HAIR

If you ask people who have met me to describe me physically, most likely the first thing they will mention is my long blonde hair. My “long beautiful hair…shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen” hair, as Gerome Ragni and James Rado penned for the 1968 hippie musical, Hair, has always been a very important defining feature about me. I am not sure I would’ve had the same life experiences without this hair…wouldn’t be…well…me.

When I was born, as Mom recalls, there was a lot of silver hair on my head and it stuck straight up, like Sting’s hair circa Zenyatta Mondatta days. By the time I was three or so, it was apparently such an eye-catching white blonde that on a family trip to Kanab, Utah, a Native-American man told my grandfather that he would trade his grandson, who was about my age, for me. Umm, did he see something in my hair other than the color that made it special or different in another way? Since my grandfather declined the offer, I guess we’ll never know what his plans were for me.

It is weird that my hair stayed naturally blonde as I grew up. Both of my parents and my older brother had light hair as kids, “toeheads” as they would say. By their pre-teen years they all had heads of various shades of brown hair. Of course we used to joke that I was the blonde milk man’s daughter, but other than the hair, I look too much like the guy who was married to my mother at the time of my conception in 1971. 😁

The meaning of hair, having it or not, and its stylings, are as diverse in human history as cultures, skin color and religions are. It can be a symbol of freedom and at the same time oppression, of something extremely sacred or something shameful that needs to stay hidden. We save and wear locks of it from our loved ones two and four-legged alike. Hell, using cut human hair as a medium for decorative art was a popular Victorian tradition adorning the walls of any household in society with good taste. Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary, Good Har, explores the importance of hair in black culture…a total 180 from this discussion about a white girl’s blonde hair. Funny, really, to place such importance, decision making and behavior on strands of nothing more than an outward presentation of protein and dead cells. Sometimes dead is pretty…and powerful.

When my older brother was starting out in local rock bands in the early 80s, the length of his hair was a bone of contention between him and our father. The need to have long-hair to be a rock-n-roll musician was a given for guys then. Hair won, and my brother went on to have a notable career as a front man/writer for a “hair band” on the L.A. rock scene in the late 80s playing clubs where bands like Guns ‘n’ Roses and Warrant had just been discovered. Hair, and that “look”, had a lot to do with those careers.

My hair, at least I believe in part, opened doors for me too. I spent the first half of my life getting leads in community theatre plays, taking local modeling jobs and starring in local tv commercials. It probably got me a boyfriend or two along the way for better or for worse. As much as having beautiful hair may have enhanced my life, it brought some weirdness my way too.

In 1984, when I was twelve…TWELVE…I had decided it was time to get with the social trend of big hair. I mean, I waaaaas going into seventh grade, a big deal. Time to shed the little girl long, wavy hair, get it cut and PERMED! I wanted a more “mature” look for junior high school. My mother agreed and took me to our regular guy, young and funny. We both liked him. Getting a perm took hours so Mom confidently left me alone with him to go do some shopping. We knew him. I felt very grown up. Long story short, the twenty-one-year-old MAN told me how very pretty I was and would I like to meet him on his boat at the lake sometime, alone. It would be “our secret” he said. My twelve-year-old self was conflicted. “Wow, an older man likes me?” and “Wow, this is really strangely uncomfortable.” Alas, I had to sit with those feelings for a couple of hours alone with him under those rollers and the awful smell of the perm juice ruining my hair. By the time my mother had returned to retrieve me and pay the man, my hair, with its new extremely tight permanent curls, looked like a blonde poodle, and a part of my innocence had been violated forever. I never told my mom at the time, and needless to say, my boating days did not start at twelve.

I did get a few more perms during my junior high tenure (not from Mr. Pedophile, the hairdresser), but then left my hair go back to its natural state of waviness. I never touched the color of it with the exception of putting lemon it during those high sun days of summer to lighten it “naturally”. Of course, this was the mid 80s so my hair saw more damage by my styling it with hot crimping and curling irons, teasing it and using a mountain of hair spray and mousse. I was terrified to go swimming with boys then, because my hair would’ve gone flat when wet which equalled looking ugly. I was only desirable to guys with that HIGH HARD HAIR! Forget about showering in gym class! Ya with me gals who were teens then?

For the second half of my life, with its good hair days and its bad hair days, my hair was just something to keep trimmed and pulled back while I worked. My younger self had always said I would never artificially color my hair. I considered that to be a high-maintenance personality trait a la the pie ordering scene in When Harry Met Sally. I did not want to be called a high-maintenance kind of gal. Whatever happened to my hair naturally, so be it. My dad ended up with the most beautiful gray/white hair, so I figured the same fate would fall upon my head. Nope. My naturally light blonde color started to darken aaaaaand the grays (yes you can see grays in blonde hair) actually started to appear. My hair’s appearance was making me feel dumpy and old. Sooooo, I broke down at forty and got it lightened with streaks, by a wonderful (non-pedophile) lady hair stylist! I could look in the mirror and see a glimpse of the old Greta again (from the neck up at least. The rest of me is a story for another day). Whatever. I felt better. No need to apologize for it. I only get it done twice a year.

At forty-five, my hair was once again tied to an important life event. When I was diagnosed with appendix cancer I was told that all I would need is a majory surgery to “cure” it. But when biopsies returned, chemo was suggested. After a tear, the first words out of my mouth were, “will I lose my hair?” The answer was no. “It will just get thin,” the doc said. Truth. Eight rounds of chemo later, I had thinner hair for two years of pain and sickness before a major recurrence was found. Then came the suggestion for another kind of chemo where hair loss is a given. I stoically and resolutely declined the pointless treatment. My cousin said to her mother, assuming I would need the dreaded chemo, “Oh no, Greta has cancer. She will lose all of that beautiful blonde hair.” As I said, the first thing people mention/think about me.

You see, it’s not JUST hair to me now…with my mortality looming. It is seriously the last physical thing about me inside and out that is still ok…that is still me. The thing that people can still recognize when they see me. The thing that makes me my father’s daughter with our German DNA. The thing that makes me my mother’s daughter with our Irish DNA. “Gimme a head of hair, long beautiful hair…” over suffering through a treatment that will not keep me from dying young from this disease, but just make me die bald. I’m with you Treat Williams. I choose hair.

age three
age ten modeling
the poodle, first day of 7th grade ’84
HIGH HARD HAIR
my hair now

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I’m Still Here

2021. Born 1972 and I’m still here. You might think being just under fifty is too young to say that, but with a rare cancer riddled throughout my abdomen since maybe sometime in 2017, I can say that with surprise. I’m still here?!

I named this blog my “life stage” in 2019, thinking I would start a blog about my mid-life experiences as an appendix cancer survivor, which happens to be quite a big deal. After I thought I beat the disease made infamous by the death of Audrey Hepburn in 1993, I had decided to get back to what really filled my soul, other than being with dogs, being on the stage. So I liked the double entendre of stage meaning the stage in life I was in and the stage in life I was on. Well, I never got motivated enough to start the blog.

I did get motivated to get back to singing/performing on local community theatre stages for most of 2019 after an eighteen-year hiatus. And before that it had been a ten-year hiatus. Many of the same folks who were there all those years before when I had started performing locally were still there, as well as new to me talented folks staking claim at these beloved theatres. I was mostly welcomed back with warmth and compliments and smiles. Soul filling…✔ I was home again.

Cut to January 2020 when I was cast in the role of a lifetime for a community musical theatre actress, Mama Rose in Gypsy. I was so looking forward to being back on the historical proscenium stage that is our community’s gem. You step back in time there, as a performer or an audience member, to a time of vaudeville, its heyday, when the city’s trains brought the talents of George Burns and Sarah Bernhardt to that stage. The energy there is palpable and coveted and magic. To be a part of a big cast again of all ages who become a forever family to all involved, to challenge myself with a huge amount of singing iconic songs and with becoming this well-known OG stage mother, and to perform on THAT stage with every fiber of my being as a cancer survivor to say, “look world, I’m still here!” WAS going to be the biggest and best thing I had done. Two weeks into music rehearsal in March aaaaaand we all know what happened.

Cut to September 2020 and a recurrence of my cancer was discovered in an exploratory surgery. Now…who knows how long I have to live. My surgeon said he could pull a number out of his ass, but why? I figure two years from this point…as it was two and a half years from the first major surgery (I thought had cured me) for the tumors to grow the size of golf balls on my stomach and elsewhere. Indeed I thought I was dying a couple of times from the pain and nausea and drops in body temperature I was having before the adenocarcinoma was found again. But, then again, who knows.

So 2020 depleted the full soul. I am back on empty. And since the, “you will die from this cancer now” diagnosis I haven’t been real motivated to take regular showers let alone trying to find a way to fill my soul again while Covid persists.

I am not sad. It is what it is. I don’t have kids. I am basically alone, with a strong family support system, lucky to still have both parents alive and close. It’s actually kind of a relief to think I may die before they do so I don’t have to endure that pain. I have never been a career-driven woman…never loved a single job I ever held. I am no longer the picture of outward ideal beauty folks thought they saw in me until my late twenties. I have never been a particularly happy person from the moment I came into this world a week late struggling to breathe with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck (I think I was trying to tell you all something!). I am not a religious person who believes in going to a “better place”. None of that mythology works for me to find peace. I have peace without all that. I’m tired. The struggles and pain of my life far outweigh the good moments. Even the good moments are associated with something or someone which takes me to a painful spot.

I am not a fighter, though if you know me, you might guess that I am. I’m a lover, not a fighter (thank you Michael Jackson). For now, I will at least try to stay motivated to shower regularly I promise.

The title of this blog appropriately comes from the brilliant mind of Stephen Sondheim with his song, I’m Still Here, written for the Broadway show, Follies. The show happens to be about a bunch of aging ex-actresses who return to their old beloved theatre to perform one last time. Hmmm, sounds familiar. Sondheim’s song runs through my mind constantly. To family and friends, I am fine for now. Maybe I will get a chance to perform for a real audience again before my body is no longer on this earth. Maybe not. Whatever. For now, I’m still here. 🎭🎵