The Show & The Shave: how it all started

Monday, June 24, 2013

Just beat it!'s promise of perfect June weather sealed the deal for my first bike-to-work day this year. My only intentions for the 27-mile round-trip pedal-fest were to enjoy the beauty of the day, save some gas, and get some exercise. As I assembled attire for the ride—pulling bike clothes out of the storage bin where they'd wintered—a saucy Pink Power! jersey informed me that this would be a theme ride.

When my friend Kay Luma graphic designer and avid cyclist—learned that her sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she designed this amazing piece of wearable art-with-a-message in memory of her mother who died of the disease at age 58 and in honor of the sister fighting it. (Read the full story, and BUY ONE of these beauties while you're at it!) Kay's express intent with her "Rosie the Biker" design is  to raise awareness and donate all proceeds to cancer research.

Considering that the fight against the Big C turned personal for me in January when Susan was diagnosed, this shirt now has even greater meaning than when I purchased it over a year ago; and IMHO, my bald head is the perfect complement. (Although, I'm usually biking when I wear it, which means my hairless pate is hidden under a helmet.) I love the upbeat messages emblazoned on the pink background, reflecting Kay's philosophy: "Positive words that focus on life and living to its fullest were important for me to include." With all due respect to this wonderful lady and all her goodness, I wore it on my ride with an additional message muttered under my breath:  "Fuck you, cancer!" And more positively: "Go, Susan! You will beat it!"
What a gorgeous day for a ride! Golden sun. Lapis lazuli sky. Sixty-five perfect degrees. The recurring refrain of my spinning feet, rhythmic breathing, and beating heart became its own moving meditationEvery mile felt like an old friend as I was reminded of the 42 times I'd ridden this route in my Sweating for Shelter  project almost two years before. Good times.

Being on a bike and wearing the Pink Power jersey are a double guarantee of adventure. It is also a sure thing that I will meet someone on the bike path or at Machinery Row bike shop who says, "You must know Kay Lum" or "I have a shirt like that" (which translates to "I know Kay Lum"). This day was no different.

After finishing work, pedaling home, and racking my bike, three indelible messages were the residual gifts of the day.

1) Thank you, Kay Lum!
2) Fuck you, cancer!
3) I love you, Susan. You're winning this battle, Warrior Goddess. Beat it!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Life as a peeled onion, slightly skewed

From the moment my shearer... er... hair stylist flipped off the razor, my world had shifted a degree or two on its axis. Looking into the mirror at my newly bald head was like going back in time and hearing the voices of my two older sisters:  "You look like a peeled onion."

That was their assessment every time our mother pulled my hair away from my round face into yet another unflattering 'do that was never in style in any era.

Flash forward a half century to the mirror at Aniu Salon. Yup. They have a point. Oh, and guess what? So do I!

When The Shave was complete, friend and videographer Dennis Thayer commented, "You have a nice head for baldness. Good thing you weren't one of those forceps babies." Then I noticed The Ridge. A slight rise runs down the center of my head, suggesting fertile ground for a Mohawk or that a distant relation was a Rhodesian Ridgeback. 

The days following The Shear had certain similarities to an amputee's Phantom Limb Syndrome. When pulling clothes over my head, I exercised care not to catch my hair on zippers or buttons, then began to flip non-existent strands away from my collar. Coming home from work, I wanted nothing so much as to pull my tresses back, away from my face and off my neck. Reaching for a chopstick to fasten my "after-work knot", I would realize my head was well free from encumbrance.

Despite recalling childhood slings and arrows, discovering a continental divide on top of my head, and overcoming habits of the haired, the "peeled onion" has offered some lovely gifts. When I rub my head, my fingertips are tickled with velvety bristles—making me, I suppose, my own Chia Petand my scalp has so much sensation as to make scratching it feel almost illicit.

The maintenance is great. No drying. No styling. Taking advantage of this, I joined a masters swim class. Easy in/easy out, with only that tedious 75-minute swim workout in between.

Sometimes I forget about The Bald and am momentarily puzzled when in public someone turns a curious look in my direction. I love those brave souls who charge forward and just ask, "Are you battling cancer, or is this your extreme response to summer?"

Then there's the sense of identity so closely associated with appearance. Sometimes I feel exotic. Sometimes I feel odd. But I mostly like being out of my comfort zone and feeling slightly off balance—tilting at a new world that, in carpenter lingo, is a bubble off center.

What are you doing to challenge your balance and make your world teeter a little? I'd love to read your comments.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Lee (Bald Chick #2) Takes the Stand

Susan and I have both described Lee Stolmack with such vivid terms as "fiery", "feisty", and "funny". (Lotta f-words there, hon.)  Did I mention "delightful"? Here is your opportunity to experience her for yourself. Thank you, Lee, for taking the time to write this guest post.

I remember getting the news about Susan’s cancer like a kick in the gut. I had to sit down and work the news through all my abilities to deny the truth, which are less now that I am older, and what’s up with that? None of my techniques worked, and I was forced to face both the idea that Susan was life-threateningly ill and the collateral notion that I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Buzzed everyone who knows her to get the details, no go—I couldn’t even offer her worthless advice because her treatment program was already set.

I went to work in the kitchen on comfort food. Brilliant! I whipped up homemade marshmallows in three flavors, purchased Mexican hot chocolate rounds, packed a whisk into the box, and shoved my husband Alan out the door with orders to ship the package to Susan, with whomever and for whatever cost.  

While he was gone, I belatedly perused German mail restrictions on the web, thought it was doubtful that either homemade food or food from a country other than that from which it was shipped would be allowed delivery in The Fatherland. My imagination kicked in, and I saw agriculturally-trained beagles, speaking German, alerting their handlers to the illicit goods. 

The box was delivered without incident. I just hate wasting a good fantasy, don’t you? (Susan said next time send weed.)

I emailed Susan with the directions for whipping up frothy Mexican hot chocolate, and hoped she’d like the marshmallows.  Somewhere in the correspondence she mentioned hiding the ‘mallows from Bernd so he wouldn’t just eat them out of hand. I didn’t care, I had done a good deed that showed my caring sidewhich doesn’t pop out all that often.

A week later the glooms came back. Susan was Facebooking about the expected results of her chemo, including hair and nail and eyelash loss. I perked upI had an opinion about this! Susan vacillated about letting her hair fall out naturally (ugh) all over the place in big clumps or simply shaving her head. Can you tell what I opined? She dithered and waivered, and I said I was going to shave mine. She told me no, please don’t!  I offered some brilliant argument like, you’re not my mother and I can do what I want.

I told her she could witness in full color photos that this wasn’t such a big deal, and feel OK about doing it herself. She said no again. I told her to sit on it and spin, or something in that vein, and made an appointment with my hairdresser for a shave. My husband, in his thoughtful and eloquent phraseology said, “Go for it!"

I took Alan with me as the official project photographer and then made a second mistakeI scheduled the appointment for first thing in the morning.  Before my wrinkles had a chance to disappear in the softening light.  Alan snapped three dozen photos with full flash while I ignored him and concentrated on the process. Now, to be truthful, I have very short hair to begin with, and was not sacrificing long, golden locks like Liz, but I was always pretty pleased with my perky 'do. I figured it would all grow back in five or six weeks, so what the hell. The clippers ran over my hair quickly, sending showers of red-blonde hair all over the salon.  I laughed the entire time and thought this was all a hoot.  My hairdresser refused to charge me and said it was her pleasure to help Susan.

Bald becomes me, but I slapped a baseball hat on my head so as not to frightened the horses in the street, and ran all over town doing errands. Nobody noticed. I was disappointed.

I posted the least unflattering of the shaving pictures on Facebook. My computer didn’t smoke. I noticed a pale ring of skin around my face and had the panicked notion that my hairline was receding. But nope, it’s just skin that was covered up with hair and didn’t tan. Had a nice dry martini to help me calm down.

Two days later it dawned on me that I wasn’t a red head anymore. Very strange, as I had red-gold ringlets as a child and kept on having red hair well past the time grey should have taken over.  Now I had skin-colored hair, and nobody cared. Alan thought I was cute, my daughter was ‘proud’ of me; everyone congratulated this newly bald person for being so thoughtful, while I wasn’t sure that she was me. OK, so that became boring in two more days and I figured out I better send out some progress pictures to prove that I don’t have deep furrows on my face (lighting is everything as Marlene Dietrich knew well), screw the hair and hair color. Managed some that didn’t look too horrible and posted them on Facebook. Responses all indicated relief that I wasn’t actually 95 years old, and in fact the kudos were sort of embarrassing. I decided to go underground and ignore the whole fracas.

But a week later a new issue surfaced. I have a ¾ inch scar on my head about two inches from my front hairline. What the hell is this? I had a rough childhood and still have scars, but I could remember how I got them and had assigned responsibility for each to a source.  This one was unaccounted for and drove me crazy. My immediate family is all gone now, so there was no one to ask.  The more I thought about it, and imagined lurid scenarios of its origin, the less I could come up with even a clue. So I stewed and was nasty to everyone.  Then, miracle of miracles, my hair started to grow out. The scar disappeared under the fuzz, and I decided to give up obsessing about it. Just that simple. I’m telling you – the mind is a brilliant thing when it’s under control.

I had been noticing that some people stared at memen look away quickly but women, most of them around my age, take a good look. I actually didn’t mind, better they register the possibility of cancer than pretend it doesn’t happen.  But then I did the unforgivable. Most times with people who know me, I let them know right away that I’m not sick but look like this in solidarity with a friend who is far away who has cancer. I get reams of undeserved praise. But I went into a store I frequent in a little town in the Sierras, and scared the shit out of the woman who owns the place who has been an acquaintance for over 12 years. Her eyes widened hugely and she blurted out, “I see that you have had big changes in your life” before she could even think. I demurred and told her the circumstances of my bald pate. She got her breath back and told me she was glad I wasn’t sick. I felt like a big shit. Still do when I think about this.

My hair is growing back slowly. My grandchildren like to run their hands over my dome to assess the changes, but in all truth, our new puppy is more interesting to them. Susan shaved her head, Liz shaved her head. We have traded observationsno, I didn’t need a night cap but yes, slather on lots of sunscreen. I would do this again for a dear friend, and hope I never have to. I didn’t get wiser from doing this, but I choose to think I must have been pretty wise before I got bald. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.