I'm tackling the Beard Question. This isn't related to opera, so if you're only reading those sorts of blogs, feel free to pass by on this one!
Why did I grow the beard?
Why am I not shaving the beard?
And why, why, am I not trimming the damned thing?!
Here goes... First a facial retrospective of sorts.
2013 started with a burgeoning handlebar mustache:
And then I moved to a more formal English style stache:
And then the pomade and pompadour coupled with the handlebar mo':
And July the beard began:
And then it became an actual beard:
And finally, inspired by the great writer Ernest Hemmingway, my beard became more epic:
There are lots of opinions on this beard, mind you, and I've heard from everyone. My wife is fine with it. My boys like the mustache but not the beard. My colleagues are split -- some think it's cool (especially the techies), others are not amused, some want it gone. I accept all these opinions.
The fun comments come from total strangers. Those are almost all positive and range from "great beard, dude" to various versions of "epic" and "awesome". I've received free beers at pubs, and free lattes at Starbucks (but I think those have less to do with my beard than by the fact that I spend hundreds of dollars a month there...) A few days ago, while shopping at Kohls here in Burlington, Iowa, a native passed by me and, under her breath, said "Sir, you've got a great haircut. And the beard's amazing." Then she just kept walking as if she hadn't said anything, or was afraid I'd answer her. I wasn't even able to say thanks.
So why did I grow to my current state of hirsutedness? (Not sure if that's a word...)
It gets touchy-feely from here on.
Around March/April of this year it became clear that my anxiety and stress were reaching new levels that I might not be able to handle. Most of it was medical, some had to do with how hard I'd been pushing myself during the past decade. Meditation was helping, but not really. I was definitely looking at the possibility of medicating myself in order to sleep and not have panic attacks about possible blood poisoning scenarios involving cat scratches. My wife was worried... and annoyed.
Additionally, the handlebar mustache that I had cultivated over the first third of the year had taken over my morning ritual. It was just too much and I was feeling that it was a rather vain thing to do every morning. Waxing a mustache into swirling handlebars takes time, effort, and determination. It was too much. Yet, I really liked having facial hair, not gonna lie.
I'd never grown an actual beard. There was an attempt back in Ithaca during a Christmas break, but it got shaved off as soon as it was time to return to teaching in January.
The summer of 2013, if you've read that blog, was my first summer "off" from opera. No more Brevard, no conducting or directing gigs, just being at home away from the craziness of opera.
Confession: It drove me crazy, not working.
So I wrote a play ("Christmas in Peru"), walked the dog, and waited to get my hernia repair surgery scheduled.
July 1st came, and I decided I was through with shaving. I'm not sure what happened that morning, but I knew that that was that. I was going to let my face evolve to its natural state and see what the bearded face might look like, if given half a chance. I consulted websites and saw that what it really takes to grow a beard is patience. I do have that, in spades.
Plus I meditated more, gave up caring what I looked like, gave up caring that the beard was coming in REALLY grey, and gave up caring (or at least tried to) what others might think of me.
It was an internal transformation that had an external byproduct, my beard. Or it might have been an external transformation that began to impact my internal feelings. (Actors might understand the inside/out vs outside/in reference.)
During the summer, it also became clear that I was experiencing a bit of a spiritual transformation due to my meditating more regularly. Buddhism really suits me, and although I'm an atheist, the Buddhism I've fallen into has given me a great deal of peace. I'm not quite a real Buddhist, if you go by the traditional definition. I can't give up certain things -- like wine or bourbon -- but we will see.
Surprisingly, what happened during my recovery and during the summer, was that as my beard grew my anxiety decreased. I became happier, felt healthier, was much more pleasant to be around, and I SLEPT.
I came to believe, in a very strong way, that as my beard got bigger and transformed my face, I became a stronger person -- spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Sounds silly, but that's how I'd describe it.
My beard represents this new self.
And as I'm not interested in returning to the old "me", I just don't see myself ever going back to being non-bearded.
And yes, I know this comes from the guy who has had SO many different looks over the years. Everything from the Imeneo mohawk to the bald-by-choice to the flat top to the preppy ivy league haircut (just check out the right side of this blog and you can witness a few of those looks.) My look changes a lot, this I know.
But as someone who has made a career of transforming himself professionally over and over again, I think the different looks make a lot of sense. After all, I've been:
A classical pianist (long flowing locks)
A dancer (hair is not really the point)
An actor (once, my 80s hair was cut down into a 30s nazi look, not popular in the early 80s)
A singer (it's called a wig, though nowadays, guys get their hair chopped any which way for a show)
A rehearsal pianist (no one cares what you look like, just how you play and that you're there on time)
A vocal coach (singers judge -- all the time -- so looks do influence how they think about you)
A music director (you need guns to MD a Broadway show, and I'm not talking weaponry)
A conductor (again, flowing locks)
A director (shaved head, or anything dramatic, is a good way to go)
An arts administrator (business cut, thank you very much)
A producer (just get people paid, they don't care what you look like)
A mentor (the beard is a bonus here)
A professor (again, beard looks good, but the mohawk was rather popular with students on campus!)
Those are just the highlights.
I've read a few places that beards make a man more sensitive to his surroundings, more in touch with his instincts, and even better baseball players. Although I'm not a ball player, I have to say that something seems different in how I "feel" the world now that I'm a bearded guy.
My favorite look, before beard, was the shaved head. In all honesty, I knew I didn't look all that great but I loved not having to do ANYTHING to my hair, not having to worry about what I looked like. It was my wife's least favorite look, I think (although she didn't like the flat top, either!)
If the beard goes, it'll have to be to raise money or something like that (serious offers only!) And if it gets shaved, then I think I'll just shave the whole nine yards and commit myself to a year of living like, and looking like, a Buddhist monk!
Life is short, yet very impermanent; just like ourselves, inside and out. If you're out there contemplating a change to your lifestyle, or your look. Go ahead! Open that window and look out of it to see the world anew, and to see how the world looks back on you!