My Hair And Other Topics: Change Through Appearance

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About my hair…I have a lot less of it now. If you’ve known me for a while, you know my hair means a lot to me. More as a tool than a vanity thing, though vanity, of course, plays a part. My hair is one of the main ways I process transitions in my life, those moments when I need to change something on the inside, and the easiest way to set things in motion is by making it show on the outside. When the change is visible, I’m more committed.

I’ve worked my way through everything from bicced bald to butt-length tresses. Dreadlocks and numerous shades of purple, pink, and red have also made appearances. After I shaved my head in 2008, I waited three-and-a-half years to feel like “myself” again because at that point in time me had uber-long, fairy-who-wandered-out-of-the-forest hair. I needed it. Those long locks helped me feel like things I needed to show were visible: that the world is too much sometimes, that though I am trying to get by in normal reality, daydreaming comes easier, that I’m definitely a bit bizarre and also probably more sensitive than average, that I believe in magic, and if you give me the chance, maybe I’ll enchant you.

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(Ahem…apologies to all the people I cropped out for this vanity project. Thanks to all the people who took these pics…Di, Reubs, Bettina, Tay, and thanks extra to my sis for being uncroppable). Anyway…

I lived a lot of years with all that hair or without it but feeling like it was a part of me. I don’t think it’s fair to be categorical about what it all meant, but in the process that led to cutting my hair, a few specific things about what it signified for me kept coming up. So we go from there. When I had long hair, I always felt that people were more inclined to take care of me. Maybe it has an element of little girl-ness to it. My long hair always made me feel a little like a princess from one of my childhood storybooks (they did pretty much all have seriously long locks). I got to be the main character and enchanting and the one you root for and all that, but, in the end, somebody else saves the day, and I just get to ride away on the white horse.

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Maybe this makes me sound more helpless or hapless than I probably am or hope to be, but in the background, I can’t help fighting the outer circumstances that make life hard. Yeah, I want to be a good person, and help others, and develop on the path, but there’s always this part of me fighting what is. Impermanence is such a bitch; it hurts, deep. I have always maintained the part of me that holds on to things I cannot keep. I recognize myself in what is beautiful, not necessarily because I am, though who knows, depends on the day–but because that is what seems good and right to me. I have been told and I have repeated that romantic nostalgia is my primary emotion. I have always been attached to feeling deeply, having big emotions, expressing them, and having them recognized.

So much of my identity as an artist up until recently was about this. So much anguish, but beautiful anguish. If you read enough of these blog archives, you will find certain recurring terms. Keening over moors, wailing like a banshee, feeling small and sorrowful, untamed.

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This is a choice I have always made about how to relate to the world: feeling like I don’t belong to it. Which, in a way, is a rebellion against the fact that its rules apply to me. This is the plot conceit in literature referred to as “man versus nature,” though in this case it’s more “girl versus the nature of reality.” It’s a good story. It’s compelling, with lots of juicy struggle.

But it’s also tiring. All of its resolutions depend on waiting for people and circumstances other than myself to change. Its rich, emotive drama is never-ending. And I…don’t want that anymore.

I think—I’m okay with not being so damn special. I’m okay with not having some kind of magical distance from the gritty, boring, real world, with not always being protected by my paintbrushes and poetry, my big emotions and ready tears, and my wave of a wall of long, long hair. I’m okay with everything I experience not being colored by some kind of profound, sweeping meaningfulness. I’m okay with just doing the hard work, dealing with mundane shit, and looking like a total ass because investing in anything and standing for it—people, projects, ideas—means giving everyone around you the opportunity to disagree with you and judge you. I’m okay with letting reality apply to me.

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Accepting that I am part of this reality seems like a necessary prerequisite for understanding it. And that’s the proposition, isn’t it? Accept the situation. Understand its roots. Realize that it is not permanent. Get free.

And in real terms, that means getting my shit in order and prioritizing. Is it more important to me to protect my vision of myself and the vision that others have of me or is it more important to let others see all of my weaknesses, biases, and failures, so that I can a) grow out of them, and b) get over the importance of myself and how I appear to others? Especially if maintaining this complex system of veils and appearances takes hours of my life that could otherwise be spent on…getting actual things done: anything—reading transcripts, having conversations, doing prostrations, ironing the Lama House couch covers, writing all this perplexing nonsense out for myself, so that I can make sense of it and also share it with you guys.

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And so. I cut my hair. And frankly, I’m thrilled. I still shed in the shower and I still sort of have to do my hair in the morning if I sleep on it too funny. But it’s sooo much easier. I feel it inside as much as outside. Yeah, I know. It’s just a step. I still probably spend the greater part of my time defending my sense of self and keeping up appearances, but at least I can (um…sometimes) admit that I’m doing it, and I have the inner conviction that comes from deciding I don’t want to keep digging myself into this same hole.

That conviction gives me a second of pause before I react when I feel threatened, or, when it’s too late for that, it gives me the perspective to realize when I’ve acted out of fear and self-preservation rather than looking at a situation as a whole. It also seems to slow down the falling-into-depression business because I’m committing to failure as part of the path instead of feeling like I have no power over it and am thus doomed. So that’s something.

Coincidence…or not? This week is Losar. The Lunar New Year. Six days of wrathful protector practice, two ritual fire offerings, the raising of new prayer flags on the hill, and the installation of a golden Kalachakra in front of the Institute, a symbol that represents the Buddha’s teaching across the three times, through the universe and through our own body. It is an auspicious time for change.

May our aspirations be granted—not by somebody else, but by ourselves, because we are committed to realizing them.

Ten Days Out

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It’s been a week and a half. I have been to Germany and back. I have said goodbye and I will keep saying it. I have felt so many things that I’m a little tired out on feeling. Mostly now what’s left are pictures and glimpses of memory.

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The sight of the funeral home and the thought of Shamar Rinpoche laughing at us, a motley mix in a mixed-up place. The temporary altar with two times a thangka of his image in traditional dress, and to its left a mural of Jesus and his disciples. We were in a Christian cemetery, the only place big enough and legal enough to keep his remains and all of us. A blend of Tibetan masters and Western disciples with few Western masters and Tibetan disciples. A bunch of French monastics in Germany, a crowd of Diamond Way practitioners at a Bodhi Path center and a handful of Americans from nowhere and everywhere.

After the evening ritual each day, we sat around laughing and crying, talking with people we’d heard of but never met or never heard of but were glad to meet. And one day some one said, “It’s just like him. To think, Dhagpo and the centers in France are going pretty well. The Bodhi Path is really developing nicely. Things are good with the Diamond Way centers. Now how do I get them to work together? Ah, I’ll die.”

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The resinous smell of formaldehyde and the feel of synthetic carpet against my skin as I prostrated before the casket. The wish to cry and the absence of tears. An internal ruefulness that says, “Fine. I’m here.” You dragged me out of my comfortable ambivalence. I was happily following the carrot of contentment in front of my nose before I met you. You got me involved in this whole mess of bodhisattva activity and being diligent for the benefit of beings, and just like that you’ve gone beyond. Not beyond where I can reach you. Not beyond where your teachings and protection can aid me and bolster me. But beyond where I can pester you with questions to make sense of things, beyond where I can take comfort in your physical presence.

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Karmapa coming from India. Arriving unexpected from the back gate. Me standing outside the funeral home on the hot stones, looking for my ballet flats amongst the sea of footwear on the shoe shelves and grumbling about dirty feet and disorganization. A ripple in the air that might have been his presence or might have been the crowd suddenly standing upright or both. He came striding down the cemetery path, robes flying out like wings or wind or downright disregard for the physics of reality that kept him from yet reaching his objective, the mortal remains of his teacher. He was as pale as ever, but with a darker expression. He looked like a king and a specter, powerful and present in this world but belonging to another. His grace undiminished, but on this day rife with sadness and resolve. Come to take up the legacy you leave behind.

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The sound of many voices in many moments, and the voice in my own head, repeating this sentence, “We have to grow up now.” Time to take care of each other. Time to care of the lineage. Time to take care of our teachers, our community, and the understanding that allows us to move forward instead of sliding back or simply staying in one place. Time to get over cultural differences and disparate histories. Time to move past needing recognition or affirmation. Time to grow up.

Not that it ever wasn’t. It’s just more obvious now.

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The images are part of a drawing series I started in November; each drawing represents a wish for the day. In English, the captions are as follows:

De vous garder avec moi. To keep you with me.

Que tout soit une offrande. That everything would be an offering.

De rendre hommage. To pay homage.

De reprendre le fil. To pick up the thread.

De mûrir vite. To ripen quickly.

To Go Onward

imageI’ve got my traveling shoes. I’ve got two bags Tetris-tucked full of all the objects for my life this next year, and perhaps, probably, more than that. I’ve got hugs goodbye, boarding passes, a passport con visa, a ride to the airport and a ride home (home! my home–in France!) from the train station. I’ve got a heart full of willingness, a mind full of questions, and a purse full of books to read on the plane. All this to carry me onward into what life comes. I am anxious. I am filled with anticipation. I am ready.

See you on the other side.

CA LYFE

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Today I went to my last yoga class at my favorite studio and took my last walk on the beach with my mom. Tomorrow I pack my bags and hug my friends goodbye. Thursday, I say peace to my family, the familiar, and this California LYFE, and then I fly.

See you on the other side.

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Soda Bread and Sadness like a Pond

This bread, though humble, is symbolically laden. It’s both an ode to the past and an offering to the present. It’s inspired by my memory of a bread I used to bake with my ex-boyfriend, yet distinctly divergent in that it’s laden with dairy, to which he is allergic.

The seventh is his birthday, which I am, for obvious reasons, not celebrating with him, as I was once sure I would. But that awareness brings his memory, and other parts of the past, close by. There was more to my sadness than leaving Ethan, spread out over more time than our break-up and made up of the myriad ways in which one can doubt and hurt oneself, but losing some one I never meant to lose sticks out as a low point in the whole affair. Today I am thinking about how we let go…of people, of certainties, of pain and self-defeat.

From Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh © 2011

The last five months of my life have been my own rendition of (the incredible) Allie’s Adventures in Depression. Instead of doing nothing and mocking myself for doing nothing, I make myself busy and then mock myself for producing nothing that seems worthwhile. It feels about the same, though, I’d wager. Our stories end a bit differently, too. For me, their was no homeless Eskimo aha! moment, no junk food and horror movie defiance. It was more like the surface of a pond’s transition from winter to spring.

Slowly, slowly, the ice thins. Until one day it cracks. And then it fragments. Time passes, and each fragment melts. Until, without a certainty from one moment to the next that it had happened, the barrier has gone. The pond is fluid once more.

I guess the fish are feeling sunshine again over here. I don’t know where sadness goes when it leaves, or heartache either. They never disappear completely, and I anticipate that they’ll come back at some future time, unexpected and unwanted. But at the moment, I’m just grateful that the places I hoped I’d never reach again don’t last forever, and that the edges of the past become less jagged in their own time.

Recipe and further food thoughts after the jump…

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