Have a laugh

Grow a neckbeard

Dan Riley

Dan Riley

By Dan Riley, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

The turning point in my life was when I started cutting my own hair… I can explain.

People I respect guilted me into writing this. I’m not really sure what a senior column actually is: a reflection on your time at the University of Massachusetts? On your time writing for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian? An opportunity to impart wisdom upon your peers? That sounds pretty corny, so I’m writing a nonsense haircut metaphor instead.

Let me start with this: The turning point in my life was absolutely not when I started cutting my own hair. If you threw every white guy in America into a blender then poured it directly onto a flannel and pair of Timberlands, you would end up with something looking a lot like me – the most average, middle-class suburban dude in the country. If you want proof, just look at the last sentence and notice that I, a legal adult, used the word “dude.” The point I’m trying to make is that I’m super privileged and haven’t experienced any significant formative struggles that would warrant my life having a “turning point” (save for the forking I’m due once these student loan payments kick in, but that’s life. Warren for President, folks.)

Anyway, I started cutting my own hair at the beginning of February during my sophomore year. Trump had just been inaugurated, and my seething hatred for all Republicans (yes, even your grandparents… especially your grandparents) was only just starting to fester. The Falcons hadn’t blown a 28-3 lead. I’d never seen footage of Tom Brady kissing his son on the mouth. I weighed 320 pounds. It was a simpler time.

My haircut was pretty simple too; just a normal buzz ­– a bit longer on the top than the sides. I started for three reasons: to save money, because I can’t stand the feeling of hair touching my ears and so that I could consistently have short hair and never worry about what it looked like – just shower and go.

The thing about cutting your own hair is that you can’t see all of your head in a mirror, just the sides and top. The back of my head is a complete mystery to me, and to this day I have no idea if I’ve ever properly cut it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s strikingly uneven and patchy, and random people walking around campus have a laugh about it at my expense. At some point, the notion of caring about the opinions of random strangers faded. The insecurity just didn’t really resonate like it once had. I started to take it easy and just relax. Somehow this represents a broader lesson about overcoming insecurities and not sweating the small stuff, trust me.

“Hey Dan, why not just get a hand mirror so you can angle it and see the back of your head?” What? Shut up.

Now this is the part of the article where I pivot and try to “impart wisdom,” which is simply to say this: Take it easy. Relax. Have a laugh. Whatever your metaphorical haircut-insecurity equivalent is, you’ll overcome it eventually. Meanwhile, for all the serious work we do here at UMass, for all the serious impact it will have on our futures, for all the serious causes you may champion and for all the serious internships you’ll pursue here, you just cannot take yourself too seriously. There’s always time to kill time, and there’s no reason not to have fun with it. So, figure out what you find fun and jump in. For me, the highlight of my time at UMass has been cracking jokes with friends and trying (failing) to get a few laughs with some of my writing.

But back to my hair. I let it grow for about two-and-a-half months this semester. That’s not long for most, but it drove me nuts. I wasn’t relaxed. I wasn’t taking it easy. I mean, there was hair touching my ears, you know? The old insecurities didn’t return; turns out my newfound confidence came from the inside and didn’t actually have anything to do with my hairstyle choices, or something dumb like that. Anyways, in for a penny, in for a pound: If I was going to let my hair overwhelm me, I may as well let all my hair overwhelm me. Now, there’s this thing growing on my face that my more charitable peers might call a “beard.” Does it look terrible? For sure. Is it coarse, patchy and filled with strange red patches? Absolutely. But it returned me to my feeling of ease, because I think it’s hilarious. Even while you relax about people laughing at you, you’ve got to be able to laugh with yourself.

Once you’ve brought up your neckbeard, there’s really nowhere else to go, so I’ll end this column with one final bit of advice: have fun, work hard and do interesting things while you’re here, if only so you have something more interesting to write about than your buzzcut-neckbeard combo if anyone ever coerces you into writing a senior column.

Dan Riley was an assistant OpEd editor and can be reached at [email protected]