I am writing 100 How-To essays. It is a big project. Here is why I am doing it. This is essay 30 of 100.
I recently texted my girlfriend that I hadn’t written anything in a while and that I was grumpy and cold and what should I write about. She made me the following list:
How to hang a shelf
How to keep a houseplant alive
How to be brave about shaking up your standard makeup routine
How to skip rocks
How to cut your own bangs
How to stretch your hip flexors
This was a good list, and I appreciated that she took my question seriously, although I doubted that anyone could convince me to write another how-to essay for a while. I installed a show of the how-to essays at the Antenna Gallery in New Orleans, and I made a book of them. (By the way, do you want one? You can buy one from me or from Antenna.) There was something about that experience that felt like a sort of ending.
And that might have been because at the end of my New Orleans visit there was a loss. This is intentionally cryptic because the loss had to do with a person, and although I am fairly sure that this person does not read my blog, it’s still not fair to write about this experience — not really — without their permission. And I don’t want to get their permission, because I don’t want to talk to them. I am not sure when I will be ready to talk to them.
I think of moments like these as hinges. You know how a hinge is a tiny tiny bit of metal that brings together two bigger bits of metal? Here’s a drawing, because I’m finding myself struggling to explain this in words:
There is the life you had before the car accident and the life you had after. There’s the part before S dumped you over the phone on Halloween and the part after that part. Before you lost a person you love; after. Love becomes loved. The hinge is the small part in between, and it’s tiny but it’s there. And usually — if it’s not clear that I’m using the second person to talk about myself by the way, let’s make it clear now — the hinge involves so, so, SO much crying.
This hinge was March 12, and that’s the last time I did a big cry. My day planner is the kind that has you write in your plans hour to hour, and list three things for which you’re thankful each day, and come up with your top three priorities for that day, too. On my calendar, on March 13, I have put down just one priority: “Bounce back.”
So it’s been more than a full month since I had a big cry. Can you believe that? A MONTH. This isn’t to say I haven’t cried at ALL. I re-watched the scene where Lorelai sings “I Will Always Love You” at Luke since then, so crying has happened. I have had these weird LITTLE cries. Sometimes I feel the cry coming on and a little bit of the cry will escape and then there’s this loud voice in my head that says, “No, we aren’t crying anymore. We just aren’t going to do that. OK?” And this is weird because my head has actually never done this to me. I’ve always been GREAT at crying. Feelings all over the place. Since my final cry, I have not had access to my historically big feelings. I HAVE been able to yell occasionally. But the big crying meltdowns are not available to me. There was a hinge. Before; after.
You clicked on an article about how to cut your own bangs, and we’re about 1,000 words in and I haven’t started with anything having to do with hair. But I chose that from Kat’s list because that was the one that I did most recently, and it had to do with my life as it unfolded immediately post-hinge. I felt not myself. My values fell off the proverbial shelf and I looked at them on the floor and did not feel like picking them up. Indeed, I was a little UN-hinged. (See what I did there? That is because I am a WRITER.)
I called this an “identity crisis.”
To cope, I put a large metal bowl over my head and cut around the edges until I had some bangs. As I did this, I recalled my hairdresser saying, “People always think they can cut their own bangs, and they’re just always so wrong.” As I pictured him speaking, I felt angry. “I can do whatever I want to my hair, and no one can judge me for it,” I yelled to the mirror. “Huh?” My roommate said from the next room. I snapped back, “Oh, nothing. I’m cutting my bangs with a bowl and I don’t need anyone’s help, that’s all.”
I put on glittery eyeshadow because someone told me once that I could not pull that off. I opened my email to a full inbox and fired off a bunch of emails that contained the words, “Sorry, but no.” This bangs-having girl did not have time for crying or tears. She was going to ask for the things she wanted.
But that’s only part of this post-hinge life. Some of me feels fearless and crazy and says things like, “Hair grows back.” The other part of me stares at the lake.
Look. This is my blog. Ten more days have passed since I started writing this fucking entry about my bangs and nothing brings me back to the computer to finish because I really don’t know what else there could possibly be to say. This is my blog, so it should be okay for me to admit that I am feeling right now that Oh My God, I don’t know how to do Anything.
That’s the part of me that stares at the lake. I am lucky because I have this massive, quiet, moody lake constantly at my disposal. I like looking at water, no question. In the past, I’ve found answers while looking at or running alongside or swimming in water. None of that is coming to me lately, but I keep on looking, I guess because I trust the lake. The horizon will always be just there. There is a kind of an edge; an ending. I am longing for some finality.
I can’t see who I am on the other side of this hinge; like in a year or five years. I know I’ll be different, but I can’t tell who I’ll be. I am usually so arrogant about knowing the things that I know. But, my friends, I am not at all sure about this new person coming into the world.
Today I came home from work and my roommate — not the bangs one, a different one; we have a bunch — was giving herself a tattoo. She sat in the dining room with her friend, and they were both tattooing themselves under an aggressively white light. She showed me the doodle (her word) she was making. Her friend showed me how he was doing a ring. “Wow,” I said. “This makes me feel very old.”
My roommate said, “I can show you how to do it, if you want!” She is an incredibly kind and giving person.
I said, “No, that’s the part that makes me feel old. I don’t see myself wanting to give myself a tattoo. My reaction to this is very much, ‘Oh my, the young people, doing their stick-n-pokes!’” I hope that didn’t hurt her feelings. It wasn’t an insult; I maybe should have put it a different way.
More than a decade ago, I tried to give myself a tattoo for my New Genre Arts class. I thought I would get an A for permanently altering my body, plus, I was kinda into pain. But the internet wasn’t then what it was now, and there really weren’t any useful directions on how to give yourself a tattoo. There were these complicated DIY tattoo gun instructions (step-by-step, WikiHow-style — there were no videos about this) that involved the pad of a mechanical pencil’s eraser slashed adroitly with a razor. I couldn’t figure it out. I made an animation about birds and tractors instead. (It got an A minus, and always wondered what would have happened if I could have just figured out how to do the tattoo.)
Back then, I never paid to have anyone cut my hair. I always did it myself, alone in the basement bathroom. I hoped it wouldn’t look terrible, but if it did, I could always play my “I’m a badass punk” card.
If I was in my mid-twenties right now, I would probably be the kind of person who would want to give herself a tattoo. But one of those hinges from the past altered everything, and I became a person who does NOT want to give herself a tattoo. And what I mean by “hinge” is that there was a day where I would have said “yes” to the tattoo, and then something tiny happened, and the next day I became a person who says “no.”
I have gotten my hair cut professionally for years, but the truth is that I don’t like making all that small talk in the cushiony chair. So you just take whatever scissors are around, and you grab little chunks of your hair, and you cut them off.
And you remind yourself that things change; everything changes; one day all the mistakes you made will grow out and become whatever they were supposed to be.