Hello, everyone. I am Ithaka. And this is Sponge, a podcast where we absorb elements from the world to form a perspective of our own and find beauty.
The theme for today’s episode is this: opposing extremes coexist in a person, and an experience that allows a person to see that in a short period of time can have a freeing effect. That is what I absorbed from my recent shave. Of my head.
That’s right, my fellow absorbers. I have cut my hair extremely short. I’m not certain how to describe this in English. I dutifully searched the interwebs, and it seems that in English, you only call a head shaved when you cut your hair off completely, really close to the skin, the way Buddhist monks would do it. That is not what I did. But what I did isn’t a buzz cut either. The closest I could find was an induction cut. But that seems to be heavily associated with the military, so I’m not sure if that’s really the right word. There doesn’t seem to be a simple word that describes a semi-shaved cut. Searching a word like “half shave” resulted in a bunch of pictures of people shaving either their left side or right side of the head. And semi-shave also didn’t lead to anything concrete. It’s very odd.
Anyway, what happened to my hair is that it was cut, shaved, uniformly, all around my head, at 6mm. So I don’t look like a Buddhist monk, but this is definitely, really, very very very short.
And I did this about a week after returning from my trip to Seattle and Portland, this May.
Why did I do it? Well, this hairstyle is something that I’ve been wanting to try since middle school. At the school I went to, some of the boys sometimes adopted this hairstyle, either voluntarily or involuntarily. When it happened voluntarily, it was nice to touch the freshly cut hair. And this was just… as friends. Boys came to touch it, girls came to touch it, it was the way you would pat a puppy. Freshly cut hair feels nice like freshly cut lawn. So I’ve always been mildly interested in adopting this hairstyle, only, I was a girl. If I had done it, the teachers would’ve demanded to know if I was rebelling. Same with high school.
Then the other high school in the US, there, ooh, in the US, hair is extremely sexualized and I was too self-conscious to do it. And then in college, I was just not interested. Then at work, at an office, it would have been highly impractical. I might not have gotten that promotion with an unconventional lack of hair, since I don’t have a medical explanation either.
So on and so forth, until May 18th, 2023. That is when I got this haircut, at home, by my mother.
More precisely, before the trip, I came across the movie poster of “V for Vendetta.” I watched the movie a long time ago, so I don’t remember what it was about, but there on the movie poster was Natalie Portman, with her beautiful head of perfection, shaved. Well, in her case, also, it’s not like a Buddhist monk’s head; it’s not 100% shaved off. It’s sort of like my head but even shorter. Maybe hers is like 3mm.
Anyway, Youtube recommended me a song from V for Vendetta, and in the thumbnail was Natalie Portman with her perfect, round, shaved head. And so I was like, “Oh yeah… I used to want to get this haircut one of these days.” But then, the trip was planned, and… I recognize that this haircut, especially in women, is very uncommon without a medical reason. And I did not want to draw unnecessary attention to myself. In general, I don’t want to draw attention to myself, especially in the offline world, especially in cities that I am not familiar with.
But then, after the trip, the thumbnail appeared again, on my Youtube feed. So I thought, okay. Maybe I should do this.
And I texted my mother. I sent her a picture of the “V for Vendetta” poster and told her, “I wanna shave my head cause Natalie Portman’s head shape is so beautiful.”
And she is the type of person, who, when her daughter says that, goes, “Oooh, shall we try? It would be simple to do.”
She didn’t tell me I am not Natalie Portman. She didn’t tell me shaving my head is bad or ugly or uncommon. She also didn’t tell me shaving my head is too good for me or some such thing.
She had and still has no notions whatsoever about who should get a shaved head under what circumstances and why, when, how, etc.
The whole process took about an hour. First, I cut my long long hair. I will include pictures in the transcript, of the before and after. The longest part of my hair used to reach my waist, and it was 60 cm long. 60 cm, people. When a single strand of hair fell off, it looked like I was going through extreme hair loss, because… it looked like a lot. It looked like a lot of hair was falling off my scalp.
Anyway, first, I cut all that hair, cuttable with a pair of scissors, as close to the scalp as possible. And then came the razor. It’s like… it’s this automatic thingy, and it comes with a length setting thingy that you can attach to it, and that thing was set to 9mm at first, because the shorter ones didn’t work right away. Then after that, my mom used the 6mm one.
And I was giggling so much, because it tickled. And the length setting tool, it… it is shaped like a comb. So it combs through the hair and evenly shaves it at 6mm. But some hair always manages to escape the fate of being cut. So you have to cut it like… from left to right, right to left, from back to front, from front to back. It’s like cutting a lawn.
After all that, in total, the hair I cut off weighed about 160 grams. It’s actually way less than what I thought it would weigh. So basically, you know, even if you have really long hair, any kind of back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain—all that pain, is probably not because of the weight of the hair. Sometimes I used to think, maybe I have hair that’s too long, but… like… right now with my shaved head, it doesn’t feel any different weight-wise. Actually, in many ways, it doesn’t feel that different. Anyway, on May 18th, 2023, is when it happened.
My mother was so pleased. She is very proud of the shape of my head. And, the shape of your head will, to a certain extent, depend on your race, but apparently, at least with Asian babies, the head is very soft in the first year or so. So babies who always lie flat or to one side will get a squished head, and it will stay that way. So, my mom, when I was a newborn, turned me around multiple times a night—anytime I woke up, I guess—and really tried to balance the head shape.
And my mother was so pleased to see that after many decades, my head shape is still this… perfection of an egg. It’s exactly the way she designed it, and she is so pleased. Again, I will include pictures in the transcript. Not of my face, but of my head. From the back.
And I have such thick… thick hair. It is the perfect density, if I may say so. Sometimes, when you have long hair and you part your hair at the same place all the time, it may look like you’re losing hair there. So, you’re supposed to part your hair sometimes left, sometimes right, sometimes in the middle. And it does seem that in the middle part, maybe I have slightly less hair, but even there, it’s a lot of hair. I have really thick, even hair. This is like… if someone were to manicure their lawn like this, they would get A-triple-plus from their HOA. That’s the hair I have.
So, anyway. It feels good, a shaved head. My mother kept saying, “I never shaved my son’s head, and here I am, shaving my daughter’s head.” And then she kept stroking my hair. Head. My brother probably never will shave his head, because he is in the performing arts. He actually cannot shave his head. They… the stage folks need hair so they can style it according to the role he has. If he doesn’t have hair, they’ll put a wig on him anyway. So he might as well keep his hair.
Many men, actually, cannot shave their heads, because it will be perceived as a statement. It’s weird, but there is this thing with hair in so many cultures. You cannot simply shave your head in so many situations. You might miss that promotion, heck, you might get fired, depending on what industry you’re in.
But in my case, because I don’t go into an office, I am not in a field where I can get a promotion, and really, I barely have any human interaction since March this year.
So, yeah. The shaving of my head was inspired by “V for Vendetta,” but there is no political message whatsoever. There is also no social, philosophical, or medical reason. What I will talk about in the later part of this episode, about how opposing extremes coexist in a person, and an experience that allows a person to see that in a short period of time can have a freeing effect, came after the process.
Initially, my reaction was purely: wow, I… don’t feel all that different. And I kinda look like a baby monk.
I genuinely like having long hair. Long hair requires less maintenance, in my opinion, and this impression has solidified after I got this shave. For me to maintain this shave, I would have to get a regular shave. Like, every week. Whereas, long hair. A few millimeters or even centimeters of growth doesn’t even show. I don’t need to get a trim every week, when I have long hair. And when I do need a trim, I can trim my hair myself.
So, probably, now that I have experienced a full shave, I will keep my hair long-ish. I will grow it out again.
Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before.
I don’t feel all that different. And people around me don’t treat me that different either. My mom was pleased, my dad was pleased. He laughed when he saw me. And my brother—as I write this, he hasn’t seen my new haircut in person yet, but I’m sure he won’t read much into it. Same with my friends. They did react with surprise, because, it is surprising, to go from 60cm to 6mm. I used to have hair that was a hundred times longer than now. So, the surprise part was unavoidable.
But after the surprise, it wasn’t like they were worried about my mental state or some such thing. At least not outwardly. They asked me why I did it, but other than that. Meh. Some of them also said that they wanted to always try this hair, but they couldn’t. I mean, yeah, some of them work in a formal setting, some of them work in a field where there are standards to how an employee can look like in terms of wardrobe and hair and makeup. So on and so forth.
Such were their reactions, and… yeah, I thought it would be more dramatic, to get my head shaved. And I guess I could now go out there and see how strangers react. I’m pretty sure that some will glance at me, because clearly I am so not a guy, and I live in a part of the world where women simply do not shave their heads that often. As I’ve mentioned before, the USA has an extremely sexualized culture around hair.
Say, in some Asian countries, it’s not that uncommon for young women to have short hair. But in the US, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard grown men actually state out loud how they think it’s odd that women don’t grow their hair. It’s fascinating that they not only think that—which would be fascinating enough—but that they say it out loud.
And it’s odd that I hear these things, because I don’t think I move in circles where people are obsessed with sex or sexuality or gender. The people who tell me how they think hair should look like are strangers, for which I am grateful, because, imagine the waste of time, hanging around people who tell you what they think other people’s hair should look like. For gods’ sake, get a life.
I mean, it’s one thing for your significant other to tell you they like your hair in a certain way. And a totally different thing for a stranger to tell another stranger how they think the entirety of the female population in their timespace should have hair that looks a certain way, as if said former stranger expects said latter stranger to agree. Even in the situation where your significant other wants you to have a certain hairstyle, some would call that controlling. I’m not sure about that, I guess it depends on the context. Maybe the woman has really beautiful hair, in which case I guess her partner may want her to keep her hair long, cause, I mean, why not? And similar things might happen with men. Maybe their partner likes their hair a certain way, for whatever reason. Totally valid. I mean, you can’t control what turns you on. And if you’re gonna have one significant other, then, especially at first encounter, an impression that is dramatically different from what you think of as attractive can have a huge influence. I think that’s just… that’s just expected.
But. What’s weird, again, is how a stranger came up to me, who is a stranger to them, to tell me how they think hair in women should look like. This happened while I had long hair, cause most of my life, I’ve had long hair. Maybe they thought that because I’m a woman who conforms to their ideas, I’ll agree with them. Instead, I raised my brows and stared at them. Like, literally. Go tell your woman how you think her hair should look like, but don’t tell me, stranger.
That said, again, aside from how weird their obsession is, I acknowledge that I can save a lot of time by doing what everyone else is doing, and there is nothing wrong with that. So, after this, I will grow my hair out. One reason is convenience, another reason is that I do like long hair. But another tangential reason is that indeed, a lot of time and effort can be saved, and suffering can be avoided, by just doing what everyone else is doing. A person’s right to shave their head and remain unbothered by nosy people is valid, but it isn’t a hill that I want to die on, permanently. So long as I can do it when I want to, I am fine. And I just checked that I can do it, so I’m content on that front.
That said, related to hair and sex and gender, what I noticed was that, I do look feminine—if I may say so. I wondered if it was because of my long hair, but no, even without my long hair, I have a… feminine neckline. In general, I do look feminine. It wasn’t because of my hair, it wasn’t because of my clothes, and… basically, whatever makes me feminine isn’t… isn’t the attachments, apparently.
Yeah, that’s one of the things I absorbed, after this shave. What is femininity?
I mean, I do like silky breezy comfy types of fabric. And I like skirts. But say, even if I were to wear jeans and boots and checkered shirts instead—the clothes aren’t what make me feminine.
It’s not even my body, necessarily. Like, I’m not curvy. So, that direction of feminine representation isn’t what makes me feminine either.
I am petite, and statistically, that is considered feminine-ish in the human species, but being petite isn’t necessarily… it’s not a requirement for femininity, exactly. There are tall large women who are feminine, I would say.
Yeah, it was somewhat strange to see myself in the mirror with a shaved head, and think that I feel more feminine now than when I had long hair. I think it was because I thought hair had something to do with my femininity, but it clearly did not.
Seriously, what is femininity? Surely there must be a thousand books on this. And when I say I am feminine, I don’t necessarily mean the sexualized kind. I’m not sure how to describe it, but it’s the same as masculinity. It’s not all about sex.
Yeah, I really don’t know how to describe this. In general, I don’t like -isms.
Environmentalism, for example. I like the environment, but I don’t like the loud ism around it.
Sexuality is kinda like that, although it ends with -ity and not -ism. Sexuality has been so mass -ismified for millennia, I doubt whatever fad of -ism or -ity of the present-day is the actual things. The present day femininity and masculinity aren’t the actual thing. Or any sexuality. It’s not the actual thing. Well, I don’t know it’s possible at all for humans to move beyond representation and reach the actual thing, especially at mass scale, at a scale where a huge population can know the exact meaning of things.
Maybe it’s words that are the challenge. Words are traps. Words are boxes. They are convenient, but also words can never represent the actual thing, words can only represent what a limited human being in a timespace thinks is the actual thing. And barely even that.
Yeah. So… this shaving of my head, it didn’t lead to as dramatic of a… shock or fear or other feelings, but it definitely has me wondering about some things. This is especially because in the recent months, since March, again, I am thinking about what… what is the core? What is the essence?
These have been topics of interest for me, for a long time. Sometime in 2022 or so, I realized that every single story I have ever written is in some way about the shell and the essence. Who is “I”? That is my eternal question.
And clearly, long hair isn’t “I.” Short hair isn’t “I.” I say things like, “I am feminine,” but what does that mean? Clearly it’s not the skirts, it’s not the curves or lack thereof.
Take a word like “tree.” I guarantee that people can recognize a tree when they see a tree, across many cultures, across many times and places. But what they think of when they hear the word “tree” will be different for every single person. And it’s the same with femininity. Or masculinity. Or any sexuality. Or democracy. Or any religion.
And even a name like “Ithaka.” What does Ithaka mean?
There is something that simply is. It does the existing. Then there are the words, the representations, and the interpretations thereof.
Opposing extremes coexist in a person, and an experience that allows a person to see that in a short period of time can have a freeing effect. Within a matter of seconds, I went from long hair to short hair. Then, through the long laborious process of lawn-cutting my hair, I went to extremely very short hair. The whole process took an hour.
Suddenly, I had gone from one extreme to the other, and I was still me. And yup, it had a freeing effect, in that… I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t elated. I did giggle, but that was only because the razor tickled. I didn’t feel any emotion where I needed to hide, needed to justify, or explain. I just shaved my head.
And this felt similar to how I feel when I reach a kind of… a kind of zero state during meditation. I call it zero, and maybe other people also call it zero, because things cancel out in zero. Two extremes that I clung to meet. Plus minus, action reaction. And they cancel out, and I reach zero.
Such a state does not last very long, in my case. But I do sometimes visit it, or it visits me. And it happens when I realize that two states that I thought could not coexist do exist inside me.
And… maybe the reason shaving my head wasn’t as shocking as I thought it would be is that I am already used to the zero state. But that physical experience of having my hair shaved was still valuable, because the internal zero state doesn’t last that long for me, but this visual representation of how I can go from long hair to short hair and still be me, was, and is… it’s more concrete. For me, as a person who is only now starting to think about a self that exists beyond the body and mind in this particular 3D reality on this earth, that visual representation is a powerful reminder.
Besides vaguely thinking that I am feminine, I also thought that I am beautiful. And by beautiful, I don’t mean the body and mind in this reality, I mean… I think I can get a vague sense of the fundamental and infinite beauty of the thing that does the observing of the body and mind in this reality.
And at the more mundane, worldly level, now, say, if I were to ever get severely sick and absolutely had to shave my head, I have this experience of having done it before. And thanks to this, I won’t be elated or depressed or sad or joyful. I will have this sense that… opposing extremes coexist within me. There was me with long hair, there is me with shaved hair. They are both me, because somehow, they both aren’t me. There is a larger self who does the observing. And that is freeing.
So, I recommend this experience, or a different experience that might cause the same effect.
I think in the case of women who live in cultures where they are expected to keep their hair long, or longer than that of men, this head shaving experience will have a similar or stronger effect on them, than it had on me.
For men… maybe head shaving won’t be as impactful, especially in the US. A lot of men shave their heads. Not so much in some Asian countries, but in the US, I see men with extremely short hair all the time.
The key, I think, is this. This experience of opposing extremes coexisting within me wasn’t as powerful as I thought it was, but it was still powerful enough, because I felt like a blank canvas. That was why it was freeing. I could be both, if I wanted to. So maybe you’re a man in a part of the world where men don’t grow out their hair, you should grow out your hair. Only, it will take you a long long time to get there. Also, I feel like… in the US, plenty of men grow out their hair. Like, in Seattle and especially in Portland, many man buns, I’ve seen.
Makeup can be useful for the blank canvas effect. Voluntary makeup can be much fun.
Well, actually, even clothing. You can switch from extremely formal to extremely casual.
See, I wonder if all of these grooming tactics—the hairstyles, the makeup, the clothing—maybe all of them exist because humans need the blank canvas effect, whether they’re consciously aware of it or not. We need to feel like a canvas. Even as some of us waste time commenting on how we think other people’s hair should look like, especially people we will never be ourselves, I think another subset of the human species knows that the more they cling to any such notions, the more they suppress something inside them, and the less they will reach the zero state.
This doesn’t mean you have to be both. In the 3D reality, you can’t be both exactly at the same time and place. But as the higher observing self, you can be both and everything and nothing. There is a difference between doing something because you prefer it, and doing something because you think that’s how you think you should be because you’re a man, you’re black, you’re Chinese, you have a high school diploma, whatever else. Such labels may very well come up in your mind with a set of attached rules, either because you believe in them or because it’s just a statistically observable fact. But if resistance arises at the thought of doing something against those rules, something might be funky there, and the key isn’t that you must not believe in the rules, it’s that, when there is resistance, you can’t even effectively follow the rules. That’s the irony.
Another way to look at this is that: if you require a bunch of conditions so that you can see yourself as something. Say, if you think that you need to be A, B, C, and D to be considered a “worthy” person, your worth is too conditional for you to be actually worthy. Whereas, if you let go of A, B, C, and D and nevertheless are worthy, then you are truly worthy, and you can still go back and choose to adopt A, B, C, and D.
And this is becoming increasingly meditation-y territory here, so I’m gonna try to somehow wrap this up without getting too… without talking too much about the general irony that is existence.
Still, the past couple of months brought up these ideas to my conscious mind. These… ideas that I am clinging, and that they are the root of the suffering.
A given hairstyle never inherently means anything. Thinking that things must be a certain way is what causes suffering.
And the hair example is useful, because it is externally observable. It’s a useful mirror for looking inward. No matter what the contemporary standards around hair are, it doesn’t change the fact that somehow, you can move from one extreme to another and still be you. What some folks said was gonna be meaningful, like long hair or short hair—wasn’t all that meaningful without some higher or greater or larger me to do the interpretation.
And in that case, who is “I”? The narrative weaver?
In the absence of the rightness or wrongness of either extreme, in the hair arena, I feel extremely free. Can I apply this to other areas? Just imagine how freeing it would be to let go of more internal, or more seemingly internal extreme obsessions.
Some popular pairs are: it’s evil to have money versus it’s evil to not have money.
Or, it’s good to be rich versus it’s good to be poor.
Also, one must grow all the time. Or, one must live within one’s means.
And in general, anything where we think we have to be a certain way or the world has to be a certain way.
Theoretically, when all that cancels out due to our acknowledgment and acceptance of all extremes, they become zero. And therein lies the key to becoming whatever we want to be.
In other words, I can choose to shave my head again or grow it out, without resistance, without fear.
Yeah. Some thoughts. Meandering, but there.
See… this meditation thing I am doing now. I am doing it, fully intending to make it my reality. In other words, I am interested in the theory only up to how it can be applied. It’s not that I am only interested in what I consider to be “useful.” This isn’t about use and uselessness. It’s more, I want whatever philosophy I have to be whole, in that it can be applied to every aspect of my life.
Like… oh, there is definitely resistance against becoming that supposed enlightened person, meditation-wise or religion-wise or whatnot, who… has all the theory down, studies so much, thinks a lot about all that, and then, when they are faced with an actual human in their lives, they do the exact opposite of what they have been preaching, if not to others, then to themselves. Some of these so-called enlightened people are so stuck in how things should be, they’re clinging so hard, they do the opposite of what they think they believe in, which tends to be something along the lines of love and acceptance.
And I don’t want that. It’s almost better to overtly not care about such ideals than to claim to have ideals and then somehow keep it boxed up in the theoretical realm with no real-life application whatsoever. For reality that is separate from theory to exist, that alone is an oxymoron. I mean, is theoretical belief truly a belief?
If that’s all I’m gonna do, I might as well not meditate at all. It’s just like if I were to read a bunch of “how to write a novel” books and never write any novels. The reason that sucks isn’t because never writing novels renders the “how to write a novel” books useless; it’s because everything that I claim to have absorbed would be false. Whatever my claims, they will be false. And from my falseness, my whole life will operate. Yes, not just the aspect of my life in which I don’t write novels, but the entirety of my life—because life, at the fundamental level, cannot be compartmentalized, or so I am thinking, these days.
Outwardly, it may look compartmentalized. But interally, as long as I am me and not someone who lives with truly separated multiple personalities, oh, I know when I am not living the way I say I believe. I can try to suppress that awareness, but that just leads to disasters later. The more labeling I do to myself, the more I try to bring in meaning that is created articifically, by large groups of people, the less I am likely to look at my actual self and see what’s going on there. So, labels like meditation, religion, enlightenment—they’re pointless. Their theories are pointless, unless the theories become me, so that they aren’t theories anymore.
Life is everything that I am.
Of course, my clinging to this idea will probably be detrimental to my unifying my life into a whole, complete thing.
I guess internally, I have to cancel this out. There is the extreme where I read a bunch of “how to write a novel” books and do write novels. Then there is the extreme in which I do the exact opposite, of only piling up theoretical knowledge and never doing anything with it.
Both should be fine. Both, I should accept. And then, from that zero, I can choose what I want. Or so the theory goes, as far as I understand.
Anyway. Back to the worldly world before we wrap up this episode.
All the hair I have now is from post-March. Well post-March. More like from May 2023 on. And thus, I have no hair that hasn’t thought about these things before.
For those of you who’ve been following my blog, which, by the way, got some intense Spring Cleaning work done, may read more into this whole head shaving event, which is fine too. We all weave our own stories, and it would be true if someone were to say that I cannot be the same person I was in March, even if I wanted to, even if I tried really hard. So, I will not even try.
Again, the plan is that I will grow my hair long. I do like long hair. And I want to keep my hair pristine this time. No dyeing, no perm, just… hair.
And I have this vision, where, when I start having white hair, I will have it turn very quickly, from black to white. This is just… it’s purely an image in my head. So, like, maybe when I am 45, one day I will wake up and all my hair will suddenly be white, instead of the process being gradual. We shall see how that goes.
And that is all for this episode. Thank you for listening.
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You can find a link to the full transcript in the show notes. Also, visit ithakaonmymind.com to find out more about everything else I do, besides Sponge.
Stay true, everybody.
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