So I’ve done the stereotype and grown a beard while on sabbatical. Like luminaries before me—Colbert, Letterman, and Stewart—as soon as I was off the stage I was off the razor.
This is not my first go around with growing a beard. I tried it back around 2000. I knew little about beard growing then, and there were not web sites devoted to beard growing like there are today. Blogger was merely six months old at that point. We are in a beard growing renaissance today, as attested to by the Portlandia song “Dream of the 1890’s” (I have no interest in carving my own ice cubes, however.) We’re probably in the midst of a post-beard-rennaissance decline but those of us in the rural Midwest are slow to catch on to fashion trends.
Back in 2000, beards were for old professors and young professors who wanted to look more like old professors. My first beard attempt looks silly in pictures now, more like I had an overzealous and misguided sideburn than an actual beard. For this attempt, which started with an innocuous comment by my wife: “Oh, are you growing a beard?” I heeded some new advice I read: if you’re starting a beard, don’t touch it for at least a month. Well, okay, not at first. I tried trimming it too soon and it got weird and narrow again, which is okay if you’re an aging boy-band star, but not if you want to look like an actual adult. So I left it alone.
Beard hair grows in stages. First the scratchy first-day stubble that makes one’s face like sand paper. Next is days two through five which is a pleasant, rough shod, unshaven look that feels soft on the face. Day six begins a new stage, which is best described as “oh my god this is so fucking itchy why would anyone ever want a beard!?!” Once I get to two weeks, that feeling passes and people start to think I’m either growing a beard or working on a manifesto. Today it is soft and quite pleasant (the beard, not the manifesto, which is scratchy and apocalyptic). The only bit that drives me nuts sometimes is the inverted pyramid that grows under my bottom lip, and I do get out the Wahl clippers and trim that to a 2 or 3 sometimes (ask a barber if you don’t know).
On my 44-year-old face, the beard has come in fuller than it ever did in on my 29-year-old face, but my 29-year-old beard did not have the twin streaks of grey now present on my chin. As I age, the hair on my forehead has begun to receed a bit, but my theory is that it has merely relocated as I recently had the first-time experience of a barber trimming hair that had grown out of my ear. Some follicles must have relocated to my face because previously bald spots have started to grow in. During Beard Attempt 2000, the sides of my mustache refused to meet the top side of my beard and now they are good friends. Side note, this is also the first time I’ve ever written “my mustache” without any irony. I do have to wash and condition it, and I like using an olive oil hair treatment my wife had in the cabinet which, upon further investigation is a tiny bottle of olive oil for the same price as a large bottle of olive oil you can buy in the baking aisle.
It takes awhile to get the neck line and the cheek line right. It’s hard to get both sides even, and the temptation is to keep trimming both until you’ve got back to the aforementioned narrow weird beard. I have the neck line even now, but it looks like the edge of a shag carpet now that it’s getting longer and I may have to work at tapering it (or fading it, as the kids say). Another piece of technology that I have now that I didn’t have back in 2000 is the MacBook and the Photobooth app. I can see how my beard looks from the side and the bottom if I shoot a short video of it. My fear is I will forget to delete said video and run for president someday and it will go viral. Scratch that. If Ben Carson can declare the pyramids are grain silos and prison makes you gay and still be a viable candidate then my solo beard video will not be a disqualifier. (Neither will my spotty productivity as I mused during the previous election. [Oh how I miss you, Herman Cain.]) But I’m still not showing that video.
Ultimately my goal is a respectable, possibly literary beard, maybe like Ernest Hemmingway but without all the misogyny and alcoholism.