On Being Bald

For several thousand years, women have been told that their hair is their crowning glory. Women, on the other hand, will tell you that their hair is often their biggest frustration – for every day our hair looks fabulous, there are more days when it’s too curly, too flat, too frizzy, too dry, too oily, too long, too layered, or too just-plain-blah. Most women have said, at one time or other, “It would be easier to cut it all off!”

That’s what I did on Sunday, September 1, as part of a childhood cancer research fundraiser. Taking my turn along with a dozen other volunteers, I sat in a folding chair and submitted my crowning glory to a public-spirited beautician. Ten minutes later, I was staring at hamster-sized clumps of my graying hair and running my hands over my prickly scalp.

I ran my hands over other newly-shaved heads and allowed random hands to feel mine. There’s something novel and inviting about a purposefully bristly scalp – like a puppy, it’s kind of silly and begs to be petted. We volunteers (the charity foundation called us “shavees”) marveled at our own wry courage and commented on the shape of one another’s skulls. We posed for a lot of photos. By the time the shaving event ended, bald felt pretty normal. Then I went to Wal-mart to pick up sunscreen and a couple of scarves.

Suddenly, I was a Bald Woman.

Women are supposed to have hair, whether it’s long and luxurious or short and tidy. Our culture tells us that female baldness is unattractive, unhealthy, wrong. After the Liberation of Paris in 1944, French women who had become mistresses to Nazi officers were shaved bald, among other punishments. Today, a bald woman typically is assumed to be fighting cancer (though she may have alopecia), to be enacting some sort of rebellion (remember Sinead O’Connor tearing up a picture of the Pope?), or even to be mentally ill or in crisis (pictures of half-shaved Brittany Spears are still all over the Internet). I don’t know what the Wal-mart shoppers thought, but the clerk who rung me up was clearly nervous, talking too fast and radiating an almost oppressive cheerfulness.

During the ensuing week as I ran errands, I sometimes wore a turbin-wrapped scarf or a chemo cap and sometimes went au naturale. When wearing something on my obviously bald head, I often received sympathetic glances. When I was just plain bald, sympathetic glances were mixed with others that I interpreted as surprised or disdainful. It seems that a woman trying to cover her baldness is an object of pity, but an openly bald woman just may be up to something. Because I have a couple of visible tattoos and a facial piercing, my baldness might be interpreted as making a statement – a rebellion. Because my clothing isn’t particularly feminine and I’m quite tall, my baldness might complete a stereotypical image of lesbianism, which others may view as anything from fine to rebellion to sinfulness. I suppose some might interpret my baldness as a sign of mental illness, although I’d think that more likely at the end of the semester, when most of us teachers are a bit twitchy and wild-eyed.

So why did I shave my head? Mostly to help raise money for a good cause and to support the BVU student who spearheaded the baldness event. Plus, my hair wasn’t that long at the time of the shaving and it grows fast, so it seemed like an easy, low-risk way to contribute. I wouldn’t have tattoos and piercings if I minded looking a bit different, and I don’t really care what random people assume about me. But none of that means the shaving didn’t mark me: I’m as subject to insecurity about my appearance as the next woman bombarded by advertising.  The day before the event, I had my eyebrows waxed for the first time – I wanted some feature of my head to be feminine. As I went about my days, I spent way too much time in front of the mirror: tying a scarf, pulling it off, arranging a cap, choosing another scarf, and what about that hat I bought last summer? The first five days after the shaving event, I spent more mirror time on my baldness than I ever did on my hair.

Now it’s a week after the event and my hair, to my surprise, has doubled in length. However, 2 x stubble is still stubble and I need to sharpen my eyebrow pencil. The hairstyle I’d been sporting pre-shave was just about perfect – reasonably attractive and easy to care for – but I must admit that not having to blow-dry or even use a comb has been kind of freeing. I’m considering letting my hair get just long enough to lay down and keeping it that short.

I won’t be bald any more, just bald-adjacent.

bald me

 

Self-Taught Spinning Tips

I am teaching myself to spin on a wheel, not because I’m too good to need help (SO NOT too good), but because I live 2.5 hours from the nearest spinning supplies store and the local spinning guild spans 200 square miles of very rural territory and meets Tuesday afternoons, when I’m working.

I am making slow progress, but progress nonetheless.

I thought I’d post a few tips for others stepping unaided into the world of spinning, and I hope those others will share their tips in comments. I claim no special wisdom in these tips, simply that they are working for me.

1. Start with inexpensive, even ugly fiber. Save the good stuff for later.

You probably want to buy something that’s billed as “easy to spin,” and then spin the hell out of it. I was terrified to mess up on the little bit of fab fiber I’d bought prior to getting a wheel, but now that I have some rough, not terribly pretty romney, I’m going to town. I experiment, I unwind half-full bobbins and throw the yarn away, I try different chairs and poses and drafting techniques. Half a bobbin might be worsted and the other half woolen. Part of a bobbin is made with one spinning maven’s advice, the other half with my own instinct. I am learning a lot and no one has to see the dirty work I’m doing. There is no law that you have to knit up or weave your first skeins of yarn (though if you do, passersby are probably NOT going to point and exclaim, “hey, that scarf is half woolen and half worsted and half-assed!” Most people think you’re nuts for knitting a scarf when you can buy one. They can’t even deal with the idea of making the yarn itself.

2. Stop fighting the fiber.

I got better results almost instantly when I read in a book to “hold the fiber as if it’s a little baby bird.” I got even better when I started holding the fiber as if it were a little baby bird with multiple wing fractures and tuberculosis. If the tension on the wheel is right and your speed of drafting is appropriate, I don’t think there’s any such thing as too gentle.

I had another exponential success when I switched from top to batt. The batt is loosely prepared and doesn’t need much drafting. When I switched back to top after a few sessions, what had seemed dense and unwieldy was suddenly easy to spin.

3. Spinning is meant to be relaxing. If you’re not relaxed or becoming relaxed, stop the spinning session.

Unrelaxed hands crush little baby fiber birds (and they’ve already got broken bones and tuberculosis – how can you be so cruel?), and unrelaxed feet treadle too fast. Take a deep breath and exhale, thinking relax.

I’ve been taking horseback riding lessons for a few years and I learned early on that unrelaxed riders create nervy or stubborn horses. The rider might even fall off or get thrown (as I know from personal experience). Same with spinning – you’ll know you’re not relaxed enough if your wheel suddenly seems to take on a contrary life of its own. It probably won’t throw you, but you could wear a riding helmet just in case. Better yet, take a break and spin later or tomorrow.

4) Find a good-for-you spinning chair.

I don’t mean a real spinning chair, such as Ashford sells, although you could do that if you like (though how much luscious fiber and yarn could you buy with that money?). I mean a chair that fits you at your wheel and allows you to move your arms and shoulders as you learn how to do this craft (and to relax). That probably means armless, with a low back or very narrow back (ala a “real” spinning chair). I went to a local vintage/antique store and sat in all the low, wide-seated chairs with low backs they had, staring ahead and moving my feet as if I were treadling (folks in this town are not surprised by anything I do anymore). I settled on a ‘50s vanity chair in buttercream vinyl with silver studs and a huge buttercream button in the center of the back and a well-padded, broad seat (much like my butt). It’s perfect for me and for spinning, and cost $58 vs. the $250 and up prices for wooden spinning chairs. The chair I had been using is comfortable, but this one is way better for spinning and has contributed to my learning.

That’s all I have for now. If you have tips for the new-to-spinning wheel crowd, especially those trying to figure this out on their own, please share in the comments.

Father’s Day 2013

My father was a deeply flawed man. He grew up in what we would now call an abusive home. He self-medicated severe depression with alcohol (all four brothers drank, and two of them commited suicide). He boozed throughout his life and had affairs while in the service, and he had an explosive temper that we all indulged. He was stubborn and could occasionally be, verbally, both thoughtlessly and purposefully cruel. He was also hard-working, funny, impulsively generous, soft-hearted, sentimental, and smart.

My parents’ marriage is difficult for me to wrap my mind around – when you’re a child, of course, that’s just the way things are. Dad was the star, funny and furious by turns, but it was Mom who quietly kept the whole thing ticking along, food on the table and clothes on our backs, stretching a dollar. It’s tempting to sketch her as a saint, and she was sometimes close, believe me, but there was co-dependency there too; I guess we come to embrace our roles. (My eldest sister, Linda, once described Mom and Dad’s marriage as Patience on a Monument hitched to Hell on Wheels.) At any rate, together they raised five children who exhibit the best of their parents’ virtues and minimize their faults (though I, for one, could use more of Mom’s money-sense. And her dab hand with brown gravy).

I am the youngest of five children, with 18 years between me and the eldest. I was born when my parents were 40, which meant I came along after my father had settled down a bit – after the military nomad life, near the end of the worst boozing. I’m the one who got to have a real home town and father home most evenings and every weekend. I got to be a true daddy’s girl, and I LOVED it. When I grew up and had my own conflicts with Dad and got married and more widely educated and began to understand my mother’s experience, my relationship with my father became vastly more complicated, of course. And then, in the horrible drama of my mother’s final illness and the following last year of my father’s life, the complex became simple again. I realized I couldn’t really quantify or judge my parents’ marriage – they danced that dance together. And I finally admitted that my father didn’t just drink, but was an alcoholic and that aspects of our family life, Dad’s temper explosions and the way we had to tiptoe around him at times, and the fault we were made to carry (it wasn’t Dad’s job not to get mad, it was our job not to make him mad) were horrible. But I also realized that, as a child and as an adult, I was never, ever unsure of my father’s love or pride, and I always knew he would do whatever he was capable of to take care of us.  On the cosmic balance sheet, I think my sibs and I all came out ahead. If nothing else, we each carry an armor of humor that has served us well.

Back to being a daddy’s girl: Father’s Day always brings to mind the best of my times with Dad, and of those, here are three of my favorites:

The summer I turned seven, we moved from the Puget Sound area to Yerington, Nevada, where Dad had a job as an auto mechanic. Before the initial trip down to find a house, my parents took me to the store and I was allowed to pick out a stuffed animal for the trip (as if that would keep me quiet). I chose a pink and white kitty, flat-ish like an old fashioned, floppy teddy bear with a cat’s head. Several years later, the kitty’s black plastic nose fell off, and my father cut a nose out of black electrician’s tape as a replacement. Every few years that tape nose had to be replaced and each time, well into my twenties and until the toy’s final demise, my father ceremoniously cut-and-stuck the nose onto my kitty.

When I was eight or so, the parents of one of my friends got divorced. Until then, I had no idea one’s parents could split up and their children be juggled between them, or that the parents could CHOOSE among their children. I knew my parents had tensions and sometimes fought, and I became terrified they would divorce. Even worse, in my eight-year-old mind, was the idea that Dad would leave ME (this wasn’t about my parents at all, of course, and though I had the vague idea even then that it was Mom who kept us healthy and alive day to day, she wasn’t any fun). One evening when my dad came home from work and was in my folks’ bedroom, taking off his shoes and emptying his pockets, I sat down next to him on the bed and said, “Daddy, if you and Mama got divorced, who would you take?”

Dad put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Honey, Mommy and I aren’t getting divorced.”

“I know,” I said, “But if you were, who would you take?”

Dad untied his shoes and put them neatly under the dresser. “Well, I’d take Henry, and I’d take Carol, and I’d take you . . .” [ah, I was safe!] . . . “and I’d take Dino (our dog), and I’d take Mommy . . .”

“You can’t take Mommy, you’re getting divorced!” I said. I was clear on this rule of marital dissolution.

“Honey, we’re not getting divorced.”

At this point, Dad likely gave me a piece of candy or a quarter and then went into the kitchen to talk to Mom and make sure he wasn’t in trouble. I was happy and safe in the assurance that my parents were not getting divorced, but, if they did, I would still be daddy’s girl.

When I was a pre-teen, my girlfriends and I were totally over Barbie* and completely into model horses, the pricey sculpture type, made by Beyer. Like Barbie, however, the horses were not just desirable items in and of themselves, but came with accessories that ran the gamut from saddles and bridles to corrals to full barn buildings. I received a horse here and there, for birthday or Christmas, but our family budget was tight and I was running far behind some of my friends in the Beyer acquisitions race. That’s when my father disappeared into the garage for a couple of evenings and a weekend and emerged with several yards of REAL WOOD corral fencing, in foot-long sections of 1×1 posts and ½ x1 planks carefully nailed together with brads and set on wooden feet. There was even a gate in a proper X design, with tiny hinges. I was the envy of the plastic-horse set, at least in my own mind.

*Barbie did have a role to play in my horse games – she was the evil rancher the horses overthrew before creating their own equine utopia.

I still have two other wooden creations my father made just for me – a low pine bookcase he made for my first dorm room, to accommodate oversized textbooks (a world history book fell on his head during a visit). I’ve used it ever after as a TV stand. He also made me a desk/table during my senior year of high school, sized exactly to me when sitting on an old chrome-and-yellow-vinyl kitchen chair.

Anne Lamott writes that when a Daddy’s Girl loses her father, she loses the only man in the world who ever truly thought she was perfect.

Don’t I know it.

Miscellanea

Waiting on my spinning wheel delivery, reading fiction (fun) and background history for The Novel That Must Be Written (interesting), sporadically cleaning house. Decided to post a passel of thoughts here rather than clog up my friends’ Facebook feeds:

1) Still rocking the no-sugar wagon. Bought my week’s groceries earlier today, and the only item with added sugar was a bottle of A-1 sauce. Getting nectarines for my cereal seemed absolutely decadent.

2) Still slowly losing weight due to no-sugar and more walking. One of the best things about cutting sugar is how many calories it freed up, allowing me to enjoy foods I restricted before. Hello, avocados!

3) My kitchen floor is record-breaking clean — because I’m so clumsy, I’ve had to sweep 5 times in 2 days. I also discovered why it’s a bad idea to leave sliced olives in the fridge in their can with the lid balanced on top. Boy, can those puppies roll.

4) Speaking of the fridge, today I tossed out some weapons-grade neglectovers: a spicy chicken/black-eyed pea stew that I cooked back in coughAprilcough. It didn’t smell, and the fuzzy clumps weren’t especially gross, but the gelatinous blobs were disturbing. And, while my mother NEVER would have left something in the fridge that long, her strategy of keeping around a fully-opened, rinsed-out old milk carton for disposing of kitchen ick came in very handy.

5) Might FINALLY get to go horseback riding tomorrow. If it doesn’t rain. If the arena has dried out from Sunday’s rain. If my instructor doesn’t get called for a job interview.  If there’s no tornado warning. If the banks don’t crash. If there’s not a planet-killing meteor strike. It’s always something.

 

The Bunny Died :(

Well, the baby bunny did what rescued baby bunnies do best, it seems — he died this morning. I held him as he gasped his last breaths. BUT, he ate willingly twice, and eliminated waste, and so was safe and warm with a comfy belly, and he didn’t die alone. So I think rescuing him was the right thing to do.

The Bunny that Did Not Die in the Night

The Bunny that Did Not Die in the Night–

Last night at 1 a.m. -ish, I let Magpie outside and when I let her in, a limp baby bunny, of an early age *just* transitioning from rat to rabbit, was laying, covered in dog spit, on the top step. Magpie stood over it proudly.

I picked the bunny up to throw it in the outside trash and it moved. I inspected it, and found all its limbs, its back, and its head to be uninjured.

Now, I know my family members *coughLindacough* think I’m way too soft-hearted, but I can be a realist. I took that bunny right back outside and left it on the edge of the patio, hoping it would be gone (mama bunny or predator) or dead (from cold and stress) in the morning.

It wasn’t

In fact, when I picked it up, chanting to myself “please be dead, please be dead,” as it warmed in my hand it began to move and cry.

Well, crap.

I called the two local vets and neither could give me the name of a local, or even distant, wildlife rehaber. So I turned to the internet — no rehabers closer than the far side of Des Moines. Then, with a sigh, I Googled how to care for baby bunnies.

Every single website I found began with the same types of statements: “Baby rabbits are incredibly fragile, especially wild rabbits.” “Rescued baby rabbits typically die within 2 days.” “It is very difficult to successfully rescue an infant wild rabbit.”

I read these, and looked at the squirming, crying bunny in my hand. I hadn’t found a rabbit nest in my yard, which is always full of dogs anyway, so I was pretty sure Mim the cat had brought the bunny into the yard and Magpie had found it, mouthed it, and left it for me to find. Despite all of that, and having been left exposed overnight, despite the fact that a wild baby rabbit dies every time you have a cruel or impure thought, THIS bunny seemed anything but fragile.

So I read the rescue site’s instructions and went to Walmart and bought some puppy formula. I put some rice in an old sock and microwaved it, put that in one corner of a tall Corning Ware casserole, draped a clean dishtowel over everything, and placed the bunny inside. He (yeah he — it seems baby bunny genitals develop early) is now napping on my desk at work, so I can keep the rice heated up. Mama bunnies feed their babies only once or twice a day, so I don’t have to worry about that until this evening.

I realize that this little, eyes-still-closed bunny is probably going to die and I won’t be overly upset when he does. But I can keep him warm and safe and try to help him not die. I also realize that if he lives, in a couple of weeks I’ll release him and he’ll probably die then, but at least I won’t know about it.

In the meantime, given his initial toughness and my childhood love of Watership Down, I’m calling him The General.

Pics to follow.

Sigourney Weaver, Demi Moore, Brittney Spears, and Me

Ever heard of St. Baldrick’s Foundation? They fund childhood caner research grants, and their main fundraisng method is getting groups of people to pledge to have their heads shaved, while at the same time soliciting donations from friends and family.

Can you see where this is going?

Along with some other BVU folks (staff, students, profs), I’m going to have my head shaved, in public, 8/31/13. It will happen no matter how much or little money I collect, but I’d like to feel the baldening was worth it.

IF you wish to donate (no pressure), you may do so at this link.