Daring Words, Creative Action, and Bobbed Hair
One of the most joyful experiences of my young life was when I performed in a one-act play entitled “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” at the age of 15. I later realized that the play was a dramatic adaptation of a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, an author from my home state of Minnesota. Being in the play was pure fun, but also an important learning experience that still teaches me lessons all these years later. I’ve recently reflected on the relationship between creative words and creative action, and it seems to me that Bernice’s bobbed hair illustrates at least one possible connection.
“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” takes place at the dawn of the Jazz Age and revolves around a girl from the countryside, the titular Bernice, who goes to stay with her cousin Marjorie in the big city. Marjorie, sophisticated and popular, is ashamed of her shy and awkward cousin, but finally decides to help Bernice as a charity case. Marjorie advises her unfortunate relative that one way to attract attention is to tell people, especially the men in their social circle, that she plans on doing something daring.
The daring action that Marjorie suggests to Bernice is bobbing her hair, in other words, cutting her hair to chin length. At the time, this new hairstyle was considered scandalous among the upper classes as it was associated with flapper culture, speakeasies, and jazz music. Marjorie never imagines that her shy, country-bumpkin cousin would ever be so daring. Before long, however, Bernice begins to attract the attention of many men, including one of Marjorie’s suitors, by insisting that she is contemplating having her hair bobbed.
A Creative Lesson
The premise of the short story/play has led me to reflect on daring acts. Women wearing their hair short is no longer considered edgy, but we can certainly come up with equivalently risky actions in our own day. Any action that is out of the mainstream could be considered daring or even scandalous in some situations, and this is where we find the connection with creativity.
Imagination always manifests itself in action that is out of the ordinary. A broad definition of creativity is the ability to make new connections that are useful. Creativity requires a component of newness, and actions that are innovative are never commonplace. But doing something new is often socially uncomfortable and possibly involves risk. Bernice talking about bobbing her hair was daring because it was out of the ordinary in her social circle. Because it was Marjorie’s idea, it is debatable how much creativity Bernice demonstrated by talking about bobbing her hair, and at the beginning, it was only talk. What Bernice would do later, however, could be considered both daring and creative.
Creative Talk and Creative Action
If I’m being honest, I rarely engage in creative action without first doing some creative talking. This often helps me imagine a possible future and then convinces me that I can in fact “put myself out there” and make it happen. When I first had the idea of a website and blog about creativity, I didn’t jump right into it. I had to convince myself that I was capable. It happened, in part, because I dared to say it out loud.
Sometimes talking about creative action is also about externalizing the idea to others. I don’t always dare to take creative risks on my own, but if I speak of them to my friends and allies, they often help refine my ideas and build up my confidence for making the creative leap. My website and creativity blog started out as fanciful talk on my part and on the part of supportive conversationalists. Creative talk preceded creative action.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Bernice didn’t intend to bob her hair when she first started talking about it. The character as we knew her at the beginning of the story would never have done such a thing due to her lack of confidence. As the story continues, she gains self-assurance, and this in part has to do with discussing the possibility of brave action.
Bernice doesn’t get the chance to make the decision about bobbing her hair on her own timeline, however. Marjorie, out of jealousy, forces her newly popular cousin into a corner leaving her little choice but to cut her hair short. The result of Bernice’s flapper hairstyle is scandal. Her daring action results in her being shunned by the society that she had so desired to enter. Although the decision to finally cut her hair was not entirely her own, Bernice did gain the confidence for further daring action.
Bernice had dared to cut her hair and then had suffered negative consequences at the hands of her cousin Marjorie. Bernice decides to leave the city and return to the country on the night before a party in Marjorie’s honor. In the middle of the night, before she boards the train, Bernice takes one more daring action. As Marjorie sleeps, Bernice cuts off her cousin’s long hair.
Talk Softly and Carry Big Scissors
F. Scott Fitzgerald addresses a variety of themes in his short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” but bravery in the face of scandalous creative action was probably not at the top of his list. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but bring this reading to the narrative because of my immersion in the topic of creativity.
It’s a minor miracle that I remember the play at all after these many years. What brought Bernice to mind was perhaps the fact that, coming out of the pandemic, my hair is the longest it has ever been. Needing a bob myself, I remembered Bernice and all the talk that preceded her daring action, and then connected the story to the talk that I needed before launching my creativity website and blog.
Perhaps, dear reader, if you talk enough about your own creative ideas, you’ll do as I did and finally take creative action. Or maybe you’ll be as brave as Bernice and take it all one scandalous step further.
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