Twenty-two hours after I sat in Rusty Ace’s chair–well, twenty-two hours of work spread over three sessions–I was released. It has been about twelve hours since the last lock was blunted, but I am now a dreadhead. To be honest, I feel complete. Home. Like I’ve had a part of myself that was missing placed neatly into the space where once was emptiness. Seems kinda grandiose for a “hairstyle,” right?
The decision was a long time in coming, and fits into a larger trend in my life recently. People who have known me for more than two years, who either follow me on FB or see me in the real world (gasp!), may have noticed that my physical appearance has changed. A lot. It is not just the 40 lbs I’ve put on as a result of bipolar meds and the onset of middle-age (40 for me is in July), it is numerous tattoos where people can see them. It is a beard. A full (except for my upper cheeks, where not even a dusting of peach fuzz grows) beard. An undeniably wild beard. And not grown because I want to be a hipster. No one wants to see me in skinny jeans and I stopped using a typewriter when mom purchased a Videowriter and I penned a short story that was a not-so-subtle ripoff of Stephen King’s “The Body,” better known to most as Stand By Me. (Instead of a group of young boys going to find a dead body, my group of boys went to rope a wild stallion. The hero gets hit by a bus at the end. Yet, he somehow narrates the story. I was ten. What do you want?) I have grown my beard long and wild to stand in solidarity with my Muslim and Sikh brothers who are profiled. You’ll also notice that if I wear a buff over my dreads, it kinda look like I’m wearing a turban or a taqiyah. That adds to the effect. Profile them? Profile me.
But the decision for dreads was a large hurdle. Some people in the congregation have explicitly asked me not to do it. I heard that and thought about it, but it is my body. Period. My dreads, my journey, as Rusty often says. I did deep research to make certain I was not co-opting something sacred. I understand the significance of dreads in Rastafarianism, but I am not trying to be a Rasta. I couldn’t be, anyway, because it really is something you need to be born into unless you are lucky enough to be close to a teacher or a community. Dreadlocks appear throughout history, from the Egyptians to the Jews to the Celts to the Nordics. Locks are often associated with religious leaders and shamans, as well. My family ancestry includes Nordic (my father is full-blood Finn) and Celtic (John McCain is a very distant cousin) roots. I’ll be honest, though. Being in my teens and 20s in the 1990s, I was wary of the “white guy with dreads” phenomenon. When my good friend, music collaborator, and now Studio Brooklyn producer Amon Drum got locked, I began to change my mind. Amon went to Africa to train on djimbe, and he’s a spiritual cat. His locks were totally tied up in his identity as a traditional African hand percussionist.That was really the start of my education and the evolution of my mindset.
The other reservation I had is the fact that I often write about Black culture and African American justice movements. I am an ally of the Black Lives Matter movement. I support the NAACP. And I am earning a doctoral degree in the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My mentor is African American. I am the only Caucasian in the group. To be honest, I’ve had the fear of being a wigger. I don’t want to appear the male Rachel Dolezal (no slam at her, just I absolutely identify as Caucasian because I am). The final decision came when I awoke for the third morning in a row and had to cut out huge knots in my hair. No matter the brush, the shampoo, the hair ties, the hats, or the myriad different things I tried to keep my thick, curly hair from knotting, I couldn’t stop the damage. I put a post on FB about locks, and that’s when Rusty–an incredible local artist and now, I’m happy to say, a dear friend–responded that she is one of two people in the tristate area who utilizes the crochet technique. After I looked it up and realized what it was, I was excited. Appointment booked.
Really, the sessions themselves are going to remain private. Ultimately because Rusty (along with her awesome partner Ryan and their Bodhisattva of a daughter, Presley) and I bonded. Hard core. And there were some incredibly synchronous moments, like when I realized two pieces of furniture that had been in my family for years but had been let go over the past decade were sitting in their house. There were so many signs that we were meant to come together and to do this project. She said several times, “Your hair wants to be dreaded. I’ve never worked on such easy hair.” She also said she had never worked with so much. That’s why it took twenty-two hours. (Incidentally, Rusty sent me some literature on the significance of twenty-two and it was further confirmation that something really powerful just happened.)
I write this today because I imagine that the change might come as a shock for some. I realize that I am in a profession in which we are advised to bring as little attention to ourselves physically as possible. We are to be a presence of comfort and assurance, and we should avoid things that make people uncomfortable. I have blown that out of the water with my religious tats, earrings in both ears, and now dreadlocks. I certainly get the objections, but I don’t agree with them.In many religious traditions, hair (facial and otherwise) can be an external sign of something internal. For me, the locks symbolize my being locked to my community of Yellow Springs; locked to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; locked to my dear wife; locked to my family; locked to the commitment of other relationships without an ulterior motive; locked to living a life of service, compassion, love, and justice. I have no doubt that when I die, I will have locks. I cannot imagine what would cause me to cut them (please, Lord Baby Jesus, don’t take that as a challenge).
So in advance, yes. You may touch them if you ask. Yes, I will wash my hair, just slightly less frequently than before (which was still only about twice a month because of the sheer volume of hair). And, yes. I have been deliberate in changing my “image.” I look the way I feel: Someone who wears his heart on his sleeve and is kinda wild in a John the Baptizer sort of way. I will have a crazy beard for at least the foreseeable future, until Muslims and Sikhs are treated better in this country. And, yes. My locks are for Jesus. They represent my commitment. And I believe that God brought Rusty, Ryan, Presley, Miriam, and me together into a significant relationship as a result of this process. For that I say, “Thanks be to God.”
(For those interested in hiring Rusty, contact me and I’ll facilitate a connection. She is incredibly talented, so she also is in demand. You might have to wait a little bit for an appointment, but she’s worth it. Totally worth it.)