What I think about when I think about my hair

Hair

There is home video footage of me, aged three or four, turning my head to show off my new shorter haircut to a group of adoring adults. After spending most of the first few years of my life in the UK, we had moved to Australia and it was hot. I also had a lot of hair. My mum talks about how I was much happier when I was cooler because my hair was short.

I have another memory from this time, at my kindergarden in Adelaide. I am stood between a bush and a fence, surrounded by other children who are taunting me for looking like a boy.

This refrain, that “only boys have short hair” haunted me through most of my childhood. On a skiiing holiday, the ski instructor turned to me and said “and who is this young gentleman?” Even now, as I time, I can feel the shame rise in my belly.

As a teenager I was largley ignored by any boy I fancied, and I interpretted this to mean that I wasn’t pretty or cool enough. I had yet to work out that the strange intense feelings I was having about certain girls was anything other than wanting to be like them, so I continued to strive to be what I thought was most attractive to straight cisgender men.

Hair wise, this meant I continuously went through a cycle of growing my hair long until I could stand it no longer. Then I had it cut off, and felt momentarily liberated before this was eclipsed by the feeling that I was a horrible androgenous mess who would never get laid again. “Men prefer women with long hair” said every women’s magazine ever, a view that is backed up by Hollywood. (Although, even then, the romantic heriones I identified with were the ones played by Meg Ryan with her pixie cut).

The main feeling I have about having long hair is one of self-discipline. I look at photos of long haired versions of myself and admire how long I was able to resist the screaming desire to cut it short. Since the great chop of 2013, I have only been able to reach chin length before giving in to what I actually want.

In May, I started to consider cutting it off again. I’ve been growing out my pixie cut for the last eighteen months and it’s now about chin length. I don’t like the feel of it on the sides of my face or the weight of it on my head. I’m also conscious of every compliment I receive.

A couple of years ago, when my hair was at it’s shortest, my colleague and I were looking through some photos to find one for a report. We found one which had me in it, sporting a chin length wavy bob.

“Oh, is that you?” She said. “Your hair looks really nice.” I interpret this is meaning much nicer than it does now. In fact, I think I’ve remembered everyone who has ever said “I prefer you with long hair” – family, friends, partners – for far longer than I’m sure even they remember saying them.

For 29 years I’ve listened to these voices more than I’ve listened to my own.

I remember having a conversation with a fellow short haired woman, where we both agreed that although long hair made us more conventially attractive, we felt much more ourselves with short hair.

In other words, I’m not disagreeing with the notion that I look better with long hair – actually, I agree that I probably do. I’m disagreeing with the notion that I have an obligation to be the best looking version of myself.

Advertisements
What I think about when I think about my hair

A Curious Life

20180408_133742.jpg

I’ve been trying a lot of new podcasts lately. Last week I listened to Andrea Owen’s interview with Kathleen Shannon. In it, Kathleen talks about using her core values to help her make decisions.

I immediately started planning to download a workbook or invest in a programme to figure out what my core values are. I like making lists of things I “need” to do, but it turns out (as with 95% of everything) what I needed was to listen to and trust myself. After a few days of having the idea of core values in the back of my mind, I had realised what mine are.

With a couple of them it took few iterations to find the right word. What started out as “adventure” turned into “curiosity” as I mulled over how this value has played out in my life. Essentially, I like to take the more interesting option, and this has been a core part of how I’ve lived my life to date.

I’ve been thinking about how my value of curiosity has driven a lot of my decisions over the past decade.

In 2008 I was immersed in the world of student activism. I had latched onto “making the world a better place” as an identity for a number of reasons, but the one that stands out to me with hindsight is that being involved in the campaigns I was involved in took me to interesting places to meet interesting people. After all, there are a lot of ways to have a social conscience, and not all of them involve picking your friends up from a police station after they’ve blockaded a nuclear submarine base.

In 2009 I decided to go to India for 6 months after I left university instead of applying for any graduate schemes, or regular jobs. When I returned in 2010, I sought work for meaning rather than money. I decided to rent a room you needed a ladder to get to, in a house that was also being used to grow marijuana. There were many rooms available on Gumtree, but this is the one I chose.

After being made redundant in 2011, I switched track from my environmental campaigning career, and took a job in an art gallery. These were not currently my people (nobody was boycotting anything) but I was craving change, and by opening myself up to new perspectives I made one of my closest friends.

I started dating the most interesting character I knew, and although in some ways this was not a good decision (interesting is not the same as trustworthy), with him I was able to experience things I never would have thought to alone. We travelled in a spontaneous way, taking a road trip from Durban to Cape Town, and then from Pretoria to the Mozambique coast the following year, without planning where we would spend each night or how long we would be away for.

In 2012 I accepted a job 50 miles away from where I lived and spent a lot of time in my car. When my relationship ended I didn’t move full time to Oxford right away, choosing instead to see what life felt like with minimal possessions and no permanent base. Then in September 2013 I moved to Oxford full time.

In this year I also dated somebody very different (both to myself and to anyone I’d dated before), had my first one night stand, and started online dating. By 2014 I had realised that I hated online dating, which is one of many reasons it made no sense to start an open relationship. Except that I was curious.

In 2015 curiosity led me to leave my job for a lower paid one at a less well known charity. In 2016 I started my Masters degree because I craved more structured learning.

In 2017 I started my first relationship with a woman, which meant coming out to more of my friends (and the internet) about being queer and polyamorous. Except that I’m not really polyamorous, which I think I knew, although it’s always clearer with hindsight.

However, I was curious. My experience with women had previously only consisted of hookups and crushes, and a small part of me was disappointed to have married a man without knowing what dating a woman was like. And she was beautiful, interested in me, and already dating my partner – what could go wrong?

I tried to make it work. I did all the things I assumed I was supposed to. I even signed up to go on holiday as a threesome plus his family, which I knew I didn’t actually want to do (and therefore massively backfired) but was certainly the most interesting choice. I was confused – I loved them both a lot, but this wasn’t enough when I knew deep down that this wasn’t the lifestyle that I wanted. I never should have put myself in a position to fall in love with more than one person if I wasn’t prepared for the consequences – and complications – of that.

Which is, of course, the downside of living a life driven by curiosity and a desire to be interesting – you can end up really hurting people. I hurt my parents by getting married without telling them, and I hurt both my partners by entering into a polyamorous relationship out of curiosity rather than real commitment to make it work.

Part of me cringes when I talk about how important identifying values has been to me – it sounds self-indulgent and self-helpy. But identifying curiosity as a value and as something that influenced my decisions has been really helpful in making sense of my past behaviour. Having at least a partial answer to the exasperated “But why did I do that?” question has helped me to release a lot of shame, especially around money, and “wasting” it.

I do still regret hurting people, but now I’ve identified curiosity as a value that drives me I can recognise when I’m going down the path of putting that ahead of people’s feelings. I won’t ever stop being drawn to people and experiences that I am intrigued by, but I’ve learned that I need to counter this tendency with compassion – and have named this as another one of my values to hold me to account.

I’m currently satisfying my need for curiousity through my thesis research, alongside voracious reading and podcast listening.

A Curious Life

Winter to Spring

Frozen over canal in Jericho, Oxford.

“I’m going out, to see about, my own frontier.” Sara Watkins, Young In All The Wrong Ways

In the weeks before Christmas it dawned on my that I was not enjoying my life. My predominant emotions were stress and anxiety. I woke up filled with dread, my jaws aching from a restless night of grinding my teeth, and I spent the day counting down hours til I got to go to bed again.

What’s especially weird is that I had been feeling like this for a while – slowly putting one foot in front of the other and assuming that the feelings of discomfort would pass. I stopped having things to say to friends (or at least, I stopped having anything positive to say), I stopped writing, and I stopped feeling properly excited about anything.

I kept crocheting granny squares because I used to be excited about crochet. It was my thing in 2016, so it has to be my thing forever, right?

I was still banging at my square peg, but the hole had been round for a while, and it wasn’t going to change back. I had forgotten that the only constant was change, and I was trying desperately to cling onto an idea of myself that had long since left.

I suspect a lot of people feel this way, but the thing about high-functioning anxiety and depression is that you are very good at coping, and because you are coping, you assume that there’s nothing else you should do.

So I plodded on through work, through studying, and even through an interview for a part time job, assuming I could feel more like myself if I just had less to do. And then Christmas – six glorious days where I didn’t have to do anything or be anywhere or produce anything of value. I ate. I slept. I spent time with family without also trying to crochet a jumper. I wore the same pair of jeans and hoody for several days straight. I didn’t worry about my hair or make up.

Pearl Pryce
Pearl Pryce, 1930 – 2018.

A few weeks before Christmas my Grandma had a stroke and was taken into hospital. A few days before Christmas we were told that she wasn’t making any progress so they would take out her feeding tube, and then it would only be a few days until she died.

(She actually took sixteen, because the women in my family aren’t half stubborn.)

I found it hard to comprehend how the NHS can decide whose life is and isn’t worth living, and how leaving somebody to starve is considered more humane than euthanasia.

I drove the increasingly smaller roads to the nursing home and watched her sleep. I sat on the floor by her bed demonstrating hamstring stretches to my sister. I looked up owl noises with my mum. We watched terrible TV in the shared living room while the staff undressed and washed her, and then asked us for the name of our funeral directors.

I never once made it back to Oxford without crying at the wheel, but it was a different kind of sadness to the one I’ve gotten used to. It wasn’t the stale, heavy sadness of depression. It was the raw acute sadness of losing somebody I loved.

Port Meadow, Oxford.

I ran every day in January to raise money for Oxfordshire Mind, which showed me both that I can do hard things and that I have a supportive network of friends and family that show up when I ask them to.

I had a lot of time to think over those 100 miles, and I figured out how to get my life back on track. It turns out that I had the answers all along, but had forgotten to trust my own feelings.

This week I started a new job. For the last few years My Life My Choice has provided me with an income, identity, and friendship. It’s taught me most of what I know about social justice, charity management, and the kind of work I want to do in the world. For a while I dithered on the precipice, because to get a life only potentially much better, I had to sacrifice something safe and comfortable and known.

I read an essay by Laura Jane Williams that could have been meant for me. She said, “Before you begin, everything is perfect, because before you begin it’s a world of imagination painted in only your best and most favourite colours.” So I handed in my notice and I broke my own heart. But I already feel lighter and more sure of myself.

Kate

Decisions build in their momentum, and with each “yes” or “no” I remembered how to listen to myself, and I remembered what matter to me.

Despite running every day in January, I am happy to accept that I am not, and will never be, an athlete. Living with an aspiring Olympian has caused me to constantly second guess how and how much I move my body. But honestly? I am just not interested in putting in the hours into physical activity that Grit does, and I shouldn’t compare myself and feel bad because we have very different priorities.

I exercise primarily for my mental health, and to feel a connection with my body. I’ve decided to celebrate the 1-2 times I week I make it to the gym, rather than berate myself for not doing enough. Walking everywhere might not get my heart rate up, but it makes me feel good. Jogging ten minute miles isn’t going to break any records, but it’s enough for me.

As flattering as it is to get messages from cute queer babes, suggesting we knit in pubs together or go to gigs, I’ve deleted the dating apps from my phone. In my ideal life I would be much more polyamorous and much less assexual. In my real life there isn’t enough hours in the day, and I would rather spend them with my friends and one partner. Identity politics can be weird, but I don’t need a girlfriend to point out that I’m not as straight as I pass for.

We’ve been gradually sorting through our stuff, accepting that our flat is too small to keep everything. I’ve been worried about being too dramatic, because a few years ago I definitely jumped on the minimalist bandwagon and got rid of things that I regret. This time I’ve decided to put most of my energy into not buying anything, and reading The Year of Less by Cait Flanders has helped me to get into the right headspace for this.

I stopped trying to talk myself out of wanting babies, and accepted I am broody as hell. This doesn’t make me less of a feminist, or mean that I have to justify those times I told people I didn’t want a family. People change, move along.

I’ve been reading much more fiction, which is something I’ve always loved, but talked myself out of because it’s “too indulgent”. But who is judging but me? And why would I deprive myself of the things that I enjoy?

Although I started the habit to check in on Grandma, I’ve continued to try and phone my mum at least once a week, because I love her and she’s going through a difficult time.

I’ve said no to a few projects, and I’m trying to stop feeling guilty about the things that I can’t do. 2018 is definitely going to be about doing less.

Although really, I’m trying not to let anything I do be A Thing, and be more flexible about responding to my wants and needs.

Winter to Spring

Granny Square Jumper

As Grit likes to point out to me several times a week, this has not been the most efficient way of making a jumper. It’s taken bloody ages. But that’s okay, because it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

I started making granny squares just as the weather was turning. We had recently moved into a new flat – our very first home as a couple! – and I celebrated by buying a lot of paintbox yarn.

Making lots of little squares made this project very portable, which was fantastic, as it meant I got a lot of them made on the move.

In October we went to Amsterdam for Grit’s Graduation, and I crocheted to ward of a panic attack before the ceremony started. The next day I started back at university for the year,  and I made squares on the train to Bristol and during lectures.

Making squares helped calm my anxiety at a number of different conferences, including the one pictured above. It got me through evenings alone while Grit was wushu training in London. It also have me an easy thing to do during Wednesday nights with the Drunken Knitwits.

In September the charity that I work for kind of hired me out as a consultant for the NHS. Moving from a small organisation – where I am effectively the entire campaigns, policy, and communications department rolled into one – to a large one, with unfamiliar rules and hierarchies and oh my goodness so many acronyms, was both fascinating and frustrating.

I spent some time hiding in the toilets, and a lot of time waiting for people to turn up for meetings. I’m not sure I single meeting I was invited to actually started on time, so I was glad of the days when I had yarn and a hook in my bag.

The pile of granny squares grew larger and larger. By this time I knew I wanted to make a jumper, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. I took this photo at the Oxford Drunken Knitwit’s winter retreat – a glorious two days of crafts, food, alcohol, and a hot tub in Herefordshire – when I started sewing it together.

I later dismanted the neckline that I’d crocheted at the retreat. Usually when I’m not 100% happy with something I put it to the back of my mind and move onto a new project. I have a wardrobe full of jumpers and cardigans that I feel “meh” about because it felt like a waste of time to unravel and start again. But I’m coming round to the idea that it’s more of a waste to continue putting time and effort into something that doesn’t bring me joy.

It’s been good for me to reflect, unravel, and re-do things until I’m happy with them. I feel as though this is a good lesson for life: don’t be afraid to change your mind or admit that something isn’t working out.

It’s also been good for me to take my time with a project, because as anyone who has ever spent any time with me will know, I am very impatient. I want things to be great right away, and if they aren’t then I want to fix them immediately.

It’s hardly a co-incidence that alongside making this jumper Grit and I have been going to therapy as a couple. I’m starting to appreciate that things that aren’t great often don’t have simple solutions. Or if they do, they’re probably the wrong ones.

I’ve also been reading Sarah Corbett’s book – How to be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest – and thinking about how my impatience is leaving me burnt out and angry, not just in my relationships, but in my work and my activism.

So I’m not rushing to finish this jumper – especially not so I can hurry up publish the blog post about it already. It’s cool to leave things unfinished (deep breaths, I can do this) and to slow down and to think and reflect.

Besides, I have Star Wars characters that I want to make.

Granny Square Jumper

Goodbye 2017

20171210_151048

2017 was the year that I stepped up my game. I got a promotion, I got good grades in my degree, I was invited to do more work for another organisation on secondment.

2017 was the year in which it dawned on me that all of my achievements, my busyness, my “I’m doing a degree and a diploma and working two jobs and making sure that everyone likes me” doesn’t mean anything if I don’t know why I do it,  or if I spend the whole time resenting everyone else for allowing themselves to do less.

I don’t want to be that person. The person who says, “I haven’t been able to do anything as indulgent as read a whole book for years.” The person who dismisses dying her hair as a waste of time, but who seethes with anger when her partners do theirs without her.

2017 was the year that I realised that liking myself is not a luxury, it’s an urgent necessity. Being able to bring myself back from despair, feeling like a person who is whole, who is ok without being needed or told she’s doing great – this is the thing that will save my marriage.

I cried a lot in 2017.

It’s also the year that I discovered eyebrows pencils. I learned to pole dance. I dyed my hair red. I now look like the me in my imagination.

I stopped thinking that things weren’t for me. I went to a writing workshop, and then to Real Talk Live. I worked from cafes in Amsterdam.

I put on weight, but still think I look good naked.

2017 was the year I had my first polyamorous relationship. It’s also the year that I realised, without a doubt, that this isn’t what I want.

2017 was the year in which I started therapy, and began to untie the knots of fear in my mind.

2017 kind of broke me, and in 2018 I will build myself again.

 

Goodbye 2017

I buy clothes to avoid feeling my feelings

Sure, yes, maybe buying a new outfit is more acceptable than drinking away your pain because I can present an argument that those new jeans/boots/earrings will be useful for me at some point in the near future. But let’s face it, it’s much more about the hit of dopamine I get from acquiring a brand new outfit (and therefore a brand new me) than actually not having anything to wear.

There’s nothing like having to drag everything out of the bottom of your wardrobe because you are moving house, and being confronted with – I kid you not – six only-subtly-different pairs of black boots, to make you realise you might have a problem.

The easy thing to do here is to declutte – a thing that I’ve done a number of different times during my adult life. Each decluttering episode is combined with a period of reading minimalist blogs and announcing that my life will be different. But my problem has never been with the number of things I own. It’s always been about the number of things that I buy.

shirt
Oh look! A new shirt.

Of course, the two are linked. Decluttering feels like doing something, and shopping also feels like doing something, and I need to make sure I am always doing something to avoid sitting and dealing with my feelings. Because the feelings are uncomfortable at best, and at their worst are far more painful than my thigh tattoo was.

But all that decluttering does is make room for my shopping, and means that when I’m having a bad day, I can convince myself that I need something to wear to my mother-in-law’s birthday dinner, or my best friend’s hen party, or whatever else I have lined up at the weekend. Then I can head out shopping, feel like I’ve achieved something, and ignore that uncomfortable feeling at the edge of my mind until another day.

But you know what isn’t doing something? Being content with how I already look and what I already have. I mean, what do people who are happy even do with their time?

Having to move house twice during the last month has made me realise that I probably have enough clothes to last me from now until the end of the world. But to be honest, going on a shopping ban doesn’t have a lot to do with clothes. It’s about reminding me that I don’t need to rush around the high street when I feel like I have nothing to wear. Instead, I need to to go home, put the kettle on, curl up on the sofa and have a good cry.

Right now, I have everything I need. But sometimes that’s the hardest thing to admit.

I buy clothes to avoid feeling my feelings

Striped Cardigan

striped-cardigan

Wahoo! I’ve finished the cardigan that I’ve been carrying around in my bag for the last few months.

It’s been slow progress, in part because it was a more ambitious project than I usually tackle, but also because I’ve not had the time to sit down for hours at a time and craft – something that my mental health has certainly missed.

I’ve been looking back over Instagram to try and work out when I started it, and I suspect that it was sometime in late April. This means that this knitting project has been with me through A LOT.

I took this photo when I was waiting to meet Angie after work. I met Angie because she is a partner of my partner, but since we seem to have good chemistry and a few things in common, we decided to start meeting up without him.

So I suppose I should say that I took this photo before a date with Angie. Even now, three months on, it feels weird and a little uncomfortable to say that I am dating Angie, because it defies my pre-conceived notions about what A Relationship should be.

Apparently I posted this photo while I was not writing my essay.  Essay writing has a thing I have had to get back into this year, because I have started studying part time for a masters degree.

This has felt super indulgent. I’m paying £6000 and spending a lot of my free time working because I like learning and because it serves my ego to have a few more letters after my name. I don’t need to do it for work, it’s unlikely to directly impact my earning potential. Frankly, it’s a little pointless. But because it’s a bit pointless I am really proud that I’m doing it, because it’s not often that I invest this much in myself or do something just for me.

Most of the year has been good for getting stuff done and not being overly anxious. That’s because I got myself into a routine that involved getting up early to exercise before work, eating well, studying after work, and going to bed really early to get a full eight hours sleep.

This was fine. It meant I kept up with university work and steadied my mood enough to come off anti-depressants. It also meant I never had any fun.

So over the past couple of months, I’ve let myself loosen my routine a little bit: I’ve been out dancing, I’ve gotten drunk, I hooked up with a stranger. Some of this went well, some of it caused the most monumental of rows with my partner. I’m still trying to find the balance here, and not to overthink everything.

This was the pub trip where I celebrated finding a flat I wanted to live in. Most of me is super excited about Grit and I not only living in the same country, but living together, without anybody else. Part of me is a little worried that we’ve become too conventional.

Isn’t it interesting what we pin our identity to?

Oh my goodness. Packing and moving was hard. Not even because of what we had to do, but because we needed help to do it.

It is so difficult for me to accept help. My instinctive thought when anybody offers is to get angry and defensive – “Are you suggesting that I can’t do this on my own?”

I am capable… strong… independent… and yet, isn’t it wonderful that I have friends and family and partners willing to move boxes, drive back and forth to the tip, and clean mould off the walls?

I am learning to accept people’s generosity graciously, without guilt and without shame that I “need it”. It’s a lesson that is long overdue.

We’re currently in the middle of a three-week gap between tenancies. It has been challenging to be a long-term guest in somebody’s home because I like to be wholly self-sufficient, and I can’t do anything without asking where things are, or where I can put things, or asking for a lift to where I want to go. It’s been good for me, having to ask, and accepting generosity without knowing exactly when I can return the payment.

So here we are, and I feel like I’m on the brink of something. My next adventure.

There’s a lot of things that moving out of a house share means I can do: host dinner parties, invite people to stay for the weekend… make space for crafts and friends and family. More so than ever before, I’m drawn to the idea of family and community. I’m ready to invest in deeper relationships and more honest conversations.

Make it yourself! The pattern I used was Caramel: A Simple Blanketstyle Cardigan by Isabell Kraemer

Striped Cardigan