Monday, April 23, 2012

Joyce Maynard's Hair

What I knew about Joyce Maynard before going to see her speak at the American Library in Paris, was, frankly, not a whole lot. I knew she was a writer, and I vaguely remembered reading something about her living in Keene, New Hampshire--not far from where I once lived during 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. I'd also read that, back in the '70s, she was the teenage paramour of J.D. Salinger, and it was that titillating tidbit that wrenched me out of my warm apartment and across town to the 7e on a brisk Paris evening.

The book that catapulted Maynard into the spotlight at 17. J'adore that bob

Miss Maynard charmed me immediately. She has an unassuming je ne sais quoi about her; a combination, I think, of a pixieish face that belies her 50-some-odd years, a slightly nervous energy (one that I understand from experience), and a seemingly natural talent for engaging storytelling. She mesmerized the audience--an attentive room-full of plastic-wine-cup-clutching bibliophiles wedged into sturdy Danish Modern chairs--with a riveting recount of the day's drama at the Musee d'Orsay. There, beside a bridge linking the left bank to the right, a team of gypsy pickpockets relieved her of her wallet using that Oh-Here's-The-Ring-You-Dropped scam. The combination of pity, anger, and laughter that her story provoked totally won me over.

The remainder of the evening was no less confessional, and equally spellbinding; with disarming earnestness, Maynard shared intimate details of her topsy-turvy life with us strangers. This was an oral autobiography punctuated with dramatic bullet points--alcoholic parents, an affair with a famous (and bitter, and controlling) old man--and  equally interesting but more mundane details about her development as a writer, parenting, collapsing relationships, and travel. We had a bit in common, I thought.

I left the event empty handed (the book I was most interested in had sold out already), but felt full with that warm-and-fuzzy feeling you get when you realize you're not alone in the universe--that there are kindred spirits within our own orbit who share similar experiences and express those similarities with vivid language.

What was I thinking? A yearlong experiment in blondness that lasted roughly 364 days longer than it should have

Since then, I've followed Mlle. Maynard through the usual social networks, which is where I came upon her most recent piece, this published in the New York Times on April 9 titled "The Kindest Cut." It's about hair. Most of us have at least a little bit of the stuff, and some of us struggle with it on a daily basis: Taming unruly cowlicks, dominating subordinate gray strands with "natural" hair dye, and aiming for a style that doesn't look like you tried too hard or cared too little. It's exhausting work, and has been an all-consuming preoccupation more than a few times in my life.

Right now, I'm preoccupied with whether or not to whack my hair off. I've been growing it long for about two years now, and it hits my upper back right about at bra-strap level
. I think I thought that having long hair again would make me feel pretty. I realize I've never felt pretty, long hair or short, so that's not really a valid reason to schlep around a tangled mess of boring brown tresses. Perhaps, subconsciously, I also harbor a fear that men will no longer find me attractive if I snip of a few inches.

My hair last week. It doesn't look too bad when freshly washed, but it's still time for a change

"Men don't like short hair," a friend tells Maynard knowingly in "The Kindest Cut."  Maynard isn't deterred. "Should my hairstyle be dictated by the desire to please men or myself?" she asks herself in response. Now, I have to ask myself that same question. I hope I'll be brave enough to heed the desire to please myself, and not feel resigned to sporting a head of hair that's boring and unflattering. 

On our way to Copenhagen a couple of weeks ago, I made a pre-flight pit-stop at the Relay store at Charles de Gaulle. Quickly rifling through the magazines, I spotted a fashion feature showing magazine editors (aka "real people") wearing the latest designer duds. The clothes weren't nearly as compelling as one of the editor's hairdos. I hadn't seen anything so fun and interesting in a long time. Her slightly messy, long bob hit about shoulder length, with eye-grazing blond-and-brown bangs funking it up in a mod way. I loved it, and thought, "I wish I could have hair like that."
So, why not? 


  1. Be yourself, Aurelia, you're better at it than everyone else!

  2. When I was a young nerd who wanted so badly to be liked, my mother used to say those same words to me as a sort of reassurance: "Be yourself." Thank you for that gentle reminder, Paul! I needed that :0)

  3. Great timing! I just went to lunch with an old co-worker who said "Your hair looks great! I guess that growing out the gray look wasn't working for you?"
    Look when you see my gray hair coming out that just means I haven't dyed it in time. I thought it was a pretty funny remark. I used to have the best hair ever, then I started aging and like everything else, my hair is doint its own thing

  4. Men like women that are confident about their looks, so the length of your hair is totally based on how you feel about it. That's right, it's up to you! I can't even imagine Jeffy saying "Gee Aurelia, ever since you got that Dorothy Hamill haircut, my feeling for you have changed. I'm moving to Crete with Fanny."
    Right? Your hair ALWAYS looks good, even blond, even whatever. It's because you're pretty you really are.

    1. I'm talking from a heterosexual base, here. I'm not sure if women who have women partners have the same issues.

  5. Beth, you possess that magical ability to make me laugh with nearly everything you say or write. One of the many things I love about you (also talking from a hetero base :0)

    I've thought about letting the gray take over (it seems to want to so badly), but your experience coupled with my determination to feel 25 forever won out. Hurray for hairdye!

  6. As I have curly hair, there's only one way to wear it: curly. There's only one way to cut it: in layers. Sure it's got volume, it looks good, but how I wish I could change my style for once!

    I'm always looking for "new" authors to read - I'll be checking out Maynard. So cool that you got to meet her!

    Also, remember this is France. Men find ALL women attractive. ;)

  7. Holly, sometimes I wish my hair options were limited. Then I'd have less to stress out about! So: Lucky you!!

  8. Hi Aurelia, My name is Kristen and I moved to Paris this past September and like you was devastated to discover that kale is not grown in Paris or France for that matter. That's why I launched The Kale Project this past April to bring kale to Paris.

    Fellow blogger Karin told me about your love for kale as well so I wanted to reach out, introduce myself, say hello and join the journey from farm to market to fork!


  9. Yay! I am so excited about the Kale Project!! I've just begun reading your blog, so maybe you've covered this already, but rumor has it (aka Emily at Paris Paysanne told me) that there *is* one market with one vendor--was it at Les Enfants Rouges?--where kale supposedly exists, for sale! I'm not getting my hopes up, but will check it out. I have several packets of kale seeds specially imported from San Francisco, but each attempt to plant them has been foiled thus far (my neighborhood community garden is closing, and the others all seem to have kilometer-long waitlists), but I am not giving up! Hope to meet you one day, Kristen, and hear more about your project in person. Thank you for introducing yourself, and thanks, too, to Karin!!!

    1. Hi Aurelia! Thank you for your enthusiasm! I did not know that about Les Enfants Rouges! I'm in touch with Emily and hope to meet her soon and chat more. Good luck w/ growing your own kale as I hear about the community gardens - I looked into that and the wait lists were crazy! I'd love to get together sometime! email me and we can plan something! -kristen


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