A grownup is a child with layers on. – Woody Harrelson
The moment captured in Au pays des cheveux gris is peaceful and quiet and soft, like the dawn. The five figures waking to this dawn are both sagacious and childlike: on their heads are piles of gray hair; on their skinny, imperfectly shaped bodies, pure white onesies. They stand intimately near each other, in harmonious solidarity. Whatever the day has in store for them, they will face it together with a perfect balance of wisdom and innocent curiosity.
This concise little interpretation of Au pays des cheveux gris might be true and good, but it fails to consider an important hypothesis, which is that the five figures are all the same person: me, the artist. It also overlooks an equally important detail: two of the figures, the ones who have their backs to each other, aren’t touching. There is a break in the line-up; these people are not standing as one unified group, in fact, but two.
To truly understand what is happening in Au pays des cheveux gris, imagine that it reads like a sentence, from left to right, and that this sentence is comprised of two clauses that articulate something like this: First she was three, and then she was two.
The first clause of the sentence begins with me as the adult I have become. My hand rests on a younger version of myself: the inner artist child, Frankie (see Real work, 19 March). Frankie’s outdated hairdo is still mine, much like the wounds at the root of her pain and confusion and self-loathing are still mine. She stands between me and the other inner artist child, the pure and beautiful and lovable little Toothpick (see Love is forgiveness, 12 March). Frankie touches Toothpick on the chest, where her heart would be. Toothpick touches Frankie back, on the stomach, the core of the body. You are me, says Frankie. And you are me, says Toothpick.
Frankie is prickly and a little savage, she tends to see things through a negative lens, and her anger and insensitivity bubbles always too closely at the surface. It is hard to love Frankie. But if she is Toothpick, it stands to reason that she is indeed lovable at her core. This core might be difficult to see underneath all the layers of hurt she has nourished and allowed to harden around it all these years, but like the hairdo, these layers are not intrinsic to her. Consequently, they are not intrinsic to me. We can chop off our hair; we can cut away the layers that imprison us. We can get to the second clause of the sentence as one new person with a magnificently modern hairdo. There, in the second clause, we will find Toothpick. She has grown, but she has not changed. She loves just as big, she forgives just as readily. That is her nature.
The sentence that is Au pays des cheveux gris does not end; there is no period after the duo of the second clause, only the possibility of new sentences. If the ones that came before it were authored by a child whose wounds had been left to fester and poison the adult she would become, the new ones will be signed with love, From Toothpick.