Sunday, September 23, 2012

About Gray Hair

Looking at the photo of my recent 50th high school reunion, I noticed that what hair there was on the men's heads was uniformly gray. On the other hand, while all the women had plenty of hair, only three had gray hair.  The rest smiled brightly from under hair that ranged from  raven's-wing black through chestnut and strawberry to palest blond.  Whatever the shade, though, my classmates' hair glistened with an even more youthful shine than it had in our graduation pictures long ago.

Of course not all my classmates attended the reunion, and it is possible that the women who stayed home all had gray hair, but I doubt it.  My former high school is in Alabama, and the Land of Dixie does not abound in gray-haired women.  The species is more common in Vermont, but even here it is becoming rarer.  "Everyone I know colors her hair," a fifty-something neighbor told me recently.

Odd to think that my generation, which dispensed at least temporarily with bras and razors, cannot now dispense with hair dye.  But breasts and legs do not announce themselves as instantly as the stuff that covers our skulls and frames our faces.  The color of our hair tells the world at a glance whether we are cool and collected (blond), fiery and unpredictable (redhead), smouldering and sensuous (brunette), or just old.

Looking at those shiny heads in the reunion picture, I have to admit that hair color does do something for a person--makes her look soignee, optimistic, younger. "The women looked a lot better than the men," a friend who attended the reunion wrote me.  And no wonder, with all that colorful hair.  But what about the dignity of age, and the hard-won wisdom and serenity that gray hair is supposed to convey? 

Ah, who cares about those when your bright hair can momentarily blind the observer to the wrinkles on your face!

Despite my advanced years, I do not color my hair.  Unfortunately, people assume that I do, since most of my gray hair is around my temples and is thus covered by the longer hair of my crown, which is still mostly brown.  This, I feel, unfairly robs me of the credit due me for my heroic refusal to color.

To be honest, this refusal owes more to practical reasons than to anything else.  For one thing, my hair grows quickly, and I don't like the idea of monthly trips to the colorist to eliminate the dreaded "roots."  For another, what if I were to break a leg or be struck by a sudden illness that would cause me to miss my salon appointments?  My friends and family would think that I had suddenly aged a couple of decades, and be alarmed.

I am of course aging even as I write, and my hair will someday--probably sooner rather than later--be completely gray.  But I would rather the people around me had a chance to get used to it gradually.

For the moment, looking at that reunion photo, I like to think that my hitherto virgin hair would not have looked out of place among my classmates' not-so-virgin do's. 

But that, like that other long-ago virginity, is something best pondered in solitude.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Fish Named Salome

I've been avoiding writing about this for a couple of weeks because the subject will require descriptive powers that may well be beyond me.  But I cannot keep it to myself any longer:  I have a fish, and his name is Salome!

Right away, your lightning-quick eye catches a glitch, an inconsistency, an error.  Wasn't Salome the dancer who, with her seven veils, enticed Herod to decapitate John the Baptist?  Obviously she was a woman, and clearly I shouldn't have named my male fish after her.

But the operant factor here is not gender, but the seven veils.  Or maybe five.  In the case of my Salome--a double-tailed, half-moon male Betta--it's hard to get an exact count of veils, or fins, or tails.  What is certain is that his tiny, iridescent blue-green body trails a pleated corolla of barely-there yellow veined with random threads of brilliant blue and palest pink.

Like a bride hampered by a too-long train, Salome drags his veils behind while he swims inside the two-gallon vase that is his home.  But when he slows down the veils flare up and he turns into a kind of flower.  Sometimes, when he makes a quick turn, he runs into his outspread fins and tail, like a flamenco dancer turning into her trailing skirt.

How big is he?  When he is in full display, he's about the size of a small potato chip.  His eyes are the size of fly droppings.  His mouth, though tiny, never fails to remind me of Angelina Jolie.

His scientific name is Betta splendens, and he is totally splendid and resplendent, as are the males of most animal species, except our own.  But because in most species, including our own, the males are generally more aggressive, poor Salome cannot have a companion.

If the companion were male, they would batter each other to death.  If female, they would mate and tend their nest and, as soon as the babies hatched, would eat every last one.  So Salome lives in solitude.

But my online research tells me that Bettas are sociable little fish, who can be trained to follow one's finger and even jump through hoops, and who like variety in their environment.  For exercise, one website recommends placing a mirror next to the bowl, but keeping it there for no longer than four minutes, lest the poor thing exhaust himself trying to kill his reflection.

I haven't tried the hoop or the mirror yet, but I keep Salome in the kitchen, where I tell him how gorgeous he is a dozen times a day as I trundle past with basketfuls of stuff from the (soon-to-be-dead, I hope) garden.  And where the outside of his bowl periodically gets decorated with nose prints from Bisou.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Summer Better End Soon...

And then I can put my cat o'nine tails down and get back to writing.  The cat o'nine tails is the implement with which I castigate myself for processing vegetables instead of words.  I do this all day long, every day, and it is getting old. 

But what can I do?  There is a loud litany of edible stuff--eggplants, tomatoes, beans, greens, broccoli--in fauve-bright purple, red, orange, and green, right there before my eyes, every hour of every one of these bright-blue, crisp September days  (the optimism and energy of which will be forever tinged with sadness, as with a touch of premature frost).

Unlike ripe vegetables, thoughts and words do not compel me to go do something about them right away.  They are not red, purple, orange or green, but basic, boring black. They can wait...or so it seems.

Everything that I've ever read or been told about writing tells me that this isn't true.  Words can't wait.  Use it or lose it.  Nulla die sine linea--not a day without a line, Horace advised.  How many times have I heard that this, the inability to write every day (or paint, or compose) because of interruptions by children, spouses or gardens, is the reason there aren't more women writers, painters, composers?

But I remember Tasha Tudor, the illustrator and writer and gardener who enacted a 19th century way of life just over the mountain from here until she died recently in her tenth decade.   She used to say that she only painted in the winter, after the garden was done.  I wonder if she felt guilty about that?

But I don't think she felt guilty about anything much.  She raised four children on her own, wrote and illustrated dozens of books, made puppets and put on shows, and once grew a shirt from seed (she planted the flax, harvested it, processed it somehow, and wove it into cloth which she then cut and sewed into a shirt).

So to whom should I listen--Horace or Tasha?  What would you do?