Hair today, gone tomorrow

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I’ve lost the ponytail.

This should come as a surprise to no one. I’ve been losing hair for years, if not decades. But to have a whole fistful of it disappear onto the floor at once? That’s drastic.

Friends and former co-workers who haven’t seen me for a couple of years may be surprised that I ever had one. It was a late-life (as opposed to mid-life) fling, an “I’m-going-to-retire-now-and-let-my-hair-down” decision. For all of my working life, I was a clean-cut kind of guy. Only when I saw a change coming did I go into Beach Boys mode.

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Dutch Boy paint has been around for a long time, but his hair stayed baby blond. (Dutch Boy paint website.)

It wasn’t always like that. I wore it shoulder-length, Dutch Boy style, complete with natural yellow waves and curls, for years — about three years, to be exact. Then my father tired of hearing about his cute little girl. My mother took me down to Louis Barber Shop in Hackensack, N.J.  (Louis is gone now but his shop lives on!)

I went in looking like a miss and came out looking like a Marine.

My style went a little shaggy in college, too. I’d usually go for a term — about three months — without a haircut. The one barber in our small college town had scalped me badly in my freshman year and I never set foot in his shop again.

Bright yellow turned dirty-blond in elementary school, brown in high school, dark chestnut in adulthood and pewter as seniority crept in. (The first gray hairs came along when our daughter was born, although I’m sure it was a coincidence.) When a routine haircut revealed more scalp than style, I decided it was time to Do Something.

But what?

When in doubt, grow it out

My serious widow’s peak had been creeping higher on my scalp for years, even as the hair in back was pushing downward. It was as if my entire scalp was trying to retreat down my collar. I gave up trying to forestall the inevitable. Eventually I surrendered and let it grow out, figuring that anyone who stared at the sides and back of my head wasn’t looking at the front and top.

Apparently I was wrong.

When my wife and I walked into a trendy, upscale styling salon for women and men in Burlington, Vermont, a cluster of artists — that’s the term they use there — behind the receptionist suppressed smiles. They shared knowing glances as I tugged the tie out of the ‘tail. Soon one emerged from the back room and escorted me to her station. She listened carefully as I explained what I was trying to do.

She lathered my head with an Australian brand “wash” and conditioned it with the same “rinse” — that’s Aussie for shampoo and conditioner, respectively — and took me back to her chair. Then, after a few tentative snips, she paused.

An artistic dilemma

“I have another idea,” she said, and explained that when people see the hair pulled back over thinning hair and falling down to the shoulders, they know exactly what is going on. “Let me work with what you’ve got,” she said.

“You’re the artist,” I answered. Closing my eyes, I let her go to work on the canvas, or glob of clay, or hunk of granite that is my head.

A half-hour later, we were done, and I looked more like a businessman than a beach bum. “And if you don’t like it, or if you want something warmer on the back of your neck for winter, you could always grow it out again.”

Probably not, though. If I want something warmer for winter, I’ll take my Beach Boys moment in Florida.

The last hurrah of the ponytail.

Catching the breeze

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Writer-sailors get their pre-sail orientation. Instructor Kelly Hedglin Bowen is on the left. That’s me on the right.

I stopped in mid-sentence. “My writing is terrible,” I said, shaking my head and squinting at the page.

Sitting next to me in the Sonar, Alex nudged my leg and urged me to go on. You’re not supposed to say such things in a Gateless writing session. It was all about overcoming your inner editor, bringing yourself to put words to paper and share them, regardless of your self-censor and of what you think (or fear) others might say.

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That’s Alex, sitting aft, and me, forward, from the viewpoint of skipper Kelly Hedglin Bowen, who took the photo.

One of the things I learned in this session is that others might read a lot more meaning into your words than you intended. My inner editor realized only later that the problem here was a matter of poor word choice.

In this case, though, the words were true: My writing was terrible. My handwriting, my scrawl. I couldn’t read my own words, and this was a problem because the setting in a lively boat on a busy waterfront had inspired me to use different vocabulary and rhythms than I usually do. It was literally like reading a stranger’s words and penmanship.

But I pressed on despite that stranger and finished the piece. It wasn’t so bad after all. My fellow travelers said they liked it, anyway.

And so we continued, in turn, as we sailed across the lake and out toward Rock Dunder, thinking about origin stories and writing prompts and sharing.

Kelly Hedglin Bowen, a rare and probably unique combination of certified Gateless method trainer and sailing instructor, piloted the boat through the waters and its crew through their writing exercises, handling both with care and ease.

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And they’re off on a sailing-writing adventure! Photos by Barbara Hampton

She offers several Wind∼Word writing/sailing sessions each summer through the Community Sailing Center in Burlington, Vermont. More information, including dates, is available on its website.

For me, it was a perfect end of a summer that had seen no time on the water and little pushing a pencil. I hope that next season I’ll be under the canvas more often, but I think I’ll enjoy the moment more if I leave the paper-pushing ashore.

I was right. My writing penmanship is terrible. I’ll stick to the keyboards I’ve been using for some 40 years now.