It’s time to consider my hair. Oh – there’s that well-used phrase of the past couple of weeks. It’s Time. Okay, so I’ll start with Gough: I thank the Whitlam government for abolishing tertiary tuition fees. As a result, this daughter of a truck driver and seamstress grew up thinking it would be perfectly reasonable to go to university after high school. Which I did, followed by my sister. A few years later Mum, who hadn’t finished high school herself, got in on the act. We’re all now bristling with degrees and diplomas. At the time, we assumed this was just part of the march of progress; we had no idea that this door was on a spring; that it was always ready to slam shut again. And then there’s free universal health care, and ditto. The latest encroachment on Medicare is the proposal to let private health insurers run agencies that would oversee the work of GPs in Medicare Local services. In other words, the privatisation of Medicare, a reversal of one of the outstanding reforms of the Whitlam government.

In amongst the orgy of nostalgia and Whitlam worship there are those pointing out that Whitlam was rising a wave of radicalism driven by people’s movements all through the 1960s. Whitlam’s reforms weren’t entirely down to Whitlam himself (although his leadership and strength of character were an essential part of the mix). Feminism, civil rights, Aboriginal rights, student activism … It was the spirit of the times, as expressed in the musical Hair.

So now I can segue quite nicely back to hair. My hair.

Yesterday, I went to the first face to face meeting with colleagues since I was struck down by cancer diagnosis in February. In February I had long straight brown hair. By July every single strand of hair on my body had disappeared. Now, I have a greying stubble, a tufty regrowth. I look in the mirror and don’t quite recognise myself. I’ve been wearing hats and occasionally a brown wig (or a pink one) and sometimes scarves, although I find the scarves tend to shift around a lot and I spend all day fiddling with them. For a while now I’ve been working from home (marking); but yesterday I needed to Go In. In through the Door of Workplace. At 8.30am yesterday morning I was dithering around, wondering what I should look like. Should I be out and proud, an obvious cancer survivor? Should I wear a cheerful turban? Hat? Wig? In the end I decided on the brown wig. I had the idea that I should invoke continuity with my former, pre-illness self. This would show that I was ready to simply step back in, business-as-usual. I regretted this almost immediately, but it was too late to turn back. The wig was itchy. I kept fiddling with it. The meeting was a video conference. Up there on the screen you could see not only the people around the table in Wagga, but a mirror-like image of ourselves around our own table here in Bathurst. My hair looked deeply wig-like. I looked like someone who had come back to work in a wig after having chemotherapy. Worse, I felt I looked like someone who wasn’t owning up to a year of illness and struggle. After all my bold sharing of details like my colostomy bag on this blog, I was retreating to a position of trying to pretend that everything was normal. When I should be breaking down the stigma, the barriers, by turning up boldly in a hat or scarf or greying tufty stubble. I followed along and participated in the meeting, but I never forgot my hair.

Anyway, funnily enough, the meeting wasn’t all about me. It was about something else entirely. It’s quite possible that what I was wearing on my head wasn’t an issue for anyone else in Bathurst or Wagga.

I still haven’t decided what I look like. Continuity or a revolutionary break with the past? It’s only hair. But hair means so much.

9 thoughts on “Hair!

  1. Margaret Jakovac

    Wow, you really pack so much thought and ideas into these columns. Enjoy reading them … like the way you’ve woven different points of time into this one. Re the hair anology, I kept thinking a rose is a rose is a rose transported into hair is hair is hair. Not very deep … ok back to work for me now. Fabulous that you’re back after your journey. Rgds M

  2. Barry

    “Continuity or a revolutionary break with the past?” Oh, what a beauty! Of all the analogies to describe cancer and its reverberations!! Not even Barbara Ehrenreich (of Smile or Die fame) came up with that one.

    And the room full of mirrors that is the modern workplace with its video cameras and panopticon security swipe cards etc. The meetings are never about us as individuals but somehow we are the centre of so much technological attention.

    The latest fad in management training is mindfulness. Having ransacked all the western psychological traditions in the service of applied human resources they now turn to Buddha. One is to meditate one’s way through the work day, blissfully contemplating our singular and collective navel as we storm the Five Year Plan.

  3. Martha Gelin

    How about a bit of both. How about a progressive break with the past. Is there such a thing as half a turban? I guess half a wig would be a mohawk? Or a long brown wig which each week gets shorter and greyer? There’s really no going back (for any of us, actually, thinking about being 77, which is ridiculous and wonderful, and you being alive and well, which is just as ridiculous and wonderful). I think we should all look like ourselves, so the basic problem is what is myself. (I have endless problems with clothing when faced with anything really formal, and myself can get quite crumpled up in the process. And if ever I lose my hair, it’ll be a huge one for me, since when my hair is not fluffy, I go ‘cannonball head’, and it’s horrible.) Love your posts. Hope to have them in a book one day.

  4. Helen Bergen

    the pink wig does it for me every time. I never would have thought anyone would look so good and so strangely normal in a pink wig – until I saw you in it.

    having said that – it’d drive me crazy fiddling with it – always aware it was there triggering the internal conversation we have when something impels us to watch ourselves being watched, knowing in turn that the people around us have no idea of that internal conversation. hmm.

    where on earth did you find that video?!

  5. julia

    videoconferencing is disconcerting at the best of times! Still you made me chuckle Tracy.
    Just goes to show that hair, like most things in life, reflects whatever meaning you want it to. No maybe what I mean is that like a work of art you dont control the meaning others derive from your hair once its in the public space.
    Ive never seen you in the pink wig, am I missing something?

  6. Terrie Cupitt

    Hair or no hair you are a beautiful person inside and out. I think nothing looks more beautiful than a woman with a bald head who has beaten cancer. After all most people come onto this world without hair and leave the same way. Xx

  7. Hilary

    hair! Wwhy do we as a society put so much emphasis on hair. I wonder how I would react to not having any. I’ve never been without mine but I was grey at a very young age and dyed it hoping to you look youthful. In an age where we are at obsessed with youth and beauty it is hard to strive to recognize the beauty comes within. I love your positive attitude Tracy, your ability to look at things differently. I stopped dying my gray hair and cut it short. Even though I’m 51 and could be a grandmother I’m not although I often get asked if I am or have a senior concession when buying tickets. My mother said I should just say yes and get the free ride. Anyway I digress, I grew up with look serious read over and hairy mess is over at everyone commented so now to have short gray hair is something quite different. I say Tracy, revel in the stubble, let’s get grey stubble on trend! xxoo

  8. Hilary

    Ooops ! Typos at the end of that comment!! it should read “I grew up with red hair and always used to get comments” in that last paragraph!! Haha! It looks like I lost the plot there! Sorry was dictating not typing and accidentally pressed send!

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