I don’t sleep. I just dream.
Megan Kennedy is a fiction writer, artist, and journalist from Salt Lake City.
If you are a metalhead, regardless of your feelings about Lamb of God, you should stop and watch this documentary, because this story isn’t really about Lamb of God, but about our community and the unique challenges we face as both musicians and fans within it…
image and poem by Megan Kennedy
I’ve been accepted to the Sangro Valley dig this summer, and I need your help to make this dream come true.
The last few years, alongside other areas in my life, I’ve been trying to improve how I feel about my appearance. I was sick of feeling bad and especially sick of the constant societal droning about products and treatments that will supposedly fix those feel-bads. Because they just don’t. I’ve tried them.
When I got my first grown-up job in an office, I started getting French manicures because I thought that’s what grown-up, office-working sophisticated women did. Bought all sorts of crazy make-up. Went to the salon to get my thick, practically unstyle-able Viking-born hair chopped and colored regularly, inspired by the other girls in my age group who all just seemed so effortlessly glamorous. Certain moments I would feel good but it never lasted, and in the end all these supposed saviors of my self-esteem did was add another errand on my to-do list and suck at my bank account like some jerk capitalist vampire.
Particularly after my divorce, I started re-assessing my beauty standards in different ways. I returned to college to pursue my dream degrees in history and religious studies with intent to also train as an archaeologist, so that I could participate first-hand in the discovery and interpretive process of artifacts. I fantasize about long weeks out in the desert or in the river valleys of the Mediterranean, hand-washing clothes and waking up with the quiet sun and certainly being too far from any salons to touch up my color job. And who the hell would want their French manicure getting infected in by some unknown parasite in the highlands of Peru?
I’ve begun treating my beauty like I treat the other areas of my life: as a forward-thinking careerist. If I want to be gone for weeks and months at a time every digging season, if I want to be ready at a moment’s notice to attend a conference or check out some just-discovered ruin, then I had better arrange my life to fit those goals. Namely, I wanted to get comfortable with the way I naturally look, and evict the demon of artificiality from my brain to make room for better things, like the demon of vodka drinking contests with burly Siberian dudes a la Marion Ravenwood.
First, I started being kinder to my unruly hair. One of the many terrible habits I learned from my incredibly vain mother was to constantly use heat-styling tools. I was so insecure as a young girl about the waviness in my hair that I refused to go out with it wet. I had to blow-dry it after every shower, slowly and meticulously, brushing out any hint of a curl. I got older and discovered flat irons and practically lived and died by them. I turned my hair every color of the rainbow at some point, including black and an admittedly attractive deep red. Sometimes I would pay for the salon and other times I would just store-box it, another family tradition from my mother and grandmother—both of them kept their hair the same matching shade of brassy blonde their entire lives, the latter right up until her death. (Like any good rebellious daughter, that is the one color my hair has never and will never be.)
So I simply stopped blow-drying and straightening my hair. I let it work itself out into messy, wild-woman curls and waves. It was a shock and adjustment at first; I almost felt like some escaped and unkempt child. But over time, and especially as my hair grew healthier, I began to relish in the wild woman feeling. It’s fun to see how my hair decides to behave depending on the weather, or how strenuous of a walk I had across campus. I also began shampooing less frequently, which I think has also helped it recover its natural shine. The last dye job I’ll ever pay for was done before a vacation I took in March of 2012, and I’ve just been letting it grow out and get trimmed off ever since. This is the first time I’ve spent so long with my natural hair color, a kind of soft brown that isn’t magazine-cover interesting but who gives a fuck. My interesting parts are elsewhere.
Next, I started working on facial stuff. I’ve always been a stickler for applying lotion after showers, which I hope will work in my favor as aging begins to take its toll. I also hear the oily terrible skin I had in junior high will give me the last laugh as an older woman, since that oil is what keeps the wrinkles from forming, and indeed both mother and grandmother looked far younger than their biological ages. So, thanks for that, nature. But I did have to deal with something I’d been teased for as a kid: my big dark eyebrows. Danish stock and what I’m pretty sure is a high testosterone level for a woman have left me with some formidable hair—better than thinning, for sure, but in places I’d rather not have it. In high school I began plucking the shit out of my eyebrows; at one point they were so thin as to be nonexistent. But in my late 20s I began to really fulfill and indulge the love I’d always had for vintage styling, and recently I realized I actually liked the full eyebrow look many of the leading ladies of the golden age had; so bold and dangerous, so femme noir. I already have a pretty fortunate natural arch to them, and had kept them at a reasonable, not too thin presentation most of my 20s, but I decided to go all in. I just stopped plucking. Admittedly, it was almost terrifying at first, watching the hairs come in all confused and chaotic, refusing to fill in a nice orderly and speedy fashion. But, fuck it, right? That’s what all this was about. I began brushing them several times a day to exfoliate the follicles and encourage growth, which I believe helped. I’m about three weeks into this experiment and I’m so glad I did it. I love my thick brows. They look healthy, and they give me a bold and different look, really accentuating my eyes. As they continue to grow in I’m noticing some funny little stray white hairs, which the internet says is either a stress or malnourishment response, either way completely accurate for a broke college student like myself. At first I was opting to pluck just the whites out, but I stopped myself. I kind of like them. They’re pure me. Even if they’re a result of something negative like stress, the reality is that my past and present are a part of who I am, and I somehow feel like I’ve earned these stray little wintery guys. Like they speak to my determination, my struggle. They make my appearance just a bit more dynamic, they give me another way to stand out from the crowd, and so I’ve embraced them. Maybe when my life calms down they’ll gain their pigment back and then I can cheer that I’ve improved my station and the proof is right on my face.
These feel simultaneously like major and minor changes. Normally I’m not a person who really cares about talking beauty shop, even with my girlfriends. I just don’t spend much time thinking about it. But quite frankly this whole experiment has really made a marked improvement on my sense of well-being and so I want to share this experience in case someone else out there may find value in it. I feel better about myself than I ever have. I’m confident now that I could spend months away from a bathroom mirror and not feel even a little weird about it. I imagine exhausted nights after a dig, watching the stars and feeling the wind in my hair and not giving a shit how messy it looks, because I feel alive and therefore beautiful. I’m adjusting my standards, both mentally and physically, to fit what I want out of my life, and it feels fucking amazing. For the first time, I feel in control of my body and appearance in a way I never have when I was following the constant advice and chatter of even the mainstream anti-beauty movements. My bank account is a lot happier. And I am thrilled about the time I am saving. Getting ready for the day is no longer an hour-plus ritual; I don’t have to plan a whole precious afternoon around color retouching and nail filling. I can spend that time and money where it is better served, like on books and beer.
I’m not presuming to tell any other woman how to live her life or how to get herself ready in the morning. Not every woman is looking for a career like mine and so these tips will probably be useless to many. The only point I feel is important as a takeaway is that the way you treat your appearance really does matter, but not for the reasons the media would have you believe. It has nothing to do with guys and other catty girls and work promotions and being a MILF and keeping up with the latest Photoshopped bullshit magazine cover. Your appearance is just another way to tune your consciousness to the goals and ideals you’ve set for yourself. It’s another powerful tool on your belt, so make sure it’s calibrated to get you what you want. The problem with even the well-intentioned advice of the mainstream is it works under the assumption that every woman has the same goals, and we obviously do not, so it is mostly useless and even sometimes damaging to follow it. Re-assess. Ask why your beauty regime is what it is. What are you trying to do, or improve? Where do you hope to be? Because I’ve never met a woman who wanted simply to be pretty. We all want more than that and we should all treat ourselves as more than that.
Imagine eons worth of survivor guilt just piling up and sliding through the centuries like a greased-up pig. Technically it would ONLY be passed through the strongest and best adapted, the survivors. So we all have it, just by virtue of existing. Maybe we’ve always had it, as soon as the tide began to turn in our favor and nature was nicely bent over at the waist. Not like she is now, of course. Now she’s unconscious and the party’s too loud for anyone to hear.
But there had to have been a point when we realized we were surviving better than other species. When we saw the change we could reap upon the earth. Even if we were still utterly dominated by nature in other ways like weather and climate and fertility, we were still technically speaking the greatest success story the planet’s ever seen in terms of intellectual growth. Of crazy-rapid evolution of a complex internal computer that allows me to even type this sentence. And more than that we could see the damage we did. We could start to understand our own faults and evils. Lions and jackals never get into sophisticated talks of why they do what they do, whether Mufasa’s up there judging them all for eating a whole pride of kittens or stealing eggs from a nest. But as soon as our brains got the scent of that behavior, something different happened for us, and we got smart enough to question things, and more importantly to dream of other things.
To be able to process abstract concepts like something that doesn’t exist, has never existed, or explanations for things we don’t understand. It may have sickened us to look at what we were. It probably felt like a curse to the first batch of uprights that had to endure it. Hunger but unable to feed. Confusion. Guilt. And we didn’t understand this so eventually we built the abstract concept of gods to hold all this guilt for us and pass it out from time to time in a more even and easy-to-manage load. A little guilt here for adultery. A little there for disobeying your husband. Now the gods are in charge of guilt and sin and anything we feel guilty and sinful about, we can blame it on them. Them up there with their judging eyes. We are powerless. Can’t say no to gods, no siree. Do the ritual and be cleansed. First our gods were human like us, because we needed people who would understand us. Some people felt differently and wanted something higher than human, so they invented Superman. As he does, Superman eventually triumphed over the lesser gods. Because Superman not only took the guilt from you entirely, but he also SAVED you. He understands you and still loves you. When you fuck up, he will take you anyway if you follow the rules. It was more than the old gods could offer, because the old gods didn’t believe in life everlasting, they were born of death and black and the acceptance that there was no afterlife salvation or really even existence. That’s the way it is and they can’t save us from that.
But the gods and Superman are equally lies. So the guilt keeps piling up. We think we’re handing it to Superman but really we’re handing it to each other, passing around nukes in a worldwide game of Hot Potato. And since we’re survivors, our kids will inherit all the generations of guilt, a veritable galaxy’s worth, and theirs will incubate it warmly until the next generation is born.
Humanity is just one giant planet suffering from PTSD. We can’t make peace with the fact we’re alive. We’re so terrible. We’re so evil to each other and stupid to boot. We don’t deserve to be the ones to live. The pandas and the tigers and megaladons, they’re the ones who deserve this planet. They’re beautiful and they don’t destroy it. But we do. And we’re just terrible. And we keep on surviving no matter how many wars and diseases we begat. Hell, if we began on Mars and were brought here, we could have TWO PLANETS worth of guilt. We could have literally an apocalyptic survivor’s guilt running through our DNA. No wonder so many of us want it to happen again.