- September 20, 2021
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John Casey bears witness to New Yorkers’ stories, whether they are in his chair or taking his writing workshops.
When John Casey couldn’t work at Jack’s Barber Shop in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which closed for several months in early 2020 because of the pandemic, he created The Sustainable Journaling Project, a four-session Zoom workshop. The thrust of it? Be simple. Write every day. Mr. Casey is a shining example of the practice; he has written every day for the last seven years.
Mr. Casey now juggles cutting hair with teaching journaling workshops regularly for individuals and groups, including, most recently, a transmasculine group. Mr. Casey transitioned in 2014, the year he began journaling and also enrolled in barber school. It was “an extremely busy year for me,” he said.
Mr. Casey, 54, lives in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, with two roommates.
SACRED SPACE I wake up around 6 and take a puff of Dulera. I have a lung disorder called bronchiectasis, which results in me having a chronic cough that’s been very awkward to have over this past year. After that, I’ll do my yoga stretches. Usually I’m playing some sacred choral works. I was a religious Catholic growing up, and this is one of the favorable things I took away from that experience. I keep a Mason jar of water in the fridge overnight because I heard somewhere that drinking cold water in the morning is good for metabolism, which may or may not be true, but now I find myself craving cold water in the morning. Every other Sunday I take a testosterone shot. I’ll do that right after getting out of the shower, when the body is clean and there’s less risk for infection. I’ll take it in the morning because if I do it at night, I’m afraid the adrenaline rush is going to keep me from falling asleep. I’ve been doing it since 2014, and it’s still scary.
RITUAL OF WRITING From around 7:30 to 8, I’ll write about the previous day in my journal. I think the best time to journal is in the evening, personally, but I’m usually too tired to do so. Mornings work out for me because I’m alert and still can remember the previous day. I’m on the ADHD spectrum, so reviewing the day before helps with my executive functioning. It also helps me remember things that, maybe, bothered me the day before, or good things that happened that I’m grateful for and want to pay attention to. I journal digitally, an entry for each day, and each month is its own file. On my first day off each month, I’ll read over the previous month’s entries. I feel like in Western society we don’t have a lot of rituals, but this is a ritual I really like: commemorating the passage into a new month.
EGGS, NEWS If I’m ending a round of intermittent fasting, I’ll have breakfast between 8 and 8:30. One of my favorite breakfasts is soft-boiled eggs, which I feel strongly is the best way to prepare eggs. I’ll almost always scroll through the headlines of The New York Times as well as check the local infection rates. I want to be able to communicate that information to the rest of the staff at the barber shop. When the Delta variant was sending alarm, I had to send a group chat asking everyone to return to masking. I’ve fallen into the role of keeping people aware of what’s going on.
THE HABIT Basically, I’m sharing ways to keep journaling simple and to not overthink it while at the same time talking about the value of doing it every day so that it can become a habit. I feel like some people use social media to document their lives, but creating posts isn’t great for record-keeping and doesn’t provide the space for reflection that writing a journal entry does. I try to schedule the classes for Sunday mornings, which is often when people are free. If I’m teaching a class, then I’m going to spend at least an hour reviewing my notes before it starts. After it finishes, I’ll spend some time editing my notes and writing follow-up emails.
ACCOMPANIMENT I’m often doing a haircut or a house-call haircut or a haircut in my home on Sunday afternoons, so after breakfast I’ll check my barber gear to make sure everything is charged and that I have clean towels. I recently did a haircut for my housemate who lives upstairs on the second floor. By that point in the afternoon I had switched from choral works to Chet Baker, because he and I are both Chet Baker fans. I try to adapt the music to whatever I think a customer might be into.
HAIRCUT SOCIALS About once a month I’ll go to New Jersey and give my mom a haircut. I also used to give haircuts to my dad, Bill, who passed away in 2018. He had Asperger’s, so it was difficult to talk with him. But doing his haircuts was a nice way to give him a safe space where he could free-associate. That’s one of the things I like about being a barber: People, no matter where they are in their level of functionality or social comfort, feel this safe space where they can just talk about anything. It was great getting to have that opportunity with my dad. Same with my mom.
THE CALLING It was the summer of 2014 when I literally woke up one morning, opened my eyes, and thought, “I should be a barber.” That year was also when I started talking about my gender dysphoria and decided to move forward with transitioning. While I was learning to be a barber, I was realizing how valuable it would be to provide a safe space to people in the queer community, especially people who were gender nonbinary. I had been cutting my own hair for a very long time, and I’m sure that has everything to do with gender dysphoria and of feeling uncomfortable with asking a barber for what I wanted. When you’re gender nonconforming, it’s often really hard to communicate to strangers just how you want to present yourself.
CATCH-UPS I’ll talk with my mom, Eleanor, and sometimes my two sisters, Ann and Sarah. Recently, I drove to South Slope to see my friends and their baby. I appreciate having a car, just to be able to drive out for a quick trip to see my family in New Jersey.
PRODUCTIVE DOWN TIME I’ll get home from time with friends and do some food prep, because I have work Monday through Wednesday. My brain is pretty much useless after 9, so I might do a little journaling or watch a part of a movie. It’s rare that I’m just sitting there; I’m typically doing something else while watching a movie, like repairing face masks or folding laundry. I think having gender dysphoria impeded my ability to mature for a while. I always feel this need to make up for lost time.
THOUGHT PUFFS My journaling in the evening is always very brief — quick notes, a quick summary of the day. The following morning, I can look at what I wrote the night before and elaborate on it if I need to. I always love to have a few minutes to review the day and give it some closure. I might end the day with a glass of whiskey. Right before I go to bed, I’ll make sure I have a Mason jar of water in the fridge and then take another puff of Dulera.
Sunday Routine readers can follow John Casey on Instagram @sustainablejournaling or @johncaseythebarber.