Going full creative

Ever since I was 13, I wanted to have blue hair. I can’t remember what enticed me to want it exactly, except the wave of Manic Panic colors that tinged the heads of my favorite punky bands in middle school and high school with a bit of late-night anime cartoons for good measure. Changing my hair to an unexpected shape or color was always a thrill for me, from the first time I cut it all off in fourth grade on. Some people get tattoos; I just change my hair. I shaved my head several times in my teens and 20s, but never quite got around to bleaching my light brown hair the platinum required to do a real true blue. I had teal bangs for a day or two one summer, but it washed out pretty quickly, much to my mother’s relief.

My sophomore year of college, I had bleached ends on a bob that was growing out dark brown roots, and my roommates helped me dip-dye the ends the shade of blue I’d always loved. I was thrilled with my new look as I walked to my 8:50 AM Chinese class the next morning. It was 80s day at the coffee shop where I worked, and I was dressed like a punk out of 1985, ready for my shift after my first two classes of the day. But upon emerging from my two-hour Chinese language intensive, my day was sidelined by a report that two airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, and another one had hit the Pentagon just a few miles from my college campus.

My hair was the last thing on my mind for quite a while.

Later on in my 20s and early 30s, I had little blue locks sewn in as extensions from time to time. They were mostly invisible, and gave me a little kick, but they didn’t last too long. I did lots of things to my hair; I tried different lengths, let out the curls, straightened a bob; I went blonde, red, or strawberry blonde; I was always trying something new, but I never did a full head of blue.

The main thing holding me back from sitting in a salon and having the blue done was my job.

I started working in marketing in 2007. Marketing professionals are often creatives — writers, graphic designers, artists— but the companies I tended to get jobs at were often conservative places of business. Even in the tech companies where I worked, the sales and marketing teams had to be presentable for clients, held to a different dress code than the developers or software engineers.

Even when I was settled into a fairly progressive position, the nagging sensation that I could lose my job at any moment and need to look “normal” in order to secure the next one kept me from doing anything too radical to my hair. To some extent, this added to my feeling of being trapped in my work. I felt as if I had no control over my career trajectory — I had to beg for scraps from business owners who would let me work for them, who could lay me off at any time — and it was manifested in my inability to express myself through fashion as well. A girl can only wear so many spunky suits; buying new pseudo-designer office clothes instead of thrift store clothes to make a wardrobe gets expensive.

This past year I left a really good-paying, high-profile job in public relations for a health care system to be a contract copywriter at a startup-style tech company. It was a pay cut and I lost all of my benefits, but the new company told me they’d probably hire me on full-time by the end of the year.

For the first several months, I believed finding a full-time job would be the best route for me, and kept applying at different positions within the company and outside of it. I kept all my suits. I left my hair natural.

In the past three months I secured more clients in my freelance work and realized that there was no way a full-time job could provide me the amount of freedom and financial security I was suddenly experiencing.

So I ordered an “extreme treatment” in “extreme blue” from Overtone, a company that has created colored conditioners for people who have taken the plunge into fun colors to keep up their hair without having to go back to the salon as it fades. It’s not permanent, and should wash out (mostly, at least) in a few shampoos. But I finally have the blue hair I wanted when I was 15.

At the same time, I am finally able to say that I am fully a creative worker. I am a writer, full-time, on my own terms. I can wear whatever I want. I work the hours I want to, from wherever I want to. I can schedule a doctor’s appointment without worrying that I have to take the time off. I’m making twice as much money as I was in my best-paying position.

And the main feeling I have over all of this is relief.

The blue hair feels normal and looks better than I thought it would, even though I didn’t do a full platinum treatment and dye it the way you’re supposed to. I have options. I don’t feel thrilled over it like I did when I was 20 and I often forget I have it. But I’m finally able to express myself as the full creative that I’ve always been deep down.

Next up: the wardrobe.

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