BY Olga Kwak

My inner critic, the mean girl who loves to disparage and undermine, was pushing me to get a haircut.

“Your hair is a curly mess,” she shouted one hot, humid morning as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror.

Maybe so, but I had a good excuse. Aldo, my semi-retired gentleman hairdresser, whose safe, reasonably priced salon chair I have been sinking into for 15 years, is only working a few hours, three days a week. I couldn’t figure out how to fit into his timetable and the thought of finding an alternative had me paralysed. A friend told me when her hairdresser went on maternity leave, she tried three different places, at eighty dollars a session, and wasn’t satisfied with any of the cuts. Fear rose and I did nothing for another two weeks.

I chastised myself with unflattering comparisons between recent bouts of writing avoidance and my reluctance to deal with my hair. Was I choosing safety in all areas of my life?

On the hottest day of June, I stepped into the discount hair place in the strip plaza I pass everyday on my way home from work. I gave my name and took a seat; relieved but nervous. I knew I would be asked how I wanted my hair cut. Would it sound crazy to say I wasn’t sure? What did I want? During the thirty minute wait, I rehearsed my story.

My hair is naturally curly but at this length, it hangs heavy and is prone to extreme frizziness. I think I want it above my shoulders but I’m not sure how many cut inches that would be. Maybe I should go for short. Make a bold statement like my friend Simten did a few weeks ago. What I don’t want, is an overly-curly poodle head. Sometimes Aldo gets carried away with the mousse and the blow dryer diffuser and twirls and curls too zealously. Maybe short will get rid of the grey bits so I don’t have to consider highlights in a few months- another expense. If I’m asked whether I want my hair in layers or the same length all over, what do I say?

Joe calls my name. He wets my hair down and says,

“What are you looking for today?”

I start by apologizing for letting my hair get into such a mess, and then I give him the whole Aldo story. And I tell him my hair does what it wants; natural curls are like that. Joe listens patiently.

“If I take this much,” he says, holding a section of damp hair and showing me where he’ll cut, “it will rise up as it dries and be just above your shoulder. Are you okay with that?”

“Yes,” I say. I’m not sure he’s going to cut enough off but I keep quiet. Ten minutes later he’s done.

“ I cut over an inch all around and got rid of the crunchy bits in the middle. It looks good,” Joe says. And it does. The excess that was weighing me down has disappeared. My hair feels lighter, freer, curlier. I bounce and twirl all the way home. Have I been hiding behind overgrown writing as well; afraid to trim and cut away the “crunchy bits?” Afraid to write what is on my mind?

I reread chapters 38 and 39 in Natalie Goldberg’s, Wild Mind.

     “Writers don’t need to explain things. They need to state them…Writing is the practice of asserting yourself…Just state it as it is and be fearless.”

Goldberg singles out the words, very and really, suggesting they are usually not needed. She gives an example: “The boy was very timid.” Very doesn’t add much. The statement, “The boy was timid”

is direct and to the point.

The same can be said for really. “It was really fine,” is not as simple and direct as “It was fine.” Step forward and state clearly what you have to say, Goldberg advises.

I think about her words as I sit down with a story I have been working on for a year and a half. The beginning is full of beautiful descriptive phrases but I take a long time coming to the point. I decide to take the scissors and cut. The story now begins on what was page two.

Rereading the rest of what I’ve written, I highlight passages where I have overexplained. I watch for “very” and “really.” I focus on saying what I mean, simply and clearly, one sentence after another.

My tendency is to want to justify what I am writing. My mean girl critic tells me I can’t trust my instincts, but I know she’s wrong. Whenever I have taken a leap of faith with my writing it has paid off.

Just as it paid off to step out and try a new hair cutting place.

One of the writing prompts in Wild Mind, has helped me push forward when I have been stuck; when I have stopped trusting myself.

     Try this:

     Sit down with the plan to write something you’ve always wanted to write but never managed to get around to. This won’t be a timed writing. Sit down determined to write it through, no matter how long it takes. Relax and ease into it. Promise yourself you’ll burn through, put the real stuff down, and not get in your way. You might have a few false, nervous starts, just go on; move further in. Just stay put and keep going for as long as it takes.

     Til next time, keep writing.