A week ago, my sister and I went to have our hair done, while my mom, dad, and spouse took my nephew to the Grinch on Ice show. That show didn't turn out to be an Ice Capades event, but this amazing feat wherein part of a luxury hotel and grounds were turned into frozen wonders: an ice slide, ice sculptures of huge proportion, a castle one could walk through to see these sculptures and slides.
I think of past times, times of enormous spectacle while parts of the empire burned or starved or fell into the pit of despair. Surely when historians look back on our time, they'll point to these kind of extravaganzas, where expert ice carvers from China are flown in to transform luxury hotels into ice palaces that holiday revelers will pay huge bucks to enter for a brief moment. Will we see it as ruinous portent or as the miracle of globalization?
Lots of potential metaphors here--feel free to use them. Or maybe Coleridge has already done it best in Kubla Khan: "It was a miracle of rare device, / A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!" (lines 31-36).
So, while part of the family went off to the pleasure dome of ice, my sister and I had our hair done. I sat in the chair to tell the hairdresser what I wanted (shorter, shoulder length, lots of layers) and she told me why I didn't want that. Fair enough. She's the expert. She said, "And what are you doing with your bangs here?" I've almost always had bangs, the better to cover my forehead. She said I had a wonderful forehead, that women with foreheads that are small should have bangs, but that I had a different face, that my bangs needed to be swept to the side, that I needed to let them grow longer.
She swept my hair to the side and said, "See? See how your eyes are no longer hidden?" She put my bangs back the way I had them and asked, "See how your eyes just disappear?" My sister nodded in agreement. So, I nodded too.
I'm open to change. So, I'll grow my bangs out a bit and see. One thing I won't be doing is blow drying my hair into perfect straightness, the way that she was able to do. I don't have the upper body strength for that. It took a good half hour with a blow dryer and brush to get my hair just the way that she wanted it.
I have some friends who wonder why I would let a hairdresser be bossy that way, why I would submit to what she wanted, rather than insist on what I, the customer wanted.
Well, I've always loved those makeover features in magazines. I've always wondered if there's not a lipstick out there that might be more perfect, if there's not a hair-do that would completely transform me. I know that part of the appeal is that a hair-do or a lipstick is an easy solution. Losing 30 pounds would also transform me, but it can't be done in an afternoon. There are any number of plastic surgeries that would make me look different, but that's a bit extreme.
Besides, the hairdresser is a gorgeous woman--why argue with her wisdom?
In the week since our various outings, I've been thinking about other aspects of my life, when I'm willing to submit to the opinions of others, and when I'm not. I've managed to avoid the cultural conditioning that so many women submit to, that conditioning that has women ironing clothes the night before surgery, the conditioning that makes us think we have to do the vacuuming/dishes/laundry/dusting/mopping/scrubbing before we let ourselves do creative tasks (and thus, the creative work is never begun, yet alone finished).
Would I be a better poet if I submitted my poems to outside critics and tried to do what they said? Maybe.
The title of my first chapbook was originally "Pies in Heaven." The publisher thought it would sell better if we changed it to "Whistling Past the Graveyard." I authorized the change. After all, she's the publisher, and she has more of a sense of the market. Should I have insisted on the integrity of my original vision?
I wanted my work out in the world, reaching as many readers as possible. I thought the new title actually worked better for the collection as a whole. I haven't lost much sleep over the title change.
Likewise at work: I'll change that document in whichever way the higher powers want. I grow weary of the folks in charge not deciding on a uniform vision before the work is started, but at least we have a computer to make the changes easy.
My dad would speculate that perhaps the computer has made change a little too easy, and thus we revise again and again. He made that comment years ago, as I revised the conclusion of my dissertation for the umpteenth time. He said that back in his day, when most people paid a typist to do the work that our own fingers now do, committees didn't require as many revisions, because it would have been seen as a lot more expense. But now, because it's relatively easy (cut! paste! zip! zap!), we're stuck in revision hell.
I think of writer's groups that I've been part of, of perfectly fine short stories or poems, revised again and again, and often, the revised version was no more wonderful than the original version.
Yes, sometimes revision is necessary to correct a ghastly mistake, to fill a hole, to fix the inconsistencies. But after a certain point, we're just doing busy work because we're afraid to declare it done.
So, is my quest for the perfect hair-do that kind of busy work? Should I just declare myself done? Or is it more like the revision work that one does with the early chunk of a novel, once the later chunks are done and the characters/plots/symbols revealed?
Ah, the work of creating our best selves, our best work, work that is solid, not just a pleasure cave of ice that will melt away without a lot of fossil fuels to keep it intact.
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