Friday, September 22, 2006

a sort of alchemy

Last Sunday I met Aaron & Maysoon, two of the Mathematician's friends who were in town from Arizona. We spent the afternoon in historic,WASP-y, picturesque Newport, RI, touring mansions and walking along the cliffs by the ocean. It was exquisite: the sky, blue, the ocean, a deeper blue, the air warm, and the sunlight golden.

For most of the walk, the boys strode ahead of us, confabbing about their careers in the field of engineering, whiling away the hours talking about math. Maysoon and I hung back, bonded by our inability to understand. It's not like we're dumb or ditzy, and it's clear that we both try to understand our sig others most of the time--Maysoon even majored in Math! But when it comes to the Mathematician, I also know when to wave a white flag, and the minute I heard the words "log-base-two" come out of his mouth, casually as if he were commenting on the blueness of the sky, I knew my part in that conversation was over. It was a nice opportunity for Maysoon and I to stroll on together and get to know each other, paired off the way couple friends do when they hang out together.

Inevitably Maysoon asked me: "what do you do?" This question is a tough one for me: if I am to answer truthfully (and sometimes I don't), it prompts a seriously long-winded, self-absorbed sounding monologue. I never really know where to begin, and have an equally difficult time determining where "what I do" ends. And though I fully realize that no one will ever take me seriously as anything unless I speak about "what I do" with conviction, mustering up the balls to explain that "I'm a writer" (despite the fact that I've yet to get something published), or that "I do PR for cookbooks and culinary books" (even though I barely know what PR actually is) is sometimes just daunting. These jobs sound like pipe-dreams to so many people, and the minute I explain that I also make a substantial portion of my income as a waitress, I'm sure some people assume that I simply made all of these other jobs up, that these are more like lofty goals I conceptualize while rolling silverware and setting up the dining room at Tremont 647. Of course, any asshole who would pass this type of judgment on my career is probably not the type of person I want to be friends with anyway, their lives consumed by a boring job that I'd rather die than spend half my life working. This is the same breed of person who would ask me my major in college ("concentration...we don't have majors at Sarah Lawrence...mine is creative writing") then say, "oh, so you want to be a teacher???"with a a insidious smirk.

Maysoon, however, is a really, really nice person. She's very easy to talk to, and very easy to be around. So, I told her the truth when she asked me what I do, unleashed the whole 5-minute monologue about where I'm at and where I'm going. She made me feel so comfortable, that I decided I'd even explain to her that I'm writing a book. "It's about being blonde," I said, and she didn't even flinch.

The wind started to pick up around us as I went on about my book idea in greater detail. I explained the experiment behind it, what I hoped to accomplish going forward, and as we were talking, the tide was coming in, making the waves crash a little bit louder, and the exquisite stone cliffs and sparkling blue ocean around us seem that much more wild. Because of all this nature, Maysoon misheard me.

"Well, of course, it makes sense, you can see by your coloring and your fair eyebrows that you're a natural blonde. It will be interesting to see how you're treated differently when you dye your hair brown and live as a brunette."

"No, no, Maysoon. I'm not naturally blonde! All of this is fake, I've spent the last six months bleaching the hell out of my hair. That's the experiment. See," I said, grabbing at a tendril from the bottom layer of my hair, the part Jason refuses to bleach. "This color is my natural color. See? I'm not naturally blonde."

But as I twisted the little tendril around my forefinger, my hair looked a lot more golden than it did brown. This little tendril seemed to be pick up all of the rays of the afternoon's abundant sunshine. Strands of gold woven in among shades of deeper gold and golden brown glinted up at me, and as Maysoon leaned in closer to check out my natural hue, it actually looked...well, blonde.

"Oh, okay," she said, her face vague and puzzled. As I said, Maysoon's a nice person, an easy person, and probably not the type of person to throw down the gauntlet with her friend's colorblind girlfriend. Besides, Maysoon is Jordanian, and compared to her chestnut hair, dark, olive-y skin, and deep greenish-brown eyes, my natural color does look...well, blonde.

I know what I am, that I haven't been naturally blonde since puberty, that it's always taken a spritz of lemon juice or Sun-In to bring out the bright streaks I sported when I was a baby. But in that moment, I wondered if something magic had happened in my dye-ing crusade. I mean, at this point, I strongly feel that if I only take one thing from this experiment, it's the knowledge that blonde is my proper hair color. I like it, I like me in it, I think it suits the wildly contradictory pieces of my personality more than I ever could have known. When all is said and done, I'm certain I'll go back to blonde.

And in that moment, as I stood dumbly trying to explain to Maysoon that I was a brunette, I wondered: is all of this talk and experimenting and writing for shit? Is my hair somehow, miraculously going blonde on it's own? Has my body somehow recognized how at home I feel with this hair color? Hey, it could happen. I mean, identity is a powerful thing. Perhaps, once your personality finds its stride, your body begins to show it, from the inside out? Perhaps, under all that bleach, my natural hue had decided to miraculously changed back to blonde?

The next morning, while brushing my hair in the harsh, false light of the Mathematician's bathroom, I had my answer. No magic beans for me, my roots are starting to show. There is a sharp line of demarcation between where the natural hair ends and where the bleach begins. My roots are real and they are dark (and an inch long--yikes!)

No alchemy for me. At least, not naturally.

Then I suppose alchemy, by definition, is something we make happen on our own

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