Some lessons take years to learn. Last December I decided to start growing a mohawk, simply because I wanted to know how it felt to have long hair. My entire adult life I’ve had a buzz cut. I didn’t want to stop cutting designs into the sides though, so I compromised with a mohawk. Once I finally had long hair, I loved running my fingers through it, feeling how the smooth hair contrasted sharply with the rough texture of the buzzed sides. By the time December rolled back around, I had a mane that reached down below my nose. Without any regard for how the public viewed me, I did it for myself because it was what I wanted to do.
It’s amazing was how alienating that small strip of hair was. Just a few months into growing it, I realized that I received more dirty / discriminatory looks with the mohawk than I ever did when I had designs cut into my hair. At gas stops I could see the reactions as I removed my helmet, particularly in the little po’dunk towns along the way. People I normally see eye-to-eye with seemed to be looking down on me. The longer it grew, the less familiar my reflection became. By the end of summer I had also acquired prescription glasses, and the combination of the two had me feeling less-than-comfortable in my own skin.
The mohawk was something I did for myself, but as I reassimiliated into the rhythm of life in New Orleans, I began to feel the itch that usually precedes a drastic change. On the street I noticed that I lacked confidence in my ability to draw a crowd, and without confidence, the crowd certainly wasn’t going to trust me to lead them. In a town with a thriving gutter-punk (street kid) population, gaining the trust of strangers isn’t exactly the mohawk’s strong suit. The hairstyle has plenty of stigmatisms, not many of them positive. I believe in acknowledging and working with life chapters to help facilitate growth. I’d already felt what it was like to have long(-ish) hair, and I clearly needed to try something new for my street performing. So, in a move symbolic of my life transition, I cut it all off.
The very next day I just killed it out there. Gone were the hesitations that had accompanied the removal of my hat, no more straightening the haphazard mane that screamed “unprofessional”. On a otherwise deathly slow December day, I easily gathered crowds and was paid well for it. In street theater most pedestrians decide within the first few seconds if they want to become spectators. The mohawk was just enough to put off people that might’ve otherwise loved the show.
I can’t credit the change entirely to my appearance. I’m aware that how I felt about my appearance was just as important as the appearance itself. I grew the hair because I wanted something new, but since it was always growing and changing, I never became completely comfortable with it. As soon as I buzzed it off, my reflection became familiar once more. Being a professional street entertainer already places me on the outside of mainstream society, and I didn’t need the mohawk creating even more distance.
As a street performer, whatever life-changes I go through, both internal and external, happen publicly. However I am, I am in front of a crowd. If I didn’t sleep well Friday night, a few hundred people are gonna see it on Saturday. If I get a big zit in the middle of my forehead, a dozen crowds are gonna notice it. If something is bumming me out, it’s going to take a lot of extra effort to exert crowd-drawing energy. I’m learning more and more about how my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health affects my ability to perform and generate income. For the last two weeks since removing it, I feel that my strength as a performer has never been greater.
For a one man street show, confidence is the key ingredient. Sure, having short hair definitely makes me more mainstream-compatible, but I believe the defining factor is that I am confident in my clean-cut appearance. Sometimes I dress in fluorescent shorts and baggy shirts — not really mainstream friendly, but it’s a look I feel confident wearing because it is an authentic expression of who I am. On the street people are buying into you as a character, giving you their time and energy because your character is an experience for them to enjoy. In my opinion, the best way to give them a unique experience is to present a unique character, which is really an extension and exaggeration of yourself. The cliche goes something like be yourself / be true to yourself, but I believe it’s important to experiment and do some research to find out who you really are.
I want to extend a sincere thank you to Mr. Rigney for inspiring me to get back to writing. Though I forget it a few times a year, I’ve been reminded that the more I write, the more I understand. I just signed a 6-month lease, and will finally be hunkered down for a spell. Happy Holidays all, thank you for reading <3