At the recent private reception with the Ambassador of India to the U.N. which I attended through the good graces of my Book Babe Donna in Utah, she wrapped up the event by saying “Mr. Ambassador, before we go, I thought you might find it interesting for James to explain why his hair is purple.”
(Technically, it’s burgundy – but I digress.)
With collected poise, I turned to the smiling Ambassador and told him the story. I have shared it privately and semi-publicly, but rarely explained it to any large group, as I am doing now, and I certainly didn’t expect to be explaining it to the former Head of the U.N. Security Council.
I’m also sharing it now because my newest publisher is in the midst of the first launch of a year-long rollout of new books, and to help promote everything, they have been filming me in interviews and as I do my live presentations – and at some point, someone finally realized that my current hair color is not entirely natural. In decent light, it simply looks a bit colorful; in great direct light, I could probably signal the Space Station. I haven’t asked directly why this might be a concern — Google my friend Laini Taylor and tell me that her hair has adversely affected her bestselling, National-Book-Award-Nominated status, or simply enhanced her personality and profile — but it was discreetly suggested through channels that perhaps I might recolor my hair to something more natural before filming my keynote address at the upcoming ANWA Writers Conference.
I replied, gently and diplomatically, that this would not be possible, for two reasons.
1) The film wouldn’t match the film from previous events/interviews, thus drawing even more attention to my hair; and 2) I promised someone that my hair color would not change until it grew out completely — and that if they needed me to, I would recolor it again. And again. And again. I try to keep my promises as best as humanly possible — and this is an easy one to keep.
I have colored my hair at various times for various reasons, and in the summer I go very blond, but this time, knowing full well I was about to go do lots of public appearances, I colored it burgundy for a very specific reason.
A few years ago, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer — one of several friends with similar afflictions — and despite having the wherewithal for living expenses and the medical costs covered, she was in for a long process of treatment and recovery. Among the obstacles she had to grapple with was a loss of dignity. Her wigs didn’t fit well, and she was, bluntly, embarrassed to be seen in public, bald. Having had other friends — including Book Babe #1 — who dealt with similar issues, I insisted that it wouldn’t matter, that people would simply realize she was dealing with the repercussions of cancer treatment. But she was simply too embarrassed. So, I asked if she would go out to lunch with me if I could make sure as many people were staring at me as there were staring at her. She said she would — and I told her I’d be there in an hour.
I showed up at her door with bright burgundy hair. I’m six-foot-three and barrel-chested, and when I walked through the door of the deli with a gorgeous bald chick I drew a lot of attention, and so did she — but not because she had no hair. People looked at her because her smile radiated through the room like an exploding sun. She was beautiful, and happy, and not ashamed or embarrassed.
When I took her home, I told her that any time she needed it, we could go hang out — and when we couldn’t, or when she wasn’t able to, all she had to do was look at my website, or facebook pics, or photos in interviews, and she’ll know why my hair is that color. She’ll know she is not alone.
I have done similar things for friends going through similar struggles — at least three right now who are facebook friends — and I do my best to be available to them when they need a hand to hold, even electronically. When I colored my hair this last time, it was for someone on the other side of the country, whom I can’t take out to lunch, and who is not doing well. She knows that my hair is this color for her — and I will not make her feel less loved, or valued, or ever, ever feel alone.
We can all show support of loved ones going through difficult times, with notes, or small reminders — but I chose to do something that shows my support of them publicly, in front of everyone who sees me. And every time that person sees my photo, they’ll know: I will catch you. I won’t let you fall. I believe in you. And I am not ashamed to be your friend, and never will.
The Ambassador loved the story — and so did the women at LTUE who are either in treatment or in recovery from cancer, with whom I also shared this story.
But the biggest reason not to recolor my hair? I can choose to change it. My friend being treated for cancer can’t. And I will keep this color until she can. It doesn’t change my message, or my writing, or my presentations, or my books — all it does is tell one person that I understand, to a small degree, what they are going though, and that I will give them all the strength I can.
I’m with you, babe — and even the guys on the Space Station know it.