I have never had a bad hair cut.
You’re looking at the screen right now. You just reread that first sentence. You’re wondering what on Earth my lack of bad hair cuts could have to do with writing, or character building, or really anything you read this blog for.
Bear with me, Salisbury. For now.
I’ve had my hair, oh, lots of different ways over the years. First time I cut it short I was nine or ten, and it was short, short as a boy’s. I’ve varied it between long and short ever since. I’ve had bobs. I’ve had bangs. I’ve had boy cuts and stubble. I’ve had weird asymmetrical things. I’ve had mohawks. I’ve had pigtails.
I’ve been called a dyke for my hair. When it’s been long, I’ve been called boring and traditional (‘don’t you ever do anything interesting with it?’ whined a friend who, obviously, hadn’t known me for very long). I have, in spite of being an adult woman with large breasts, gotten sirred by waiters. I once, in my spiky bright pink days, had a psychiatrist ask me, almost as soon as I walked into his office: ‘so. Do you always wear your hair like that?’.
You’re probably making a face right now. And, yes, you’re thinking: well, obviously, there has been a bad hair cut or two in there, Emily.
Here’s the thing, though.
Not to me.
I’ve enjoyed every hair cut I ever had. Even the shitty ones. (Except that one time I tried to bleach my hair after dying it black and fried it. This is simply because I couldn’t get a brush through it. Also, I looked like a purple-haired troll doll.) I like being different. I even like, to some extent, other human beings wondering what the fuck I was thinking. Pshaw! That’s for me to know, buddy. That’s for me to know.
I suppose I wanted (except in the psychiatrist’s case, because, well, no one wants to get tranquilized for a hairstyle choice) to never let other people’s opinions and social constructions rule me. I rather enjoyed being a nonconformist, and the brutal honesty in that is that, yes, of course I cared what other people were thinking. I just wanted something from them other than approval.
I spent over twenty years dressing myself in ways I thought were cool. They were not, needless to say, ways other people thought were cool, heavens no. A floor length silk skirt and a tshirt is, apparently, something people have trouble getting behind as a fashion statement. No one likes leopard print with zebra print except me. That picture in the grocery store of me wearing a crown of flowers and holding aloft a hamsteak probably wasn’t avant garde to everyone else in the supermarket.
I looked in my wardrobe recently: black tees, black sweaters, grey sweaters, black tees. Jeans. Sneakers. Slip-ons. I looked in the mirror at my unremarkable hair.
Did I change?
Or did I finally, after a decade, cotton on to the fact that the world is watching me?
Writing is an odd thing. It’s something, professionally, that you do for public consumption: your piece will get criticized, misinterpreted, misquoted, maligned. People–the vast majority of them–won’t ‘get you’. Even the few who really liked it won’t ‘get you’.
But at the same time, to write effectively, you’ve got to do it as though it would never see the light of day. You’ve got to write like Emily Dickinson–as though your poems would be found years after your death in a musty box somewhere, mouldering patiently. Honesty is a thing that can never be manufactured, and it’s necessary for art of any kind. I won’t waste my time telling you why: you either understand that or you’ll never write well.
My point here is: writing is a tough tight rope to walk. You’ve got to like it–I mean, really. You’ve got to. If you don’t, no one else will. But how much? Can you bear seeing your masterwork pulped and pooped out by people who just don’t understand you, whine whine whine?
So. What do you do? Do you bare your soul’s cheetah and lime green interior to the world? Or do you opt out, for the inscrutable black sweaters of concealment?
Or perhaps there’s some in-between here. Because, after all, it’s still you wrapped up in that black sweater–and you can’t have changed too much. Maybe you’re repping that literary black hoodie now because it’s comfortable and it’s finally stretched to fit over your boobs. Maybe there’s a part of you that’s not being dishonest so much as it’s being adult: perhaps it’s recognized, finally, that there are things far deeper and more subtle than clashing patterns to make people uneasy over, and that those things are, by far, the more important ones to pay attention to.
Long story short: write what’s on the inside, yes. But if what’s on the inside is crazy as hell, be ready for people not to like you. You’re not a maligned genius. You’re not a Beat poet with a bottle of wine and a handwritten diary of eastern wisdom. You’re not Oscar Wilde, breathing your last disconsolate de profundis in stifling luxury. You’re just an untried, possibly unpublished, writer with the same dream as millions of scribblers the world over: to write a book that everyone has read. You might have it in you, you might not. All you can do is write it, possibly promote it, and let the public decide. A lot of people want to be writers. I mean, a lot.
It isn’t you, you see, who decides whether or not you’re a genius. It never has been. That’s up to other people, and, curious though you might be, it’s better for your writing if you don’t concern yourself too much with it. Just wear what you feel like wearing, at the end of the day. Write what you feel like writing.
People have advice for you all day: write something the public will like. Write what you think a publishing house will pick up. Write what’s in your heart. Try to find a balance. Fuck everybody, write the damndest thing you can think of.
My advice is, simply: fuck all of them. Do exactly what makes you most comfortable. Individuality, shameless conformity: it doesn’t matter. Write in a way that makes you feel comfortable, and let society sort out whether or not you’re conforming.
In short: stop being a writer and write.