Deciding to Go Gray: Is There a Silver Lining?

Going gray can be a beautiful thing!

To go gray, or not to go gray… that is the question. And is there a silver lining to the answer?

“I’ve always said that gray hair looks good on everybody but yourself. To me, it makes me look old.” ~ Kenny Rogers

I have colored my hair since I was in high school. At first it was just for fun: a little Sun-In here, a few highlights there (until Sun-In turned my hair a bright orange… and those goofy caps where the hairdresser had to pull tiny strands through the little holes all over your head became… well, just goofy.) When I started finding gray hairs in my thirties, I used grocery store boxes, lemon juice concoctions and pricey salon services. By my forties, I began all-over coloring in earnest. I liked experimenting with my hair, and seeing what I looked like as a redhead or a brunette, when my natural hair color was a dark blonde.

Now in my fifties, keeping the “skunk stripe” at bay has required a trip to the salon every three weeks! While I don’t think my hair clashes yet with my face, I have grown tired of spending a couple of hours every three weeks essentially trying covering up the person I am becoming. In other words, if being gray is inevitable, is it better to keep fighting it or just learn to accept it and maybe even love it?

“I want to be who I am now. I rock my gray hair because it is a blessing. I colored mine for many years, but I’ve gotten compliments from so many men and women about being brave enough to sport the gray. I even wear it on the cover of my record. I am comfortable in my skin and I want listeners to feel that as well.” ~ Regina Belle

I started planning for this change because I wanted it to be gradual and to not have super-obvious roots. (And all along the way, I have maintained the right to go back to full color if I don’t like it.) But the process I chose has been gradual and easy. I started by lightening my hair to a more platinum shade very gradually for a few months each time I had the roots touched up. At the same time, maybe every other month, my stylist added platinum highlights. Now I could see what it would look like, too, because it was so light in areas that i could imagine it silver. I was getting lots of compliments, and actually began looking forward to the change. Apparently my old color really didn’t match my face as well as I thought it did!

After a couple of months, I stopped using permanent color and started using a platinum toner all over. Then just a purple shampoo to help blend in where the roots have grown out. With about two inches of outgrowth now, it is pretty well blended. I will continue to get highlights ( I think) every three months or so until it is fully grown out. I am excited to see the finished product!

The silver lining to all this? It feels good to just relax into being me. And if I end up looking like the woman in this picture, I will be just as happy, too!

Forty Rooms, Every Woman’s Story of Dreams Deferred

Every so often I read a book that speaks to me directly and stays with me long after the last page has been turned. Inevitably, these books tell one woman’s story that reflects the truths and emotions experienced by all women. Of course, these truths and emotions are probably experienced by everyone (and in fact a male friend who also read this book has said that it spoke to him in the same way) but because I am a woman, I can only tell you about Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin from a woman’s point of view.

The story is told through 40 brief chapters, reflecting 40 rooms inhabited throughout a woman’s life. Through these rooms, we watch this woman grow from an imaginative child who sees her mother sifting through a box of her own memories, and imagines her as a mermaid, into a woman with six children who has pushed aside her dreams of becoming a poet for the sake of raising her family. At some point during her journey, though, she is no longer deferring her dreams for a higher good, but using her daily responsibilities as an excuse to no longer pursue them. At what point did this happen? Was it a conscious decision (nowhere does it seem like it) or just an ongoing postponement that finally eroded her vision? And what does that tell us, the readers, about the consequences of postponing our dreams?

Early on in the story there is a mysterious man who comes to her in her dreams and who questions her and offers her advice. At one point he says, “You can spend your days baking cookies for your offspring, or — as ever through the ages — you can become a madwoman, a nomad, a warrior, a saint. But if you do decide to follow the way of the few, you must remember this: Whenever you come to a fork in the road, always choose the harder path, otherwise the path of least resistance will be chosen for you.”

As the woman moves through adulthood, the reader senses a shift where her path does become chosen for her because she herself has neglected to choose. It is interesting to note also that this woman is a nameless narrator through childhood and young adulthood, but in middle age, when the shift becomes apparent, she begins to call herself “Mrs. Caldwell”, narrating her own story as if “Mrs. Caldwell” is an entity separate from herself. When I reached this part of the story, I have to say I found it genius. This woman had become so removed from herself, that she told her own story as a stranger would!

Forty Rooms has a thread of the surreal or supernatural running through it and this is especially prevalent in the early and later parts of the woman’s life, from her childhood imaginings, to the dream visits of the mysterious man, to the final rooms of her life where her memories and “what-ifs” crowd reality. In the end, I was left with an understanding of how easily a life can slip away if one allows the path of least resistance to be chosen for them, and really, how little time each of us has to realize our dreams in the first place! What a wake-up call!

Few books have stayed with me the way Forty Rooms has, and certainly fewer have motivated me with a sense of positive urgency to take a good look at my life, accept the choices I’ve made, and recognize where and why I may have strayed from my early dreams. The good news? While not a story of redemption for Mrs. Caldwell, it can be for the readers who take her message to heart.

Cultivating Hope (and Attitude)

With the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and reports of an over 30% increase in suicides nationwide, much has been written in recent days about who may be at risk for suicide, the symptoms, and ways in which we can all be more aware of and ready to help those who have reached such deep levels of desperation or depression. Social media has been full of posts asking everyone to remember that we are all fighting a battle and to be more compassionate with each other, which is all good advice, of course.

Today in one such post, I read these words of the Dalai Lama and this really stuck with me. “It is important to cultivate an attitude that allows you to maintain hope.” Two facets of this idea are intriguing to me. First, that our attitudes have such a powerful impact on how hopeful we feel and second, that a more hopeful attitude can be cultivated.

Neither of these ideas is new or earth-shattering. We’ve all heard about the significant role that attitude plays in our day-to-day happiness, but few think of someone who is feeling hopeless as having an attitude problem. And it seems too harsh to accuse a person who is already feeling down of having a bad attitude, doesn’t it?

But listen to the phrasing the Dalai Lama uses… “it is important to cultivate an attitude that allows you to maintain hope.” The attitude has to be cultivated first, and then the ability to maintain hope will be present. Maybe the very fabric of hope is woven from our attitudes about life.

The last few days I have been feeling really down. There are practical and imagined reasons for this, I suppose, but when and where did my attitude go so far south that I was unable to see or feel any hope? And how does one cultivate the sort of attitude that’s needed for hope to grow and more importantly, to stick around through life’s many difficulties?

Maybe the key is just to recognize that life is uncertain. Period. A resilient attitude, one that encourages us to count the highs and learn from the lows every day, is bound to result in a more resilient spirit, a more hopeful spirit, over the course of a lifetime.

And when you have already begun to go down the rabbit hole of self-doubt, fear, longing or sadness? My mother often said, “This, too, shall pass.” Such a simple thought, and so true. Can you remember happier times and how you got there? Can you know that those happy times will return? Can you rest in that knowledge just for today and be at peace with it? Maybe one day at a time is how one cultivates a more hopeful attitude, despite whatever is happening in life.

The Dalai Lama had one other thing to say, “Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” And so it does.