Pixied and Permed: My Life in Haircuts and Headbands

My life is largely a history of headbands and bangs, an ongoing effort to make thin, fine hair thicker and fuller, an evolution from baby bald to big girl curl.

It’s basically been a bad hair life, one I’ve tried to rewrite in pixies and perms, bobs and barrettes.

Hope you enjoy this scrapbook of styles—my history in haircuts and curls.

A Baby in Bangs:

My mom was big into bangs, or so it seemed to me. Maybe it was the era–what one did with babies’ hair in the early ’60s.  Either way, I wore my toddler locks chopped short across the forehead, a bridge of bang above big, blue eyes.  

Growing up with Brown Hair and Braids:

After first grade I insisted on growing my hair long.  It may have been the Brady Bunch effect—seeing Cindy with blonde ponytails and big bows.  It may have been primary school, an effort to braid my brown into bigger girl style, curly girl chic.   Regardless, I started second grade, a studious girl with lengthier locks.  

Professional Permed:

I finished my formal education in the mid-eighties—a time when huge hair was everywhere.  It was an era before products could mousse any hair into almost any style; and big-headed professor or not, with thin, fine hair, only a perm gave me personal puff.

Mad-Headed Medusa:

I lived much of the ’90s fighting bipolar disorder.  It was a decade spent revolving in and out of psychiatric hospitals with hair as varied as my mood.  Sometimes it was short, other times a little longer—even eventually I had mildly Medusa-like curls.

Lesbian Locks:

I emerged a saner, better version of myself after the millennium turned, embracing my sexuality and cutting my curls.  Whether or not I unconsciously morphed into the stereotype of cropped lesbian locks, I’ll never know.  However, I spent the first half of the last decade opening the closet door— gay pride with pixie cut.

A Blogger in Bobs:

When I returned to work mid-decade, I marked my passage back to the writing life by bobbing my hair and falling madly sanely in love.  With Sara, I’ve lived, luggage packed, passport in hand, first in Vietnam, later in Haiti.  I wonder what haircut I’ll have for our next destination.

How has your hair evolved?  Do you have a story to tell in bangs and barrettes?

Linoleum Floors are More Than They’re Cracked up to Be

I heard someone say the other day that home is where your story begins.  It’s where we’re rooted, what grounds us in the present and gives us a history to remember.

I’ve been fascinated for years by the notion of place and the impact it has on who we become.  I’ve even oriented my composition classes around questions of space and place, exploring how who we are is so often affected by where we come from.

So it seems unsurprising then that I might orient my memoir about recovering from mental illness around similar concepts.  I’ve posted pieces about fearing homelessness, about my inability to afford housing in any remotely comfortable way, about wanting the hospital to be my home.  I even took this one step further yesterday when I mentioned now owning a home.             

However, an important part of this progression toward home ownership involved twice living in government housing—not a lovely place by any means—but not the housing horror folks often expect.

In June of 1998, I moved into Lakeland Manor—a government-subsidized, semi-high-rise for the elderly and disabled in Dallas, Texas.  I decided this move made sense when it became more and more difficult to afford the small, one bedroom apartment I leased on Northwest Highway.  I scraped and scavenged each month to pay the rent, making myself abide by outrageously restricted spending limits that may have reinforced patterns of neglect and denial I carried over from childhood.  The apartment at Lakeland Manor saved me more than $200 a month—what to me amounted to a small fortunate at the time.  The year before, I had told my therapist that if I could only make $100 more a month, I would feel rich.

I’d gotten to know a woman who owned a home in a neighborhood near the complex, and visiting her home, I’d noticed the place was not-so-bad.  In fact, my friendship with Jeanette impacted my decision to move, as I began to recognize the impact proximity might have on my recovery.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is not a small place.  My apartment was far from my therapist’s office in Plano—an expensive place to live, and I knew how not having a car kept me isolated, if I didn’t have friends nearby.  I had been fortunate to have my friend Ellen living in the complex on Northwest Highway.

I frankly adored Ellen.  She was my friend from Tulsa, my first openly lesbian friend, one who had also moved to Dallas for treatment purposes.  Ellen was witty, brilliant, creative—great fun to be around when she was sober or not psychotic.  Unfortunately Ellen’s efforts toward sobriety left her more psychotic, more often, and in some ways less available.

My move from Northwest Highway to Lakeland Manor had no conscious connection to Ellen’s decline, but tragically Ellen died suddenly shortly after my move, having visited my new apartment on only one occasion.  Ellen’s death devastated me.  There seemed no clear medical explanation for her dropping dead one afternoon in the parking lot of the apartment complex where we had lived.  But once Ellen was gone, I was relieved to have already moved.  I don’t imagine I could have tolerated living there with her gone.

This issue of proximity made one friend I met at Lakeland Manor enormously important, as I finally had a friend who was bright and creative living in the same building.  Elaine was a classical musician who played the French horn—an SMU grad who loved to laugh as much as I did.  Elaine had had a stroke a number of years back, as well as a kidney transplant, so her physical disability qualified her to live in the building.

Elaine was a friend in every sense of the word.  She was my age, came from a similar educational background, and was finally someone with whom I could socialize, without either transportation or finances being issues.

Except for Ellen, when I lived on Northwest Highway, none of my friends lived nearby.  Without transportation in a city like Dallas—especially when you don’t live in a particularly safe part of town—it’s logistically difficult to go out with friends after dark.  And given all the other battles I was fighting at the time, dealing with getting home after dark was more than I could manage—so mostly I stayed home.

However, I couldn’t afford to socialize either.  I couldn’t afford movies or going out to eat or shopping—activities most folks not fighting poverty enjoy.  This created a financial incongruity in almost every relationship—leaving me feeling isolated and alone. 

With Elaine, all of this changed.  Neither of us had any money—neither of us could afford to go out—but there were countless evenings when Elaine would come down to my apartment or I would go up to hers, so we could cook dinner together and watch T.V.  The meals were simple.  We ate lots of pasta. 

dinner with Elaine at my apartment, February 1999

I remember we spent Christmas of 1998 together.  It was icy outside.  We couldn’t go anywhere, but that didn’t matter.  We were friends, and we were together.  Ironically, I owed this friendship and the joy it provided to the fine folks at the Dallas Housing Authority.

So Lakeland Manor, government housing or not, was in many ways a relief to me, my apartment a retreat—a place I could finally comfortably afford.  Plus, since the rent was based on income, I never really needed to fear homelessness again. 

Home is where ones story begins, and the home I made at Lakeland Manor is one that ultimately allowed my recovery to take hold—grow roots—be strengthened.  I gained confidence while living there.  I felt good about myself and proud.

Yes, my apartment had roaches.  It has linoleum tile on the floor.  It was ugly. 

less-than-lovely linoleum floor

But I worked hard to make it feel like home, and quite honestly I loved it, linoleum and all.

So, home is where one’s story begins, humble as that home may be.

When One Boomer’s Madness Morphs into Dream-Come-True

In 2011, it’s hard to know which is weirder—watching myself on videotape narrating my psychiatric struggle in 1997 or knowing now how inherently different my life is 14 years later.

Though ’97 was difficult, I generally had to fight hard for more than 10 years following my diagnosis with bipolar disorder in 1990, a decade of pain and endurance, as I struggled with every ounce of energy available, battled a diagnosis that doomed me to countless psychiatric hospitalizations and chronic poverty.  I lived without a car and in 1997 on $736 a month.

Things were particularly bleak during the winter and spring of 1997, when I was hospitalized twice and struggled to complete even the most basic tasks of daily living—getting myself to and from treatment, feeding myself regular meals, taking medications as prescribed.  I spent 5 hours a day on Dallas city buses, struggled to purchase groceries on $30 a week, and suffered so with memory loss, I couldn’t remember whether or not I’d taken the Zyprexa (an anti-psychotic drug) that dulled my thinking and left me listless, not to mention sleepy and ravenously hungry.

But yesterday, in the context of a memoir-writing project, I watched video-taped therapy sessions from 1997, a number of them, at least 6 hours worth.

I noted especially that on March 6, 1997, wearing red sweat pants and my hair in a loose bun, I congratulated my therapist on the occasion of her 49th birthday.  I was 35 years old but looked at least 10 years younger than that—thin and toned as I pretzeled myself into a corner of black leather sofa.

what I looked like in 1997

But what I remember about that time, recall without having to watch a video, is the belief that my therapist was rather old—unimaginably older that I could ever imagine myself becoming.

Yet now, in 2011, I am myself 49.  I am the “old” I couldn’t imagine myself becoming.  And this is a hugely strange experience— sitting in a home I own, with my graying hair and gained weight—watching a much younger version of myself, wishing a woman I so respected happy birthday, knowing I was thinking, “Gosh, she’s almost 50.  I can’t imagine being that old.”

watching videos of myself 14 years later

Not only am I watching myself 14 years ago—seemingly endless hours of myself frozen in time—but also I’m thinking about who I am myself now at this ripe old age—how different I look—how inherently reversed my circumstances are—how much better, richer, fuller my life is—how my experience is now what I only hoped it could be then, what I only dreamed it could be, but never expected it could become.

Clichéd as it sounds—I am now literally living a dream come true—a dream I articulated to my therapist in 1997—a dream about teaching at a university again, a dream about writing—a dream about succeeding—a dream about love.

I don’t know how it happened.  I don’t know how or why I became ill, why my mind deteriorated to the point it could no longer be trusted, how it is that now I am well—at least in relative terms—my symptoms well-managed. 

In 1997 Bill Clinton was just beginning his second term as president; scientists were cloning Dolly the sheep; and in the US we would soon have a balanced budget.  Though Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died, it was a time of hope—a time of new beginnings and relative prosperity.

However, my memory at the time was so poor, my connection to the larger world so tenuous, I recall little of this.  I know most of this from my more recent efforts to go back and fill in the blankness my brain experienced as real life.

Now, as I watch these videos, as I reflect on how I felt 14 years ago, on how it feels now to not remember, I’m amazed that I have come this far.  That I no longer fear homelessness, that I no longer live in government housing, that I now own a home, function well, love an amazingly accomplished woman who loves me even more. 

How did I survive more than a decade of seeming defeat?  How is it that I’ve recovered to this degree?  How did this come to be, this tale of endurance, my narrative of hope?  How is it that this stunning grace has happened?

I hope my memoir can help me share this amazing magic—let others know that what sometimes seems an illusion of recovery can indeed become a solid and shared reality—a Boomer’s madness morphed into dream-come-true.

Real Boys do Cook Quiche: a Reflection on Fathers’ Day

(in memory of Sam’s daddy Dino–Happy Fathers’ Day from far away)

Much to our delight, my nephew Sam came to visit Sara and me this weekend.  His mother, my younger sister Lynn, is in Cuba for 10 days, so Sam has a series of family, friends, and camp to keep him company.

And his stop Friday and Saturday just happened to be our home.  Goodness–what a gift to us!

The boy is precious–kind, smart, creative, with not only a soul of gold, but also a spirit bright and brilliant.

Sam is eleven.  He plays football, basketball, and a bit of soccer.  He golfs.

But his primary passion is in the kitchen.  He loves to cook, to bake, to create.  I don’t imagine there are many eleven-year-old boys in Kentucky whipping up quiche in the kitchen.  But Friday morning that’s just what Sam did.

So today–a journey in photographs–a quiche-cooking boy–a foodie’s young life:

Aunt Kathy holds her new-born nephew–Sammy’s first day of life:

for the love of nephew!

He’s grown a bit and is visiting Aunt Kathy again:


Sam and Daddy–(Sam’s daddy died when Sam was only six.):

Sam adored his daddy!

Sam and big brother Johnny visit Santa:

seasons greetings from the nephews

Sam graduates from pre-school:

entering the land of "Big Boy"

Sam tends to under-arms:

Sammy does deodorant.

When Sammy was six, we rode together in our town’s 4th of July parade:

I pedaled and pulled. Sammy sat.

Sam’s school picture:

Our boy is growing up.

This weekend Sam and I ate dinner at the Atomic Cafe, a block from our house in downtown Lexington:

We each ate shrimp linguine.

When Sam visits, he and I almost always collaborate on an art project:

Sam adds a logo to his painted bottle of wine.

Saturday morning we visited our local farmers’ market:

Sara and Sam

Smoothie goes green at Farmers’ Market:

pedaling toward smoothie

Yet another bike invloved in Sam’s Saturday:

Riding home fom Farmers' Market

So Sam is off to camp this week, but with Daddy gone, our boy has big pants to fill, as Fathers’ Day approaches:

Sam pulls himself up, britches better than boot straps

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dino!  We love you and know if you were here, you’d assure your son, that real boys do cook quiche.

But then Sam knows that already!