before haircutIt was a strange morning, one that began with a standard-issue gray sky and birdcalls I couldn’t quite place: a flock of pine siskins moving through the yard, gleaning seeds from the dried goldenrod heads. I had stayed up much too late the night before, watching television images shrunk to a few hundred pixels wide on my computer screen, sitting alone in a dark house and watching the faces of strangers wild with joy or stricken with disbelief. Now I felt a little giddy myself. What had I been dreaming in the intervening few hours? All I could remember were clods of dirt being shaken loose from large rootballs, black fists turning into bouquets of extended fingers, enough tubers to keep us fed for a long cold season.

after haircutWas it my imagination, or had the oaks almost all turned brown overnight? Leaves cascaded from their crowns, filling the newly open understorey with motion. A kind of transhumance, I thought, relishing the cognate with humus, which they’d eventually become. Deciduous trees are such masters of renunciation, of yearly sacrifice. If only we could practice the same kind of doing-without! Imagine what that might do for household and national economies, to keep ourselves firmly within such limits. But could we tolerate the kind of suspended animation trees go into each winter? Can we make ourselves as still and stubborn, as smooth and inscrutable, as seemingly inert yet full of vitality as an acorn?

after thatYes, I think we can. Hell, some of us have been living in a state of suspended animation ever since 2000, when the news media bought into the idea that truth is completely relative, and which year was the last of the millennium could best be decided in the court of public opinion. It felt as if we had entered a fully postmodern, alternate reality in which spin and ignorance triumphed. In that election, a great, if flawed, founding document of the country I live in was grossly violated for the first of what turned out to be many times. Less than a year later, when national disaster struck, we were told that heroism and sacrifice were the special privilege of those in uniform. We were told that anyone who wasn’t with us was against us. We were told to go shopping.

...and after thatFor far too long, Americans have been getting the sorts of presidents we love to hate: narrow selfish preening ignorant bullies. Sons of privilege with smirks on their faces — the kind we seem to elect to almost every office, starting with Class President in Junior High, perhaps because we feel that doing so will make them like us and treat us as equals. But not this time. This time, we’ve elected the weird kid: by his own admission, an outsider as a teenager, one with a funny foreign name and background, the wrong color skin, and bookwormy ways. Like “A Boy Named Sue,” he had to get tough or die — but unlike the protagonist of that song, he learned, he said, that sometimes the toughest thing to do was walk away from a fight, to meet an insult not with the outraged honor of a fragile ego but with implacable calm. And the kids who worked the hardest to elect him? Their energy and lack of cynicism fill me with hope. And not coincidentally, I think, a new and more vigilant, grassroots news media has arisen online. Maybe now we can begin to face some of the hard truths that Americans from all parts of the political spectrum have always been loath to admit.

The sky cleared late in the morning, the temperature climbed past 60 degrees, and the air filled with insects: gnats, wasps, ladybugs, honeybees. I went for a walk, trying to get used to the sensation of air flowing over my scalp. That feeling of a literal weight having been lifted. That newfound sense of vulnerability. The uncanniness of change.
[Edited 11/6/08, after I got a little more sleep]

19 Replies to “Haircut”

  1. Brilliant post. Yes, “that newfound sense of vulnerability,” as though even in the dark years, the darkness seemed to protect us, and now it’s gone.

    Congratulations, by the way, on being in a swing state. I hope you felt the swing even out in Plummer’s Hollow.

  2. Fabulous post. I am so happy about yesterday’s result and I don’t even live there……though for sure your presidents have a global impact.

    And I like both hair-dos! And weirdness of weirdness, I am just in the middle of writing a poem about a radical hair cut. Nu nu nu nu.

  3. Wonderful quirky Dave-like response to this historic election. The haircut of haircuts, the meaningful haircut, the abstract expressionist philosophical existentialist haircut. I think you should send the hair you cut off to Bush.

  4. What a way to literalize the “weight off your shoulders”! And yeah, the King Of Misrule has fallen!

    Did you save the cut hair, or do anything special with it?

    How are your real-world conversationalists responding? I find whenever I let my hair & beard get too out of hand before a cut, the barber tells me “You look younger!”, or even “you look like a different person!”

  5. wonderful post, dave. love the positioning and sequence of the photos and the weight be lifted to reveal… the head! There to guide us.
    I’m so happy, too, about Obama. May the saints protect him.

  6. The photos are fun! I scrolled down a few times to watch your hair disappear, and then you. Hair grows, right? Now you’ll have time to let a new batch come in.

    I volunteered for Obama, the first political campaign I’ve ever worked for, at the ripe old age of 48. What has moved me the most about him is his insistence that we are the ones who have won, that this election is about us, not him.

    Great post.

  7. Thanks for all the comments! Just a few responses…

    Jarrett – You bet we felt it. We were inundated with junk mail and phone calls before election day – me from the Republicans, because I’m registered Independent, and my parents from the Obama people because they’re Democrats. And being Pennsylvanians we were a bit embarassed by all the attention.

    Jo – Cool! I’m looking forward to that poem.

    Natalie – There’s a thought.

    David – People are pretty cool about it. It’s nt the first time I’ve had short hair; I think my last haircut was in 2003. I had dreads in the 90s.

    I did keep the ponytail, thinking it might come in handy for some kind of art project sometime. Or I could simply staple it to the inside back of a ball cap any time I want to have long hair again.

    beth – Aagh! I hate that whiney tune.

    Keith – I checked out that site – thanks! – but they say they don’t accept gray hair, and mine’s well over half gray.

    Christine – Good for you! Yes, and I do hope that a permanent grassroots network or networks of activists grow from that.

    I’ll probably grow my hair out again if the wars don’t stop. I like short hair, but when everyone else is imitating the soldier look (a mighty cheap way of paying homage, it seems to me), I can’t go along.

  8. I got my hair cut this week, too. Not so short, but yes, it felt good to take off the dead ends. One less dead end in the White House, soon enough now.

  9. wonderful post. wish I hadn’t waited a week to find it; there have been so many sullen people moping around my neighborhood, it’s good to find some reassurance. and look, already we’re talking about finally taking apart Guantanamo and not punching my Colorado Plateau full of new oil wells.

    here’s to haircuts and transition!

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