Recently my friend, Daniel Wallace, got an open letter published on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. If you don’t read their column “Open Letters to People or Entities Unlikely to Respond,” you really should start. The letters are often hilarious (like An Open Letter to the People in Charge of Commercials Targeting Women) and sometimes surprisingly bittersweet (like An Open Letter to Everyone Who, When My Fiancé Left Me, Told Me it Was “His Loss.” ).
When Daniel got his letter (An Open Letter to Canonical Authors) published, I was very excited and impressed. I’ve been trying to get in McSweeney’s for years, and had, in fact, sent them an open letter last year about my experience being emotionally swayed by a Levi’s Jeans commercial (An Open Letter to the Levi’s Jeans Company.)
Because of Daniel’s success, I decided to try again. I wrote a new letter and sent it to McSweeneys. Now, here’s the thing… The letters are supposed to be non-fictional. And everything I wrote in my letter was true… It’s just not true right now. I kind of made it seem like I’m still a high school math teacher. It’s funnier that way. And I sort of exaggerated in general here and there. But all non-fiction writers exaggerate, right?
I quickly received a pleasant no thank you from the McSweeney’s editors. Maybe they could tell that I was fibbing a little. Maybe they thought I sounded vain. Or maybe they just didn’t like my letter. Since there is no other literary outlet for open letters to people or entities unlikely to respond, whatever should I do with this letter?
Oh yeah. I can post it here. Enjoy!
An Open Letter to My Single Strand of Gray Hair
Dear Gray Hair,
First of all, you don’t have to worry. I’m not going to pluck you. I think it’s a wives’ tale that two will grow in your place, but I don’t want to take any chances. Besides, I have thin hair. I can’t afford to lose you.
Don’t get the wrong idea – it’s not that I don’t like you. I think you’re kind of cute, and having you makes me feel distinguished. I showed you to my high school students the other day when they were being really obnoxious. I said, “look at what you all are doing to me!!” They rolled their eyes and said it wasn’t their fault I’m going gray. I’m just getting old.
You’d think this would upset me, but it was probably a good thing because sometimes my students think I’m closer to their age than I am, and then they start getting too fresh with me. One of the seniors – this boy who looks like The Situation from Jersey Shore – is always asking me if I’m going clubbing Friday night. And last semester one of the juniors kept accidentally-on-purpose touching my butt when he got up to go to the pencil sharpener. But nothing like this has happened since I showed you to everyone, so thank you, Gray Hair, for helping my horny students realize I’m way too old for them.
Anyway, welcome to my head! I wanted to check in with you and see how you’re doing. Did you turn gray from stress? Am I not eating enough veggies? Or is it really because I’m getting old? If it’s one of the first two options, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do to have less stress or more salads in my life.
If it’s that I’m getting old, well, yeah. I understand. We all get old in the end, and it’s not that I’m scared of getting old, it’s that I’m scared of looking old. I’ve always gotten a lot with my youthful looks: dates and free drinks and a lucrative part-time job as a SoCo shot girl. I’ve gotten out of parking tickets and hospital bills and other jams by being the very portrait of ignorance. Those things don’t tend to happen once you’ve gone gray.
So I was wondering if you could talk to the other strands of hair around you and convince them to stay brown a little while longer. I mean, if it’s just one or two others that need to turn gray, to keep you company or whatever, that’s fine, but I still shop at Forever 21, and somehow I don’t think my mini-skirts and leggings will go well with a head full of gray hair. And yeah, I know I could start dying my hair, but I don’t have the time, the money, or the know-how for that. I’ll mess it up, like every time I’ve cut my own bangs, and I’ll end up with hair the texture of straw and the color of Tang. So maybe you could convince the other hairs on my head to hold off on the graying process until after I’ve written a best-selling novel that gets turned into a movie, and I have extra money to spend on a fancy salon that will dye my hair for me.
I know this is a big favor to ask. I know you probably feel awkward, being the only gray hair in a thin sea of brown, and you’d probably like some other gray strands to hang out with. So if I have to get more gray hairs soon, can you at least try to arrange it so that I have a Cruella de Vil streak? I think that would be pretty bad ass, and maybe then my students would be scared of me and stop trying to touch my butt.
Although, to be honest, I don’t want them to stop trying to touch my butt. Because once they do, I’ll know that I’m really and truly old. And I worry that once the horny teenage boys lose interest in me, everyone else will, too. Maybe my boyfriend will lose interest because I’m not the pretty girl he fell in love with. Maybe potential agents for the novel I’m going to write won’t be interested because I’m not a “hot, young writer.” Maybe I won’t be able to get out of speeding tickets anymore. The thing is, when you’re young, or, at least, when you look young, people forgive you your mistakes, and they give you chances, and they care about you because even though you’ve done nothing particularly awesome, you have the potential to do awesome things. When you look old, maybe people think all your potential has been used up — turned gray and brittle like your hair — and they stop caring about you.
I know I should cherish you, dear Gray Hair, because you are a sign of maturity and experience, but in fact you scare me. Because you are also a sign that it’s not going to be about how I look for much longer. It’s going to be about who I really am and what I’m doing with my potential. So I better start figuring those things out right away. Thanks, I guess, for the wake-up call.