State of the Blog

So … it’s … been a while. How are things?

It’s been an eventful, what, almost-year? for us. I finished the second draft of my first novel (yay!) — staggering and slogging my way to its end sort of overtook all my other words-y projects. Hence the lengthy hiatus.

My children continued to grow, as they so frequently do.

My weight loss stalled a bit; I’ve added some bodyweight training which seems to be helping. (More on that later.) Lesson (re-)learned: What gets measured gets done.

The concrete floor paint, while still VASTLY better than carpet, is not as bombproof as I’d hoped. Lesson learned: Do the polyurethane. (Well, not so much a lesson as a hypothesis, though … again, more on that later.)

... yeah.
… yeah.
... not so much.
… not so much.

The Acrobat’s also added kicking holes in his drywall to his occasional meltdown retinue, so we’re putting an MDF wainscoting around his room, which I’ll show you as soon as I remember the paint roller frame so I can finish painting it.

My hair is … growing. I’m slowly moving from pixie to bob, with varying degrees of aplomb.  My hair is also a lot wavier than it used to be. Good thing wavy bobs are in style (or — wait — are they on the way out already? it’s hard to keep up. Particularly when Pinterest decides you no longer care about fashion in light of your recent flurry of woodworking and origami pins. News flash, Pinterest: I LOVE ALL THE THINGS).

Classic Pixie
Classic Pixie
Somewhere Between A Pixie And A Bob
Somewhere Between A Pixie And A Bob (in the worst-lit selfie of them all)

Also, the stylist had cut me the Bangs Of Doom the time before that, as you can see, so growing THOSE out is also such fun.

And mostly, I’ve been waffling about to what extent I want to discuss my political perspective here on the blog. I don’t, really — it doesn’t feel like the right place for it, you know? But politics are also very important to me, because, well, this stuff affects real people’s real lives. My real life.

Being a citizen of a representative democracy comes with, you know, responsibilities, and they matter. Ducking out of that because it’s difficult isn’t …

::deep breaths::

Okay. Yes. For real this time. If you’re interested in my political perspective, find me on Medium.com.

Anyway, I hope your year is shaping up the way you want it to!

Pixie Cut

I never showed you a picture of my new haircut, did I? Well. There’ve been two iterations so far, and I’m loving having short hair. I can’t be bothered to take, you know, well-lit and well-composed photos of it yet, though, so upfront apologies, etc., etc. But you’ll get the general idea.

So, let’s start with the Before, what my hair was like after air drying it without product. Channelling (book-version) Hermione.

Hermione

For the first cut, I went with a shortish shag, slightly longer on top, and left the salon feeling rather like Grease’s Rizzo, but less carefully coiffed. And without the heartfelt (but philosophically problematic, in my opinion) ballad.

And it was great. It felt strange the first few times I washed it; I had a few habitual ‘move your hair out from under your collar’ moments before remembering, oh, right, I don’t have to do that. I can wear lip gloss on the windiest of days. Hats no longer require strategic planning. Divine.


img_4771

And naturally, a dramatically new style needs a new routine — and product lineup.I tried Biosilk’s Rock Hard Styling Gum (because it was on clearance for $5, and that’s what my stylist picked up for me) and it just … it was too sticky, and stiff, and smelly. (It’s a nice smell, it’s just intense.) The stuff was pretty good for hard spikes, but that’s not really my thing right now. If I ever decide to try a faux-hawk, I’ll use that.

So, when I’d had enough of the glueyness, I picked up a couple of men’s products at Target, because they were a) cheaper and b) something new and different. Old Spice Forge Molding Putty, and Suave Heritage Edition Classic Styling Pomade. And I’m liking them both. They leave my hair softer and less sticky, and I like the smells a bit better. (IS there unscented styling putty? For under $10 a pot/jar/bucket? You can tell this isn’t really my field.)

I also picked up some of that Moroccan Argan Oil everyone was raving about a while back — it’s surprisingly great. I’d put a bit on before my hair dried, and most days I wouldn’t need anything else at all.

But for when I wanted more, the other two things worked great. The putty is great for making my hair looking comfortably tussled and played-with. (I, with great self-restraint, will not make the obvious Old Spice Guy joke here.) The pomade gives more shine and sleekness, and more defined waves, if I work it through it when my hair’s mostly dry. I haven’t yet had the courage to try a sleekly slicked-down style — the 90s weren’t my best era, and that look seems very 90s eveningwear — but when I do try it, I’ll use the pomade.

In other news, I discovered that any makeup suddenly looked like lots of makeup. Smokey eyes were almost comical — even just a red lip and toned-down eyeliner was a lot of look. My go-to routine became just bb cream, brow mascara, lash mascara, lipbalm, and sometimes highlighter. Okay, writing it out, that’s still a lot of things, isn’t it? Hm. Well, it’s faster to do than to describe, I guess. (Another Old Spice Guy joke, Melissa? Really?)

So, that was the shag. I liked the style a lot, but life’s too short not to try everything, right? Or almost everything. After about a month and a half, it was time for a trim anyway, so I went for more of a short classic pixie this time.

img_5058

And yep, I like it, too. And strangely, I didn’t feel as mismatched wearing my more familiar, more “done,” makeup. Maybe it had to do with the texture, or overall shape; the pixie is cleaner-lined than the shag, and most of my usual looks were also higher-contrast — winged eyeliner, blood-red lipstick, and so on. Perhaps the casual looseness of the shag was contrasting too much.

Anyway, there they are — my new haircuts.

I DID IT!

40 pounds in 15 months! I did it! Sure, yeah, my goal was 45, but I aimed a bit high on purpose so that even if I didn’t reach it within my timeframe, I’d still have made a significant change. And I have.

Before | During | After
Before | During | After

I miss those black sandals. And as for the tres chic bandana, it was cleaning day, and I was growing out my bangs. And as soon as I brought that pink dress home, the Empress has been asking for us to have a Mommy-daughter princess dress date, so we did that yesterday. I would like to point out that not only is it a full — and pleated! — skirt, but it’s also very heavily textured, all elements I used to think of as off-limits because they just didn’t work on me.

I wasn’t, to begin with, all that fat. And I still don’t look all that skinny. I still fold and jiggle some, and need megaduty running bras. My hip bones aren’t visible; my thighs still touch. I still wear a large in a lot of things. But I feel good about my body for the first time — ever. Not perfect, but good. I think it’s rather telling that in the first two photos, which I took for profile/progress images for MyFitnessPal, I was literally in the closet with the door shut (the mirror’s on the inside of the door, but still). And for the “after” photo, I not only came outside, I even handed the camera to someone else. It’s a strange feeling asking someone to take my picture, when I’ve spent most of my adult life actively avoiding being photographed.

What worked:

  • Calorie tracking. I slacked off once I learned my normal meals’ calorie content, but when my progress stalled, I started up logging my food again, and it worked every time. How many things can you say that about?
  • Soylent. It’s not as glamorous as, say, pan-seared salmon with arugula or whatever, but it’s a tasty 400 calorie meal every time. And most important, it’s quicker, easier, and (sometimes) cheaper than drive-thru.
  • Yoga. 30 minutes, 3-4 mornings a week. Sometimes 40-45 minutes … but usually not. I YouTubed “strength yoga,” collected the ones that looked interesting into playlists organized by length, and picked one from the list each morning. I saved the ones I liked in a “Yoga — Favorites” list.
  • Timeframe, not pound/size goals. Instead of having an indefinite future of asceticism stretching out before me until I lost X pounds or could fit into X size, I gave myself a deadline. I’ll do these things for this long, I decided, and then I’ll accept the progress that results. Even if it’s not the specific pounds-lost target I’d had in mind.
  • Be hungry. Yeah, sometimes, you’re just hungry. Out of calories for the day, saving up for a big dinner, etc.; it sucks. A lot. This is why having a deadline was so important — it helped to remember hey, it’s only until mid-March; I can hang in there until then. Probably.
  • Be mindful about “free appetizers.” Sometimes I’d actually sit on my hands at restaurants until my food arrived, to keep from eating my weight in chips, salsa, and queso, or those wonderful steakhouse rolls. It’s so hard not to snack on them before your meal, and they turn a 500-600 calorie meal into an 900-1000+ one really quickly. (I invariably give up at Italian places, and go ahead and enjoy the bread and oil; it’s my favorite thing there.)
  • Re-read my favorite books. Yes, it is relevant. I’ve read that revisiting “familiar fictional worlds” can help bolster or replenish willpower, and I can use all the (free) help I can get in that regard. So the last few months, when it was harder to stay motivated, I re-read a few of my favorites and left my ‘to-read’ shelf (… shelves) alone for a while.

What didn’t work:

  • Breakfast. When I ate a full breakfast, I stayed hungry all day. When I skipped breakfast, or had just, oh, a grapefruit or an apple, it was easier to have a small lunch, minimal or no snack, and a lower-calorie dinner.
  • Adjusting calorie allowances with workouts. I’d overestimate the number of calories my workout burned, eat that much more, and still be hungry. So I’d eat even more. Then I wouldn’t lose any weight, and I’d be sad. So — learning! — I stopped. I also looked for workouts that didn’t make me quite as ravenous. Now that I’m focusing on maintenance, I hope to start stepping up the intensity of my workouts — I’ll [try to] keep you updated on how that goes.
  • Totalitarian prohibitions. “Diets” of absolutism just piss me off. The &!%# you mean, no bread? No dessert, no alcohol? Kiss my shrinking ass. I’ll have a scotch or (and) a slice of cheesecake if I want, thankyouverymuch. If I need to eat salad* with no cheese** and no croutons*** for the next two meals to rebalance, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.
  • “Motivational” images. Delete the thinspiration pinboard altogether — stop looking at fashion mags, sighing, ‘ah, once I’m thin’ — no. Put down the Pin It button and step away from your monitor for a while. Forgo magazines and Pinterest, fashion Tumblrs, etc. altogether if you need to. I did. Your body’s not shaped for clothes or cameras — it’s shaped for staying alive. (Aaaaaaand now that’s going to be stuck in my head all day.) It’s also conveniently shaped for experiencing the world! Look around; drink it in. Look, especially, at what beautiful things humans like us have made when they weren’t spending every waking moment thinking about how they looked. Stunning architecture. Exquisite gardens. Shiny Ferraris. Whatever. I think we should look out from our bodies a lot more than we look at them.

What happened:

  • 40 pounds lost (at least, since I didn’t weigh myself until I was already down a size or so).
  • Size 16 to size 8/10 (though being between sizes still sucks, unfortunately, in a very first-world-problems sort of way).
  • Strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility have improved a whole lot (but I haven’t taken any objective measurements of them, either before or after, so I can’t say precisely how much).
  • Still parenthetically qualifying my statements (though I haven’t — obviously — tried too hard to break myself of that).

What now:

  • Look at more shiny Ferraris, obviously.
  • Focus more on performance — how many pushups/situps/lunges can I do now? How far, how fast can I run and bike? Let’s inch those upwards, a little at a time.
  • Accept that my body will keep changing from now on, responding both to my actions and also to things I cannot begin to understand, let alone control.
  • Read new books!

*I actually really like salad. But I like, you know, snobby salads. Multicolored arrangements of things like dried figs, zucchini ribbons, toasted capers, and so forth.

**Why do restaurants put gummy shredded cheese on every salad these days, by the way? I mean, don’t get me wrong, cheese is lovely — good cheese is lovely — but seriously? Shredded american to fancy up a limp iceberg salad? I don’t think so.

***All croutons are not created equal, either. Naturally. Good ones add a beautiful and delicious layer of texture to a salad; sub-par ones just make them more caloric.

 

 

(Ah-ah-ah-ah-stayin’-aliiiiiiiiii…)

Movies, Fandoms, Pretension, Catsuits

Pretentious Sadsack Film Critic Snobbery. It’s just getting under my skin right now in a way that snobbery in general* has yet to do.

Sadsack Film Snobbery is where the critical acclaim of a movie or TV show is directly proportional to how emotionally brutalized you feel for watching it. It’s the entertainment industry version of clapping in someone’s face so you can despise them when they blink.

I do like unflinching, brave, disquieting movies — sometimes. I’m glad filmmakers are making them. I’m glad moviegoers are seeing them. But I’m not always up for them. And the idea that complex, unpleasant questions should be left alone unless they’re in a movie that’s painful to watch — what seems to be the functional result of incessantly crying up the brutal ones and panning the enjoyable — sucks. It disregards the legitimacy of the needs that send many people, including myself, to the fun movies. As a moviegoer, it often means you have to choose between relevance and enjoyability. And as a critic — or storyteller — it substitutes feeling smugly superior for doing much actual good. (This is my main quarrel with most snobbery — it’s a tacky way to feel better about doing very little.)

I, as you’ve probably gathered, can get worked up about more social issues than is, perhaps, strictly healthy. Not everyone does. That’s okay. As an aspirant storyteller, I want my work, someday, to make a dent in them. Some of them. A little dent, at least. Not everyone does, and that, too, is okay. In that pursuit, it’s not the handful of people who want to dive into thorny truths and find a way through them that I’m out to convince. (Or whose awareness I want to raise, or whose inertia I want to challenge, or however you want to put it.) It’s the people who — for real, significant, valid reasons — turn to stories purely to have a good time.

I have to remind myself, different people view movies differently. They watch for their own reasons, and respond to different things. Those who watch movies for a living often enjoy very different things than people who watch to escape their lives for a couple of hours. (Particularly when those lives contain real versions of the on-screen suckiness the Sadsack Snobs are so smugly brave enough to watch.) Or who just want to use a clean restroom and sit still in the air conditioning. Or to spend two non-combative hours with the people they care about but have very little in common with, or to see beautiful people fighting each other in catsuits. Whatever.

All of these people, with all their reasons and needs, have something to contribute to the giant looming problems that threaten our actual world. If enough of us get together and keep working at it, we really can do something about most, perhaps all, of them. (What? I like hero stories. The language resonates with me.) But pretending that movies that discuss those problems have to be brutally raw — to be unpleasant to experience — in order even to be worth watching widens the divide between People Who Give A Damn about them and People Who Don’t.

By elevating inaccessibility into a for-its-own-sake value, influential critics encourage filmmakers to make less accessible movies about more important things — but even that’s not the problem, exactly. Those movies are great, and important, and valuable, and so on. They should be made. They should be seen. The problem is, filmmakers are also making fewer accessible movies about those important things. Sadsack Snobbery’s functional result is to steer audiences — and thus studios and storytellers — away from taking on difficult ideas at all in the fun, light, comfortable movies.

The number of fun-to-see movies about difficult-to-think-about things is dwindling. And since those are the movies I most like to see, that … okay, it’s kind of anticlimactic, but it really makes me sad.

 

*I myself am a snob about some things. I won’t wear ugly shoes, for instance (… unless they’re for running or hiking. Or, you know, keeping your toes from getting mangled on a construction site…). I despise ketchup as a travesty of the exquisite (if unrefrigerated) tomato. I dislike cheap polyester. (But not all polyester. Some of it’s actually quite nice these days. I mean the scritchy, bouncy, rubbery stuff …)

I’m apparently a snob about qualifying my snobberies.

11 Unillustrated Reasons I’m Cutting My Hair Tomorrow

“It’s just — M’s hair was the only pretty thing about her. Why’d she cut it off?” my (ex-)friend P scoffed. I didn’t know M well (and of course she was not present); we’d hung out maybe twice before I left for my new school? Something like that. She had had gorgeous hair when I’d last seen her, though — long, loosely curled, creamy blonde, Victoria’s Secret kind of hair — but … so? It was her hair, after all. Why shouldn’t she cut it if she wanted?

It was a few years after P’s and my elementary school falling out — after I transferred schools largely because P and her new, improved friends were so (inexplicably, to my fourth-grade mind) painful to be around, and impossible to avoid, that I couldn’t do my schoolwork.

Which my parents were not having. Trouble with school kids was one thing; trouble with schoolwork was something else entirely.

After I found my feet elsewhere, P’d gotten back in touch and invited me to her birthday party. Sixteenth? Eighteenth? Disappointingly nondramatic, from a storytelling point of view. She and her newest crop of everyday friends — P & Co. — listened to the same Goo Goo Dolls song on repeat the entire night. There was probably cake. I chatted with her mom and younger siblings, whom I’d missed quite a lot more than P.

Of all the words — poisoned and not — that we traded over our friendship, the only ones I clearly remember were those she said about M’s hair at the birthday party.

It goes through my mind every time I change my own hair.

Because — I’m sure this comes as no surprise — M was, according to the infallible metrics of Seventeen-magazine-model-comparison, fat. Even more than I was. Not obese, not unhealthy, just outside of the ubiquitous silhouette of “normal” skinny prettiness with which we’re all inescapably familiar. Which was also interesting, in a more analytical way, because P’s mother was (according to the adult version of the Seventeen-metric) overweight, too. I’m sure there’s lots to delve into about reactionary body-shaming and familial patterns of self-hatred and whatever else, but that’s not my point right now. My point is that, for a disappointing number of people, having long, labor-intensive hair is often seen as a sort of recompense for one’s visual deviance from cultural norms of beauty.

And, anticlimactically,  that’s just crap.

And the trouble is, even knowing it’s crap, it’s very difficult crap to escape.

After my son was born and I found new depths of corporeal self-loathing amid my vivid new stretch marks and aching, swollen milk machines, I decided to grow it out. And took up running for a while, and ate a lot (a lot) of salad, and put some more effort into what I wore, and figured out how to do my makeup at long, long last, and could finally — for the first time, and at enough of a distance — pass for one of the pretty girls. The P & Co’s.

Then had my daughter, and am having to do it all again, but I kept my hair long that time. (Learning? Or more successfully assimilated?) I do look nice with long hair. With my compensatory long, labor-intensive hair. And even there, I’m luckier than many — it’s quite obliging, as hair goes. When I straighten it, it stays straight; if I do waves or curls, even no-heat ones, it holds its shape. It takes color well. It’s not particularly damaged. It’s … it’s inoffensive.

But I’ve always loved short styles better. On other people, and even (most of the time) on myself. The visual drama, the distinctness. The practicality. The constant changes as it grows and you adjust (and adjust and adjust) the shape. I’ve had long hair for three years, and I want to change it now. That, of course is the main reason — because I want to.

But there are a few other reasons, too, or perhaps reasons behind that reason. And I thought I’d share them, or at least record them, so that when I’m looking at myself in the mirror next week and missing my long, beautiful hair, I’ll remember why I did this. Reasons such as:

  1. The Acrobat has a habit of yanking my hair out, sometimes by the handful, when he’s stressed. He’d stopped for a while, but it’s coming back. He’s making some astounding progress in other areas, trying new foods, using the potty, enjoying messy-sensory activities like play-doh and slime … but he’s also seizing my hair whenever he’s upset and I’m in reach. And wrapping his hands in it, and twisting it as tightly as he can, and … it hurts. I know that short of buzzing it off (no) there’s no getting around all of that, but a little bit of relief sounds pretty nice.
  2. My hair’s really heavy and hot, especially when I sleep. Long, straight, thick, dark — I go out in the sun and suddenly have an electric blanket on my head. Not fun come August, it turns out.
  3. It clogs sink drains, shower drains, vacuums, etc. Perhaps I should sell it as a housekeeping sabotage kit. People buy stranger things.
  4. It takes upwards of 45 min. to style (more with washing time) when I wear it straight. And then on days I wear it wavy, I have to think ahead the previous morning and wash, braid, pin, keep from playing too rough all that day, sleep in it, and then take out the next morning — and then it will PROBABLY look okay. The waves might be well-placed, could be reasonably-sized, and probably won’t look too dry and unkempt. And then if not, into a messy bun it goes, never to be seen again.
  5. Speaking of which, messy buns are just getting kind of old. As are pinned-up braids. Not on other people, of course — Other People’s Updos are usually adorable. It’s just that I’m not enjoying my own much anymore. I wear my hair up more often than not, even when it’s cold out, mostly to keep it out of my way and safe from the Acrobat. And it’s just … boring. (And finicky. It’s a fine line between beautifully mussed and no, really, what is that on her head? About as thin a line as the one between sleekly smooth and Frau Blücher.)
  6. When I do wear it down, it looks dry, dull, & frizzy — straight or wavy — without a truly daunting number and quantity of products. All of which are heavily scented, of course, so I waft around all day craving mangoes or on constant guard against bees trying to pollinate me.
  7. Speaking of products, I blow through more expensive shampoo and conditioner than you can shake a stick at — I’ve tried cheap shampoos, and they invariably turn my hair into mouse-brown shag carpet. Which is weird, because my hair actually isn’t mouse brown. (I’ve tried the No Shampoo thing, too. In a word, no.)
  8. I don’t wear my many beloved hats because they’d ruin tomorrow’s hair. In fact, my hair schedule is influencing, to some degree, virtually all of my clothing and accessory choices, and even some activity choices. Boo to that. Boo.
  9. I hate going swimming because it messes it up, no matter how I’m wearing it, and then my hair reeks of chlorine and I feel ill the rest of the day.
  10. That’s also why I hate going to smoky bars, greasy-spoon diners, or onion burger joints. (Though health-and-wellness-wise that’s probably not a bad thing.) My hair catches the scent and then I have to wash it three times just to come up for air. Both drat and bother. Again, I know this will still be the case as long as I have any hair … but surely it’ll be less of a problem when it’s shorter. Surely?
  11. And finally — related to the above — because washing my hair easily triples my time in the shower.

So yeah, there you go. My appointment’s set for tomorrow. Wish me luck. (If you want, that is. I’m sure you have lots of other excellent things to wish for, and I probably don’t need that much luck for a haircut. Unless my stylist moves to Fleet Street and starts singing all the time. But that’s hardly likely.)

NBT: Biking

I love biking. We-ell … okay, I love the idea of biking. Especially commuting by bike — bikes as transportation, rather than solely for recreation. It’s the most energy-efficient form of transportation yet devised! ((Roughly every other article I’ve read about bikes, biking, bike baskets, commuting by bike, ebikes, biking in heels, the various competing schools of helmet usage thought — even things only tangentially related to biking — mentions this fact. I think it’s some kind of secret code within the cycle chic cartel.)

Because (of course) I love the aesthetic. Bicycles are so sleek and lovely! They come in pretty colors!

And you can have a basket! And put flowers in it! Or — even cuter — puppies! (Wait, why would you? That seems like a bad id– but who cares; it’s on Pinterest! So people must do it!)

I also love biking’s benefits. It’s environmentally sustainable! It strengthens your largest muscle groups! And lots of smaller ones, too! Cardiovascular health! Lots of Vitamin D!

Etc., etc.

But I don’t love the hassle and the in-crowd snobbery — the I-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-on-a-Schwinn, big-box-store-bikes-are-the-scourge-of-humanity, I-hate-all-these-poser-hipster-fixie-brats (and so forth) bike forum snobbery. I’m too old for high school, guys. I was too old for that sh*t even in high school.

And to be honest, I don’t much love the sweat.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with sweat. I’d far rather be able to regulate my body’s temperature through automatic processes than not. But … it’s hot in the summer here. People-dying-of-heatstroke hot. Also, we live in a very sprawl-y iteration of suburban sprawl, so getting around without a car is a heck of a time commitment. Spending that much time outside doing nothing is bad enough; spending it pedaling furiously and dodging potholes is, of course, much worse. No matter where you’re commuting to, you’re going to show up looking and smelling a bit worse for wear than if you take an air-conditioned car.

So on the upside, biking is: pretty, responsible, healthy, pretty, economical (potentially — sure, you don’t pay gas, but it’s not like people just give you those basket puppies. And floaty floral dresses. And what about sunscreen? Oh, right, and the bike itself. Bikes are not cheap. Especially if you listen to the big-box-brands-are-the-scourge folks). And it’s also pretty. Did I mention that already?

On the downside, sweat, time, money — the basic downsides to most pursuits, really. But you already know I’m giving it a go. So the question is, how to actually bike more, now?

  1. Only bother taking the Cantankerous out in the blissfully perfect weather I apparently require; glance at her wistfully as I get into my car the other three hundred and fifty days of the year. It’d still be more than I’ve done thus far.
  2. Go full spandex. Padded undies, clipless (?) shoes, etc. Start giving unsolicited status updates of my bike miles for the week. In addition to my new lovely cruiser, I have a hand-me-down road bike from the early 90s that I must conclude was an Inquisitor in its last life, considering its glee in torturing me, wrists and back and unmentionables; maybe I’m just not riding her right, or she’s not adjusted correctly. Maybe it’s a thing that gets easier with time. Tough it out; this is the way grownups bike around here, after all. There must be something to it.
  3. Eat that elephant one bite at a time. Go for a short trip (on either the Inquisitor or the Cantankerous) as often as I can, but don’t sweat it if I can’t. Put the Empress on the back (I’ve done this twice so far; she thought it was the Best Thing Ever) and go for a spin around the neighborhood. Go as far as I want, then back, then go farther the next time. Try a milk run; the grocery store is only two and a half miles away, for crying out loud. Get used to the weather — it can’t be that bad. Can it? (Though judging by this week, YES. Yes, it can. But still.)

I mean look, people do it. If they can, I can.

But … they don’t often do it here. That’s the thing. And I think the reason is more than just sweat and snobbery.

I was watching a video about the infrastructural changes a Netherlands city I’d never heard of has made over the past forty-odd years, changes that have resulted in 50-60% of the trips taken within it being made on bicycles. Fascinating stuff. (Look, normal people use the internet to watch porn. I watch discussions of municipal policy. To each their own.) My daughter caught some of the Groningen video with me; her wide-eyed comment was, “We can use our bikes to GO places!”

It brought me up a little short. Yeah … we can. Sort of. Maybe. I mean, practically speaking, we’d both need a lot more practice and strength (and sunscreen) but it’s possible. But changing the idea from me biking on the road to actually get somewhere to her doing it — even when she’s riding a bike not a trike, and is covered in Kevlar, and has a security detail — makes an enormous difference to me … because people are kind of scary. Around here especially. And it seems that most of the 4x4s on our shoulderless roads bear serious grudges against any vehicle without a motor.

There’s a meme I found while I was trying to decide how to illustrate this point — which I’m not going to post, because I have (privileged-person, pompous-sounding) issues with sharing photos of others’ victimization, issues which I’m sure I’ll belabor at some point — that’s a photo of a car smashing into a group of bikers, with bodies and bikes and water bottles flying in all directions. The captions are things like “OMG SO MANY POINTS” and “PUT YOUR SEATBELT ON I WANT TO TRY SOMETHING.”

I’ve joked about that kind of thing too, especially in my angsty teenage days. Movie and video game violence is fun, and often really funny. Largely because it’s fake. Also, humor is one of our safest refuges from an inhospitable universe. If you can laugh at something scary, like death, it has a little less hold on you.

But that image — the bike crash in the meme — wasn’t photoshopped; the driver pictured was passed out drunk at the wheel and cannoned into an amateur bike race. He killed a man named Alejandro and hurt ten other people. And I had to go to the second page of Google to find anything for the image other than “Crash Hilarity” or “LOL I hate bikers!”

I’m trying really hard to find a way to conclude this post light-heartedly, but I’m not coming up with much. I guess what I’ll do for now is bike in my neighborhood with my daughter — on either her bike or the back of mine — or take our bikes to a paved trail when I get around to it. I’ll save the biking-as-transportation experiments for when I’m on my own, at least for the foreseeable future. And just hope nobody’s feeling homicidal those days.

Goals, Schmoals.

They say not to share your goals. I can see it, though I rather suspect that it has more to do with the advisors being sick of hearing others’ goals all the dang time, but … that’s fine. So I won’t tell you my goals for the year. Instead, I’ll share some of my current interests — and some related questions I hope to answer in the coming months.

Biking! I bought myself a bike for Christmas. Well … sort of — it was a cooperative effort and gifted money, and required not one, not two, but THREE trips to another city to actually acquire. She’s quite cantankerous that way. So that’s her name: Cantankerous. She still needs a cleanup, and … bike-smart people … to give her a once-over, but she’s mine. I love her already.

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  • Question: Can I make it to, and back from, the nearest grocery store (or the second-nearest, the one with the cashew milk the Empress drinks) for milk/diaper runs without:
    • a) getting run over, by accident or on purpose?
    • b) collapsing in a wheezing heap?
    • c) running into anything myself?
    • d) getting my beautiful Cantankerous stolen?
  • Bonus Question: Er … how do you raise the handlebars? And aren’t the brakes supposed to work?

Building and Making and Sewing, oh my!

  • Question: Can I actually build those nightstands I cooked up? Er, can I build even one? And if I can, can I then build the dining room table?And will the table’s waterfall edge really look as snazzy as I hope? And will having a counter bench (oh, right, can I build that, too?) make up for losing that end of seating?
  • More Important Question: If I can build the table, how will it perform vis-à-vis pop-tart goo?
  • Sewing Questions: How do you sew with jersey knits? Do I want to make a dress form? How much sewing would I need to be doing to make that worth the time, money, and space? WHERE THE HECK DO YOU BUY THE PRE-PLEATED KNIT FROM MY FAVORITE SKIRT?! I mean, they had to get it from somewhere.

Fitness! I’m closing in! Well … sort of. I was closing in, until the #%^&$! holidays. I can accept that my progress stalled over the past few weeks, but enough is enough.

  • Question: Is my current plan of soup/salad/soylent for one meal per day, </= 1600 cal. total per day, going to be workable for my whole timeline, which is from now until the start of Spring? Should I lower it (1500? 1400?) or if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it? Will there be anything — anything — in my closet that fits at that point?
  • Bonus question: Are those muddy 5Ks as fun as they look?

Thoughts About Paris, and Elsewhere — A Freewrite

Hi, guys; sorry for the delay. I was sick this past week, and then I’m afraid after the international events of the weekend I really just didn’t feel like chatting about peg dolls or nightstands or outfit templates at all. I have (of course) some thoughts about the attacks of the last few days. And one from a good while before that. I often process my feelings best by writing about them (surprised?) so I thought I’d share a bit.

I turned twelve a month before Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City’s Federal Building. I didn’t know what happened until I got home; kids at school had said something about a bomb somewhere, but they talked about bombs and guns and machismo all the time anyway, so that was hardly unusual. I found out that evening, sitting between my parents in our dark living room, watching dusty, heartbroken people on the screen with the awful half-building looming behind them.

It was so … real. This didn’t happen in America — did it? It had now.

I think that was my moment — the moment I realized how real other peoples’ pain was. As real as my own. I knew everyone had feelings before then, of course, everyone mattered, but … I really hadn’t yet gotten a handle on the sameness. The oneness. That I was part of we all.

I realized it then. Whether here or in countries I couldn’t yet pronounce, whether they looked like me or not at all, whether our beliefs were anything alike … when strangers hurt, they hurt like I did. There were people I would never meet, who lived in places I would never see, who were just as scared, right then, as I was. Who were just as grateful that their parents were with them instead of being pulled in pieces from under broken concrete.

The Murrah Building Bombing wasn’t the only terrorist attack that year; far from it. There were twenty-five others around the world, in Sri Lanka, Russia, Algeria, and elsewhere. Pakistan. India saw FIVE bombings that year.

But the one close to home was the one that made me ask, for the first time, where does this come from? Why had it happened? And — what on earth can I do? Rather than just grimacing — how awful! — and forgetting about it.

None of us begin our lives knowing that we are part of “everybody.”

That however much we differ, we have still more in common; that we are made of the same matter as every other human on (or off) the planet. And their experiences are as real, and matter as much, as our own.

And that we’re all in this together, like it or (apparently more often) not.

Sometimes we realized this so undramatically, or so long ago, that it FEELS like we’ve known it forever — but we really haven’t. Sometimes it changes us so dramatically that we forget — or try to — what we were like before.

And even when the idea of our connection with the rest of humanity has been seamlessly incorporated into our worldview for, like, ever, there is still more to learn — or unlearn, often quite uncomfortably. More internalized prejudices, more unexamined assumptions that we weren’t aware of or remotely prepared to wrangle. Layer after discouraging layer of them.

Recognizing our commonality with others is the beginning of that pursuit — not its end, by a long shot. And yeah, sometimes, that beginning is made when something truly awful happens too nearby to shove it to the backs of our minds.

I bet a lot of people are having that moment this weekend, following the attacks in Paris. Some may be asking, what else am I missing? What on earth can I do? Why does this happen?

If your moment was a while ago, it’s easy to feel impatient. “Yes, yes — but there’s so much else you really ought to be upset about! Look now, look closely at all these other tragedies! The ones you didn’t care about yesterday!” It’s easy to try to rush other people through it, because we need all hands on deck if we’re going to do anything about any of it.

And … of course we do need all hands on deck. (Okay, honestly, I’m not even sure we have the deck yet, metaphorically speaking. But once we have it, we’ll need everybody.) The world desperately needs as many empathetic, self-aware people as it can get. It needs people who recognize the humanity of others and are willing to work with, and learn from, and help each other. People who can look now, and look closely, at the tragedies that don’t get much airtime. And at why that is — including examining the systems of marginalization and oppression with which they are, or have been, complicit.

I’m pretty sure it’s our only way out of this hateful mess.

But we’re not going to get there like this — wasting this moment on shouting in each other’s faces that we’re not caring right.

Please. There’s plenty of grief and outrage to go around. Believe me.

Grieving for the casualties in Paris does not dismiss those in Cameroon, or the West Bank. Or Nigeria. Or any of the thirty-two other nations who’ve suffered terrorist attacks so far this year.

It seems to me that respecting each others’ grief makes us all stronger; policing or exploiting it only makes us weaker. Respecting someone’s grief gives them the space and safety to learn, to listen, to think new thoughts. To grow from there. Telling someone they’re grieving wrong takes all that safety away. So no learning. No listening. No new thoughts. Just defensive indignation.

Which is not to say we should simply “calm down” — about any of it. It’s okay to be outraged. It’s right to be mad — for instance — that someone whose moment happened today didn’t even see the tragedies yesterday. Because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Attacks in Africa or the Middle East are reported by much of the news media (of whatever stripe) and responded to (if at all) by the general public vastly differently than those in Europe or North America. They are. Undeniably. The reasons for that, at least the ones I know and suspect, are appalling … and addressable. The reasons that so many people never have their moment, or who only have it after so much of their life has past, are distressing … and addressable. And on and on.

But to address them, rather more of us have to be willing to give our assumptions a rest and really find the real answers to the question, what are all the causes? How do they work — and what can we do about it?

And for that to happen, more of us have to have that moment. So let’s not shout people down or turn them away because we got there first. Please?

200 Staples — Because @!*% Minimalism

Remember my 100 Staples? Well … I decided I would rather have a more comprehensive wardrobe checklist. A more flexible and adaptable one.

A bigger one.

And then I’ve been playing around on Polyvore putting together examples of each category, and outfits (like, a bazillion of them) built with items from the 200 Staples … it’s been pretty fun. I’ve also created a Pinterest board for it, too, because @!*% minimalism.

100 Garments & Shoes

100 Intimates & Accessories