Pluck! Pluck! (aka: Swimming Against the Current)

While shopping at the mall, I came across a gorgeous bracelet, strung with polished stones in varying hues of grays, blue-grays, and green-grays.

“That is so you,” my daughter said. “You have to buy it.”

Ten minutes later, the bracelet was paid for and dangling from my wrist. It really was a perfect piece of jewelry for me, because more than half of my wardrobe is gray. Gray sweaters. Gray dresses. Gray flats and tights and t-shirts. I even own a gray overcoat and a gray faux-leather jacket. Such a smooth, sophisticated color. Neutral enough to be a blank palette, but far cooler than beige, and softer than black. Ambiguous. A mystery.

My love of all things gray doesn’t end there. I find comfort in gray, cloudy skies. Our living room furniture is mostly gray. My car is gray. In fact, I even identify as a heteromantic graysexual, or gray-asexual.

Which is what makes this little problem so ironic.

Sometime during the past several years, a tiny sprig of gray appeared among my off-black locks of hair. When I first discovered it, my heart sank. Oh my god. Here it is. The first official sign that summer has come to an end.

But then, I plucked it out, and all was right with the world again.

A year later, the sprig had multiplied. I had two — count them — two strands of gray hair. Pluck and pluck.

Now, at the age of 43, I have counted as many as six tiny sprigs of gray among my curls. Possibly more, hidden in the back. This has officially become an invasion. A takeover. I can still pluck the little suckers, but they come back with friends. And they’re so unruly! Not at all as well-behaved as my other soft, springy curls. The little gray punks like to poke out from my head in unpredictable directions, making their appearance super obvious.

It’s silly and vain of me to care so much, I know.

I’m middle-aged. The appearance of crepey skin and gray hair is perfectly normal. Although I’ve often been told that I look quite young for my age, I couldn’t expect that to last forever. The other silly thing is that gray hair on other people doesn’t bother me in the least. Never do I look at another person’s salt and pepper tresses and feel the temptation to start plucking. So why does the appearance of gray in my own hair freak me out so much?

Maybe because it is a reminder of my own mortality. Youth is not eternal. Life does not last forever. Like a tree, we blossom, then bear fruit, and then the leaves, like our hair, begins to change color. And we all know what that means.

Winter is coming.

Unlike a tree, we don’t lose our leaves and vibrancy only to have them return again, green and new, in the spring. For us, once the lively browns and blacks and reds and yellows that graced our heads throughout our lifetimes have faded, that’s it. They’re gone. Nature’s not going to give us brand-new hair.

Something about knowing that something good is only going to be in my life for a limited time makes me want to savor it. Capture it. Hold onto it for as long as possible. Change is inevitable, of course. Nothing lasts forever (except maybe the diamonds in my old wedding ring, which still sits around, useless, in a box somewhere). But if that means I have to always go with the flow, to accept it as it comes, to age gracefully, then I have one thing to say.

Screw that.

I think that Dylan Thomas said it best:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I will not accept that beauty is chained to youthful age. I refuse to lie back and float along with the current that will eventually dump us each into the sea. I will not go gentle into that good night. Instead, I plan to keep struggling, keep swimming hard against the current until my body is too old and too sick and too tired to take another stroke.

Last week, my cousin died of breast cancer. She and I were around the same age. Both single moms, though her children are mostly younger than mine. Since our teen years, she was the cousin I went to get my “hair did.” Thanks to her skill and deft fingers, I went through hair phases of long, braided extensions and sleek, straight, flat-ironed styles. When I wanted to try a new color, I sat in her salon chair, and we gabbed about family members, raising children, and TV shows as she worked her magic, transforming my ordinary black hair into a honey-streaked marvel. She snipped and shampooed and braided and styled so many women, and made so many of us feel beautiful.

Cancer robbed my cousin of her own hair, her beauty, her youth, her life. Far too soon. If not for cancer, I’m sure that she would have continued to help women in our struggle to look and feel our loveliest, no matter our age. Gray hair? Why settle for bland, unruly gray hair? Why not dye it auburn, raven, or gold? Why not curl it or straighten it or try something new? Why not try new makeups that decrease our wrinkles or bring out the shade of our eyes, or wear clothes that make us feel sexy, or cute, or strong, or alive? Why should we settle for frumpy, dumpy, and bland, just because we’ve arrived in middle age?

I love the color gray. But I do not love the gray hairs reminding me of the end we must each face. So I reject the idea that fighting them is vain or silly. Instead, I choose to make myself look as young and alive on the outside as I feel on the inside. If my cousin were still here, I would ask her to highlight my hair to hide the gray intruders. Hair dye — such a fun and simple way of raging against the dying of the light. I wonder how I’d look as a blonde?

17 responses to “Pluck! Pluck! (aka: Swimming Against the Current)

  1. What a beautiful post. I’m so sorry to read of your cousin’s passing; she sounds very special.

    And hell yeah, if God wanted us to be gray, she wouldn’t have invented hair dye!

  2. This is a truly lovely post. As a woman I change my mind daily about my grays, which is of course my prerogative! Sometimes I am proud and celebrate them as a sign of getting older and surviving and sometimes I enjoy hiding them and feeling new and fresh. Hairdressers and cousins and true jewels in this world, much love

  3. I’m so sorry to hear about your cousin. I’m sort of fascinated with the world of hair colors and styles, cosmetics, and such, and don’t see it as vain or silly; there is a kind of magic in it. I had a stressful stretch in my 30’s which probably contributed to early onslaught of grey hair. Definitely a losing battle, especially since most hair color is either full of harsh chemicals or not very effective on a head full of white hair. You can probably go blond if you go with an ombré effect–can’t believe I know what that is–but the best I get is a brassy yellow, or maybe salt-and-pepper. I wish I had the guts to dye it red. LOL

    Keep raging against it, that’s called living. I had to clear the driveway yesterday after a snowstorm and thought about how my approach has changed over the years. I still enjoy the exercise, and follow good mechanics, but where in the past I would go at it with total abandon and expect the burn and little aches and pains, now I approach it much more cautiously, not wanting to be on the eleven o’clock news.

    Back to your cousin, making others feel good about themselves is a true gift, whatever form that takes. I’m sure she is missed by many.

    • Yes, my cousin had a tightly knit core of friends and family to support her during her illness, and I’m sure they will all miss her very much. It makes me think about my own lack of a support network, and how few people would be impacted by my own death. Only my kids, really. I guess that’s kind of morbid and self-centered to wonder about, but the death of someone you know has a way of making one introspective.

      Okay, to lighten things up a little, let’s get back to hair dye. (Haha? 😬). I’m surprised to hear that white hair wouldn’t easily take to hair dye. I always thought it was like a blank canvas, which you could dye any color. Darker hair has to be bleached first in order to take light colors. Still not sure if I’m brave enough to try blonde highlights. It can look cool, but it can also look really bad. The lightest I’ve ever gone was honey (golden brown), and I liked it. Ombré looks great, but doesn’t hide those incoming grays. 😉 By the way, I think you should go for the red. Only one life to try it all, remember?

      • You would think white and gray would cover easily, but that is not the case, especially if you have some sensitivity to permanent color. I always wondered why a lot of older women would switch to shorter hair styles and lighter hair colors, and now it makes so much sense; unless you are diligently coloring very frequently, the incoming grays would blend better with a blond or light brown shades.

  4. I’ve gone in huge for grey also – such a smooth color, and softer than black.
    I’m working to become a minimalist, and I feel like grey is the perfect color! 😁

      • Perhaps I’m missing the boat, but i’ve started feeling that black is a little bit harsh, and grey feels smooth and crisp and svelte.

        So I’ve been getting rid of black and keeping grey sweaters, plus grey slacks for work. I like the grey slacks with light blue shirts or white shirts.

        Becoming a minimalist is definitely a work in progress! It’s taking much more time and energy than I expected. But at the same time it feels very satisfying.

        And there are other cool aspects too – like temporal minimalism (focusing on the present and what I can do now to be more effective, and worrying less about the future (and past)).

      • Yes, it really can be hard for many people to become a minimalist, especially if they have spent years collecting things and may have sentimental attachments, or a lack of energy to deal with it all.

        I think of myself as more of a practical minimalist. I like to own very little, but I leave some room for non-necessities that are aesthetically pleasing, have future clear potential, or are key to some wonderful memories I chose to keep near. Most other things I happily donate or toss out. Things are just things, after all. We place far too much value in things, in this culture, and not nearly enough on people.

        I can appreciate your choice to focus on the present. Do you adhere much to the concept of mindfulness? It makes such a difference in treasuring the “now” moments of life. I require a balance, however, of past, present, and future. The past helps me to cope with the present or make wise future decisions. Being mindful of future goals or consequences helps me to have focus and perspective as I live in the “now.”

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