After my mother died, I received a package from my daughter of items my mother had kept over the years. In going through the parcel of keepsakes, I discovered my old birthday and report cards, newspaper articles, and a brown paper bag labelled Leslie First Haircut, June 13, a name I have changed and no longer claim, handwritten in blue ink by my mother. Of all the items contained in the envelope, it was this lock of hair from my first haircut that intrigued me the most. I thought about hair, the intimacy of saved locks, threads woven of family history, my relationship with my mother, the stroke that led to her death, roots both physical and familial, and the mother wound I’ve carried since early childhood.
Many themes came to mind as I formulated this essay. I considered the viability of DNA held within a strand of hair. I thought about the search for belonging and the bond between mothers and daughters. I contemplated the concept of “good hair” within my mixed-race family and extended family members. Objectification, the transatlantic slave trade, racism, mourning, memento mori, and hair as a symbol of shame, religious dogma, and spellcasting were themes that were also pondered and included in “Split Ends.”
I was left with the question of how I was going to formulate this material into a cohesive story. As a creative nonfiction writer drawn to hybrid forms, I decided to structure the material as a collage. The white space between segments acted as a pause, a moment for contemplation, a transition denoted by pairs of scissors – hinges that formed the connective tissue between the different story strands.
Of equal importance was the inclusion of photographs and images. They, too, provided moments of contemplation. Capturing different moments in time, the visual elements enhanced the text and provided a layer of richness to the collage.
ROWAN McCANDLESS is the Black and biracial author of Persephone’s Children. A finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in nonfiction (2022), and cowinner of the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book (2022), her award-winning writing has appeared in various anthologies, as well as print and online journals. In 2020, she received gold and an honourable mention with the National Magazine Awards. In 2018 she was longlisted for the Journey Prize and won the Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize. In 2022, she was a first reader for the CBC’s nonfiction contest and a judge for the Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize. A jury member with the 2022 National Magazine Award for fiction and judge for the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick Nonfiction Award, Rowan is also the creative nonfiction editor of The Fiddlehead. Currently she is completing a short story collection and developing another memoir. Find Rowan on Twitter @RowanMcCandless.