I’ve been busy since getting the news that my contract would not be renewed next year.

Obviously the left photo is before, even though I had long since retired wearing my hair down in favor of my classic, time-for-a-haircut, Det. Odafin Tutuola braid. I decided to chop my hair off, and it is shorter than it’s been in almost 20 years.

Last year after Hannah was born I went to a local salon for a basic haircut to get me through new motherhood. I didn’t even take a single picture of it, because I’m not sure it ever had a chance to breathe before going up into an endless stream of ponytails. So my last real cut with real photos was two years ago (yes, I am still sadly on a one-haircut-per-year rotation…childhood anxieties die hard!). And I thought this was pretty short and bold for me:

But I don’t know…there was something about the experience of being non-tenured and losing my job, combined with the continuing angst of finishing out the school year knowing I won’t be back, that was weirdly liberating. I worked hard and loved my job, loved the students, had great ideas and plans for the future of my library. I’m a damn good librarian, and I was happy building my community there. And in the end that didn’t matter so much.

And I had this epiphany that I’ve always felt like a bit of a square peg at work. In most jobs I’ve had, really. Like I was holding back pieces of myself to try and fit the persona of the place. I was quieter than I am in “real life”, I held back the things I really wanted to share or say or do. I was always bursting at the edges to get free from that (because man, is that stifling). I always wore bright clothes and said nerdy things and advertised my geeky tendencies. But it was…edited. Which everyone does at work, right? Especially (let’s be honest here) women.

The first teacher I met at my current school walked into the library over the summer while I was getting acclimated and playing the score from The Phantom Menace at full volume. You know, the music from the duel between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon? It took him a minute, but he placed it. And was impressed. But you know I was only playing that music at full volume pretending to be a library Jedi because I thought no one would come in and see me. Why did I care? Because I was at work, and I’m a grownup. That’s why.

I sort of drew these connections between that feeling of “fitting in” as a grownup and my hair. My hair is so very curly. So very much a piece of my heritage and ethnicity and personality and entire identity. If I had a dime for everyone who has asked me if I’ve ever considered changing it in some way, I’d be set for life. After years of that you internalize the message there, that your hair needs to be changed. So when I left college behind, and the days of being known around the art building for the hair (and, yes, a Green Hornet lunch box that I carried with me everywhere), I sort of felt like I needed to tame that side of myself. Like my hair in its wild state could not be part of my adulthood.

It happened gradually, as I took on jobs with more responsibility and went to graduate school. More ponytails and braids. The haircuts got more expensive, but the requirement that “I need to be able to pull it back” stayed. And somehow felt more urgent. I became terrified by the idea of not being able to pull my hair back. After a childhood spent fighting and destroying it, and my college years spent embracing it, somewhere in my mid-20s it became something I tolerated publicly but adored in secret. Something I allowed to show through a little, but not all the way…that wouldn’t be fitting of a grownup with a real job. Except maybe on the weekends.

So when I was told in mid-March that my contract would not be renewed next year, despite all my observations and performance reviews and supervisors that told me I was really good at my job, I kind of called bullshit on the whole situation. The holding back to seem like a professional and an adult. The not being my entire, complete self, even down to the way I wear the hair that grows out of my head as nature intended it. And I think I just decided to use my remaining time at this job as a kind of experiment. What would it be like if I was just me? If I couldn’t even pull my hair back? Would the sky fall?

Turns out, no. (And the hair really works with the new glasses..in the end I went with pairs #2 and #5). The teachers seem to think the haircut has made me sassier (in truth, I was holding back the sassy…at least until I got tenure). I got some uncomfortable looks from administrators, who didn’t know what to make of the sudden and sharp change (childishly satisfying). And I felt lighter and more comfortable in my skin at work than I had since getting the news about my contract…and maybe even since long before that.

Maybe sometimes you just have to chop something down and start again.