hair

weekly reflection, updates & good stuff 6.15.2021

“I’m as free as my hair.” Lady Gaga

Friends,

Yesterday, I had my first haircut since March 12, 2020, a few days before the State of Washington went into lockdown. By yesterday, the longest bits brushed the top of my shoulders, and I’ve (a bit dramatically) thought of it as a visible reminder that life is different. It’s not the first time I let my locks go — the first time during my sophomore year of college was accidental (I just kind of forgot to get a haircut), but that was a point when many things in my life were changing. I was sharing my sexual orientation with friends and family. I was shifting priorities in what I studied, what I planned to do in life. I’d cut it and grown it out again by the time I graduated and made the transition to Divinity school.

A tragic encounter with a stylist, intended to be a trim, returned me to the land of the clean-cut, but when I realized that everyone in Boston assumed I was either a Kennedy or a Republican because of my white skin, brown hair, and blue eyes (and big teeth…that’s really the clincher for the Kennedy guesses), I knew I needed to gay it up with the one thing I had control of — the shape of my hair — so I fell into a cycle of letting it grow for a while and chopping and donating it. I realized recently, flipping through a stack of family photos, that, for a long stretch of time, my hair never looked the same twice.

That stack of photos — hair tight, hair long, hair medium, some bangs, no bangs, down, pony-tailed, behind the ears Dawson’s Creek style — also reminded me of the tumult of my 20s. Figuring out a career path, figuring out how to take care of myself, figuring out how to take care of other people, reminding myself to take care of myself, and finding myself around heavy drinkers and drinking far too frequently along the way. There was a lot of joy along the way, but also a steady stream of mistakes that I’ve been repairing or amending ever since.

I blamed my commitment to short hair in my 30s on the rapidly greying portion of my head (“No 12 year old cancer patient wants a salt-and-pepper wig,” I’d tell myself…and others), but photos from the era show me that I conformed to the dominance of conservative style in DC. My work’s expectation that men wear ties daily (I know, right?) trickled down into a wardrobe with far too much beige and navy, but thankfully I found socially-acceptable expression in bright and varied socks. I navigated a maelstrom (I told you, dramatic) of grief and burnout with increasingly shorter hair, resulting in a high skin-fade, revealing more of my scalp than I had since I played Oliver Warbucks in eighth grade.

And then 2020 cut me off from my barber (and the rest of the world), and my hair got longer as I got closer to figuring out what the hell I wanted to do when I grew up. The brown and blond hair that I remember from my early 20s has been replaced by long bands of silver and dark brown, the same shades of my mother’s hair. When I brush it out or blow it dry, I see a striking and startling resemblance to my late sister’s long, silver hair. I’m now the age of my dad when I was born, seeing my mother and my sister in my hair.

I don’t yet know the changes in me from the last year — can any of us know so quickly? I’m still working through the things I need to learn, the things I need to unlearn, the mistakes I know I made, and the ones I don’t, whether my responses were right, just, and noble or weak, unjust, and disgustingly neutral. I thought about going back to the high fade and briefly even imagined pulling a full Britney and shaving it all off, but I wasn’t ready to let it go. Instead, I’m trying something new — an undercut that lets me make a higher, more comfortable man-bun (yes, I’m man-bun guy now) and reveals the back of my head, the top of my spine. I’m hoping it’s a stylistic change that’s accompanied by others in me, changes in my relationships, in my self-understanding, in my voice, some nascent, some overdue, and some works-in-progress. Luckily, the hair just keeps growing, and that’s an optimistic metaphor if I’ve ever heard one.

UPCOMING

UPDATES

In observance of Pride this year, throughout the month of June I’m posting almost daily reflections on the people, experiences, and events that shaped my story. Interested? Here’s the journey so far:

Guided meditations via Zoom continue on Mondays at 4:00pm PST and on Thursdays at 9:00am PST! These morning (on the West Coast)/mid-day (on the East Coast)/evening (wherever else you might be) sessions will be just like the Monday session — our aim is to practice being present and finding a little peace and quiet. If you or someone you know could use a 20–30 minute dose of peace and quiet on Mondays or Thursdays, visit the meditation page on my site to sign up!

Next week, I’m participating in the NWAIS Leadership Institute. If you’re in an independent school in the Pacific Northwest, check out this year’s program which will provide space for educators to breathe and reflect after the last two academic years and to envision the year ahead. I’m offering sessions titled “Moments of Serenity, and Other Myths” and “If you want to change the system, change your system,” and other sessions with Whitney Benns on negotiation and Lori Cohen on leadership after 2020 prove to be meaningful. Check out the page or reach out to me directly with any questions!

Looking for meaningful conversation without having to prove, disprove, or accomplish anything? Join a Symposium! Symposia bring people together to explore a topic from different angles. Check out my website for more information and to sign up. Symposia are limited to 10 participants and need 4 to run. Upcoming Symposia:

  • Good Stuff: talking about listening, seeing, feeling, and other ings. Good Stuff VI (Wednesdays: July 14, 21, 28 & August 4); Good Stuff VII (Wednesdays, August 11, 18, 25 & September 1; Good Stuff VIII (Wednesdays: August 8, 15, 22 & 29)
  • Rituals, ceremonies, traditions: starting points for understanding, engaging, and constructing ritual life (Thursdays: July 15, July 22, July 29, August 5)
  • Madonna: a case study in religion & pop culture (Thursdays: August 12, 19, 26 & September 2)
  • Miss Jean Brodie is past her prime: teachers in film (Thursdays: September 9, 16, 23 & 30)

GOOD STUFF

Listen
In the old days, you know, before the 1970s, part of the marketing strategy for Broadway musicals was the release of one or two of the tunes covered by contemporary pop stars (this practice survives in singles featured on film soundtracks). Many of the “standards” of the American songbook arrived this way. The popularity of the cover would spur interest in the play it sprang from, linking the cool factor of the pop star to the Broadway show. With the late 60s, though, public taste shifted toward realism, and the conceit and magical realism of the Broadway show was pushed to the corny column and pop stars kept their distance. One of the last great (#IMHO) Broadway songs to be covered is “Easy to Be Hard” from Hair. In the show, it’s positioned as a ballad of unrequited love, but, like most of the songs from Hair, it easily stands on its own, neither enmeshed in nor dependent on the plot. In a proto-postmodern kind of way, the lyrics confront the intersection of the personal and the political and the hypocrisy apparent when publicly good people are privately cruel.

How can people have no feeling?
How can they ignore their friends?
Easy to be proud
Easy to say no
Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needed friend?
I need a friend

The words must’ve hit hard in the late 60s, among an audience navigating social strife, political upheavals, and an unending war. Three Dog Night’s cover of the song evokes the era ethereally. But it strikes me very differently today, after 2020 when activism rose alongside virtue signaling). Instead of being a relic of a long-ago time, it suddenly reveals its sustaining relevance and speaks directly to us today as a much-needed reminder of the importance of our relationships with each other alongside that of our principles. Since TDN, there have been many and divergent versions — from Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Shirley Bassey, and Cher to Patti LuPone and (very unfortunately) Jennifer Hudson (it’s just awful, sorry JH). There’s a version for just about every mood, but besides TDN, my favorite is by Caissie Levy from the 2009 revival of Hair. I was lucky to see that production, and other than Gavin Creel’s performance of, well, the whole show (seriously…he’s so good), this was the best performance in the show.

If you stream music on Spotify, I’ve started a playlist called “Bill’s Good Stuff,” including music I’ve loved for a long time as well as things I’ve come across more recently. Feel free to add the playlist to your favorites! Bill’s Good Stuff Spotify Playlist

Read
For this week’s meditation, I used “Earth Teach Me to Remember” by Chief Yellow Lark.

Earth teach me stillness, as the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me suffering, as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility, as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring, as the mother who secures her young.
Earth teach me courage, as the tree which stands all alone.
Earth teach me limitation, as the ant which crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom, as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me resignation, as the leaves which die in the fall.
Earth teach me regeneration, as the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself, as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness, as dry fields weep with rain.

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