Mercifully, going gray is gradual (it grows an inch a month, my no-nonsense hairdresser, Charmaine, told me). It is also intense, like revealing a secret you've tried to conceal for years. But it has freed me from the tyranny of trying to look younger and from the awkwardness of having hair that appeared to be a different color every time it was seen under a new light. "Is it aubergine, coffee, brownish, orangish, cocoa, blue-black?" friends and acquaintances would inquire.

Before going gray, I had begun hoarding bottles of hair dye. The line was being discontinued, and I couldn't bear the thought of running out. It became a mission, hitting drugstores to hunt down the little brown bottles. And yet secretly, I wanted release from the burden, the expense of maintaining my no-longer-youthful head of hair. Still, I've kept the bottles, 20 or more, at the bottom of my linen closet, in case of panic, in case cowardice sets in.

So far the response to my graying adventure has been amazingly positive. Women friends have confided that they've thought of trying it. A couple of male friends have said it's sexy. One colleague told me she thought the gray was my best feature. My favorite response has been my son's. "You look like Cruella De Vil," he said, "only nicer."

Lisa Shea is the author of the novel Hula (Norton).

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