• Ana Break

How to be a Fire Witch in the 21st Century

Updated: Apr 18, 2019

Last weekend I went to a fancy "European style" hair salon and got my hair dyed red. It has been a dark wine red color for the last eight months, but this time I told her I wanted to brighten it up. I wanted it RED red, like, firetruck red. I wanted it to look like flames when the wind caught it, bright like sunlight when set against the blue of a clear sky. This was going to be a difficult process, I knew. My hair is BLACK, each strand the kind of thick that many associate with beard hairs (or pubes). They have to use double the amount of peroxide and "lifting" agents like ammonia on my hair that they do with most other peoples' hair, but whatever. I didn't care if it burned. I didn't care how much damage it would cause. I wanted the fire.

This makes sense to me in a sort of grand, existential way: I'm a creative person, a fire sign. I display somewhat intense bouts of enthusiasm and energy that others find overwhelming. My periods of happiness always come with a seemingly random wave of financial successes and career-related opportunities that conveniently fall into my lap. My periods of depression, on the other hand, come with their own gravitation pulls. There is no medium space. Often, these things coincide with the academic schedule I keep: I'm either very stressed and overwhelmed during the semester, or I'm completely free and not working at all during my long breaks. The transitions between these two states are rapid and violent like a fire ripping through a prairie. Day to day, this sometimes feels like a problem, but in reality, I know you can't have high highs without low lows, and extreme conditions do not happen in temperate zones. My best work is always a product of the peaks and the nadirs.

Here's how this works in real life: the last guy I dated was going through a divorce when we met (yeah, I know). His name was _______. _______ told me that his marriage had been comfortable and medium. There was consistency and commitment, but no excitement, no passion, no deep love. His parents had slept in separate beds and he had never seen the fiery kind of love that he saw in movies. He wanted to find that kind of love, he said. That's why he was starting to date again. ENTER: ME. Well, you're in luck, I said. I can give you that.

I saw him almost every day for the first couple weeks after we met. We signed up for a month-long pottery class together after three or four days. He had keys to my apartment shortly after that. After coming to one of my shows, he told me he was proud of me, and even though he had told me he wasn't ready for a commitment, I couldn't help but dive in head-first—After all, you can't stop water molecules from combining when they touch. Similarly, any kind of intensity (read: passion, warmth, attention, anger, amour, rage, spirit, temper, heat, frenzy, suffering, excitement) feeds the fire. There is nothing to be done about it. I knew better, but still I watched it happen, powerless to stop myself from jumping.

I go back and forth between whether this pattern of mine is a lifestyle choice or a feature of my DNA. All it takes is one cruise through the radio channel presets in my car to find affirmation that yes, to love deep and often is the best gift you can possess, the best gift, likewise, you can give. However, as with all forms of social currency, there's a flip side, too: if you love hard and unapologetically and often, you will also hurt proportionally. This, to no one's surprise, is exactly what happened, and after getting my fill of wallowing, sadly marching through a prairie of dying plants I had once lovingly tended, it was time for a swift and assertive rebirth: "I want to go RED red," I said. "Like, firetruck red."

I've been going to the same salon for years now. My girl there knows me now, asks about my writing and teaching every time I go in, knows exactly what cut I want without me having to say anything. I enjoy the ceremony of the thing: the smell of hair oil and heat in the building, the small bowl of mints laid out in the waiting room, pretending I might buy a bottle of $40 shampoo before I leave, being draped in the protective plastic cape, the mind-warping goodness of feeling someone else shampoo and massage your scalp under warm running water. It's not erotic, I promise...OK maybe a just a little. I like the bustle of the place, too. I like how the stylists' shoes clack against the floor, the layers of blow dryers, the familiar way in which all of the employees joke and banter with each other over the endless stream of faceless colors and cuts.

In particular, I like looking at one of the stylists. He's a giant shaggy man who stands out among the lineup of primped and chic ladies who work there. He's built like a linebacker, has the kind of brow ridge often found in pictures of Neanderthals, the knuckle-dragging lack of grace that I find both kind of off-putting and weirdly attractive. He wears a fedora and has a handlebar mustache. His voice is dopey and watery. He is blonde and wears Hawaiian shirts. He cuts hair like a dream: artful shags, precise and nuanced angles, subtle highlights, edgy.

Also, he and I also matched on Tinder once a long time ago and then never messaged each other. I don't have to wonder whether or not he remembers this fact. He does. He winked at me when I walked in, gave me the kind of side-eye with a glint in it that plainly said "I know that you know that I know that you know..." We avoided looking at each other a little too hard. In the accidental few moments when we found ourselves in a room or hallway alone together (like when I had to sit for an hour with goop on my head), we made the kind of awkward small talk that tells you there's something other than a normal dynamic happening here. "So, where are you from," he asked me. "Oh, um, from here, I grew up here," I said. "You?" He said something, then, but I had to counter it with "Sorry, I can't hear you very well because I have this nonsense going on” (referring to the heat helmet around my head to help set the dye). That was mistake number one.

{{OMG so awkward just end me now.}}

It was the first time I had to make a decision to not go there because I'm Taking A Break From All Of This. I didn't know how to handle the interaction, and it didn't get better. In the end he told me the red hair looked nice, but I kind of said thanks, but averted my eyes quickly because I'm TWELVE and a garbage person.

I went home afterwards, totally elated by my new hair and actually feeling really good about the fact that even though I fucked it up, somebody wanted to flirt with me. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, I don't actually need to be on this break. Flirting is fun. In that moment, I kind of wanted to go find someone and go out on a date or something. Here was mistake number two: purely out of curiosity (I wasn't planning on actually sending him a message), I re-downloaded Tinder just so I could stalk his profile. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.

I searched for his name and then realized he was no longer on my list of matches. There are two possibilities to explain why this might be:

1. He deleted his Tinder profile

2. He deleted me from his matches

Now let's be clear: this was a NON-rejection. This is a person I barely know, who flirted with me in real life, but who at some point in the last year, changed what was happening in his Tinder game. Yet somehow, the fact that the online chatting was a non-possibility now WAY out-weighed the fact that we had just interacted in real life. This, to me, is a problem. Real life should not rank below digital life. Something is off. My priorities are out of alignment. The means by which I attempt to get my needs fulfilled is not working.

During the course of this forbidden perusal of my old Tinder account, I also noticed that several other people that used to be in my list of matches, some of whom I had actually met, gone out with, had good times with, were also missing. Again, this is NOT AN ISSUE, but even this tiny tiny tiny bit of rejection was enough to send me way over the edge and make me real sad real quick.

Conclusion: I am NOT ready to be dating. I am definitely not ready to be putting my heart on the line. The prairie of my body was too recently burned, the small shoots of new growth not yet strong enough to withstand any averse conditions without sustaining serious injury. I had had no control over that burning and subsequently, those burgeoning plants were growing into a completely unfamiliar world. I am changing. I am leveling up. The way I think about things is shifting, my behaviors right along with them. So naturally, I feel out of my element navigating conversations and dynamics that used to feel mundane and easy.

People try all sorts of ways to regain control of their lives when they feel helpless. Some turn to drugs and alcohol, other material pleasures, some throw themselves in to projects and try, in some small way, to wrangle their spaces into something that represents how they feel, still others focus hard on their studies or their jobs, arenas in which success is assuredly possible. For me, I wanted to embody the fire, to become the burner and not the burnee. "I want to go RED red," I said. "Like, firetruck red."

My cousin sent me a meme a while back that said, "When a woman is in her red hair phase, leave her alone...she's going through some shit," which I loved because it's true. I hadn't realized that a "red hair phase" was a thing, but I guess it would be foolish for me to deny that it is. I don't know that any of this is significant, in the end. Maybe it all comes down to the normal swings of human emotion. What I do know, though, is that what you act becomes who you are. I want to be free. I want to be able to come back after pain and live to love again and harder. I want my growth to be uninhibited. I want my sharpness back. I want my ideas to crackle, to spark, to burn.

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