MISFIT DOC: The Mortality Asemics

“Achromotricia” is a word I learned to write about … achromotricia, the loss of hair color. As a word it doesn’t roll easily on the tongue. It shouldn’t. While achromotricia is usually associated with age, my experience of it is one of experiencing suffering radical stress, the type of pressure that whitens Presidents’ hairs.

My hair started whitening about five years ago. For privacy reasons, I can’t go into the root (pun intended) source of the pressure that introduced snow to my naturally black hair. I will just fast forward to my conclusion about my white hair: it’s not something I accept as part of aging gracefully or graciously; simply, I find these achromotriciaed (it’s a word because I’m a poet and made it so) hair loathsome because of their underlying stressed-out causes.

When I look at the white hairs I pluck out—yes, I pluck them out and do so with a Take, that! vigor, though I know I’m at risk of inducing baldness—I see an ugliness I would have wished not to be part of my life. UGLY—its synonyms, and it’s synchronistic that (to my mind’s eye) these letter-combinations seem as ugly as their meaning, are

horrible, despicable, reprehensible, nasty, appalling, objectionable,

offensive, obnoxious, vile, dishonorable, rotten, vicious, spiteful

After I pluck out a white hair, I usually spend several minutes contemplating it. Holding it with two fingers, I sometimes wave it as if to witness its surfing prowess with air. But, basically, I just contemplate it in silence: I don’t talk to the white hair because I wish it did not exist. I just treat it with a prolonged baleful gaze. The condition precedent to each of my white hairs is suffering. What’s to like?


I’m not a masochist or a martyr. I prefer Beauty to its opposite. Five years after I began plucking white hairs from my head, I decided to transform them into something I could contemplate without the pain that created them. Thus, did Art rear its pretty head.

What is hair but a line? So I thought to create drawings using hair as a line, or hairs as lines—I envisioned these drawings against dark backgrounds since I would be working with white lines. But sometime during the past several years, I also was introduced to asemics by master practitioner Tim Gaze. An “asemic” is wordless writing. Asemic artists have addressed their art in numerous ways, from writing with undefinable symbols to “found” asemics such as sidewalk cracks, patterns in nature and (as I imagine) the flow of feathers on a bird’s wing.

Inspired by the early works of painter Theresa Chong who once released control to gravity for directing the flow of paint against a vertically-standing canvas, I thought to use gravity to create asemics using my white hairs. Symbolically, I wanted someone/something else to be the author so as to separate authorship from prior pain, and I chose gravity.

I saved about eight strands of hair into an envelope. I then dropped them from the envelope onto the nearest black surface I could find, which happened to be the top of a speaker attached to my computer. The hairs fell through the air and settled against the black top. I then took photographs of the results. Here are two:



54GI found the effects interesting—as facilitated by the presence of dust motes atop my speaker (as a Domestic Goddess, I suck) and the glare from a nearby light, one could imagine the asemics floating in outer space. With relief, I also found the results beautiful. In becoming beautiful—and others seem to think so, too, as the first six asemics swiftly found publishers—they became pleasurable: they became the opposite of pain. Yet again, Art creates gold from brass.

Over time, the asemics would even turn feral as they seemingly mate with a petal from nearby roses (though I believe part of the images’ intrigue is how the petal is not necessarily discernible as a petal):



With each permutation of the dropped pattern against the speaker box—with each fall—the asemic consistently erased prior hurt, translating pain each time into pleasurable beauty. Thus, it makes sense that, most recently, the asemics, when photographed with a small rock from a birdbath, would present the story of alchemy. Here’s one that the combination of camera flash and light goldened, as if touched by the mythical King Midas.

54U Cover

In fact, my first look at the above image made me think that not just alchemy but some sort of birthing was taking place. Perhaps the strands were locking together to birth something more solid. Or perhaps it was the other way around and the solid (rock) was emanating out the strands. In any event, a sense of narrative is presented even as it lacks a determinable plot.

Why do I consider these works asemics instead of abstract visual art? Perhaps the difference is not meaningful to their viewers. But as their conceptualizer (not author, which is gravity’s role), I attest that there is a story that can be told by the white hairs, but which cannot be shared in public and consequently must remain “wordless.” In the place of that story, what is presented is beauty.

One also can “deep read” the results to signify wordless perseverance despite that saying, To Live is to Suffer. For, soon (I hope, very soon), I have faith that the past occasions of hurt would become transformed into memories that automatically join the pain with pain’s self-erasure to create

something lovely,

something one can contemplate without agony,

something that evokes pleasure…

Eileen R. Tabios loves books, and thus has released collections of poetry, essays, fiction and experimental biographies. She has also exhibited visual art and visual poetry in the United States and Asia. Her 2015 books include AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A Life in Poetry; I FORGOT LIGHT BURNS; and the forthcoming INVENT(ST)ORY: Selected List Poems and New.  
Do you have a misfit document? Here's our Submissions Call.

Submit a comment