Day 58: Putting up and Falling down

Dearest Readers,

You may have noticed that we’ve now had two awfully melancholy posts in a row. First, there was an account of the duck-rabbit’s ingenious (and disgusting) method of sopping up its tears; then, to lighten the mood, we moved on to psychotic breakdown and suicide.

One melancholic post is excusable; two is unfortunate, but I believe that three in a row would be unacceptable, both to the duck-rabbit and to its readers. Doom and gloom all the time is no fun for anyone. Moreover, I need to keep you wondering, don’t I? Is the duck-rabbit down … or is it up? Is that it flying low, or hopping high? I hope that today’s post will give us both a little lift. Let’s get started, then.


I often wear my hair up. I think that it suits me. I have this notion that, seen in profile, it’s a nice counterpoint to my long nose. I imagine that the hair swept up and piled towards the back of my head creates some kind of flatteringly Modigliani-esque effect like this:

Amedeo Modigliani : Jeanne Hebuterne - 1918 - Private collection - Painting - oil on canvas Height 47 cm (18.5 in), Width 33 cm (12.99 in)

Amedeo Modigliani: Jeanne Hebuterne – 1918 – Private collection – Painting – oil on canvas

Isn’t that the loveliest thing? See the way you could draw a diagonal line from the tip of her nose through the flush on her cheekbone, bisecting the center of her bun up into the upper-right hand corner of the painting? I find that line so pleasing. I like the idea that if I could put my hair up just so, at precisely the right height and angle, then anyone looking at me in profile would have the pleasure of tracing that imaginary line from nose tip to crown of head.

I have been attempting to recreate this hairstyle, the one shown in this picture, since I was, ooh, about sixteen, probably. My standard technique, for the last quarter-century, has been very simple: pull hair back into ponytail; twist; affix with large hairclip at the crown of my head; pull a few winsome strands out at the front. (It’s actually how I’m wearing my hair right now, as I type these lines into the WordPress post-editing box.)

It’s been my standard technique for putting my hair up, but I’ve never been completely satisfied with it. I remember a few years ago Natalie said something about how she wanted to learn how to put her hair up for work meetings and I interrupted and said, Oh, well, it’s very easy and then she interrupted and said, actually I mean something a bit more polished. I was only very slightly crestfallen to hear that my hair was not emulation-worthy and decided that, now that I was a grown woman, perhaps it was time to find out how grown ladies put up their hair.

But how was I to learn? I decided that the next time I went to get my hair cut, I would ask the stylist for some suggestions. I have to preface the conversation I’m about to relay with the following observation: I get my haircut at what by my reckoning is a very expensive salon on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. I really like my Russian hairstylist; she looks and speaks like a Connery-era Bond girl. I would totally believe she is KGB. Anyway, I like her, and the haircuts she gives me, very much, and I justify the expense by only going twice a year.

When I got the call confirming my haircut appointment, I decided I would just mention to the receptionist while I had her on the phone that I’d like a little extra time with Anya because I wanted her to show me some ways of putting my hair up.

So I said something like,

Oh, and I just wanted to mention that I was hoping that before she cuts my hair, Anya could show me some ways of putting my hair up.

RECEPTIONIST: Putting your hair what?

D-R: Putting my hair up.

RECEPTIONIST: Putting it up? Putting it up where?

D-R: [Embarrassed] Oh, you know, like, putting it up on … on .. on top of my head.

RECEPTIONIST: [Pause] I literally cannot understand what you’re saying.

D-R: [Exasperated] And I literally cannot understand what it is that you cannot understand!

RECEPTIONIST: Do you mean, like, drying your hair?

D-R: No! I mean, like, you know, whatever, putting it up in a bun or something.

RECEPTIONIST: [Voice incredulous] Uh-huh. So you need Anya to show you how to put your hair in a bun, is that what you’re saying? [In the duck-rabbit’s possibly paranoid imagination, the receptionist was repeating the duck-rabbit’s request very slowly and clearly so that all the stylists in the salon could laugh at it]

D-R: No! I mean, I know how to do a bun, but I just wanted some other ideas of … of ways to put my hair up … like … I dunno, just other things you can do with it.

RECEPTIONIST [Clearly convinced that I am an imbecile] Like a French twist.

D-R: Yeah, sure, that and other things.

RECEPTIONIST [Irritably] Uh, yeah, Anya can do that.

She immediately hangs up.

Oh my God, I thought, I am not fluent in some kind of special hair-language that all other women understand! How is this possible?

Anya made me feel much better when the time came for the actual hair tutorial. However she grimaced when I used the word “polished.” She shook her head, “oh, no, you don’t want polished, no. I think much cuter will be a messy updo, yes?” [1]

“Will it?” I asked doubtfully. Hadn’t I already mastered the messy updo? Ahh, dear readers, how naïve I was!

The fashion for “messy” hair is vexing for those of us whose hair is naturally messy and yet, seemingly, not in quite the right way. I recently read a description of a catwalk show and the hairstylist revealed that the models’ hair was “meant to look like the models did it themselves.” But obviously they did not actually do it themselves. It’s messiness in quotation marks that is the desired effect.

But I digress. Back to Anya, who set to work. Watching a good hairstylist work is like watching a good sleight-of-hand artist; they barely seem to do anything, and, lo! A metamorphosis! The duck turns rabbit! I truly believe that a good hairstylist only has to run her fingers through your hair, tugging a strand here and there, and it instantly looks better.

Anya’s supple fingers performed some extraordinary magic. A flip here and twist there, and she had pulled my hair into an effortlessly chic, perfectly “messy” (as opposed to just messy) knot at the nape of my neck.

“Do you like it?” she asked?

“Yes!” I said, breathlessly, “but how—”

Let’s do another!” she said.

Every shape and knot she pulled my hair into was more impossibly chic than the last. The final one involved some kind of braid crossing my head.

“There is no way I’ll ever be able to do that,” I said, sighing.

“Of course you will!” she exclaimed. “Look, I’ll show you again; see how easy it is?”

But I was right. I never managed to recreate even the simplest style that Anya demonstrated. And, as is my wont, instead of practicing, I threw myself into the much easier task of observing, growing more and more obsessed with other women’s updos, and specifically with a particular kind of sixties-ish, beehive-ish hairdo.

There was this one woman in the British Library Rare Books & Music Room (Floor 1) last summer whose hair was just fantastic, a kind of beehive. She was a redhead, a less zaftig Joan Holloway. I’d spotted her a couple of days earlier and had sat myself opposite her solely so I could steal glances at her hair.

At the end of the day when she got up to return her books I got up too.

“Excuse me,” I said in a whisper from behind.

She didn’t hear me so I tapped her on the shoulder and she whirled around dropping all of her books.

“Oh my God, I am so sorry!” I whispered, mortified, and knelt down to help her pick them up.

“I didn’t mean to startle you, I just wanted to tell you how lovely your hair looks – I’ve been admiring it all day!”

“Oh thanks, it’s actually so easy!” she said, smiling.

I was hopeful that she might volunteer to show me then and there but a librarian came along to help us with the books and the moment passed.

Foiled again.

More recently, I noticed last week that Dr. F was sporting a very fetching French-braided sort of updo. At the end of our session I wiped my eyes and then asked,

“How you do your hair?”

“Oh, it is so easy!” she exclaimed. “Do you want me to show you?” she asked.

“Uh, yeah!” I said, surprised but eager.

She paused. “Wait … is this weird if I show you?” she asked, beginning to unpin her hair.

I thought for a moment.

“I think it would be weird if you showed me on my hair, but I think it’s completely professional if you just show me using your hair,” I declared authoritatively.

She nodded, and started deftly twisting her now loose hair.

“See, it’s just so easy!” she said as she twisted and tucked.

I was skeptical. “I dunno,” I said. “It looks easy when you do it, but ….”

Our time was up.

“Youtube videos!” she declared, standing up. “You can learn how to do everything from Youtube!”

I tried recreating Dr. F’s braided ponytail at home, and it just looked terrible. It looked nothing like hers. It looked messy not “messy.” Was my hair too wavy? Too fine? Too bushy? I suspected that it simply required practice, but I wanted the easy way out.


I Googled many variations on “messy updo” (there was “topknot” and “easy updo” and “messy French twist”).

Messy French Twist was the winner. I got to a video and when I looked at the woman’s hair I thought, YES. Yes, this is the Platonic Form of Putting Your Hair Up.

It turned out that creating a “messy French twist” required lots of equipment that I didn’t have. I had plenty of hairpins, but this technique required bobby pins, specifically, and after rifling through the detritus on my dresser, I could only locate three of them, each defective in its own unique way.

I remembered to buy more bobby pins the next day but forgot to buy dry shampoo (which is a substance I’ve never used; any recommendations?). But, I decided, I was not going back to Rite-Aid just to buy bloody dry shampoo, so I decided to wing it. The younger watched, fascinated, as I stopped and started the video on my laptop, which was perched on top of the (closed) toilet seat. Since I didn’t have the dry shampoo I decided to spray a bunch of other stuff into my hair. Mousse that I probably bought in 2008? Sure! Leave-in conditioner that I remember buying in Boots at Heathrow airport? [2] Why not! I sprayed and teased and pinned and teased some more and fussed and futzed. As a work in progress it did not look promising. But then, when I turned and glanced in the mirror sideways, I saw it! The diagonal line!

It was a thing of magnificence for about fifteen minutes.

“How does my hair look?” I asked He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved eagerly, when he came in.

“It looks like it’s falling down,” he said.

“What!” I exclaimed. How could that possibly be? But when I looked in the mirror I saw that he was right. My hair, like a souffle, had fallen.

My hypothesis is that the absence of dry shampoo was a crucial factor in the messy French twist’s untimely demise. Maybe I’ll get some. And, if I do, maybe I’ll try putting my hair up again next week. Those of you who are in town for the big conference downtown can let me know if it’s falling down.


[1] Do you think she just intuited that I am, ‘ow you say, rustique? Apologies, this footnote is only comprehensible to roughly 10% of this blog’s readership.

[2] Both of these product purchases were inspired by readers of this blog. I remember a conversation with Marissa, possibly on a morning when we were camping and she’d just caught a glimpse of my morning bedhead, with curls sticking out at all angles (this was when my hair was much shorter). “Oh my God, your hair is so cute!” she exclaimed. “You should wear it like this all the time!” I explained that this was just the way my hair looked in the morning after lying down all night, and I didn’t know how to create the effect on purpose. “Mousse,” she said, wisely. So that’s why I got the mousse. As for the leave-in conditioner, Francine, do you remember you used to have me pick up some of that Body Shop leave-in conditioner for you whenever I went through Heathrow? As you know, they discontinued that product, but your devotion to it made me think that perhaps leave-in conditioner was the holy grail of hair products.


6 thoughts on “Day 58: Putting up and Falling down

  1. Francine says:

    I did not get a baseball cap! It was just you and Louisa and your third housemate! That is, if you are asking me….

  2. Francine says:

    And I didn’t see the remark about leave-in conditioner. Yes, I was devoted to that particular product! Now, however, I have a hairdresser who uses some kind of product that has been gradually softening my challenging hair (as well as dying it grey-black and blue). My hair is just so uncontrollable that I now use it as a zen-like metaphor for everything else; i.e., it is what it is and that’s that! Dry shampoo, on the other hand – deeply confusing.

  3. Ooh, blue hair. I like that. I actually just bought the dry shampoo yesterday. I bought the smallest possible container in case it’s rubbish. I haven’t tried it yet. I still don’t get what it’s meant to do but the lady on YouTube with the good hair told me I need it, so …

Leave a Reply