easy-going temperament that will eventually – probably sooner than I know – give way to an enormous burst of all the feelings a person can have, all at once, leaving people around me wondering what just happened. Leaving me wondering what just happened.
But maybe, like the waves I’ve been encouraging in the dead strings on my head, these personality traits I’m trying so hard to deny aren’t really that bad. Maybe, in fact, if I encourage them, it will turn out that they can be an asset. Maybe I’m doing harm by denying them. Like running a straightening iron over my hair until it split and cracked, I’ve set a rigid image of who I am, and done all I could to force my thoughts and my appearance into that narrow channel. And the result is not just heartbreak. The result is being out of touch with my very essence. It’s that I don’t even know what’s possible. Where I’m seeing stray, random outbursts of emotion, what I’m actually witnessing is a sign that I’m not so insightful or chill as I thought I was.
Which, ironically, is the wisest thing I’ve said all day. So maybe I’m not totally off base on the wisdom thing.
Part of getting at who we really are is letting go of what we think we should be. Like putting down all the images of straight-haired goddesses and learning how to squish conditioner into our hair like crazy, I think we have to step back from whatever fantastical picture we have of who we are, and see what’s actually there. Then nurture all the good in that.
It’s interesting that I’m saying this now, because I feel like friends of mine have been saying this to me ever since I left my ex. No, Megan, you are not chill. Quiet at parties? No way. At one with the universe and going with the flow? Who are we even talking about right now?!
Well, I might be stubborn, but eventually I do listen.