Zoom Overload

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Fifteen months. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve been in the office. How long it’s been since I’ve seen my colleagues in person. How long it’s been since I last saw the cute barista who worked at the coffee shop in the lobby. How long it’s been since I visited a friend’s house for movie night. How long it’s been since I first heard the words: “Let’s schedule a Zoom.”

Zoom was meant to be a way to keep us together while global conditions necessitated us spending time apart—through good times and bad. At first it was staff meetings, and then the occasional meeting with a client. But soon there were Zoom happy hours and Zoom game nights and Zoom dinner parties and Zoom plays and concerts. I’ve had six Zoom doctor’s appointments, and attended one Zoom wedding, one Zoom baby shower, three Zoom bar or bat mitzvahs, and two Zoom funerals.

Even when we were using a different platform for our video calls, we were still calling it “Zoom.” It became the universal, default name for videoconferencing, in the same way “Kleenex” is used to refer to all facial tissue products and “Google” is used to refer to all internet searches and, depending on where you grew up, “Coke” might be used to refer to all carbonated soft drinks.

Last October, I started tracking exactly how much time I spent “Zooming” every day. At the end of the month, I averaged it out. Between work Zooms and social Zooms, I had spent an average of four hours per day on Zoom, including weekends. That’s 28 hours every week—a lot of time talking into a screen.

And, more to the point for me at least, it’s a lot of time looking at yourself on a screen. Sure, you can always turn your own view off, but I rarely do that because I am worried that if I don’t see myself on camera I’ll forget it’s on completely and do something regrettable.

At some point over the last year I read an article about how the plastic surgery industry was booming during the pandemic. People who had been spending all their time on Zoom, looking at themselves on Zoom, were unhappy with what they saw and wanted to make cosmetic changes so their faces would be more pleasing to them while they were on camera.

I get it. I totally do. But I didn’t mind so much looking at my own face on Zoom. I already know it’s slightly asymmetrical—that one eye is slightly larger and rounder than the other, that my left nostril flares more than my right. So when I watch myself on Zoom, it isn’t so much that I’m noticing my own face. What I am noticing, meeting after meeting, game night after game night, is my hair.

About three weeks before life as we knew it shut down, I’d gone to see my stylist, Jenna, for my usual two-month shape-up. My curly, reddish-brown hair was once again trimmed to just below my chin, and my layers were tidied to match. My bangs, which I’d kept on the long side since I got them a year or so earlier, were also trimmed, just enough to barely reveal my eyebrows.

Since then, I’ve had my hair cut exactly once, last summer when COVID case counts had gone down a bit and I felt relatively safe scheduling an early-morning appointment with Jenna when she assured me no one else would be in the salon. I tried keeping my bangs trimmed by myself for a while, both before and after that cut, but eventually decided it wasn’t worth the effort and started sweeping them to the side once they got long enough to get tangled in my eyelashes. Over the months since, my hair has continued to grow, and now it’s all I see when I look at myself reflected back on Zoom.

My hair is longer now than it’s been in many years, falling almost to my collarbones. It’s not just the length I notice, though. Something about the lighting in my office makes my hair glow on early-morning conference calls. My curls are well-shaped and healthy, probably because without a commute I’ve actually had time for things like hair masks and deep conditioning treatments.

Other people notice my hair, too—colleagues and friends I haven’t seen in a while will get on a Zoom with me and remark how long my hair has gotten, or how great it looks. “I wish my hair could look that good after a year without a haircut,” my coworker, Marnie, tells me one day. Her overgrown pixie looks like a shaggy grey mop, sitting lifeless on her head. “I do, too,” our office manager, Sofia, agrees. She used to wear her hair in a smart brown bob with heavy, blunt bangs. After more than a year without maintenance, it just hangs limply to her shoulders, the former bangs awkwardly framing her face at the level of her chin.

I appreciate the compliments. I really do. After a childhood spent being made fun of for the frizzy curls I did not yet know how to maintain, it’s nice to hear that the years I spent learning to manage my hair have not been in vain. It is true. My hair looks good—great, even, all things considered.

It’s just that, well, I’m so bored with my hair. Having long hair again might have been a fun novelty, something I’d keep for a little while, at least, only I’ve been looking at it every day for hours on end and my office isn’t going to fully reopen for another three months at least and not all of my friends are vaccinated yet so I’m going to have to keep looking at it several times a day, during every Zoom call I’m on, for the foreseeable future.

Getting bored with my hair isn’t really anything new for me—but it usually comes after a year or two of wearing it in a particular style, rather than a matter of months. On more than one occasion, I’ve sat down in Jenna’s chair at the salon and announced I was bored with my hair and needed a change. Sometimes when I’ve done this I’ve set parameters, like when I was growing my hair out for my wedding and wanted to keep as much length as possible while still walking out of the salon with a new style.

But there have been other times, over the fifteen or so years since Jenna has been cutting my hair, that when I’ve told her I was bored and needed a change I’d also leave it completely up to her to decide what to do. It was kind of exciting, putting myself into Jenna’s skilled hands and not knowing how my haircut would come out. But every time, somehow, it was perfect—even when it was something I never would have chosen for myself.

It was like Jenna always knew what I needed in that moment: when I quit my first post-college job to get my MFA, she cut my hair into an artsy, curly shag—trendy now, sure, but ten years ago it was a bold statement. After my divorce was finalized, another bold statement, courtesy of Jenna: she pinned the top layers of my hair to my head, and without a word, grabbed her clippers and pushed my chin toward my chest. I still remember that first pass up the back of my head, the knowledge that she was stripping away the old me, the married “me,” whose ex-husband always professed to love her auburn curls but who left her for a woman whose hair fell straight and thick and blonde to the middle of her back. Within a few minutes, Jenna reduced the eight inches or so of curls she had left hanging to a quarter-inch fuzz that covered the back of my head and peeked over the tops of my ears. I still get chills thinking about it. I left that day with a curly lip-length bob that hinted at my undercut near my ears and displayed it proudly in the back. It was the shortest my hair had been since my early teens, and I kept the style, or some slight variation of it, for a year and a half before beginning the annoying process of growing out the undercut. Two years ago, the divorce haircut only a distant memory, is when Jenna cut the bangs in, cheerfully proclaiming they were “cheaper than Botox” as a response to my telling her I was worried I was beginning to look my age.

When I saw Jenna for my one pandemic-era haircut last summer, I was not yet bored with my most recent style so I told her to just stick with it this time. As she worked, Jenna told me she had plans to move to Colorado by the end of the summer. All the time spent indoors since March had made her want to be somewhere where it was easier to be outdoors and away from people. Besides, she told me, using the line I had so often used with her, she was bored and needed a change.

So now it’s been almost a year since I last visited Jenna (or anyone else) for a haircut, and my hair has grown out significantly. As good as it looks and as many compliments as I’m receiving, there’s no denying it: I’m bored and I need a change.

The only thing is, I don’t know where to go. I don’t have any loyalty to Jenna’s old salon now that her chair has gone to someone else. There’s the trendy salon a few blocks from my house that’s been advertising both its fun styles and its serious commitment to health and safety protocols, but I don’t know that they have someone on staff who’s good with curly hair. There is a fancy salon downtown whose owner specializes in curly cuts, but he also charges $350 per appointment—literally seven times what I paid Jenna, before tip. That’s not going to happen. I have to keep doing my research, find a new salon. And then once I decide where to go, it takes some time to build a relationship with a stylist. I can’t just sit down in their chair and give them carte blanche like I sometimes did with Jenna. So do I show them a Pinterest board of styles I like? Photos of me with different styles I’ve worn over the years? It’s such a hassle trying to work out the details that the other night I even looked up round-trip tickets to Colorado so Jenna could still be the one to cut my hair, at least one last time. The flights are not all that expensive, but I’m still not sure how I feel about getting on a plane. I’m vaccinated but I keep hearing stories about nightmare passengers.

Earlier this evening I had a Zoom call with my entire family—parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins. Four generations of loud people, all shouting over each other. At a certain point, my sister, Kendra, told me how much she likes my hair. “I hope you keep it long. It’s so much better than that haircut you got after your divorce. I thought maybe you were going to come out as a lesbian next.” It wasn’t that Kendra had anything against lesbians per se, just that she has very particular thoughts about how all lesbians were butch and all straight women should wear their hair long through their fertile years at least. I don’t know where this belief stems from—our mom always has had a very practical lob, and our grandmother had already cut her hair short before her oldest child was born, and still wears it short today. Kendra has always worn her thick, wavy hair, naturally darker than mine, down to the middle of her back. After she got married she started highlighting it, more and more every time she went to the salon, until she was almost completely blonde. She puts so much stock into her appearance—hers and her kids’—that sometimes I want to kidnap my nieces and nephews (two of each, naturally) and let them pick out their own clothes and play in the mud before dropping them back off at my sister and brother-in-law’s house. Part of me thinks my brother-in-law would actually love it if I did.

I decided to ignore my sister’s comment about my hair completely, and asked one of my cousins about his new job. After that, the family conversation shifted to giving him career advice, and the call ended a few minutes later.

Once off Zoom, I opened a bottle of wine, fetched a glass, and then started folding laundry. Just moments ago, I walked into my bathroom to put towels back away into the linen closet, but before I even put the laundry basket down, I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. My hair really does look good. And to my sister’s earlier point, I guess it is more classically feminine this way than some of the other cuts I’ve had over the years. Not that there’s anything wrong with not being classically feminine—I still felt pretty and womanly with that undercut bob my sister thought made me look like a lesbian, and none of the men I dated during that time seemed to mind it. (Neither did any of the women, but I’m not giving my sister the satisfaction of telling her that.) But the world is opening back up and I know I’m going to be back on the dating apps sooner or later and maybe I should keep my hair like this for just a little longer, in case it helps my prospects.

Or maybe…

I’ve just opened the linen closet and sitting right there, at eye level, is the clipper set I bought after I got that divorce bob. When I was between haircuts and didn’t have the time or the inclination to visit Jenna for a clean-up, I’d strategically place mirrors around me so I could do a reasonable job of tidying my undercut myself. Once, I even had a date help me out with it; the sex after was incredible. I never saw him again, which was honestly fine—we didn’t have much in common other than sexual chemistry—but it was certainly a memorable night.

I start to move the clipper set aside so I can get to putting towels away. What were they even doing in that spot? They must have slid over without the towels holding them in place. And I’m realizing that instead of moving the pouch that contains my clippers and guards, I’m holding it in my hand. I’m thinking of all the compliments I have gotten on my hair as it’s grown longer. I’m thinking about what my sister just said to me on the family Zoom. I’m thinking of how tired I am of looking at myself on Zoom, and how bored I am with my hair, and how I don’t have the time or energy to track down a new stylist. I’m thinking I don’t care how people on the dating apps feel about my hair because if my hair is all they’re attracted to we probably won’t get along anyway.

I come out of my reverie when I hear a loud pop followed by a low buzz. I realize I have opened the case and removed the clippers, plugged them in, turned them on. Was that guard on them when I pulled them out of the case or did I do that? How many glasses of wine did I have while I was folding laundry, anyway?

I turn the clippers off, set them down on the counter. Take another long, hard look in the mirror. “I’m bored and I need to make a change,” I say out loud to myself. I know with as much certainty as I’ve ever known anything that it needs to happen now. Right now. But what will I do? Will putting most of my hair up in a ponytail and buzzing down my nape be enough? No. My hair will still look the same from the front while I spend those hours staring at myself on Zoom. I could run them up the side of my head—a dramatic change, some would say, but one that I could easily hide by switching up my part. If I can hide it, how dramatic is it, really?

I have no skill or training in cutting hair, especially curly hair. I’m not going to be able to cut my hair into a cute bob or a pixie, or even that shag I had in art school, without it looking like an amateur hack job. I had been able to maintain my bangs when I had them before, sort of, but now that they’ve grown out I don’t think I could give myself bangs from scratch without screwing up horribly, especially with all the wine I’ve had this evening—and on a Sunday night, I won’t be able to find anyone to fix them when that inevitably happens.

The clippers are back in my hand. The way I see it, I only have one option if this change needs to happen tonight. And this change absolutely needs to happen tonight. I have back-to-back Zooms calls from 10-3 tomorrow. I can’t spend another five hours looking at this hair on my computer screen.

For the second time tonight, I turn the clippers on. What guard is on them? Do I really care? No. What will my colleagues say tomorrow? I care even less.

I take my left hand to the top of my head and pull my hair tight. With my right hand, I bring the clippers to my hairline and push back toward the crown of my head, staring at my reflection as I do. The humming of the clippers changes in tone as the hungry blades find my thick curls. The tension in my left hand eases. Nearly a foot of hair hangs from it, severed from my head, which now bears a two-inch wide strip of dark, velvety fuzz down its center. No hint of curl remains there. No chance of hiding the damage, either. I put the severed locks down on the counter and have the momentary thought that perhaps I’ll donate what I cut tonight. I’ll decide later.

I lean toward my reflection to inspect the results of the clippers’ first pass. I smile. I was bored. I needed a change—and this is certainly a change. My left hand reaches up to pull more hair taut. Eagerly, I bring the clippers back to my forehead and carve another strip out of my curls. Another nearly foot of hair, from root to tip, hangs from my left hand. Another two inches of velvet has replaced it on the top of my head. I start to touch it, then tell myself to wait. Wait until it’s finished.

I feel a familiar tightness in my lower abdomen. My pulse seems to have gravitated downward, between my legs. I’m getting wet and I don’t know why, exactly, only I think back to that one-night stand with the undercut clean-up and all those times I excitedly waited to see what Jenna was doing to my hair—no, maybe, to feel it as she was doing it?—and I think maybe I’ve unearthed a hidden kink. Instead of returning to the top of my head, my left hand begins to glide downward. But the voice in my head repeats: wait till it’s finished. My hand returns to the long hair still covering most of my head and pulls another section back, tightly. The clippers find the hair, easily slicing through the strands, rendering more of my head curl-less for who knows how long.

I continue my work until the entire top of my head is nothing but a quarter-inch of fuzz. I move to my left temple, maneuvering around my ear, making pass after pass with the humming machine, peeling more and more reddish-brown curls from my head until the entire left side matches the top. I am not sure if this hair will be long enough to donate but I add it to the rest of what’s on the counter. I’ll look later. I can’t stop now.

The right side of my head is next. I start near my temple and again navigate around my ear, running the clippers in all directions until the side connects to the top, which then of course connects to the other side.

I can see the shape of my head now. Without hair, my asymmetrical features are more pronounced, but not displeasing. Only I’m not completely without hair yet. Plenty of long auburn curls remain on the back of my head. This is the hard part, I know. I turn the clippers off just long enough to position my mirrors the way I used to when I was cleaning up my undercut. My hair had seemed so short to me then. I had no idea.

Mirrors in place, I turn the clippers back on. I gather all the hair that remains on my head into my left hand and tug. With my right hand, I plunge the clippers into the hair near my nape and push upward. I feel the hair loosening in my left hand. I keep going, pushing the teeth of the guard under and through my hair until less and less of it is connected to my head. Finally, I feel my left hand jerk back. The last long hairs it had been holding have come loose. No trace of my almost-collarbone-length curls remains. My entire scalp is covered by a short, dark pelt.

I turn the clippers off and return them to the counter. At once eager and tentative I raise both hands to then top of my head and begin to rub them forward and back, surprised by how soft the remaining hair is. I feel a few places where the hair might not be quite even. I turn the clippers back on and run them all over my head, moving back and forth and side to side. As I do this I unconsciously slide my left hand into the waistband of my pants and let them fall to the ground, then begin to rub my swollen clitoris. I find myself to be warm and wet and slide one finger, then two, inside, while my thumb remains on my clit. I’m sure there is nothing more for the clippers to do, yet I continue to run them all over my head while my left hand moves faster and faster until I come, warm liquid shooting out of me in a way it never has before when I’ve climaxed alone.

I turn the clippers off, leave my pants on the floor, wash my hands. Using my strategically placed mirrors I notice the hairline at the nape of my neck isn’t exactly even—I should have remembered this, from the undercut days. I remove the guard from the clippers and carefully tidy my neck, which looks so impossibly long now, devoid of anything to hide it.

For the last time, I turn the clippers off. I examine myself once more in the mirrors surrounding me, turn my head from side to side, run my hands up the back of my head and over the top. I love what I feel. I love what I see, asymmetries and all. My cheekbones are high and my lips are full and my brows are perfectly arched.

I think I won’t mind all the time I’m going to spend looking at myself on Zoom tomorrow, and the day after that, and the days and weeks to follow. But I can’t help but wonder what I’ll do the next time I decide I’m bored and need a change.

7 responses to “Zoom Overload

  1. Another fantastic contribution — I absolutely loved how much time was devoted to admiring her long curls, through her own eyes and other people’s. It really upped the intensity of the change, and leads to all the lovely thoughts of how people will react. Really well done!

    1. Thank you! The idea came to me when I was talking to a friend about how much they were tired of looking at their own face, and the plot came to me from there. It was also a lot of fun (and not as easy as you’d expect) to write it all in the present tense.

    2. Also, yikes! When I opened this to reply to your comment I noticed an autocorrect error (I wrote this whole thing on my phone) and then when I went into WP to fix that I noticed a bunch of OTHER autocorrect errors (WTF is a “bee salon, anyway?). So I think I have now excised all the AI gremlins and all should be right and well in the post.

      1. Okay, I’m really impressed you could type all of that on the phone — my thumbs would have fallen off after the four days of effort it would inevitably take. But I’m familiar with your pain regarding the noticed typos — I’ve noticed some in my writing months after posting the story, and it never gets less annoying. (And it’s cool you took up the challenge of present tense — it’s so easy to accidentally slide out of that…)

        1. And yet somehow, despite all the work I did to re-read and check on tense, I didn’t catch any of the really obvious autocorrects…

          I don’t usually write like this on my phone but I had a cat on my lap and the computer was just out of reach unless I wanted to disturb her, and, well, I did not.

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