Monday, September 23, 2013

Should I Colour My Hair?

My mother was making an appointment for me with her hairdresser.  "He's really good," she said.  "He'll colour your hair."
"Why would I want to colour my hair?' I asked.
"You'll look 20 years younger?"
"Why would I want to look younger?  I'm not looking for a new boyfriend."
"You might," said my 86-year-old mother.

As I walked to the bus stop, I noticed several older cyclists smiling and nodding at me.  If I were looking for a boyfriend, it would be one of those grey-beards.

I like my grey hair.

When my mother was in her 40s, her hair turned grey almost overnight.  My father was dying and she had five children to raise.  After 10 years of widowhood, she married again.  This handsome, white-haired man insisted that she colour her hair and she was happy to comply.  "Grey looks distinguished on men," she said.  "On women, it just looks old."  My step-father passed on, but my mother continues the treatments.  "I'll stop dyeing my hair when I get wrinkles," she says.

I have friends who change their hair colour every month.  I'm probably missing out on opportunities for self-reinvention, but I have trouble sitting still even for a cut.

In 2005, I moved to Cabbagetown, a gentrified Toronto neighbourhood surrounded by lower-income housing developments.  Looking for a hairdresser, I wandered into one of the salons and asked how much for a wash and cut.  The receptionist said $40.
"Oh," I said, turning back towards the door.
"But you get an $80 haircut," said a customer at the counter, $40 in hand.

A block away was Anita's Hair Styling. Above the hair-styling sign was a sign saying, Scientific Skin Care Center and another next to it that said Skin and Body Clinic.  On the window it said, Anita's Unisex & Suntan Studio.  Anita's offered synthetic wigs, eyebrow tinting, ear piercing, massage, electrolysis, herbal remedies, facials, and more.  Anita was a Jill of all aesthetics.  Used clothes were on a rack out front.  Inside were piles of magazines and sale items.  Amidst the clutter, one could find a haircutting chair, an old-fashioned hair dryer, and a sink set up for washing.

I couldn't place Anita's accent, maybe Romany, 
and she might have been in her mid-to-late 70s. She was cutting the hair of an even more elderly customer.
"How much for a wash and cut?" I asked.
Anita looked me up and down.  She looked at my limp, long, unruly hair.  Even my split ends were split. "Twenty dollars," she said.
"But you get a $40 haircut," added the customer.

I went to Anita about once a year for the next several years.  Anita never suggested that I colour, tint, streak, or perm my hair into modernity. 

In late 2011, Anita's shop went dark. For a long time, the outside remained the same, but today I noticed that a cell phone company had painted Anita's storefront orange and moved in.

I have to face reality.  Anita is gone.  Next week I'll meet my mother's stylist.  When he suggests some colour, I'll ask him to make me more grey.

As for Anita, I'd like to think that she saved her pennies and has gone to cut hair somewhere warm.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Should I Go to a Film Festival?

A film festival?  Yes, of course, absolutely -- if you like movies, if you are in a town with a film festival, if you can afford tickets, if you can get tickets, go!

What can a film festival, specifically the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) do for you that just going to the movies or watching netflix doesn't do?

You can travel around the world and see what stories are being told right now by very dedicated and determined film makers.  You can meet the directors, producers, and actors and ask them questions.  You can engage with a community of many other informed film goers in the endless lines.  You can be part of something bigger than your own desire for distraction.  You can be distracted!  But most of all, you might get a view into the zeitgeist of the times.

I should say, you get a view of your unique slice of the zeitgeist.  At TIFF, you choose from over 300 films representing 60 countries.  Everyone has a different experience and probably arrive at different conclusions about the zeitgeist.

Last year, for some reason, many of the films involved terrorists and dictators.  It was a dark time.

Globe and Mail writer, Johanna Schneller, found that her selection of movies dealt with the idea of freedom:  physical freedom, legal and social freedom, and freeing oneself from addiction or abuse.  We shared only one film, a very hot lesbian relationship story which she squeezed into her thesis by saying it was about the freedom to love who you choose.  I didn't see any issues of freedom in the movie Blue is the Warmest Colour.  The beautiful young women were not prevented from expressing their love.  The film left me with two messages:

1.  Ultimately, you are more likely to want someone who is intellectually, socially, and creatively compatible with you than the person who satisfies you the most sexually.  (However, we will  make sure the audience sees exactly how good the girl-on-girl sex is).

2.  If you really want to break up with someone, you can find a way to make it her fault.

What, then are the preoccupations of 2013?

My movies seem to suggest that change is inevitable and change is hard.  The process of giving up illusions, growing up, and adapting has to happen over and over again - even when you are 800-year-old vampires as in Only Lovers Left Alive.

In Fading Gigolo, Woody Allen's bookstore goes under.  To adapt to his changing economic situation, he enlists John Turturro, a gentle florist, to provide sexual services to rich older professional women.  They also help a woman re-enter the world of the living after her husband dies.  Through courage, creativity, and compassion, people endure financial and domestic changes.

The take-home message from Hateship Loveship seems to be that you can get what you want by really really wanting it.  People can change, and with persistence and a great deal of housecleaning, you can help them.

Club Sandwich, a Mexican movie, deals with a mother whose son is ready for some independence.  She has to change to allow this to happen.  The take-home message?  Do not play truth or dare with your kids.

In Mary Queen of Scots, a beautiful young Catholic woman, cousin to Queen Elizabeth, has to navigate among the treacheries of the Sottish Lords, a controlling Catholic husband, and the rising Protestant movement headed by John Knox.  Mary just wants everyone to get along. They don't.

One theme that persists through many of the films (and most storytelling) is that things are not what they appear to be.  People who seem to be against you actually love you.  People who seem to love you or should love you want to kill you.  Sometimes they kill you through their neglect and inattention as seems to be the case in Paul Haggis's Third Person.  It will take several viewings of that movie to figure it out.  Nothing is what it appears to be.

My film festival was not completely free of terrorism, torture, and totalitarianism.  Manuscripts Don't Burn, tells the story of an attempt by the Iranian government to murder 21 writers and journalists.  The director was present at the screening.  He told the audience, "Don't enjoy it.  It's unpleasant."  

There were no credits at the end of the movie for fear that the Iranian government would punish anyone involved with the project.

The film festivities are over and the Toronto is moving towards another large collective art event:  Nuit Blanche.  I have looked, but have never found a unifying theme in these all-night arts events except this:  people like to do things together in large numbers, to be part of a mob, to share, to communicate, and to seize the night.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Do You Have a Best Friend that You've Never Met?

Do you?  Of course you do.  It's wonderful to be disembodied -- to be all mind, all wit, all language.

I first became aware of the best-friend-you've-never-met syndrome back in the late 1990s when ICQ became widely available.  One of my college students showed up to class as everyone was leaving.  She pleaded with me to understand that she lost track of time because she got into an urgent conversation with her BEST FRIEND EVER.

After further discussion, it emerged that because of the time difference, she rarely had a chance to chat with him.  He lived in Australia.  They had never met.

Exchanging thoughts, feelings, and ideas in letters, email, and instant-message web conversations is a powerful way to create intimacy.  Face-to-face meetings and rubbing up against one another also create intimacy, but embodied intimacy seems riskier.  Approval or judgement can be seen in the eyes or heard in the tone of voice.  Embodiment demands attention and presence which can distract us from being our most honest, authentic selves.

My mother and father met at a wedding in 1946, but they fell deeply in love through the daily letters they exchanged.  My father was in NYC and Washington in various veteran's hospitals and my mother was in university in Toronto.  Without their correspondence, my mother would have ended up with one of her other suitors, and I would not be writing this now.

I had two best friends that I had never met.  We exchanged ideas and collaborated on projects including podcasts and writing.  They also helped me by linking discussion on their website to this blog.  Recently, I met my two best disembodied friends. How adorable they are.

The only problem was getting over the border to the Mercury Bar, a block away.

Border Guard:  "You are coming to Detroit to meet some people you've never met?"
Me:  "Well, yeah, but they're our best friends."
Border Guard:  "And you're meeting in the Mercury Bar?"
Me:  "Right."
Border Guard:  "Then you're going back to Canada?"
Me:  "Exactly."
Border Guard:  "Let me get this straight:  you drove four hours from Toronto to spend four hours in a bar with people you've never met?  Then you are going to turn around and drive four hours back to Toronto?"

At this point, Cadell Last, who was in the passenger seat, reached across me waving his iPhone at the border guard, and said, "Here's the meetup invitation.  Look."

Did meeting my new best friends in person make a difference?  Not to me.  Their embodied selves were indistinguishable from their disembodied selves, although perhaps a little drunker.

What about you?  Do you have a best friend that you've never met?  What's it like?