A couple of years ago I read a book called Gravitas, by Caroline Goyder. I read mostly on the Virgin train travelling from Wigan to Glasgow on a Monday morning. I was always happy when I could get a seat to myself and spread out, relax without worrying the person next to me would want to squeeze past to visit the loo. (I always book aisle seats.)
One concept that really stood out in the book was something called Morning Pages. As soon as I read about it, I closed the Kindle App, launched Notes and started writing my very first Morning Page.
It’s very simple. You write for five minutes, anything that comes into your head. Then stop.
I enjoyed the process, and eventually tried again, but this time I did it in the evening – making it an Evening Page, as it were. Then my enthusiasm waned and a month went by before I did another. I continued in this similar sporadic fashion until I had five in total, spanning about eighteen months. After that I didn’t do any for another year.
Recently, I started again, but this time wanted to do it in a more planned way as part of my morning routine, which is already pretty ingrained. Every morning, one of the first things I now do is spend five minutes writing a Morning Page.
What to write about
It doesn’t matter what you write about, as long as you write something, continuously for five minutes. I just start writing about whatever is on my mind the instant I open my note-taking app. Some days it will be a frustration hanging around from the previous day, other days it will be a hope for the day to come.
For example, my first Morning Page after the long break was about an impending meeting that appeared in my work calendar. It looked vague and sinister and my mind immediately began conjuring up negative thoughts that had to be exorcised. Of course, the meeting was nothing to worry about in the end.
Has it helped me?
I haven’t been practicing with Morning Pages for long, but already I can see some benefits. My mind feels lighter, and my focus clearer. It’s a sort of purging experience, getting your thoughts out first thing in the morning. A kind of morning ablution.
Since I started I have felt much more productive, and more able to concentrate on what I want/need to get done that day. I procrastinate less, achieve more, and actually feel more content and satisfied.
Morning Pages are so easy to do, and take up so little time, so just get started and try it. It’s worth getting up five minutes earlier so you can fit it into your day.
Back in March, just before the UK announced it was going into lockdown, I buzzed all the hair off my head. Two months later, I’m still sporting the buzzed/shaved/bald look, and loving it. Here, I’m going to address some of the doubts other guys may have when they are thinking of embarking on the same journey.
First of all, let me set out where I was before I decided to buzz. My hair was definitely receding. I had a great barber who was doing a brave job of concealing it, but looking back it was pretty obvious that I was losing my hair. It wasn’t horrendous, but it was receding at the temples, and I had that vast expanse of forehead that was barely being hidden under a French crop.
It’s very distressing to go through the hair loss process. It knocks your confidence in so many ways. Trying different things to conceal or reverse it just compounds the problem.
The Big Buzz – An Immediate Improvement
When I first buzzed my hair I could immediately see an improvement in the way I looked. My wife took a few days to get used to ‘the new me’, but I felt better almost straight away. Words that kept coming to mind were ‘neat’, ‘tidy’, and ‘smart’.
I like to keep myself fit, and I was delighted to notice that somehow having no hair on my head also seemed to make me look more toned and muscular. I have no idea how that can be, other than perhaps making my head seem smaller.
Out of interest I started doing some Google searches so I could read about the experiences others guys have had. There are some great articles around with descriptions that mirror my own first-hand experience. I felt the same tremendous sense of relief that the worry was over for me. I had found a look I was happy with. My hair loss no longer mattered.
Mirror, Mirror …
For a few days, every time I walked past a mirror I would get a bit of a shock if I forgot about my hair, but after a proper look I always preferred the new me.
I started spending more time in front of the mirror, moisturising and taking a bit more care of my skin. I’m not sure whether it was the enhanced beauty regime or the simple fact that a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, but I started visibly looking younger.
Instead of frowning into the mirror and seeing nothing but a receding, thinning hairline, I was now seeing a good-looking man. My eyes were wider and less tired, my jaw was strong, and my cheekbones were chiselled. My thin, wispy hair had been preventing me from seeing all these positives for years.
My first trip out was to my local supermarket to buy essentials during the COVID-19 crisis. It was early days and we weren’t yet in full lockdown, but everyone was starting to get nervous so the shop was pretty quiet which suited me while I took my first tentative steps.
One of the first people I saw was a woman who worked at the supermarket. What I’m about to describe probably happened because I was studying her closely to try to read what she made of my new look, but while stacking baskets in the shop she actually struck up a short conversation with me, and I got the distinct impression she approved of what she saw. The reality of course is that she had never seen me before, and this was just her response to a guy who seemed to be checking her out!
Two days later, the same thing happened a couple more times with women in a different supermarket. All of this gave me an extra confidence boost on top of what I’d already enjoyed after the big buzz.
Now, before you write me off as an egotistical w***er, know this: I’m useless at flirting, have never been a player, and most of the time wouldn’t have a clue if a woman was attracted to me unless she wrote it on a Post-It and stuck it to my chest.
With Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain
As a guy with thinning, receding hair I hated the weather. After spending time carefully arranging my hair, I would step out of the door and a puff of wind would destroy my efforts in a second.
So far we’ve had an amazing spring in the UK and I’ve yet to feel rain on my bald head, but the first time I encountered wind without hair was a wonderful experience. Instead of that horrible whipping, flapping sensation, I had the lovely feeling of the air whooshing over my scalp, and didn’t have to worry about my hair being messed up.
This sounds like such a trivial thing but believe me the sense of relief was amazing.
I’ve heard about people who have lost limbs experiencing phantom pains or itches, but I never knew people could also feel phantom hair falling out of place.
Prior to buzzing, because my hair was receding and thinning at the front I would often run my fingers through it to make sure it was in place on my forehead, and providing some even coverage. For a couple of weeks after buzzing, I kept doing this move even though there was no longer any hair to fiddle with.
Every time I did it I would catch myself and smile. No need to do that any more. My ‘hair’ was now perfectly in place. All the time. Forever.
Shaving – The Final Frontier
After initially letting it grow out to a ‘number two’ (6mm), I bought myself some new Remington hair clippers and trimmed my hair gradually shorter. First I went back down to ‘number one’ (3mm), then I dropped to 2mm, then 1.5mm, then 1mm, which was the limit of the clippers, but also my favourite length. After a few weeks, I decided to go all the way and shave skin-close with a safety razor just to see how it looked.
I liked the result, but wasn’t convinced the extra effort and discomfort was worth it. I nicked myself with the razor while shaving and the whole thing took way too much time. I swore to stick with 1mm from then on.
About three weeks later, I found my old beard trimmer/shaver and decided to try shaving my head using the foil on that. The experience was much more comfortable and I got a really good finish, but it still took a lot of time. Two weeks later, when I tried again it was perhaps a bit quicker, but I suffered some mild irritation afterwards.
To Shave or Buzz, That is the Question
Getting a super-smooth finish isn’t really high on my list of priorities, and I actually prefer the feel of my head the day after shaving skin-close. It feels great for another three or four days until it grows back to about 2mm, at which point I want to buzz it off again.
Looking at it from that perspective, shaving is beneficial because I don’t need to do it as often. However, the extra time it takes and the discomfort involved means it’s not a clear hands-down win for shaving.
One thing is for sure: I will never go back to the old self-conscious me that was trying to hide his hair loss, terrified to go out in the wind. There is absolutely no question of that.
I’ll end by saying I wish I’d buzzed seven years ago when I first started noticing my thinning hair. Battling on for so long was a losing game and I wasn’t fooling anyone but myself.
This is the first time I’ve written such a personal post, and I feel a bit exposed putting it out there. However, if this helps just one other guy make a tough decision, I’ll be a happy man.
To-date, apart from the odd wobble, this blog has been mostly about photography. There’s nothing wrong with having a dedicated blog, and everyone says you should focus and specialise, but I can’t help feel that practice is limiting.
Maybe my own life is reaching one of those turning points. I still love making pictures but it feels a little less important to me than it did say a year ago. Now I’m writing again, and I don’t know where that will lead. Essays, short stories, maybe even another novel?
From now on, I’m going to be taking this blog back to its roots when I ‘restarted’ it in 2015. Here’s something I wrote when I was originally defining what this blog is about.