If I’ve learned anything about going to a hair salon, it’s this: a hair stylist will look at the hair you have when you first arrive at the salon and base the first impression of how your hair looks at that moment in order to make an almost instantaneous decision of how they are going to cut and style your hair.
I’ve tested this theory many times and it holds true more often than not. I walk into a salon with my hair parted on the left and I walk out an hour later with my hair parted on the left; I walk in with my hair slicked back and, that’s right, it’s slicked back when I leave; and if it’s a tossed and tousled look that walks in, lo and behold I’ll be coming home with a gelled, hairsprayed, mussed up coif.
Cutting my hair is a challenge, even for the most skilled and experienced stylist. The major complication of cutting my hair is the fact that I have no less than six of the most unmanageable cowlicks (a world record perhaps!) and that my hair grows in two different directions on the two opposite sides of my head. Basically what we’re talking about is every hairstylist’s nightmare—cut it too short and the cowlicks stand up like Alfalfa from the Our Gang comedies, leave it too long and it becomes an unruly, chaotic pelt of bushy, wavy filamentous biomaterial that even Dippity-do couldn’t tame.
So when I walked into Headz For Hair in The Hague, a fairly nondescript hair salon that reminded me of a slightly more grown up version of the barber shops of my youth, I was greeted by a waifish blond wearing a metal-spiked leather jacket over a well-worn Roxy Music t-shirt with the double-headed Polish eagle crest on it, who asked if she could help me. I told her I wanted a haircut and asked what they charged and if they could take me without an appointment. Pascalle, as she was called, checked the appointment book and told me a men’s cut would cost 34 euros and that they could take me now if I wanted, which I did.
Pascalle took my jacket, offered me a drink (which I politely refused) and directed me to sit in a chair beneath a wash basin where she washed my hair with a chocolatey smelling shampoo, rinsed and dried it and escorted me to the middle of three barber chairs in the salon. When I asked who’d be cutting my hair, she smiled and said, “I will be!” as she proceeded to cover me with a black cutting cape and rubber neck collar.
Then the dreaded question arose: “So, how would you like it cut?”
This has been the 64,000 dollar question for nearly all of my adult life. And the answer? “How about like George Clooney. Or Johnny Depp.” Or, “here, I’ve got this photo I cut out of GQ and I want you to make me look like him.”
But I’ve never been able to get the haircut of my dreams, and I’ve come to realize it’s not because of my hair, it’s because of who’s wearing my hair. Me. It’s about something much more complex than unruly cowlicks or the direction in which ones hair grows. It’s more than mere indecision or trying to be trendy or even trying to preserve youth. The dilemma is quite simple once it can be carefully interpreted. A haircut is based on the individual, but what if the individual—let’s just say for argument’s sake—has more than one personality? Now I don’t mean the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of personality, I mean, take me for example: Three days a week I’m a stay at home father, caring for two toddlers, and sometimes, when my teenage children are around, my parenting duties double, so it’s quite common for me to be unshaven, uncombed and wearing my favorite sweatpants and red Crocs. Two days a week I teach professional English at a school for hotel and restaurant management where I am expected to show up for work kempt and professionally dressed. Finally, my artistic inclinations are equally as contrasting—writer, stand-up comedian, singer-songwriter—each alter ego possessing a unique persona requiring that certain look, that distinctive flair, dress sense and hairstyle.
So I looked at Pascalle in her black leather jacket and Roxy Music t-shirt, with her straight, long blond hair, pouty mouth and full lips, and I gazed around momentarily looking for some source of inspiration. “You know what,” I said. “I’m going to be fifty in just over a year’s time, and while I’d like to walk out of here looking as though I was twenty years younger and on my way to a solo performance at the Royal Albert Hall, the truth is that I just want to look like me, whoever it is you see in me and however your hands, scissors and creative notions wish to make me.”
With that, Pascalle reached for her electric clippers and inserted a number one guard over the blades and proceeded to completely shave the sides and back of my head nearly to the scalp, leaving little more than a shock of wavy brown hair set atop my skull that she ever so slightly puffed up and set with a palm full of molding wax.
I have to admit being a bit shocked at first, not thinking Pascalle would have the nerve to carve out such a radical design on my noggin, but I immediately understood the metamorphosis that had just taken place—my hair and I had finally become one, reunited after years of trying to figure out what each one had in mind, how one could cohabit with the other, share a peaceful, meaningful and fulfilling relationship while maintaining a semblance of unconventional originality and extraordinary sophistication (ehem, ehem).
I’ve been wearing my “Pascalle,” as I’ve named it, for just over a week now and I’ve had enough time to become familiar with its needs and peculiarities. I admit to spending more time in front of the mirror with this haircut than I have with any other in perhaps twenty years or more, but there’s something different I’ve observed in the mirror, a part of me I’ve long neglected and taken for granted, seen but not really appreciated for all its worth, and it’s much more than a haircut. It’s the lust for life that I’ve all but lost recently, lost because I’ve been out of touch with myself for so long, lost because I seem to have forgotten what it was in life that I aspired most to be. Or perhaps I haven’t forgotten at all and maybe that’s what lies at the root of my predicament—that I’ve never really aspired to be anything more than what I am today or who my hair declares me to be.
On February 22, 2011, inspired by a project started by Canadian writer and entrepreneur Samantha Reynolds in January of the same year, I began writing a single poem every single day of the week for just shy of a year. My Poem A Day Project was a challenging, fulfilling and enlightening endeavor that, during its 345 days, allowed me to explore in great depths the art of writing poetry as well as exploring the greater depths of my own existence, soul and sensibilities. When I began the poems I had no preconceptions about their subject matter or for how long I thought I’d be able to keep up my chops and write poems every day that I felt were worthy of asking others to read. After all, I’m a writer who likes to share, to contribute my thoughts and emotions to the collective human anthology of our common experience, to make my voice one that speaks for those voices who, for one reason or another, can not, or wish not to partake in the discourse that every living soul that has ever lived fostered through the mere occurrence of simply being.
To say that writing a poem a day was an easy task would be a lie. There were days when I felt uninspired and restless, others where I had purpose and clarity, and others still where my thoughts flowed as freely and effortlessly as a waterfall. But I also owe a great debt of gratitude to the dozen or so loyal readers who followed my poetic odyssey religiously day in and day out, and whose comments and support were the catalysts behind my will, passion and unwavering determination to create a work of literary substance that was equally as satisfying in producing as it was in sharing. And I can say in retrospect that it fulfilled both of those, for myself and, if I can be so brazen, those kind, patient and encouraging souls who so graciously and generously allowed me the privilege of sharing my work and a part of me with them.
On February 1, 2012, after nearly one year of writing a poem a day, I decided that I could no longer write with the same purpose and emotion that had taken me thus far on my journey. I also felt as though I was asking too much of my readers at times to endure the increasingly dark and personal nature of my writing. It was on that day that I discontinued the project. At least that’s what I thought and what I led others to believe.
But truth be told I wasn’t finished. I had, I thought, more to say, more to experience, and more to set free. So on the very next day, February 2, 2012, I continued my poem a day project, but archiving the poems in a secluded place on this very website, filed under an uncategorized folder with name of “Negative Capability” which was even further concealed by a large portrait of the English romantic poet John Keats (1795 – 1821), who used the term negative capability to discuss the state in which people are “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason [being] content with half knowledge” where one trusts in the heart’s perceptions.
It was those very uncertainties and doubts which inspired me to continue writing until I found within myself the means to stop and to look at my work as a poet as something that I would like to put behind me, to say that my life as a poet could simply no longer sustain the deeper desires I held within the pit of my bosom to become a writer of greater breadth, substance and achievement. The final poem in this collection was written on April 23, 2012.
In a way, I am hoping that these will be the last poems I ever write, and that whatever paths my literary wanderings take me along will be replete with words and wonders and all the delights and dauntless valor that real writers are made of.
It is in Keats’ honor that I name this collection of poetry and to who I dedicate this work. And it is to my children to whom I leave these verses bearing witness to the love, fear, passion, curiosity and hope with which I have tried to live every day of my life.
Onwards and upwards!