in which I’ve been carefully cultivating my Einstein look

Lately, I look more than a bit like a mad scientist. It’s the hair, which sticks out every which way, and my hands, which inevitably find themselves twined into it; I’ve been growing the stuff out and it’s at the perfect fiddling length, which lends well to pulling it into Einstein-ian configurations. Between the actual hair itself and my constant, distracted futzing with it, I’m wearing the slightly demented, vague air of disrepute that I suppose settles into most artists as time passes.

My hair has always been important to me- symbolic, heavy, significant. It confused and confounded my mother, who had thin, straight blonde hair. A source of embarrassment and shame when growing up, my hair is dark, thick, very curly, and was one of the key features that set me apart from my family of origin, although through a regimen of wet-brushing and braiding my mother kept it so tamed for the beginning of my life that I didn’t recognize it as curly until I was twelve or so. (Sleepovers are amazing things. Also, don’t brush curly hair, y’all. That’s a mess and it makes kids cry.)

I didn’t start to get a handle on this stuff until high school, and ever since, I’ve been mostly letting it run riot. It’s happiest that way. My father says this mop likely comes from his mother, but I didn’t meet him until I was in my early twenties, so growing up it was just this mystery perched on top of my head. Certainly, though, that fact might help explain why it was so universally disliked in my childhood home.

I tell people that I have two settings when it comes to my hair: mid-back, and so short you could barely call it a pixie. The truth is that there’s a lot that happens in the two years between those two, so how could that statement be completely accurate? Those are my two set points, though: the spaces where I tend to linger, my comfortable spots. I’ll wear a mane for half a decade, then suddenly think that I haven’t really seen my face in far too long and feel like I need a shearing.

I haven’t gotten a haircut since at least August of last year, possibly July. I’d usually get trims to shape my hair as I went along, working the process, but this time I felt resistance every time I went to schedule the call, which I couldn’t quite decipher. I let it go, didn’t call and got shaggy around the ears, wore hats and tried not to care. The nice thing about having curls is you can hide some degree of hair bullshittery with the texture.

By the time December rolled around, I’d really committed to The Thing, and I’d also started looked like a member of an English boy band from the 1960s, when they weren’t even calling them boy bands (but we all know, we know). I didn’t feel like I could turn back at that point: where was this going? How bad could it get?

The answer is: pretty damn bad, actually: January was a rough look. The ‘do has currently resolved into what I think passes for a pretty lovely halo of curls most mornings, but I was definitely flying on faith, a lack of shits to give, and my deep love of handknit hats last month. Sam commented that he didn’t know where all the hats came from, but he wasn’t sure if he saw the same one twice, and then I knit another one for myself that month, too, just to make things more confusing.

I’ve finally made an appointment to see someone and make myself look presentable because I am a grownup (with grown up responsibilities). Also winter is ending, apparently a little sooner than we all expected, taking with her all her many and myriad hat possibilities. I really didn’t want to make this appointment. I sat down to explore that a little, and realized how attached I’d become to the idea of this hair growth as an exploration of my natural body. Finally, something, anything about my body was being allowed to do whatever it was that it did, alone and unassisted, and I felt reluctant to put an end to that. That silly thought experiment, started in late winter, had internally snowballed into something much more significant while I wasn’t paying attention.

Occasionally, I’ll talk or write about the way constantly being on medication makes me feel a little disconnected from my body. Gabapentin was definitely one of the worst offenders in this department, but I still take muscle relaxers every day, and Topamax* isn’t my favorite medication ever, either (although I’m very grateful for its ability to keep migraines at bay). There’s also something very foreign and disconcerting about not knowing my body and what it is experiencing due to being medicated at all times, although I’m conflicted about that, of course. That’s obviously something I’m trying to avoid living, but not having that information is also… strange. It’s hard to explain, but outside of both sides of my family having deep histories of addiction, I think this desire to remain as connected with my body as possible is also a large part of why I don’t really drink, why I prefer my medical marijuana CBD-based, and why I avoid opioid medications.

This hair thing, it snuck up on me. Without the restrictions of a formal office environment or dress code, I was able to just let my body be itself in this one small way. This isn’t something that happens very often in my life, and especially not last year, which was full of baseline testing for the new MS center I’d begun to work with; they’re a lovely place, don’t get me wrong, but that entire process is just grueling, and I finished all that up feeling a little dehumanized and burnt out. Witnessing one process which was not medically quantified was liberating and gave me a sense of space regained. There’s a real feeling of ownership, too, and connection, as month to month this turns into something that looks less like an overgrown buzz cut and more into a heap of curls: I remember this hair, my hair, which looks just like my daughter’s hair. This is ours. Lately, I think about how it was my paternal grandmother’s hair, too- I didn’t know her, but there she is, popping quite literally up up up, because that’s genetics.**

It’s funny how once a personal mythology is recognized, it can become less or even entirely not essential; I’m still far too emotionally connected to my hair as a symbol, certainly (that’s an attachment) but no longer attached to the idea that not cutting it somehow equates regaining control over my body in that or any significant way. I am glad to have had the kindness to give myself that space, though, and to have had the luxury to have enjoyed a sense of play with the entire thing. Appearance is supposed to be largely about play, isn’t it?

As always, would love to hear thoughts; I know with certainty I’m not the only person with complicated feelings on hair, or bodily autonomy, out there.


*Botox still gives me a funny feeling in the middle of my chest- I just get all tight when I hear the word botulism, it isn’t logical but it’s my bias and I’ll at least own it, I suppose? I’m very interested in the new research showing good results using TMS for migraines.

**Side note: I did one of those genetics projects recently with the University of Michigan, has anyone else done that or anything like it?


  One thought on “in which I’ve been carefully cultivating my Einstein look

  1. February 28, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Was there a photo of you as Einstein that I missed?

    • February 28, 2017 at 8:21 pm

      I thought about posting one! Then I thought better of it.

  2. Gail Rector
    February 28, 2017 at 8:09 pm

    I am a short, round woman and and I once had a little round black Cochin hen. I named her GR (my initials) as an exercise in self love.
    If a little round fluffy feather ball of a hen is cute then so can I be.
    I’d accepted the general assumption that a fat woman is an ugly dumb woman and in reality, I am neither.

    • February 28, 2017 at 8:27 pm

      Personal myths are everywhere, right? Big ones, little ones, they’re so pervasive. I love the image of your little hen! What a smart idea, too.

  3. Sheila
    February 28, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    I am a 60 year old woman with shoulder length hair that is the bane of my mother’s existence. We look very much alike, long faces, high forehead, beaky nose and (one great quality) big eyes with long lashes. My mother was told when she was young that a long face must have short hair.
    I feel like I am all nose and chin and forehead with short hair! Ahhh! I like my hair long, my kids like it long, my husband prefers not to comment (smart man).
    My hair is also wavy; I can never find a beautician who can cut wavy hair, not curly,not straight, wavy…I either get a million tiny layers…and my hair lays on my head like it’s been shot,or they use a razor and it frizzes…why?
    I finally gave up and started cutting it myself: cut bangs, cut the bottom, brush the sides forward and cut at an angle along my face…voila, curls at the side and top, and length all around. It isn’t fancy or coutoure, but it makes my hair and me happy…oh, and the final blow => I use manicure scissors!
    I am living the rebellion!

    • February 28, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      Live your best life! That sounds perfect. And your husband is clever.

  4. Kourtney
    February 28, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    Topomax fistbump. I love the no migraines; they were getting so bad and so frequent and are so linked to my menstrual cycle I actually talked to my GP about putting me into early chemical menopause or something? This was her suggestion; happily it’s been successful with minimal side effects and less monkey business than chemical menopause.

    I agree about feeling hung up on Botox because botulism. Oddly, I didn’t feel bothered about the birth control pill, even though it contained pregnant mare urine…

    Something that’s overlooked about curly hair: it’s more FUN to fiddle with. It twirls, it cools, it springs, it twists. It WANTS to be mad scientist hair.

    • February 28, 2017 at 10:01 pm

      I’m really interested in TMS- it’s something that I plan bringing up with my neuro at my next visit. I mean, worst case is either he says insurance won’t cover, or I try it, it doesn’t work, and go back on Topamax, right?

      • Kourtney
        February 28, 2017 at 10:27 pm

        It does sound interesting- I was curious if Topomax would work when it was all hormone levels triggering my migraines, but the topirimate must keep the blood vessels in my brain from dilating. Hopefully the TMS would too. And hopefully be covered by insurance! American medical – there’s a whole different battle…

  5. Kelly Harms
    March 2, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    I just found your blog through the Craftsy dyeing course (which I LOVED!), and read about your MS. My mother has MS (primary progressive) and lives with us, so we have experienced the disease through her and have been working through drugs to see what provides some lessening of the progression of her disease process. Her hair is also one of the things that she can control and it’s always fun to see what she wants to do with it. No purple hair yet, but you never know! I’m glad you’ve found some relief from the migraines – I had them for 20 years and only found (mostly) permanent relief when I had a hysterectomy 6 years ago. Migraines are awful and sometimes the drugs to help are almost as bad as the headaches.

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