Lady in the House: Anne Eston

Elizabeth Alexander ends her poem “Haircut” with “I am a flygirl with a new hair cut in New York City in a mural that is dying every day.” Have you ever had a haircut that granted you some revelation?

The first time my husband cut my hair really short with the clippers, I felt a freedom like never before. Not only the obvious wash-and-go ease, but the freedom to be that bold. I received many compliments. Some were wistful: “I wish I could get away with wearing my hair that short.” Other people told me I had a perfectly-shaped head for it. But it was actually a woman who told me she liked my hair better longer that confirmed my certainty that, yeah, this is the way I want to go with my hair, and I’m not going back.

 

Is hair a performance?

It certainly can be, but it doesn’t always need to be. It depends on the circumstance. For instance, sometimes you meet actors who are always “on,” as if they never left the stage, even though the show was over hours ago. When really, it would be nice to just experience that individual in a more subtle way. We don’t always have to shout, “Look at me!” with our appearance. We don’t always have to be “on” or “perform” publicly in that way.

 

What is your “hair politic?”

For a long time, having become mostly comfortable in my own skin—and hair, in this case—I held the extremely self-righteous opinion “be happy with what the good Lord gave you.”  One day, when, standing in line at Starbucks, I glanced at the CDs they keep up by the register. I was still several feet away, and all I noticed on the cover of one of them was a platinum blonde woman. I confess I assumed it was Britney Spears. When I got closer, I saw that it was a well-known African-American pop diva. I was a little more than outraged. But I heard my mother and grandmother telling me “to each his own.” I also had a great discussion with another friend of mine who offered the perspective that it’s not always the belief that weaves and wigs are more beautiful than one’s natural hair behind such style choices, but for those women with children and/or who are entertainers of some kind, a matter of convenience.

More recently, I found myself equally upset by a comment posted on Facebook on a friend’s picture of her new hairstyle: “Thank God a sister with no puffy natural afro!” Do with that what you will.

A much richer and more understanding point of view is one, writer Bridgett Davis is quoted as gleaning from her mother in this month’s edition of O Magazine, which, by the way, offers a comprehensive approach to hair that includes all ethnicities and hair types, and the cover of which shouts a support to the afro in a big way: “ ‘Hair is only hair. It can’t be good or bad; all it can ever be is healthy or unhealthy.’ ”

My growing perspective and I ventured into the salon a while back, with the intention of trying some outrageous colors, as well, like electric blue or bright purple. Being a brunette, they had to bleach the section I wanted to color, and lo and behold, I ended up loving the blonde streak. Now, my whole head is just sprouting more gray, and I’m due for another trip to the salon. Perhaps one day I’ll have the courage to let it all go.

 

In her song “I Am Not My Hair,” India Arie discusses a journey through hair, race, perception, and personal identity. How is your hair linked to your own identity?

Well, first of all, I wish that we could infuse that kind of self-understanding in all of our young women. I wish I’d had it at the age of thirteen.

The texture of my hair is very fine. It’s always had a kind of wave to it that, if I let it dry naturally, it would look more like snakes than the curls I wanted. If I blew it out, and it wasn’t the dead of winter, humidity would turn it into a fuzzy mess.

In terms of identity, I never associated my hair with the questions I got about my race throughout my school years. I just always wanted my hair to do something it wouldn’t do. I did the relaxer thing for awhile, until my aunt said to me one day “In ten years, you’ll have nappy hair!”

“The concept of “good hair” and “bad hair” (and all of the related assumptions about and perceptions of lighter- and darker-skinned people) wasn’t solidified for me until adulthood when I saw School Daze. And then a whole history of what I’d experienced but had not realized was happening to me at the time became clear.

I will say, though, that even the idea that my hair might fall into the “good” category, according to one set of standards, never really made me feel more beautiful or worthy. My deepest insecurities were rooted in being a bookish sort, terrible at sports, and shy. Nothing about my hair helped me overcome these. That all had to come from someplace deep within.

 

If you could create a writing form or technique based on your favorite hairstyle, what would it be?

I think I would call it Unbound, meaning to invoke a sense of uninhibited creativity, in which there is no self-censorship, and initially, no self-editing. Just unadulterated expression.  In terms of hair, this could be any style from the untamed attitude of a wild mane to the smooth ambition of a shaved head.

 

A Hair Writing Prompt:

I’d like to offer a stanza from a poem I wrote called Plantation, as a basis for readers to create their own poems about hair:

 

As the world’s winds

die down

and

my

hair

grows

down

my

back

again

I

walk

wearily

home.

Lady in the House: Anne Eston

Lady in the House Questions: Kelli Russell Agodon

What is your relationship to the natural world? And do you bring the natural world into your writing?

As I answer this, I’m looking out my window at a madrona tree with its peeling bark, huge areas of blackberry bramble, and low-growing ferns, all while listening to a crow and eagle have it out somewhere near this cabin on a hill.

Because I live in the Northwest, and particularly in a small rural town where you have to commute by ferry to visit, my relationship with the natural world is intimate. We are more than dating, we are significant others. We see each other regularly. As a mountain biker, I ride deep into the trails of our forests. I never know what I’ll see when I pedal off into nature: some days deer, some days owls, occasionally a black bear. As a paddleboarder, I see the world from atop the water—blue heron and kingfisher above me, flounder and moonsnails below.

In the last year, several writing conferences have asked me to teach classes on “nature writing,” which seemed odd to me because I never considered myself a nature writer. Though looking over my work, it does appear that the landscape has slipped into my writing quite frequently. I guess just as the city writer writes about her urban landscape, I write about mine, which tends to be lush and green and growing.

 

Sketch of a Fig Tree
(forthcoming in Hourglass Museum, published by White Pine Press in 2014)

Halfway through the day with the sun like a halo
over my neighbor’s house, I think about God
and time and if it’s possible to feed my soul with a pen
and ink drawing I saw at a museum by an artist
whose name I didn’t recognize.

Somewhere across the country my house is falling apart,
or maybe it did years ago, returning to my old neighborhood
to realize the streets were never as big as I thought
and the house I lived in was not as nice
as the house down the road, but I was never allowed
to walk that far.

I’m older now and what’s falling apart is the sunset
I try to watch from my office window
where I’m surrounded by books
and it doesn’t matter how much the fog moves in
or if there’s a neighborhood where kids fight

about the color of poppies. I think back to the fig tree

that grew in my yard and how the leaves always reminded me
of being somewhere else or in the middle of a Rousseau painting
where the jungle was a prayer and everything I needed
was above me and all I had to do was reach up,
all I had to do was open my hands.

 

What aspect of human nature are you finding peace with? What are you cultivating?

Instead of “finding peace,” I’ve made peace with people’s belief that being busy is important and that money is worth more than one’s time. These are areas I’ve struggled with and when I see others caught up in a life they aren’t happy with (but not making any changes to improve their lives) I try to find understanding instead of trying to fix everything.

I feel the same way about people who have a lot of promise and talent; it pains me to see writers and artists not taking risks with their art out of fear, or worse, they may even be self-sabotaging possible opportunities. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to stretch myself and do things that make me feel uncomfortable—that is where growth occurs. I want other writers and artists to push themselves as well, but I realize we each make our own decisions and while I may offer suggestions or advice, I know ultimately, we each create our own path and are responsible for our own lives, so I do my best to respect and understand others’ choices.

I’m cultivating creativity, imagination, bravery, and authenticity as best I can.

 

 

What is your understanding of why violence against women is “naturalized” in our culture?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I’m not sure “naturalized” is the word I’d use. Overlooked? Ignored? Forgotten? Not spoken of? Disregarded? For me, “naturalized” implies acceptance and that violence against women has adapted to all conditions in our culture, which I don’t think it has. Our culture has become and is becoming more aware of violence against women and there is outrage. There are pockets in our culture where it happens more and where it happens less, but in all areas there will always be people who speak out against it and there will also be denial or disregard.

As for understanding why violence against women or why it still happens in our culture, that I cannot comprehend.

 

What is your nature’s candy? And why?

The sweet smell of lilacs in early spring because they remind me of Walt Whitman.

Plucking off a blossom of the honeysuckle that winds itself around the treehouse and tasting the nectar.

Strawberries that have stretched from my neighbor’s yard into my yard because it’s always a surprise even though it’s somewhat expected.

Figs picked off the tree in my backyard in August; a luxury in every way.

Blackberries in late summer because the vines that take over my yard, each year, apologize with fresh fruit and I make a wicked blackberry crumble.

 

When do you leave a wall intact, when do you knock it down? 

Most of my walls are down until I lose trust in someone, then I build amazing forty-story creations that can’t be scaled by any amount of words or actions.

I leave walls intact when I can see the benefit of privacy or security.

I knock them down when they are no longer fun to climb.

 

Lady in the House Questions: Kelli Russell Agodon