Hair

Hair

she was a stranger

who felt no compunction 

in reaching out to touch my hair

I must have been in my mid-twenties

at the time

my hair was freshly washed

shoulder length

‘it’s like baby hair,’ she said

I was a natural blond

even blonder 

after a month of summer sun

‘I would kill to have like yours’

she smiled 

‘thanks’ I replied

not adding

that I hate my hair

I hate it being so smooth

hate being asked

are you a boy or are you girl

being called fruit

by guys because of my hair

not that I was mr masculine

to begin with

 

shortly after that

I dyed my hair for the first time

I wanted a change

I bought a home kit

to make it permanent jet black

the look was striking

my mother said

‘what were you thinking’

I went to work

raised a few eye brows 

but no comments

the black faded after the first wash

so much for permanent

in a week it was ash

in three weeks

back to baby fine blond

 

my hair

was like my sexuality

something I couldn’t disguise

no matter what women

I flirted with

what I tried to call it

what I drank to blot it out

it would always be

I had to live with the envy

some felt about that hair

about something I was powerless over

something I hadn’t constructed

something I learned to live with

 

I remember my first perm

a head of tight blond curls

they bounced in the light

it was my face

but a different me

the stylist conferred with a colourist

both agreed

that my hair was too fine 

to hold colour for long

that it would be a shame

to tamper with it anyway

 

the permanent curls

would flatten within a week

I wasn’t willing 

to go to bed with hairpins in

to look like my mother

so I’d get that perm 

every month or so

I loved my hair for the first week

then a week of doing what I could

to keep the curl in

it was too much work

too much time checking in mirrors

 

I had a friend who was

what he referred to as 

a hair burner

he touched my freshly washed

uncurled hair one day

‘you have baby hair.

I have clients

who would kill to have hair like that.’

I said

‘I hate my hair.

it’s too much work.’

he said

‘do you trust me?’

 

I let him do what he wanted

it took a couple of hours

that first time

to cut it short short short

then incise it with electric razor

patterns into the hair

sometimes a maze

other times circle or triangles 

always different 

 

then he died

murdered by HIV meds

 

I shaved my head for his funeral

no one would ever touch my hair

again

This piece was directly inspired by reading posts, tweets, cultural analysis of race & hair. Black women, in particular, frequently have co-workers, friends of friends & complete strangers of all races, walk up to them to touch their hair, often without asking. It is seen as a lack of boundary respect.

This is something that happened to me more than once. Perhaps as a man it hasn’t had the same response from me. There is a cultural difference between a woman touching a strange man casually – than a man touching a woman’s hair casually. A woman’s touch isn’t threatening whereas a man’s is. Recently someone, without asking, stroked my fresh shaven head and said ‘smooth.’

Anyway this piece isn’t about sexual or racial politics but about my hair. This hair touching did happen often when I was a child, less often as a teen but until I actually started shaving my head it continued. The dialogue is actual, the hating of my hair is an exaggeration. I loved the colour but hated that it was baby fine. It was shiny but shapeless. I was hounded in high school by teachers to get my hair cut when it was getting to length I liked. Brian Jones-ish. 

I did dye my hair jet black & as the piece says, it washed out within a week, I never tried to dye it again. There was no altering it just ways of cutting it. As a big I usually had a brush cut, hight school was mod mop top; I never went for scraggly hippie long though. I was grappling with my sexuality & what masculinity meant. Though caring at all about my hair was then seen as being a more feminine attribute.

 

When I moved to Toronto one of the first things I started was getting my hair permed. I might photos of that somewhere. I would go to House of Lords to get that done. It was there the colourist said my hair would never hold colour. It would also not hold curls, unless I did extra work myself. 

The hair burner was a friend in recovery. Ed – he was also from my hometown, Sydney, Cape Breton; though we never knew each other when we were living there. I often wondered what might have happened had we met way back when. As the piece says he cut my hair super short then ‘etched’ patterns into it with an electric razor. I loved it. Our haircutting sessions were slow, mediative talks for many years, in which we became spiritually connected.

He was an early HIV diagnosis & thus one of the guinea pigs as science figured out dosages. The meds killed him, not HIV. ‘So sorry.’ Before he passed I did try another hair-burner friend in recovery but he didn’t have the patience for the cut that Ed gave me. For Ed’s funeral I shaved my head for the first time. I knew that in some religions mourners would wail, tear their clothes, even scar themselves in a display of grief. This was/is my display.

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Headlights

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks.

Who knew the simple life could be so complex.

Headlights

the elevator door opened

there was a woman

alone

 

after a startled stare

she stepped back

to let me enter

 

I didn’t get on

I let the door shut

so she could continue

her ride alone

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Lost on the Road to Clear Thinking

Lost on the Road to Clear Thinking

 

I couldn’t think clearly

for days

that seemed like weeks

weak with those thoughts

sorting resorting

each thought clouding things

even more

even more

each thought building on the last

another tangent

another possibility

murkier than the last

yet refusing to quiet

without the noise

it was as if life would end

 

lost was proof of direction

confusion was proof of intelligence 

the stupid are never lost in thought

the complicated are the bright spots

glimmering in the dense mist

of one idea one notion one misstep

after the other

clarity was for the simple minded

the intellectually challenged

 

it isn’t easy

to remain so invested in this

sorting and resorting 

but without it there would be

no one here

just a blank stare of serenity

Our culture spends an inordinate amount of time & money on finding serenity while at the same pushes the importances of consumerism. Getting more while enjoying simplicity is a modern dichotomy. If you are making money you are respected. If it isn’t making money it’s a hobby not a valid pursuit. But how can you afford yoga mats, stone serenity fountains unless you get to work. Of course the more your serenity fountain costs the more serene you will be.

Self-care is only for those who can’t afford professionals to do it with them. ‘The Learn to Relax’ workshop that costs $1200 is certainly better than one that costs pay-what-you-can. 

So you can see where some of the inspiration for this piece comes from – those mixed messages that often go heard but not really listened to, merely accepted without question. The morose are seen as challenges – men & women are often drawn to partners who need a little fixing up. Married to the right person will make a real person of you. You’re nobody until someone wants to change you.

Happy, well-adjusted people are seen as somehow lacking in emotional depth or are consider in denial. The depressive are seen as authentic – if you haven’t suffered enough you aren’t seen as interesting. If you haven’t experienced & survived childhood sexual abuse aren’t as compelling a writer, painter so what bother writing?

I am one of those, so far, lucky ones who have had a relatively blessed life. The only abuse I suffered was going up in an abusive culture. That ‘suffering’ has been mostly emotional & mental. Some name calling, bullying in school but that’s it. The worse physical abuse I went through was at the hands of alcohol in a culture that said booze was the best way to deal with anything. The alternatives: shock treatment, chemical castration – were considered viable treatment for sexually non-conforming teens at that time. I’m grateful that I avoided getting the help I might have needed then because that help would have killed me or left me with a blank stare serenity.

 

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Heritage

Heritage

I have no heritage

only entitlement 

that tries to tell me

that to weave a life of meaning

it is okay

to appropriate anything 

that catches my eye

especially 

if it means nothing to me

it can give meaning to me

 

I’ll redefine my self

no – not redefine

because as it stands now

I have no meaning

no self

outside of a cultural context

of entitlement

which tells me that even because 

I am a nobody

it is better being

anything else

 

the music I listen to

the clothes I wear

reflect a world around me

I am merely walking though

other cultures

are like zoo exhibits 

art installations

to amuse me

to divert me

from the fact that

 

I have no heritage

no backstory of ancestral struggles

other than the banal

patriarchal war for control

money oil sex religion

chains to hold people down 

not to free them 

 

scraps of pasts

remains of genocidal cultures

omnipresent days

arbitrarily clumped together 

for momentary comfort

 

who cares about heritage

as long we are comfortable

Back in the mid-80’s I became involved with Therapeutic Touch (I still practice it). One of the teachers was a native woman who lead me into an exploration of native culture – drum circles, sweat lodges that sort of thing. Weekend Warriors was the term used for guys like me. I saw it as exploration of a culture, not as appropriation. I was given a name, a spirit animal – which I now see as appropriation.

When I told my Dad about this he sent me a beautiful, hand-carved talking stick one year, then another year he gave me a pipe. I read tons of stuff, as I usually do, then sort of lost interest as it became clear that many involved were ‘buying’ heritage & judging it by the amount of turquoise jewelry you had, or who lead your vision quest. I eventually gifted my talking stick & pipe to a native AA member who was stunned & thrilled to get them. 

This is some of the context for this piece prompted by one of the Rules for Monks – using these Rules as prompts isn’t, to me, appropriation as I am in not way interpreting them but letting them resonate in my life. I am no monk 🙂 The piece also bounces around some current buzz words: entitlement, appropriation.

What heritage I have – Swedish, Welsh – is interesting but not ‘exotic.’ I am certainly proud of being both but there are no black rappers exploring Swedish street culture. I was also thinking of that news item a few years ago about the white woman who was passing herself off as black, until her white parents spoke out. Her defence was that she saw herself as black so she was black (or something like that).

I saw that as a need to create definition though stealing another culture while denying one’s own. An action that she felt entitled to do & her response to challenges wasn’t apology but to write a book about being misunderstood. Not that this appropriation isn’t a two-way street: Asians neck deep in European luxury goods, getting their eyes surgically rounded. But that is another blog post 🙂

 

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The Echo

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks. Who knew the simple life could be so complex. This another of the 92 pācittiyas.

The Echo

because I disagree

doesn’t mean you are wrong

 

seeing things differently

doesn’t mean I know better

our ideological differences

ultimately don’t mean anything

minority majority

there’s always a power disparity 

yet your control over me

is still limited 

I may not be in charge

but neither are you

as we are caught in this dance

of conformity

 

there are noisy 

spokespersons on all sides

who shout down each other

as to who is right wrong

when the loudest wins

its only the echo

of what could have been

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Mary Teresa

Mary Teresa

Mary Teresa said

I can’t play with you anymore

her mother came out

get out of our yard

you aren’t welcome here

her brother Gerald

pushed me to the gate

you heard my mother

get lost

 

Why

 

Gerald shoved me again

punched me in the face

stop that his mother shouted

but Gerald hit me again

I could taste blood

 

you trouble maker

his mother pulled him away

you people are always trouble makers

now get going

don’t come back

don’t speak to Mary Teresa again

you hear me

she said

 

Mary Teresa glared at me

from the top of the back steps

stuck her tongue out at me

 

I didn’t know what I had done

Mary Teresa was a year older than me

so I guess she was eleven

her bother maybe thirteen

they lived a block over from us

but neither went to my school

they had their own

Saint something or the other

where the Catholic kids went

I wasn’t Catholic

 

we had lived in the neighbourhood

for about a year now

I knew the different schools 

there was taunting and chasing

that I avoided

 

I didn’t understand how their God 

gave them the right to bully

told them who was good

who was bad

years later I still don’t

understand

Catholic Protestant whatever

caught in a match

of who’s piss is closest to the good book

 

I never did speak to Mary Teresa again

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Foreground Music

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks. Who knew the simple life could be so complex. This another of the 92 pācittiyas.

Foreground Music 

when the server asked me

a third time

what I wanted

I knew it was time to leave

 

I came to eat

not shout

I would have asked

for the music to be turned down

then thought

do I want to eat in a place

where the music is so loud

where the customers

are happy with the sonic blast

to distract them from their food

all of them hunched over meals

not looking at each other

 

did they order via smart phone

 

I decline to order & leave

I am clearly not 

their target demographic

not their desired patron

I’m used to this leaving

when music is too loud

when too many TVs are on

when the service is too slow

 

is this discernment

or impatience

is it unfair expectations

or is this entitlement

not that it matters to me

or to them

no one comes running after me

to ask what’s the matter

is there something we can do

to make your experience better

 

as I leave

they don’t even hear 

the door shut behind me

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Get Off The Pot

samprules2Get Off The Pot

there is a time & place

for everything

except this

because this a time for nothing

a time to do nothing

to save nothing

this isn’t that rainy day

this isn’t when

the cows come home

when the crows roost

so stop waiting

for those eggs to hatch

no matter what you have on your hands

this is not the time or place

to save stitches

to waste your breath

or make yet more excuses 

no more chances

there is no grace period 

its now or never

and either suits me fine

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The Boy and the Book

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks. Who knew the simple life could be so complex. This another of the 92 pācittiyas.

The Boy and the Book

the dad admonishes

‘do not eat the book’

to the little boy

old enough to talk

but clearly pre-school

gnawing on the picture book

 

I wonder

is the paper digestible

is the ink toxic

what about the plastic

on the shiny cover

is it picture book of animals

does the boy expect

to find out what

a lion tastes like

 

can what nourishes his mind

also feed his body

will this taste haunt him

as he searches for it

in books  cookies  flesh

that bring back that memory

 

or will he realize

books are for reading

not for eating

that filling his head

will leave his stomach empty

that no matter

how many books he reads

his mind will never be satisfied

that it’s time to close books

and start to feed the world

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Served

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks.

Who knew the simple life could be so complex.

Served

His texts

unpredictable

are always welcome

affectionate sexy and energetic

generous lingering and infrequent

 

otherwise he is average

looks – okay

dick – average

married and working

looking for the occasional dick

 

I usually say sure

though sometimes

the unpredictable falls

when I’ve already made a date

with someone more predictable

also affectionate sexy and energetic

a delicate delicious choice

 

having said yes to one

do I agree to another

each at a different time of the day

do I want to risk

the law of diminishing returns

or is that self-slut-shaming

 

one a day satisfies

the physical craving

the opportunity for two

satisfies the ego

but first come first served

is the best policy

which satisfies morality

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