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June 27, 2011 / Mir Plemmons

What’s in a braid?

What’s in a braid?

by Michel Plemmons on Monday, June 27, 2011 at 9:21pm

First, let me say that, though almost all NDNs know that long hair and braids mean something spiritual and cultural, you’ll hear very different explanations. (There are usually 2, but I looked stupid when I tried 2, with scrawny, Pippi Longstocking braidlets, and stuck with 1. You’ll see 1 or no braids, just long hair. All are acceptable.)

Second, no, this is not a traditional Cherokee look or belief. I started wearing a braid back in Edmonds Community College, when I’d joined the NDN campus group and got more uppity.

Third, we have something of a consensus for cutting braids – huge transitions, usually grief, that are some major end / change / start over. Usually this is the death of a loved one, but I’ve heard it used to explain transition to boot camp, too.

Fourth, my very own personal braid choices. I did not cut my braid when Jeanette (foster sister) died – in retrospect, I don’t know why not. I think I was too shocky and ragged to be trusted with scissors, and by the time I was being watched less carefully it wouldn’t have made sense to anyone else and worried them again. I did not cut my braid when my grandfather died, a couple of years ago, because that was, though we hurt and grieved, not a shock and not a wrongness. It was sort of the logical next step for him, and freed him.

Now, I start chemotherapy tomorrow. I have chosen to let toxins course through me to destroy any lingering cancer cells. I have increasingly found two things I could not stand: I could not stand the thought of poison in my braid, and could not stand the thought of chemo, not me, being in control of my braid as more and more hairs fell out. I might only lose 40% – but that’d be a pretty ragged look, and would add grief with each morning as I braided what was left.

I decided that this grief needed to be faced head on, and we have a traditional, resonant way to do that. Tonight, I cut my braid. It is sitting, curled, in an abalone shell. I will save it through this time.

I will regrow it when the poison is out of my hairs, or when enough of it is out that I feel ok to start growing it out again.

In the meantime, I will wear a Cherokee turban, or Wrapping Hat (ahis du lo). (Any picture you’ve ever seen of Sequoyah will show you one.) I’m making two traditional ones, and my practice hat, since I haven’t even played with these since I was a kid, is grey with dragons flying all over it. I think it’s my commentary on the chemo, patrolling but burning the countryside it’s trying to protect… In fact, that’s the hat I’m wearing while I type this.

This is a hard thing, a grievous thing. But we’ve done “hard” before. We know how to do that.

Wado, my Creator, my ancestors, my family and friends.

We are all relatives.

Dragon Wrapping Hat, striped and floral will be trad and w/ fringe, grey will be neutral, less overt.


Leave a Comment
  1. Natasha / Jun 28 2011 2:39 pm

    My heart, to yours. My hands, to yours. My ears, to yours. My spirit, to yours. My drum, my feathers, my shells, my pins, my armlets, my browbands, I set aside. I will wait, while the poison does its work. And these things shall be witness.

    I am LInda Scott, whom not many know.

  2. Mir Plemmons / Jun 28 2011 7:33 pm

    Please – topical comments on the subject (as above, it’s a cultural reference), and/or editing comments, are welcome and strongly encouraged here. This is a forum for my writing on fiction, poetry and issues and is not going to be Mir’s livejournal.

    Words of affection and support are gratefully received and welcome to be sent to me personally, either via email or on the CaringBridge site – I just really, really want this wordpress site to keep one pure purpose.

    Thanks for understanding!

  3. Lamar Buell / Jan 5 2012 12:24 am

    My android phone feed reader is actually unable to support your blog feed.any idea as to why it is happening?

    • Mir Plemmons / Jan 5 2012 12:29 am

      No, I’m afraid I don’t. Sorry to hear, but on the plus side I don’t post too often so you’ve got time to get to a larger computer…

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