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Mrs. Grey will see you now (3 things I learned coming out of the hair color closet)

Continuing the extended metaphor I began back in 2011 with this post on My Publishing Career as Illustrated by My Hair, in which I detailed a circuitous journey that began in the 1970s. Back then, a slow-to-blossom tweenage flower child, I was ironing my hair straight and selling erotic short stories in the girls' bathroom at the local roller rink.

My long auburn locks disappeared during chemo when I was in my early 30s. For ten years, I kept my hair super short and colored it various shades of red in an attempt to ward off the bad cancer juju. During my 40s, I let it grow, gave up on the auburn and went with an ash blond that made the increasingly ashy roots less noticeable.

When I hit my 50s, I decided to stop coloring my hair and embrace my grey. That was easier said than done, but here I am, and along the way, I learned three important lessons, which I intend to apply to life and writing as I enjoy my hard-earned silver era.

Thing #1: It's a process. Whatever "it" is, it's a process.
I suppose it would have been easier to just cut the hair off and start over, but I've done the micro-short-to-hippie-long hair transition before. There's a lot of bad hair days as you hang in there through the awkward stages. The temptation to cut (like the temptation to abandon a book that becomes a struggle) is always lurking.

In order to keep the length, I had to allow a few inches of roots to grow out. Years of hair color had to be stripped away. Then I had to nurture my hair with cold water and conditioner for several weeks before the final process of low-lighting, high-lighting and toning to match my true color.

As a structural editor/book doctor, I've held the hands of several authors as they did a similar strip, recovery and restoration process on a book. The key is that natural root. Once you can see the authentic soul of the book, you know what to do with the rest.

Book process, life process, color process, whatever. Patience and persistence will be required. Bet on that and assemble a great team. Which brings me to...

Thing #2: A lot of experts are terrified of change. Because it means they won't be experts anymore.

For years, stylists kept telling me there was no way to go grey without cutting off my long hair, but I started seeing young women doing it for themselves on YouTube. Apparently that's a thing now, young women with grey hair, and as soon as that trend took hold, well, whadya know! Shut up experts. Young women do what needs to get done. (Which brings me to Thing #2 subsection A: Young women, you have a lot more power than you think. Use it wisely.)

This is reminiscent of the dragging acceptance of indie publishing in the traditional publishing world. Agents and publishers were loathe to accept this new universe because it meant the crumbling of the system in which they were super comfy, even though the vast majority of authors were not. Lamest battle cry ever: "That's the way it's always been done." Whether I'm looking for a colorist, oncologist or freelance copy editor, I want someone who has ten years of experience, not one year of experience ten times.

I knew I'd found the right guy when Sergio Sepulveda at Visible Changes told me, "There's always a way to do something. It's just a question of 'has somebody figured it out yet'." Apply this to publishing big time. The only thing we know for sure about anything is that it is not the same as it was yesterday. Expertise in the way things have always been done is a great foundation for the purpose of exploring, building and inventing the way forward. It's less useful when it becomes the La-Z-Boy recliner from which experts advocate for status quo.

Thing #3: If someone tells you not to be yourself, they are wrong. 

Before Sergio, every stylist I consulted tried to warn me off the idea of embracing my grey with the same dire (in their minds) prediction: "You'll look older." The thing is, I AM older. I'm thrilled to be older.  Why invest time, energy or money in not looking like myself? For whose benefit would I be doing that?

Sergio's take on it: "There's nothing more beautiful than a woman who's happy about who she is." Can I get a "Amen" up in here?

It kills me to see authors jumping through hoops to please agents, acquiring editors, theoretical readerships and nebulous trends. It's like trying to reinvent yourself to please an indifferent boyfriend. Down that path lies despair. Your power to create, your best hope of happiness, and yes, your marketability lie in your uniqueness. Embrace it with joy!

Here's the new older me with the amazing Sergio, awesome haircutter Hua, their shampoo-slinging sidekick Justin, and a totally fabulous photo-bomber rocking her own silver streaks.

It takes a village: Me, Hua, Sergio, Justin and Foxy Frostentip
UPDATE 2/2/17 ~ Having escaped the abusive environment of chemicals and color, my hair has grown out a lot faster. I now have 100% virgin/chemical free, 99.9% gray hair. And I love it.


It looks great on you, Joni! Love it!
Unknown said…
Great story. It's complicated Joni, but take it from your Father. Life, especially for men, reaches it's most simple form when you make the earth shaking discovery. "I can part my hair with a wash cloth!"
Ahhh, Life Is Good.
Inspiring, as always, Joni.
And beautiful, inside and out.

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