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On long hair, and "On Writing" - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
On long hair, and "On Writing"
Two totally disparate subjects, but oh, well.

Every couple of years, the powers-that-be in fashion try to decree short hair. Tonight, there's a cover story on AOL about the new styles this spring--Natalie Portman's flapper-style bob, Kirsten Dunst's near buzz-cut. Jennifer Aniston's below-the-shoulder cut looks luxuriously long beside them. Now, actresses have to have so much junk done to their hair that it makes sense for them to cut it every few years and get all the chemicals out, but why does the media then fawn about how pretty it looks when they get their heads practically shaved? Granted, they're pretty women and can get away with shaving their heads, but they look nice despite the hair, not because of it. (Well, Dunst, anyway. I'll admit that Portman's bob is cute, but it also looks like a "special" style, and having hair cut into a special style... I don't know; it could get boring pretty quickly.)

Of course, I'm biased. I'm a longhair.

I had my hair cut to just below my ears in the eighth grade. It looked horrible. Since then, the shortest I've had it is my shoulders... and I cried then.

What can I say? My mother was a quasi-hippie, or at least on the fringes of it (she didn't do drugs, but when I was a baby, she took me to a war protest and taped picket signs to my stroller). She always had long hair and still does (longer than mine), and it was just kind of what it meant to me to be a grown-up woman... to have long hair like Mom's. I've outgrown a lot of desires I had as a child, but never the desire to just let my hair grow as far down as it will go, and I'm still jealous because Mom's hair grows about six inches more than mine. She used to let me try to do her hair in Princess Leia styles, though trying that once is enough to figure out how many hairpieces they used in the movies--Mom's hair was exactly the length of Leia's in RotJ, and none of the styles worked.

Generally, I think most people look better with a little bit of hair on their heads, and that's men as well as women. And as a woman, there's just nothing more relaxing than brushing my hair, and nothing handier than just being able to tie it up when I have a bad hair day. It can look very sophisticated in an updo, cute in braided pigtails, or normal in my every day clip or headband. I don't do any processing on it (I permed it twice and didn't like the way it felt to run my fingers through it), so it's healthy and strong, and even the threads of white that are getting more common these days aren't particularly annoying to me, except when they stick straight up.

I suppose I shouldn't mind these periodic pushes for short hair. It's not like I listen anyway--longhairs tend to ignore fashion trends. But it makes me sad to see pretty heads of hair shorn off, and people clapping and saying, "Oo! That's so pretty!" I guess it's none of my business. Just rankles every time things I like go out of style, and I have to deal with another bout of time in which I'm hopelessly out of style, since I'm certainly not going to make myself over to fit into Vogue.

Just for myself, though, I'm never going to cut my hair short, even when I'm old. A lady in the nursing home where Mom worked when I was little had this gorgeous long, white hair, with deep waves in it. That's what I want to be like when I'm ninety. It feels good and feminine and natural to me. Call me a crunchy conservative, I guess. I vote Republican on education and fiscal issues, but when it comes to looks, I'm a hippie at heart. (Conservationism as well. I'm a Tolkien environmentalist in a lot of ways. I definitely prefer trees to smokestacks, and dragons to motorcars.)

Anyway, here's me with the long hair. I may not be gorgeous, but the hair stays. I even like my plain old brown color. :)

And on a totally different subject, Stephen King's On Writing
I swear, I sometimes spend more time reading about writing than I do, well, writing. Which is a bad thing, but I'll cop to it anyway. There are a lot of books I like, but if I were going to a desert island and allowed to only take one book on writing with me, it wouldn't even take thought. Stephen King is one of my favorite writers anyway, but I have to say--it was a loss to the profession when he left teaching English. He doesn't just know how to write. He knows how to talk about writing. I recommend it to anyone interested in writing. It's also a fairly decent autobiographical piece, and the most endearing thing about it is that it is a continual love letter to his wife. Reading his words about her, you come away thinking that no one in the world is more wonderful than Tabitha King, because it's very obvious that he believes this. And to me, that's just cool.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some favorite quotes.
Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic. That goes for reading and writing as well as for playing a musical instrument, hitting a baseball, or running the four-forty. The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate--four to six hours aday, every day--will not seem strenous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptititude for them.

What I like about this quote is that it really addresses what bugs me about fan writers (in particular) who complain that they're "just having fun" and shouldn't be expected to master things like spelling and grammar. If you love writing, if it's what you're built to do, then all of that is part of the love, part of the kick you get out of it. You feel the words in your fingertips and understand what all the little symbols do.

And if you're not having fun with writing as writing, why do it? There are a thousand hobbies out there. Why treat writing like it's incidental?

Which leads to my absolute favorite quote from the book, to which all others are subordinate. I quoted it earlier in my entry on why I'm a fanfic snob, but I won't make you go back and find it; apologies to those with photographic memories who are seeing this twice:
You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, or even despair--the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I'm not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I'm not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn't a popularity contest, it's not the moral Olympics, and it's not church. But it's writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can't or won't, it's time for you to close the book and do something else.

Okay. Shorter ones, now.

After two long paragraphs of trying to convince people to learn grammar, King breaks off:
Plus... oh, to hell with it. If you can remember all the accessories that go with your best outfit, the contents of your purse, the starting lineup of the New York Yankees or the Houston Oilers, or what label "Hang On Sloopy" by The McCoys was on, you are capable of remembering the difference between a gerund (verb form used as a noun) and a participle (verb form used as an adjective).

On personal essays:
I taught writing for a year at the University of Maine in Orono and had one class loaded with athletes and cheerleaders. They liked informal essays, greeting them like the old high school friends they were. I spent one whole semester fighting the urge to ask them to write two pages of well-turned prose on the subject of "If Jesus Were My Teammate." What held me back was the sure and terrible knowledge that most of them would take to the task with enthusiasm. Some might actually weep while in the throes of composition.

I just like it because it encapsulates my whole attitude toward over-sentimental writing about trite and overexplored ideas. I believe I'll do a fanficrant about this soon.

On Lord of the Rings:
A thousand pages of hobbits hasn't been enough for three generations of post-World War II fantasy fans; even when you add in that clumsy, galumphing dirigible of an epilogue, The Silmarillion, it hasn't been enough. Hence Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, Robert Jordan, the questing rabbits of Watership Down, and half a hundred others. The writers of these books are creating the hobbits they still love and pine for; they are trying to bring Frodo and Sam back from the Grey Havens because Tolkien is no longer around to do it for them.

On theme:
Not every book has to be loaded with symbolism, irony, or musical language (they call it prose for a reason, y'know), but it seems to me that every book--at least every one worth reading--is about something.

(Just a good answer to fear of theme.)

On too much positive feedback too soon:
Here's something else--if no one says to you, "Oh Sam (or Amy)! This is wonderful!," you are a lot less apt to slack off or start concentrating on the wrong thing... being wonderful, for instance, instead of telling the goddam story.

On non-specific feedback in writing seminars:
In too many cases the teachers and writers in residence are nodding, smiling, and looking thoughtful right along with [the other participants]. It seems to occur to few of the attendees that if you have a feeling you just can't describe, you might just be, I don't know, kind of like, my sense of it is, in the wrong fucking class.

Sorry. That one just made me laugh. I love King's approach to writing because it is pragmatic and mystical at the same time.

Anyway, that's all I've got. I've rambled long enough and quoted enough. Cheers.

I feel a bit...: creative creative

14 comments or Leave a comment
alphabet26 From: alphabet26 Date: March 3rd, 2004 09:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
About long hair:
I've had long hair all my life, but this summer when I was on my Semester at Sea, we crossed the equator and guys on the ship were shaving their heads. I didn't go that far, but they asked if anyone would donate their hair to Locks of Love (if you had enough--ten inches) and I figured, "Hell with it!" I was actually the first girl to sit down and let them do it...I think five others wound up donating their hair in the end.

I know I wrote an LJ post on it...yes, here. (There's a pic, too, though a bad one. But it gives you a general idea.)

I REALLY DON'T LIKE my hair this short though. It's impossible to deal with. Like you said, you can put long hair in braids or ponytails or just leave it down. Short hair is IMPOSSIBLE. (That's probably not true, but I have absolutely no experience at dealing with/styling short hair. I am at a loss.)

It does dry quicker, though, after a shower. As one who never uses blow dryers, I do appreciate that.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 3rd, 2004 09:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Locks is a good organization, but I'm still using my hair myself, so... :)

That's a good picture, very cute.

And I agree--short hair was hard to work with. To keep it in any given style, you have to keep getting it cut every other minute, and use all kinds of styling products. I never use blow dryers either. Usually wash my hair at night and let it dry while I sleep.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: March 4th, 2004 12:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Hey, a fellow long-hair! (In a good way, I mean). I tend conservative myself as well, and for some reason the waist-length hair always threw people in those silly "guess ten things about me" introduction games we had to play at the beginning of high school and college. I always got pegged for a rabid environmentalist and a couple of times I was invited to join the groups who would chain themselves to posts outside of the Home Depot. Um, NOT interested, thanks.

Re writing; to be honest, half the time I find it extremely painful; there are times when it just WON'T come right and it makes me crazy. But it's more painful not to write it out. I guess I've been lucky in not being spoiled much - my first critic was my mom, who never hesitated to say "This is crap." Weird, the things you thank your parents for later.
ladyaeryn From: ladyaeryn Date: March 4th, 2004 02:19 am (UTC) (Link)
I did the long hair thing until recently - largely because I was too lazy to get off my rear and get it cut. ;) I had it most of the way down my back and I generally liked how it looked, but it really was troublesome and I couldn't shake the feeling that I looked more than a little like a hippie unless I put it up. ;) I've got it cut to shoulder length now. I can't stand it any shorter - when I got it cut in a bob years and years ago (protesting my mother all the way) I did cry. Hated it. I figured shoulder length was a decent compromise between the two.

Nice pic - cool to finally be able to put a face with the name. :)

Now, I find it an extremely weird coincidence that not a day after I suddenly pick up "On Writing" again, you do a commentary on it. I read a little bit of it several months ago and while a few bits stuck with me (the 2nd draft=1st draft-10%, for instance, because even now I know I tend to be very wordy when I write), I didn't get very far. But the other day someone brought up King at work, and for some reason my mind flashed to that book, and I immediately went and pulled it from the shelf and checked it out. I've never read anything of his before this, but what I've read so far (I'm only up to his writing of Carrie), I like. Doesn't sugar-coat things, but still puts what he's trying to get across in an accessible way, and he makes sense.
ladyelaine From: ladyelaine Date: March 4th, 2004 04:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Just for myself, though, I'm never going to cut my hair short, even when I'm old. A lady in the nursing home where Mom worked when I was little had this gorgeous long, white hair, with deep waves in it. That's what I want to be like when I'm ninety.

I'm totally with you on the hair. I used to perm mine, but I once permed it, then dyed it before the perm was gone, and I had to cut it off at the ears! I think I cried for three days straight. In Hawaii, the salt air made it so that I had to cut it off at the shoulders once a year. Now that I'm back home, I've never permed it again, though I did dye it once (and it didn't do much damage). These days, I sleep with it braided, so it doesn't tangle at night and it's nice and wavy the next day. And as of now, it's down to my waist. (And still, I want it longer!)

On writing:

I hate writing, but love having written. If that makes any sense at all. I love the stories I've written, the characters I've produced, and they love me right back. But 99.9% of the time, when I sit down to write, I have to grind out the words. It used to come easy--I could sit down and write a short story in a single afternoon, have it beta read and ready to go within a month. I guess now I'm so focused on how I'm writing that the inspiration gets blocked off. *grumble*

Have repeatedly heard good things about Steven King's book on writing. Will probably pick it up one of these days.

Here's something else--if no one says to you, "Oh Sam (or Amy)! This is wonderful!," you are a lot less apt to slack off or start concentrating on the wrong thing... being wonderful, for instance, instead of telling the goddam story.

Oh, thank you thank you thank you! How many times has it been, on the workshop I frequent, that someone gives a polite critique, and the critiquee throws a hissy fit because her critiquer didn't automatically worship her!!! (I'll shut up now before I start cursing every other word...)

In too many cases the teachers and writers in residence are nodding, smiling, and looking thoughtful right along with [the other participants]. It seems to occur to few of the attendees that if you have a feeling you just can't describe, you might just be, I don't know, kind of like, my sense of it is, in the wrong fucking class.

How 'bout non-specific feedback from your beta readers? Now I know I'm not a slam-bang terrific writer, but I'm good enough to rate a good beta. "Nice story, good job" is about the single lamest beta anyone could possibly give--hell, I'd prefer to just not get the damn beta back!!! (Nine out of ten betas on tf.n's beta reader register are guilty of this, the cardinal sin of beta reading.) Whoops. There I go foaming at the mouth again.

Shutting up now. : )
mafdet From: mafdet Date: March 4th, 2004 06:47 am (UTC) (Link)
I used to have so-long-I-could-sit-on-it hair. But eventually I cut it to collarbone length, partly because I dye it, and dying hip-length hair is a PITA, and partly because I'm a very small woman and having hair that long made me look like Cousin Itt. Collarbone length is a nice compromise for me; it's long enough to look glamorous and wear up or back, and short enough so that its natural waviness comes out and one can see me and not just a head of hair.

I won't cut my hair any shorter; at my age (coughcoughcough) I want to retain some glamour. I hate that matronly, asexual, resolutely practical look that short hair sometimes gives older women.

Besides - I have a collection of pretty barettes and hairclips and I would hate to see them go to waste!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 4th, 2004 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)
I hate that matronly, asexual, resolutely practical look that short hair sometimes gives older women.

Right there with ya. Someone told my mother once that she is "too old" to have long hair (she's fifty-three)... aaargh! Women over twenty have the right to feel as beautiful and feminine as they want to. Some women do like short hair (I don't get it on a personal level, but I accept that it's true), but a lot of the "middle age" haircuts basically seem to be pressure to say "I am not a sexual being of any sort anymore."

(Of course, I also wear flowing skirts and ballet-slipper style shoes... weird that the vast majority of my writings come out as "masculine"! Except for the fact that I only rarely wear makeup, I can't think of many people more stereotypically feminine looking than I am. Which is a tangent, but oh well.)

I guess as I get older--only a year and a half left in that all important 18-34 demographic!--I find myself being more militant about being allowed to look and act exactly as I want to, as long as it doesn't hurt or mortally offend the society I live in. And I've never liked the fashion industry telling me what looks good "this year." Sweeties, if it looks good on me this year, it looked good last year and will look good next year. And if it doesn't look good on me this year, a season isn't going to change it.
leelastarsky From: leelastarsky Date: March 4th, 2004 07:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Hey, Fern, totally agree with you on the long hair issue. It's way easier to look after than short. In my experience anyway. I had the waist-length hair when I was younger. First time I cut it really short was during pregnancy #2 - I carried over summer and it got so thick I couldn't put a brush through it. It was either chop it off or dread it and I had to get it off my neck cos it was so damn hot... But the short hair hung around my neck anyway! At least with long hair you can pull it all up and out of the way. :~)
Mine is roughly shoulder-length now. It used to be dead straight, but since babies has been getting curlier and curlier!
silverhill From: silverhill Date: March 4th, 2004 11:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Yay for long hair!

Growing up, I hated my hair. That's probably because it was always mid-neck or shorter. My hair is very fine and straight, so unless I took the effort to curl it every day (which I didn't), it just stuck limply to the sides of my head. (Plus, my hair does not hold curl well at all.)

Now my hair is longer than it's ever been -- half-way down my back. (Hmm... sound like anyone else we know? *cough*MarySue*cough*) It can be a pain because it gets pretty tangled. But it looks beautiful and can be really fun (like when I put it in a bun with no pins, elastics or holders of any kind).

She used to let me try to do her hair in Princess Leia styles, though trying that once is enough to figure out how many hairpieces they used in the movies--Mom's hair was exactly the length of Leia's in RotJ, and none of the styles worked.

I hate that! I always wanted a Princess Leia hairstyle.

I don't think women with long hair look like hippies. Hmm....
themorningstarr From: themorningstarr Date: March 4th, 2004 11:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I cut my hair in January of '03. I cut my normally below the shoulders, very thick (and heavy and impossible to dry) hair so short that it didn't even touch the nape of my neck. I then had all sorts of cute, funky hairstyles at my finger tips. I didn't even have to brush it. I combed it with my fingers. I last had it cut in August 2003. Now I can FINALLY pull it into a ponytail that doesn't resemble that of a Sumo Wrestler, but I still have to put 33 barettes in it just to keep the sides in the ponytail.

In other words... I'll NEVER cut my hair that short again.

And I love Stephen King On Writing. I monopolized our library's copy until I finally bought my own copy for my birthday. I <3 it.
lazypadawan From: lazypadawan Date: March 4th, 2004 04:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you've struck a chord here :).

When I lived in Miami, where it's always humid and hot, I gravitated toward short to jaw-length hair. I let it go a little longer when I was in college in Missouri, but I got used to lower-maintenance hair. My hair is difficult. It absorbs moisture like crazy and doesn't look all pretty and natural unstyled.

But the problem with short hair is that it makes my face look big and round. So, since getting out of college, my hair has been shoulder-to-collarbone length. Whenever I tell someone I'm going to the salon, s/he inevitably says, "Don't cut it too short!!" So I don't :).
manicwriter1271 From: manicwriter1271 Date: March 4th, 2004 05:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
OK, first off, no more negative comments about your looks, woman--you are beautiful. And I don't say that when I don't mean it--have you ever known me to shoot from anywhere other than straight from the hip?

And I love the hair--mine is long now, too, to the edge of my shoulderblades--I need the split ends cut off for sure but at the moment that's all I'm cutting.

My two favorite books are Stephen King's On Writing, recommended to me by Breezy, and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I also like Writer's Journal magazine, but nothing beats the books about writing.

And I do love the way King calls it like he sees it and doesn't mince words.

My favorite quote of his is on p. 186:

The point is to let each character speak freely, without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies' Reading Circle may approve of. To do otherwise would be cowardly as well as dishonest, and believe me, writing fiction in America as we enter the twenty-first century is no job for intellectual cowards. There are a lot of would-be censors out there, and although they may have different agendas, they all want basically the same thing: for you to see the world they see...or at least shut up about what you do see that's different. They are agents of the status quo. Not necessarily bad guys, but dangerous guys if you happen to believe in intellectual freedom.

Another is on p. 136:

Even Charles Dickens, the Shakespeare of the novel, has faced a constant critical attack as a result of his often- sensational subject matter, his cheerful fecundity (when he wasn't creating novels, he and his wife were creating children), and, of course, his success with the book-reading groundlings of his time and ours. Critics and scholars have always been suspicious of popular success.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 4th, 2004 08:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
have you ever known me to shoot from anywhere other than straight from the hip?
Nope. And because of that, many thanks. :)

(Someday, I will do a rant about insecurities and fatherlessness--that's one I dump on his door--but I'm not ready for that quite yet.)

King's advice to be truthful in writing fiction is something I take quite seriously. That doesn't mean that I don't think publishers can set standards, only that authors should write what they need to write and submit the publishers who fit them, rather than trying to write to fit publishers who don't.

For myself, I do come from people who stomp their feet and screw their faces up to avoid swearing when they're mad... or when they're really mad, as opposed to just being annoyed, they get very quiet and very formal. When my family gets quiet, watch your back. :) So honest writing for me tends to be much in the stiff-upper-lip school, because that's how I know people.

More to the point, it's why I simply can't write the nihilistic pieces that seem to get so much acclaim. I do believe that life means something and morality means something and trying to be good is worth something, that there is true love in the world and that love makes a difference--to write otherwise would, for me, be a huge lie, designed to attract a particular audience.

I hate it at work when people come and say that they don't want to read fiction, they want to read "something true." I'm telling you, it's way harder to lie convincingly in fiction than it is in nonfic. I especially hate it when this is followed by a request for A Child Called It or a Chicken Soup book. (The latter I hate for being saccharine, the former, just because, ack. What's the fascination?)

Well, that's a whole 'nother rant.
From: 88l71 Date: March 5th, 2004 06:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting subjects.

I was a guy who used to have long hair. I grew it out after I graduated HS ('98) and cut it in December '01.

It's worse if you're a guy and have it long. On one hand, I had women come up to me and tell me I had gorgeous hair, and ask what I put in it. On the other, I had people tell me I couldn't get a job at their company unless I cut it. (Now that pissed me off. Long hair on guys was shocking controversial in the 60's, but this is 40 years later, people. Get. Over. It.)

I ended up cutting it off (as luck would have it, just before FOTR came out and apparently long hair -especially blond - on guys became sexy again) for several reasons - I was tired of messing with it, I found out I could only wear it down about half the time I wanted to, it was hot as hell in the summer, and I was sick of people assuming I did drugs or something. Also, I had just been dumped by my girlfriend at the time (who was a master of manipulation Palpatine might have learned from) and she used to sort of have this obsession with my hair, so I cut it off because of that, too.

But yeah, I used to get annoyed by how all these guys that were supposedly hot looked like a bunch of skinheads. Half the women I knew said it looked better long, the other half said it looked better short. Go figure.

As for women, hair is up there on the list of what attracts me. Female hair looks great, feels great, smells great... I don't like fake blondes (and with real blondes, I prefer a honey/sandy shade) and I don't usually go for short. Long and brown, black, or red (esp. auburn) are my favs.

Some women can pull off short hair very well, but IMHO they are few and far between. Lizzy was one of them; hers was quite short when we first met but since then she's been growing it out and it's shoulder-length now.

King's book is my fav. on the subject. He is fucking hilarious and gives good advice without sounding full of himself, or saying "You Must Do Things This (My) Way Or Else" and you can tell he loves to write rather than being just a guy who cranks out books for money.

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