I shaved this morning.
Big deal, says you.
Well, it was and it wasn’t.
I had been growing a beard, (is that different than not shaving?) for six weeks, the longest I had ever gone without taking razor to cheek.
Here’s the story. On my annual Russian River reading retreat I sequester myself for a week or ten days enjoying the sublime solitude a big house overlooking the river. I don’t go out, I don’t clean up. On January 1, Allen’s birthday, my gift is to shave. This year, suffering from a cold, he generously allowed me to continue growing the beard to see what might develop. So I cleaned up the neck and cheeks and trimmed the body of the mottled salt-and-pepper beard a few times, and watched and waited for reactions.
Some immediately expressed their approval, others vehement in their dislike. With others there was deafening silence. Did they not notice or were just too polite to say what they really thought.
It made me look “younger”, “older”, “more distinguished”. It did or didn’t go with my snow white hair. It was “a change” and perhaps, I thought, at 62, a change was in order.
One lesbian friend encouraged me to “take it off immediately,” then recanted that I wouldn’t be the first lesbian with a beard she’d known. Her partner said “it wasn’t as bad as she’d thought it would be.” Faint praise from a certain corner of the lesbian contingent.
From time to time it felt foreign: scratchy or itchy. Every afternoon I thought I’d shave it, and every morning I procrastinated one more day. Not having to shave certainly saved time.
Then I thought about my father who had grown a beard later in his life. I never knew his motivation, but I didn’t like it, thought he was trying to be someone he wasn’t. Around the same time he adopted the moniker “Grey Eagle” and embraced a romanticized Native American persona. Was this a manifestation of his bipolar disorder? I think that recollection is what tipped the precarious scales. I didn’t want to be anyone else. I liked who I was and how I looked.
So this morning, with no fanfare, I defoliated. Shaving didn’t take nearly as long as I’d imagined. Now, experiment completed, my face is back to where it belongs.