For the past nine months I’ve been committing what feels like a subversive act: I’ve stopped dyeing my hair. There are some reasons behind my decision. The first is that while working as a high-school teacher my brain got programmed into thinking in short time compartments. When I lost three hours on a Saturday morning in the salon chair–the requisite small talk adding to my already heavy professional talking burden–and three hours of my Sunday afternoon lesson planning for the week ahead, not to mention ferrying my own children to their weekend activities and catching up on washing, there didn't seem to be enough time left over for a proper recharge. Second, early last year I watched an interesting show on Netflix called Unorthodox about a woman who escapes her cloistered community to go live in Berlin. Before she does there is a scene where, after her wedding, she engages in a ritual where the hair on her head is shaved off and replaced by a wig. Not previously having known about this orthodox practice and the reasons behind it, I found the concept fascinating yet personally un-relatable due to not having grown up in this environment. After a while I started to think about the social norms I do adhere to. In the context of living in a very different community, I realised I was actually engaging in a societal hair ritual after all.
Shortly after I turned thirty, at a barbeque a friend’s husband amusedly pointed out the three grey strands lurking behind my left ear. I felt annoyed, considering his own hair was smattered with silver. Call it vanity, but I started getting my hair professionally dyed from that point on. Whereas my teens and twenties were a time of colour experimentation and self-expression, mostly from a cheap supermarket box, going forward dyeing my hair became a self-imposed, expensive necessity… until March 2020, which brings me to my last reason. Booking ahead for my end of school term ‘treat’, the coronavirus pandemic had just reached Australian shores and many sectors were shutting down. However, like other ‘essential workers’, teachers and hairdressers were mandated to attend face-to-face work as usual. With this new health threat causing great anxiety I decided to cut my hairdresser a break–whether she wanted one or not–and cancelled my upcoming appointment.
At the same time a strange phenomenon began to take place around the world in other countries that had closed down their entire beauty industry. Celebrities began taking photos of their untinted roots and posting them online. Who knew so many women naturally had streaks of grey hair at their temples?
Currently, my own mane holds about 30% grey. Before making the decision to quit dyeing I’d begun plucking these interlopers out as soon as they appeared on my scalp. Crooked stalks quickly reappeared just as white as before. I was tired of feeling paranoid about them. Madly googling ‘grey hair woman’ to help me justify my stance had me stumble upon Instagram’s #grombre. The women pictured looked lovely and… normal. They spurred me to keep going.
My workplace the last few years has been a public secondary school. Students have always noticed when I've changed my hairstyle and colour, and gave their honest–if subjective–opinion about it. Only last term a Year 8 student wanted to know if I was aware I had hair growing out of the back of my neck, and if I had considered shaving it (I have a low neckline and my hair is cut above my shoulders. It doesn’t all fit up in a ponytail, ok?). I’ve also been complimented on my ombre colour and ever-shortening lengths as well by others. Strangely, not once in the past nine months has anyone pointed out my grey hairs to me. Maybe that’s because the transition has been and indeed continues to be slower than watching grass grow. Maybe they're just being polite!
I’m persevering with my mission, and reckon I have another twelve months to go before the dye is fully gone. The thing is, for all the little pieces of tinsel on top of my head, a whole lot of my natural–darker than I remember–hair colour is revealing itself like a dear friend I haven’t seen in, well, over a decade.
I had forgotten how much I liked it.
I kept meaning to post a few blogs in 2020 but… I just didn’t want to use the C-word.
In teaching, I have heard another C-word spoken often as part of ordinary teen vernacular. It pings back and forth around school like a tennis ball over a net. By the end of the first class of each week I have usually stopped being jolted by the sound of it and started to think about the term objectively, and then nonsensically. How is it that four letters arranged in a certain way have such capacity to shock? They sum up frustration and anger so succinctly, that’s why. You can use it as a noun, a verb and an adjective, and also as a teachable moment. Once, when an adolescent lobbed it across the classroom at their BFF during one of my lessons, I immediately stopped to address it.
‘Do you know what that word means?’
He didn’t, which was absolutely fantastic.
I won't lie. These past two months have been amazing. A string of friends and family have made their way across the ditch or up from the south, visits that always make my heart sing, and me start acting like a tourist. As well, after a long list of writing rejections, some of those literary seeds I wrote about back in April have bloody well begun to take over the garden!
I stayed true to my promise to consistently keep writing and submitting - amongst all the teaching - despite an apparent lack of progress. I also thought it wouldn't hurt to share some personality in my queries instead of staying petrified about saying the wrong thing (after reading and re-reading the darn thing ten times to make sure it was error free and professional sounding enough). Turns out editors, agents and publishers are just like you and me, people going about getting their work done. Some of them don't actually seem to mind a little back and forth banter. When I applied the same perspective to my writing, that is, it's essentially a marketable product rather than a gold leaf sliver of my soul, the fear of rejection lost its sting. I'm even grateful for some of those rejections because on closer inspection it was clear the story in question needed more drafting, so I did.
My family and I took a quick day trip up to Noosa yesterday to catch up with some of our holidaying Kiwi friends. The place was packed but we had a great time checking out the beach, the surf club and the farmers’ market with them.
A cold virus descended mid-week, plaguing me with both a high temperature and a feeling of dread. There was no way in hell I was missing the Brisbane Writers Festival on Saturday! To make absolutely sure nothing was going to stand in my way, and to safe guard colleagues from the worst of my germs, of course, I tucked myself into bed for a day of complete rest on Thursday and again after my half-day at work on Friday. By Saturday morning, the danger of coughing up an actual lung had subsided and I armed myself with paracetamol, swathes of tissues and a large bottle of water. My friend, Louise, who is just as excited about books and hanging out in libraries also came along to listen to authors discuss the creative processes behind their words.
Back in April, I wrote about throwing literary seeds to the wind in the hope a few might germinate into something fruitful. This month I am excited to share that Quadrant Magazine, Australia’s ‘longest running literary journal’ (since 1956), has published my 3000 word story ‘Indicate, Mate’. While the magazine is available to over 6000 annual print subscribers, the website also receives around 1 million hits a year. I am absolutely thrilled to receive this opportunity to be so widely distributed. Quadrant also has an app and in the last week of each month readers can download single copies of current and past issues for about the same price as a cup of coffee.
This year I have set myself a challenge to write in whichever genre I am teaching at the time. If the class is studying the elements of narrative then I create short stories (my favourite). This term has been particularly challenging though because… well… it’s all about poetry. From experience this seems to be the hardest topic to sell, even more so than analytical expositions!
Because a tantalising hook is important, I begin this unit by sharing an anecdote about the time I signed up to a course at university titled ‘Romantic and Victorian Literature’. Arriving at the first lecture, I found to my dismay Frankenstein and Dracula were not going to be making an appearance. Instead, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ were the guests of honour. Talk about hanging an albatross around my neck! Meanwhile, William Wordsworth waxed lyrical about daffodils and ambling around Tintern Abbey.
We took a breather from the intensity of the First Lego League Asia Pacific Invitationals where our daughter was competing to take in some of the Sydney sights this week. Having travelled the eleven-hour trip south from our usual balmy Brisbane for the event, the bare branches and chilly air felt novel. The city arguably does have one of the most beautiful harbours in the world.