On February 9, 2013, my husband Scott and I were pursuing our Oscar Quest at the Madison, Wisconsin Sundance Theater. Fully loaded with popcorn and other sundry concessions, we were armed for the all-day undertaking of viewing the 15 nominated "shorts"—those films with a running time of under 40 minutes—in the categories of Animated, Live Action, and Documentary.
As we viewed the documentary short, Mondays at Racine, about a New York salon that offers free beauty services to cancer patients, I could only think about my friend Susan, who had been recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. The fact that Susan had seemed almost as distressed about the potential loss of her hair through chemotherapy as she had about the cancer itself made the tag line of the film particularly poignant: "When your life is at stake, why is losing your hair so hard?"
As several women in the movie had their heads shaved as a preemptive strike against its loss to chemo, it occurred to me that this was one part of Susan's path I could share with her. With immediate certainty, I knew it was the right thing to do; but it was also daunting. Shed the locks I'd spent four years nurturing and growing to great lengths? And how weird would I look with no hair? Oh yeah, considering what Susan was facing, those concerns were petty. Nevertheless, they were there.
The next instant was like being struck with lightning on the road to Damascus. As I imagined what I would experience without hair, it was a liberation akin to flying. Why? I'm not entirely sure, but I think it goes back half a century.
Due to my mother's utter lack of grooming skills, my early years were spent as a homely kid and all the rejection that entails. When I was about 10, my cousins had some teen magazines with "beauty tips", at which point a brilliant light of hope went on for me. From that moment I spent the next 50 years desperately grasping at every tip, every skill, every product (okay, maybe not "every"—never did go with anything that had "lamb this" or "placenta that" in the ingredients or title) that would help me look pretty.
Something about that moment of imagining what it would be like without hair—who I would be without hair—with the associated freedom from trying to make it look good and earning the approval of others, felt like a hostage release. Although it was still a journey I wanted to share with Susan, it became a pilgrimage I was making on my own behalf as well.
Thus began the countdown to A Year of Living Baldly.