Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hairbrained Inventions

Thanks to Natalie, who found me on the Internet in the midst of hair-pulling research for this month’s hairpisode.

September 5, 2014: A conversation with my writing group friend Jade launched me into a hair-brained quest:

"I'm wearing the Nirvana shirt I wrote Dustflakes in today,” I was telling her. Dustflakes was the first bit of short fiction I wrote and published outside of university. "Coincidence? I think not. This shirt is magic."

"Dig the magic shirt," Jade replied. "I'm rocking mini pigtails today; I always seem to flow better when I've got my hair up."

"There may be validity to your 'hair-up-equals-better-flow' theory," I said. Now might be the time to mention I’m envious of Jade because I have a bit of a pigtail fetish. I rarely have enough hair for pigtails. My hair makes me feel as though I’m carrying a clawless, sleeping Persian cat around on my skull, so I regularly, and I mean "R-E-G-U-L-A-R-L-Y"—get it a) thinned out, b) cut short-short, or c) both simultaneously. Did I mention this fetish to Jade? No. "I have to keep tucking my hair behind my ears when I'm trying to concentrate," I said instead. "Then again, Violet Baudelaire from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events ties her hair up with a ribbon when she's inventing."

As we laughed about this, it occurred to me: this could be a thing. Before I knew it, I was on a quest. Searching for web sites about hair, I found Hairpisodes. I emailed Claire to ask her if it was, indeed, “a thing.” She replied: “Intriguing question – sorry I don’t know more about this.” She suggested I write up a hairpisode.

September 6, 2014: A "quick google" of "pulling hair up AND concentration" soon became The E-Trichotillomaniac Monologues until I found this news article, about a study technique inspired by an ancient Chinese scholar. The writer of the article doesn't name this scholar—fantastic sleuthing, journalist—but I think I found him anyway: the politician Sun Jing
As a young man, [Sun Jing] was diligent in study and often forgot food and sleep. When he felt sleepy, he tied his hair to the roof beam. Therefore, when he dozed, he would feel pain and wake up as his hair was pulled upward by the rope. Then he would go on with his study.

This is interesting, I thought. The Earth is teeming with ways to try to fight distraction until we surrender.

September 7, 2014: By this time, I’m wondering why I’m getting so deeply into the symbolic significance of hair for the Chinese, since I'm not Chinese (I'm an Oztrayleeahn). Plus, I’m distracted again. I majored in English, so I keep remembering something I once read in Imagery and Symbolism in T. S. Eliot's Poetry by Nidhi Tiwari. In Eliot’s poem “Sweeney Erect,” Tiwari notes the destructive winds that tangle the hair of Ariadne, lady of the labyrinth. Tiwari identifies Ariadne's tangled hair as a symbol of Ariadne's "confused state and mental agitation." (pg. 56)

Now to tie this messy word-mane into a sloppy bun:

When I tuck my hair behind my ears I'm taking my mindset—tangled from the destructive winds of thought, memory, and emotion—by the hand and placing it somewhere not only where it'll friggin stay put goddamnit, but also familiar to me. This illusory control over my mindset is strengthened by concrete surrogates: words, art, and gestures building into actions. Similarly, when I push my fringe back and it falls down again moments later and I restrain it with a bobby pin (ensuring the crimped part is facing downward to grip the hair more effectively), I'm parting an invisible curtain for my third eye to peer out into an equally-invisible audience and begin an intellectual stand-up routine called writing.

So you might wonder: heavy-lidded from all this research and writing, will I take it one step further and create a contraption like Sun Jing’s? For my pigtailed friend Jade, it may be a real possibility, but for me, the hair just can’t go there.

Natalie (BA USC) lives in a seaside town with her family and fur child. When not knitting fibres, Natalie knits words into short fiction, some of which has been published by various literary magazines and academic journals, and one of which is a novella in progress. She is also currently a private English tutor for A1 Tutoring Pty Ltd. She can be reached at neh_@live.com.