Friday, February 11, 2011

Hair, She Wrote

Frankie, here. I'm delighted to join this terrific community of writers. First time out, I had intended to write about research. But then my hair got in the way. I know you're wondering what my hair has to do with writing, but I'm a Southerner, so you're going to have to bear with me while I tell you a tale.

It started a couple of months ago. I was invited to give the Martin Luther King, Jr., lecture as a part of the spring speakers series at a local community college. I do research on crime and popular culture, so I proposed doing a lecture titled: "What to Wear to a Revolution" about clothing, dress codes, and hair censorship during the 1960s civil rights era.

Soon after agreeing to do the lecture, I was going through a closet, trying yet again to "discard and organize." I opened a box, and there inside was my high school senior photo. My hair was in an Afro. Great! I had my "show-and-tell" for the lecture.

I took the photo to my office at school and set it on a cabinet, thinking it would inspire me. It also reminded me of happier hair days.

In mid-January, I went down to New York City for a writers' meeting. I fluffed my hair out. A friend noticed I was "letting it grow." But that was only for that weekend in Manhattan. Back in Albany – back in my professor role -- I tamed my hair again. Until the morning I looked in the mirror at my droopy curls, groaned and dug around in a drawer for an old "pick" (a steel-toothed comb). I used it to demolish the curls, then stood there grinning at my reflection in the mirror.

About a second later, I realized I didn't have time to go through the process of washing my hair again to get it to curl. I would have to wear my Afro.

As I rode up in the elevator at school, I anticipated the surprised looks.

And that was when I had my flashback. I was thirteen or fourteen, and I was walking down the hall in another school. My hair, to my delight, was rising up from my head in waves and spirals and spikes. A teacher coming toward me, stopped in her tracks. And then she rushed up and hustled me to the side, out of the flow of traffic. "What on earth happened to your hair?" she said. Taking a comb from her pocket, she dragged it through my hair and twisted my wild mane into a knot. Satisfied, I was now acceptable, she told me to go on to class.

This was before the days when combing a student's hair might have been grounds for a lawsuit. But I had been injured by that well-intentioned teacher. That part of me who -- if she hadn't been afraid of snakes -- would have thought Medusa's hair was cool, who loved Tina Turner's wild wigs and Patti La Belle's sculptured dos, had been injured.

The late 60s and early 70s liberated my hair. But before my mind could catch up, the Afro was gone. Now, it was several decades later. Marc Jacobs might be featuring Afros on his runway models. A few musicians and actors might be wearing ‘fros. But here I was again, walking down a hall, waiting for someone to tame my hair. Not with a comb, but with a grin and a joke. . .No grins, no jokes. In fact, no one said a word about my hair. Not that day or the next. Hadn't they noticed?

After a while it occurred to me that they might be wondering if I was making a “political statement”. Maybe they thought it was safer not to comment.

Whatever my friends' and colleagues were thinking, I was more surprised by what was going on in my own head. I might not be 14 again, but I feel more "me." I have reclaimed a piece of myself. And that's the point of this story. Sometimes we need to let our inner "rebel" out to play.

When we free ourselves to be more of who we are as individuals, we also free ourselves to bring that same quirkiness and creativity to our writing.

Letting my hair do its thing won't transform me into a best-selling author. But it does seem to have made me more productive. Writer's block? Sitting in front of my computer, hands buried in my hair, I remember that I have a voice.

And now, my challenge to you: "Go for it!" Do one wonderful, crazy, liberating thing that speaks to who you are inside. And let us know how it affects your life and your writing.


Rick Blechta said...

Great post, Frankie. Welcome to Type M. I'm sure you'll add some class that we're occasionally lacking. ;)

I remember having hair — lots and lots of hair. There are photos on my website just to prove to people that it's true. I sometimes look at that page, sigh and remember the good old days...

Again, welcome!

Donis Casey said...

I identify, Frankie, though my cross to bear is that I have spiderwebs instead of actual hair, and it is so unruly that I finally had to come to term with the fact that there is nothing to be done, other than perhaps getting a wig. It took me much of my life to realize that I am much happier if I just accept the situation and allow it to go whither it will, proud and free. I agree that this attitude informs and liberates the writing, as well.
So nice to have you here at Type M.

Vicki Delany said...

Great welcoming post. I have very long blond hair and am well past the age where long hair is acceptable. I wear it in a knot at the back of my head. My children are constantly telling me to have it cut and styled. But that would mean work, like blowdrying it all the time.

Rick Blechta said...

Blow drying is not time-consuming. I blow dry my hair all the time. It takes 14.5 seconds...

Hannah Dennison said...

Welcome to Type M Frankie! I love the hair post - it reminds me of when I accidentally dyed mine green. Seriously. I was a flight attendant at the time and was suspended until it grew out. I had to cut it short.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks for the welcome, everyone! Glad to hear I'm not the only one with a hair story.

Donis Casey said...

Looks like you hit a nerve, Frankie.

peter_may said...

Hi Frankie, delighted that you are taking my place in the TM4M Friday slot. I have had a great time blogging here, and sadly didn't get a chance to say goodbye because of two hectic weeks of promotional travel. So, welcome and goodbye at the same time. And thanks to all those (including my fellow bloggers) who have put up with my mumblings and grumblings over the last however long its been, and chipped in with some enlightening comments. I will miss Type M. Keep up the good work!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Sorry we are passing in the night, Peter. Will miss not getting to hang out with you here.

All the best,