The aspirations of a secondary structure protein

Our identities are found hidden in the roots of our hair, woven into our plaits, speaking through curls and straight edges. Our poignant relationship with hair is as archaic as the bible; between the pages of which we find Delilah’s betrayal of Samson. Samson’s hair not only declared him a Nazarite, but was the sacred origin of his strength; his hair gave him the strength of God. Hair has also been used to challenge tradition, and as a symbol of revolution. Flappers in the 1920s cropped their hair short to rebel against conventional notions of femininity, and similarly in the late 60s and 70s the rise of the afro marked out activists of the black power movement. Prescribed notions of beauty were formulated within a tight square box, but from this box sprung tightly coiled springs and ideologies, shattering its glass walls. Our relationship with hair isn’t all peaches and cream though as Britney reminded us in 2007 when she shaved her head, disavowing her femininity.  Hair often bears the brunt of our inner turmoil, the symbol of hair cutting is used in many films such as Mulan, G.I. Jane and The Accused. Hair has certainly surpassed the meagre biological ambitions of a secondary structure protein; it bleeds the pain we feel internally, shouts our protests and denies tradition.

There is a particular quality of light that always reminds me of being in Mrs Morgan’s classroom at age 6. It’s that silvery mid-afternoon light that reveals all the specs of dust floating through the air like ennui which is only palpable once you begin to daydream. Sometimes a strand of hair would float through the air, like one of those barely tangible worms of vitreous gel that float in your eye, that evade direct examination and disappear when you try to chase them with your vision. In my Year 2 classroom, you would always find a boy called Liam sat behind a girl. Not because he was a flirt, but because he had a compulsion. He would pull threads of hair from the girl’s fleece, and place them in his mouth before swallowing. None of the girls minded, we simply sat there patiently as he traced imperceptible shapes on our back. Secretly, I was always a little sad when he didn’t sit behind me; I would watch him pull blonde wisps of hair like pampas grass from their fleeces, and a little smile would play across whoever’s lips he was sat behind. Children put things in their mouths to learn their texture and taste. To know them intimately. I couldn’t help but wonder with childish solipsism, what about me? What’s wrong with my hair?

There might be reason behind the madness of eating hair: according to Dr. Kevin Kennedy, a child psychologist, babies twirl and pull hair as a self soothing behaviour, but as they age, this behaviour develops into eating it too. There is something innately comforting about hair. We reach for it when we’re in the middle of a presentation and find ourselves undeniably lost for words. We twirl our hair around our finger as we reel in our date for a kiss. We fluff, preen and fiddle with it as though we are birds in a pond, obsessed by the beauty or flaws in our reflection. Hair is something we are all obsessed with to some extent; we all have our hairy hang-ups. I like to think I’m past mine now, but though I admire the girl who stood at Reading station in summer wearing a dress with her hairy legs out, I’m not quite there yet.

My obsession with hair began with a dolly I do not remember the name of. She was my favourite, so her name was probably Rosie, like my best friend when I was three (I even wanted my soon-to-be sibling to be called Rosie regardless of gender). I would wheel her around in her pram, change her outfits and make tea for her out of mud and water from the pond. Even though she was my favourite, she was all wrong. Blonde hair. Wrong. Fringe. Wrong. When I was certain no one was around, I took a pair of woefully inept blue nail scissors to her flaxen fringe and chopped it off without mercy. I remember being shocked by the ugly stubble that was the prelude to her luscious locks after I lopped off her fringe. I had expected that her hair would be long and flowing, unaware that once something is gone it leaves an absence rather than simply never having existed. My Mum recalls that when questioned I replied plainly that ‘It would grow back’, clearly painfully unaware of the physical limitations of my inanimate best friend. Safe to say, poor Rosie and her bristly forehead were abandoned and other dolls favoured after that amateur haircut.

After the harsh realisation that making everyone (even a dolly, let alone a breathing person) look like me wasn’t as easy as I had once thought it, I resolved to make myself like others. When I joined primary school, everyone had a fringe, girls, boys, even the teachers. The whole world had a fringe and I felt it was deeply unfair that I was the sole person missing out. I had begged Mum to cut me one, to which the answer was a definitive no. I however, was resolved, I would have a fringe and that was that. I returned to my trusty tool, the pair of nail scissors I used to mutilate Rosie, and hid them in the palm of my hand so they were not visible should I run into Mum in the corridor. The best place to perform the haircut? Behind the couch in the dark of course! While I was in the process of what I believed to be my greatest work of defiance yet, I had not realised that all I had found crouched in the darkness behind that couch was a misshapen sort of conformity. A conformity with jagged edges and awkward angles. Having been alerted by the unnatural absence of sound in the house my mother entered the living room and was shocked to watch me emerge from behind the couch with my somewhat questionable new hairstyle, a hunk of hair in one hand and that blue handled weapon in the other.

I do not remember how my hair looked, or if I felt better when I went back to school with a lop-sided fringe, but I know that I would have been treated the exact same as I always had been; with an odd sort of suspicion. Cutting my fringe was like licking a battery, made all the more delicious because I shouldn’t have been doing it, but it left a sour taste in my mouth and a sadness in my stomach. I undoubtedly felt the same kind of success tainted with a feeling of absence that I had felt after attacking Rosie’s fringe. Whenever I went to the bathroom in primary, I would always take the time to slick back the halo of frizz that framed my face with water in order to become like the other girls with effortlessly sleek hair. I only really began to appreciate my hair when I considered what it would be like to be without it.

Before coming to university, my flatmate Betty had been to Turkey, where the sea salt had worked its magic, teasing her hair into jubilant curls that sang songs of the sea, just as Baudelaire’s muse’s hair sang of ‘sweltering Africa and languorous Asia’. Her big, curly hair was what she woke up to in the morning, and what laid across her pillow as she slept. It was a part of her identity. So when overnight at university, the life that was once in her hair died in her sleep, she was shocked. This was something she obsessed over, she didn’t know what to do with these now-straight locks, which she had often yearned for throughout her life. She didn’t understand this hair that looked as though it belonged to someone else. Didn’t know how to make it respond to her touch, and she had to re-learn her body in some small way. The change lay somewhere in between realising you have a new mole on your face and discovering that in the night your little finger grew legs, removed itself from the rest of your hand and danced off into the night, in search of its own destiny. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason for this change, and Betty mulled over the possibilities for it in the mirror, picking through strands of hair in search of one curly segment. Maybe it was stress? Perhaps it could be the hard water you get in cities? Or illness? Maybe her hair just didn’t like Southampton. One thing was for sure, it was no longer singing its responses. Her hairdresser fiddled with her hair, running her fingers through it in search of an answer. The fingers pleaded, ‘talk to me’, but the hair remained stubbornly silent. At the roots, a muffled whisper began to rise. The straight era was put down to a period of glandular fever, and the hair told the tale of six months of illness. The new hair was beginning to curl, but people still only recognised her as someone with straight hair. She had to constantly validate herself as a person with curly hair, by showing them photos of her hair before, so that her identity was consistent with the world’s view of her. She says now that she took her hair for granted, she didn’t appreciate its inconsistencies of line and reason, and now instead of reaching for her straighteners, the first thing her fingers find after washing her hair is her curling mousse in an attempt to coax her hair into play.

In recent years we have seen a resurgence in traditional stories about hair, with the 2015 film Room which plays on the story of Samson. The mother, after seven years of captivity is liberated but sinks into a deep depression. In order to help her, her son cuts off his hair, donating it to her in an emotive gesture that reminds us of the power we place in our hair. Similarly in Tangled, the modern Disney adaptation of Rapunzel, hair carries magical healing powers, which are rendered inept when it is cut. While Baudelaire’s muse has ‘memories sleeping in that thick head of hair’, mine do not sleep; the memories that bury themselves in the whorls of my hair tell stories of days when the wind fought with it, knots are saturated with dance music and sweaty nights of perpetual re-fastening, and my ringlets remind my mother of years long ago, my gurgling laughs and her Maroon 5 cassette.

I think of Liam sometimes, and wonder about the hair that has wrapped itself in knots in his stomach. I have decided that it is better my hair is not wrapped up with the sleek locks of my classmates. My hair would have tickled the sides of Liam’s stomach intolerably, and the sculpture of hair that he was carefully gestating would have been removed. So for art’s sake, it’s better that he never chose my hair; its spirals were too structurally sound. I no longer fight my hair, I let it do what it wants, which isn’t to say it behaves; just the other day I had a single errant grey hair standing proudly upright like an unwanted erection. My love affair with my hair has been a long and torrid one. It follows the narrative of a conventional romantic comedy: boy meets girl, they hate each other, eventually learn to love each other for their flaws, and finally fall madly in love. It’s true, I’ve learnt to love my hair for all its flaws, and I’ve learnt never to try and tame it, because ultimately, my hair is just like I am: unruly, wilful and fiery.

 

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Review: Bonobo- ‘Kerala’

‘Kerala’ is Bonobo’s latest masterpiece and a bite sized taste of his upcoming LP Migration, sampling R&B artist Brandy’s smooth and soothing vocals mid way through the record. This track begins with a stunning simplicity, notes appearing to melt into one another.  There’s something intensely comforting about the easy on the ears repetition which slowly grows throughout this song.

The music video, directed by Bison and starring St Trinian’s star Gemma Arterton is a piece

bonobo
Image via Ninja Tune

of artistry in its own right. This video is fascinating but also baffling,  and is reminiscent of an intense and disconcerting nos trip. The repetition mutates from something peaceful into something which confuses the eye and puts the mind on edge. You focus so intensely on Arterton that you might miss all the other subtle oddities, such as the rock rising at 1:13 or the man at 2:42 stuck in the same loop. This video gives the song a new unsettling edge, and I almost wish I’d never seen it as it’s what interrupts my peace when I listen to the song now.

This song is a mesmerising work of art in more ways than one, and well worth a listen. Baffle your mind with the video below. Out now via Ninja Tune

Review: Betsy- ‘Wanted More’

Review: Betsy- ‘Wanted More’

‘Wanted More’ is the latest record from Welsh vocal powerhouse Betsy, who released her first EP Fair  in March. When Betsy first popped into my ears with ‘Lost and Found’ I was mesmerised. Her voice was a godsend, come back to revive the 90s, sultry and soulful. This single unfortunately, does not live up to its predecessor, frankly I just wanted more. The sharpness and clarity in her initial track is not evident in ‘Wanted More’, which resembles a butter knife after the wonder that was ‘Lost and Found’.

Though this track has lost the ferocity which initially mesmerised me, it remains a great song in its own right, but runs the risk of becoming musical wallpaper over time rather than being a centrepiece due to its repetitive nature. This is a great euphoric song, and the music video comes with great aesthetic too, I just feel unfortunately this song will only have a temporal place in my Spotify library.

For more on music see my track recommendation for Frances, or check out my playlist of powerful women!

Image via Warner Brothers Records

Portion 140

Here we stand

140 in numbers

but this means so little

when it comes to expression

compression

what can we say that has validity

in those three numbers

1

4

0

the art of language lost to us

brb

wtf

do all these expressions mean

compression

condensing

push me into a box

while I watch a blue bird fly away

language has no flavour

what is a meal when you stuff it in a blender?

baby food

tasteless

140 portions of grey matter

Are you doing it right?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of asking yourself if you’re doing it right at university. I find myself constantly asking myself how other people  appear to do so much. How everyone found the time to read the book this week plus the secondary research, and you see on Facebook they’ve been to the pub too? I can’t seem to find the time to do my shopping these days. Personally, I’m convinced some of these people are taking a leaf out of Hermione Granger’s book and have managed to obtain a time turner, and I want to know where the hell I can get one too.

I think if we’re all honest everyone has this paranoia sometimes. We’re told to work hard and play hard, but what about all the other bits? You can’t live without sleep, we’re all supposed to be little gym bunnies hopping away on treadmills attempting to get into shape, and somehow we have to find the extra time to do all the boring bits of life, like cooking and laundry and washing your hair. We all try to find the balance, but the frank Orange PNG image, free downloadtruth is, you can’t hold twenty oranges in two hands. Something that’s essential to remember is that people only show you what they want to present to the world. Someone’s Instagram doesn’t truly represent their life, its simply an imitation of it, seen through rose tinted glasses. They won’t show you the arguments, they won’t show you puffy eyes in the morning, or their pile of washing. We’re taught that our humanity, our inability to be on top of every item on our to do list, isn’t something to be shared. So we don’t share it. It’s important not to forget that when it looks like someone’s holding all 20 oranges in their hands, there’s probably several fallen to the floor that you can’t see in the picture.

Sometimes you have to realise it’s okay to take it slow. That’s what we need sometimes, just to close our eyes and breathe and forget about the rest of the world for a couple of minutes. Let everything fall away. Realise that the world will not implode if you don’t manage to read every last word of Marco Polo’s rather dull account of his travels. Realise that it’s okay if you stay up an extra hour tonight, because you’re laughing with your friends, you might have to have an extra cup of coffee in the morning, but it’ll be worth it cause you’re making memories. Realise that you can just put your hair in plaits tomorrow if standing in the shower for an extra ten minutes really isn’t worth the effort. Sometimes you have to be kind to yourself. The important thing to remember in these moments of paranoia is that, if you’re doing the thing that will make you happy in the long run, then it’s okay. Let’s rethink the work hard, play hard model, and reconsider that not one shoe fits all. Let’s just take a moment to breathe, and figure out what’s right for ourselves, as individuals.

Some thoughts on ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and Orlando

I’ll begin with a caution, if you’re looking for a lighthearted book which will make you giggle and send you on an escapist journey, then this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a book which will not only tug on your heartstrings, but rather rip them out through your throat, then make you eat them, then this is certainly the book for you.

This book has made me truly reflect on life. It’s a story I will carry with me through my day to day life. It just so happens that the most terrible tragedies in this book occurred just after the Orlando shootings. I was locked in two worlds of tragedy. I felt like a child re-discovering just how terrible and how utterly cruel this world can be. When you’re young, you believe the world can do you no wrongs, and the worst that can happen is that you’ll get shouted at if your sibling tattles on you. I found myself questioning if ignorance is truly bliss. If the knowledge of these terrible happenings is worth the cruel realisation that this seemingly beautiful world, whose winds gently kiss your face on balmy summer nights, is infested by parasites that mar this paradise and commit unforgivable crimesP1140032.JPG against one another.

I found myself feeling guilty that I have ended up in this body, in this privileged life. That for some reason, this soul, my soul had found its way to this shell that transports me from A to B in a country that is not ravaged by injustice.

When the Orlando shootings happened last weekend I was dumbfounded. This didn’t seem like something that happened in my world. There are no words to say how awful these ‘crimes’ are. I put the word crimes in inverted commas, because this act seems so much more than just a crime. When you abstract what has happened, it seems to be a far fetched idea out of some horrific storybook. Some evil plan created by a villain which will eventually be thwarted. However, in this story, as of yet, there is no complete resolution.

A Thousand Splendid Suns speaks for the women of Afghanistan, who endure and persevere despite continuous adversity. Though this book is undoubtedly devastating, it also sends a powerful message, that even ‘Hovels shall turn to rose gardens, greive not’. No matter how many times the world seems like an ugly place, flowers and life will persevere and will be found even in the darkest and most quiet corners of this earth. Life is not bad forever. There will always be a smile even on the darkest day.

This book has touched my heart, and has made me put my life into perspective.Despite small daily grievances, my life is good. My life is happy and fulfilling. I battle day to day with small demons which can be squashed with my big toe. I don’t climb mountains each day simply to survive. I am one of those lucky few. Though I am lucky, it is not my job to feel guilt. Reading this book has made reflect on and appreciate my life. In my reality, I can go where I wish, wear what I wish, I can stop and smell the sweet summer air. I can hear the song of the birds outside my window, rather than the whistle of rockets. I haven’t simply survived, or endured like some. I live. This is a book that forces you to reassess your life, and to find the beauty in a sometimes ugly world. Now and then everyone needs to read a book like this which grounds you, and makes you appreciate the warmth of the sun on your back, or the way the one you love laughs. Time and what you do with it are precious. Don’t let it pass you by, but savour the moments life sends your way.

Track recommendation

This track has a stunning simplicity to it. Frances’ voice has a gorgeous purity to it, that rings out clear like the light of day. My favourite part of this song is the initial minute, with no backing, just showing off the minimalistic beauty of her voice. This song feels like it’s over all too soon. This is a wonderful song about unity and the virtues of sacrifice. Listening to it gave me those tingly warming goosebumps that only grace your skin once in a blue moon. I also love the simple watercolour aesthetic of the video, but I’ll let the track do the talking, I hope you like this as much as I did.

Still looking for more great music? Check out my playlist of my favourite female artists and why you should listen to them!