by Dag Juhlin
I’ve grown a beard, and as a result of this I’m spending more time looking in the mirror, essentially “getting used to the new look” though by this point I know what it looks like. But it’s this constant looking in the mirror that I’m not entirely comfortable with. I spend enough ‘me’ time as it is, clicking and thumbing on the various devices to see who likes me, who is following the wonderful things I say, who is interested in attending the various events which will feature me, who wants to be friends with me, or who enjoys the clever little photos I share, plus also me, me, me and don’t forget: me. All that’s not that much different from gazing dopily into the mirror, I guess. But since I started this beard growing project (and I don’t even remember when it began; two months ago? More? I don’t recall when I actually said, yeah, let’s go for it, let’s grow that beard. Let’s not shave!) I’ve been looking at my face in the mirror more than usual. And I’m getting more than a little tired of myself.
The beard is an occasional yearly tradition that leads up to a long-running family ski trip that takes place on the Valentine’s Day/Presidents Day weekend. Once the trip is concluded, not only do all involved officially declare themselves through with winter, but the beard also comes off. We solemnly pack the skis away and patiently await spring’s arrival. The beard is buzzed and falls in soft tufts into the sink and I reacquaint myself with my face. This year’s trip was short and successful (not to mention freezing and expensive) but, bucking tradition, the beard has, for some reason remained. I keep looking at my face in the mirror to figure out why it’s still there.
My wife and kids, as well as numerous friends have voiced their support of the way the thing’s come in and how it looks. My mother doesn’t like it, and I cannot help but wonder if it’s because I resemble my late father even more than usual – they divorced in 1976, FYI. I think I’ve been a little infatuated with the overall whiteness of my beard more than anything, and it makes me more than a little wistful to imagine myself with a full (or at least, you know, full-ish) head of hair, and the thrill I’d get watching it turn from a bland brown into stately gray; me, going from a Draper to a Sterling. But alas, genetics have had their way and my dome is largely unencumbered by hair. Is the beard merely me overcompensating for my lack of hair? You betcha, probably!
Initially, my me/mirror time was me checking on the beard’s progress, playing the should I?/shouldn’t I? game. Then it slowly began to transition from lazy/hung-over/weekend look, to scruffily, Don-Johnsonly rakish ‘80s stubble, to Thing Resembling Beard, to Actual Beard. Nowadays, the ski trip well over, these prolonged and frequent looks find me playing a game of chicken with myself. The bearded me leaning against the sink feeling like it might be time to hack the thing off, while the bearded me in the mirror wants to let the thing grow until I’m ready to finally get my ZZ Top tribute act (can’t decide whether to call it The Sharp Dressed Men or Dangfango – total bucket list, though) off the ground. But all this me-on-me thinking results in me gazing balefully into the mirror and being met by serious face. It’s the face of contemplation: furrowed brow, tightened lips, quizzical but slightly pissed off expression. So not only am I tired of seeing my own face in the mirror, but I’m tired of looking at the humorless, mildly desperate face that’s looking back at me as I weigh these earth-shattering keep it/shave it options. I need to lighten up and tell myself it’s only a beard and if I, god forbid, shave it off and find myself longing for it, there’s another one – possibly even more captivatingly gray – waiting just below the surface. But rest assured, if (when) I finally shave it off I’ll make sure to get plenty of photos of the process, post them and frantically check to see who likes them. And also me.
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