Monday, February 27, 2006

Elections and Parties

I signed up today to serve as an election judge, since I own my own business and can take a weekday away from work, and since I just adore participating in the substantive business of democracy. I woohoo'd after I voted in 2004, because it was the first time I'd voted NOT absentee, and I was psyched to get to go in the little booth and VOTE!

The county Election Commission asked, "Are you a Republican or a Democrat?"

"Neither."

"Well you have to be one or the other to volunteer."

"Um ... Democrat?"

I read up on the Election Commission and I understand that they want to ensure fair elections by having a strictly bipartisan staff of election judges, so there's no political-party monkey business. But I think that's the problem: it's strictly bipartisan. Minor-party voters apparently can't work as election judges unless they "declare" Republican or Democrat temporarily, and voters like myself, who are informed and excited about the issues, but disgusted with the two mainstream parties and feel alienated from both and so don't belong to a party can't judge unless we pick one.

Doesn't that seem a little out of whack?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Take It All Off, Baby!

My method of dealing with my hair is quite simple: I let it grow out until it's driving me nuts because it's too long, and then I lop it off about two to three inches too short and let it grow back in until it's way too long. This way, I don't have to mess around with maintaining "a cut" and whenever I cut it off, I take off six to eight inches at once and it feels like a whole new hairstyle, even though I've had basically the same hair since I was fourteen. When it's thick and curly, there aren't very many low-maintenance styles available. Lately my hair has been driving me crazy, because right after I lopped it to its "too short" length, which normally only lasts a month, my hair went into one of those phases where it just quits growing, so I've been battling with it being "too short" since October.

While cleaning out my documents folder, I ran across this essay I wrote in the summer of 2003, all about my self-identity and my hair, and how women's hair is so central to how they think of themselves. Without further ado, I share:

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Take It All Off, Baby!

For all of my life, I have had long, thick, curly red hair. I was born with red curls, and I’ve had them ever since. In my baby pictures I look like a young little orphan Annie, but very soon after my hair has grown longer and better tamed, largely because my mother, in all other ways an estimable woman, has dead straight hair herself and didn’t know how to care for curls. So we battled them into submission with a brush and tears, and that’s what I did with my hair for a good 20 years, hating it all the while.

I went through a brief short-hair period while I was in junior high school, when my mother – doubtless tired of my rat’s nest and the woes of curl-fighting – convinced me to cut it off into a cute little ear-lobe-length cut. Or it would have been cute, if my hair hadn’t insisted on curling every which way. I was supposed to blow it dry and curl the ends under with a curling iron, but it never seemed to work out that way. I spent most of high school with past-shoulder-length hair in headbands, and most of college with it in ponytails. It wasn’t until an accidental too-short cut made it hard to put in ponytails that I started wearing it loose now and then.

It wasn’t until much later in life that I read Curly Girl and had my curly hair epiphany, and began to love my hair, and take care of it properly, so that I had cascading curls rather than a frizzy mass of ... well, of something. I’ve only started to love my hair in the past five years, though it’s always been my most distinctive feature, inseparable from my image of myself.

You see, when you’re a red-head, that’s what everyone notices. If you wear a hat, your own family can’t recognize you in a crowd. No one else in my family has red hair, so my whole life I’ve been “the red-headed sister” and “that red-haired girl” and so forth. The Bible says a woman’s hair is her glory. Mine is not just my glory, but my trademark and my calling card.

So it was with very mixed feelings that I prepared for the execution that I myself had planned: The day I cut off all my hair. All of it.

A close friend of mine became pregnant and, for cultural reasons, would not be cutting her hair through the whole pregnancy. I cheerfully agreed to grow my hair out with hers, to ease her long-haired pain. Since graduating college, I’ve kept my hair to a boring cut between chin and shoulder length, which looks nice and professional and can still be easily pulled back out of my face. I hadn’t had it long a while, and I thought it would be fun.

Some months later, I realized that I finally had enough hair to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: Donate to Locks of Love, an organization that provides real human hair wigs to children with medical hair loss. You see, the Red Cross won’t take my blood because I’m some sort of “mad cow” risk (my husband will testify that while I may be given to fits of temper, I hardly qualify as a mad cow), and the National Marrow Donor Registry hasn’t yet contacted me wanting my bone innards. So that leaves me with only one other renewable bodily resource: my hair.

As the baby came due, I began telling everyone who would listen about my plan to cut my hair, hoping that if everyone knew about it, I couldn’t back out. Because, you see, as the day drew near, I realized I was absolutely and utterly terrified of cutting my hair.

I’m not a vain person. I wash my hair and let it air dry because I’m really too lazy to style it, I’ve never owned a blow drier, and I only wear make-up for special occasions. My nails are usually a mess and I’ve always got dozens of little dings and scratches on my legs from banging into things. Never bothers me. Most mornings I barely look in the mirror – if my hair falls into place without needing me to fuss extensively with the part, I don’t look in a mirror at all. But the thought of cutting my hair off made my blood run cold.

It seemed vain. Hair is only cosmetic. My hair is not who I am. But then – hair is not who these children are, either, the ones who get wigs from Locks of Love. Hair is purely cosmetic for them, too, but crucial (it seems) to their self-esteem. Is it vain, then, for my hair to be equally crucial to mine? I felt like because I was 25 years old, I ought to be old enough to give up my hair, to know better, to realize I didn’t need my hair to make me who I was. I heard tell just last week, in fact, of a friend whose 7-year-old niece announced her desire to chop off her long golden locks and send them to Locks of Love. (Most of Locks of Love’s donors are children.) Perhaps a child ravaged by disease and subject to playground teasing needs hair, but surely by 25 my self-esteem should be deeply rooted enough not to depend on my hair.

That’s the trouble, of course: I’ve gotten used to having hair for 25 years. I’m attached to it. It is part of who I am. Every picture of me is recognizable from my crown of red curls. The cut required to donate my full 10 inches will leave me with just three to five inches of hair on my head, when wet, half that when dry and corkscrewy. What if people laugh at me on the playground? What if I look like a boy with my hair chopped so short? What if I have a big red ’fro? What if I look like Little Orphan Annie?

Only two people’s opinions really matter, of course: mine and my husband’s. My husband said he was proud of me for donating it (which I believe), and he would love me no matter how short my hair was. I think he’s lying about the second part. It is was sort of lie a husband is supposed to tell, though, and I’m glad he did. He wasn’t sure he liked my super-long hair: It shed everywhere, and he told me I looked like pictures of myself from high school. (Apparently bartenders agreed: As it got longer, I got carded a lot more often.) Growing my hair seemed to be a quick and easy way to be ten years younger!

But the two most important questions about this undertaking still hung over me: Without my hair, will I still be a woman? Without my hair, will I still be me?

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Back to today:

I did lop it off and donate it, and it was REALLY short. I waited until after our summer visit to my grandfather's, because I didn't want to upset him - or my dad - with my shorn head. (Dads and grandpas, I've noticed, don't like to see their baby girls bald.) My husband went with to the beauty parlor, but I was fine. The hairdresser, on the other hand, cried the entire time she cut my hair off and tried to talk me out of it repeatedly. The woman was literally bawling that I was cutting off all my lovely hair.

It wasn't until later that night, when I got ready for bed, and automatically went to put my hair in a ponytail to sleep, only to discover it wasn't there, that I cried. I really did. I cried over my hair.

It made me think of a lot of things. It made me think of Jesus's admonition in Matthew: "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna." (Matthew 5:29-30). It made me think of the theologian Origen, who took this passage (or maybe Matt 19:12, it's unclear) quite literally, and who found that his penis was causing him to sin, leading him to have lustful thoughts, so he castrated himself. Cut it off. Was I a modern female Origen, cutting off what caused me the sin of vanity?

It made me think of Jo, in Little Women, who sacrifices her vanity by cutting off and selling her hair so her mother could afford the train ticket to visit her father, a Civil War chaplain, wounded and sick at the front lines. Could I be a modern Jo?

It made me think about women's hair, covered and uncovered, around the world, and standards of beauty that demand we wear it long at this age, and short at that, and that if we want to be taken seriously as a lawyer/doctor/beauty queen/mother, our hair must look like this. It made me think of the political operative in D.C. who told me I was obviously a democrat because I had "ethnic hair." The law school career services office went so far as to tell me not to bother interviewing until my hair was longer, straighter, and browner, because "law firms won't hire a woman with outlandish hair. It's much too short, and you really should tone down the color and flatten out the curls."

"I donated it to children with CANCER!" I burst out.

"Oooh, that's good," they said. "Make sure you mention that, it makes it sound like you care about other people."

I didn't come out of the experience with a lot more answers, but I did have a lot more questions, and a deeper understanding of them. I hadn't known before how infected I was by cultural ideas of beauty. I hadn't known how political hair - and beauty - was. I felt like I understood, a little bit, what it must be like for black women who are told to "look whiter" and informed they must have more caucasian hair to be acceptable in the business world. It's not like I was walking around with my hair dyed pink and sprayed up into a mohawk; my natural color, my natural curl, was deemed too "outrageous" for business. What God gave me? Not good enough for corporate America. I asked the law school Career Services what they preferred (I was morbidly curious and so waaaaay beyond offended). They suggested I have my hair permed straight, or with just a little wave, let it grow to about shoulder length, and dye it a dark brown. Blond, they said, would be okay if I were interviewing in trendier cities, like San Diego.

I thought a lot about vanity, which is an old-fashioned sin these days. I thought about how I could get a kick-ass sermon out of my hair-lopping (I was taking a preaching class in divinity school at the time). I thought about how odd it is that simplicity, plainness, naturalness, is not valued, unless it's the right kind of plainness. Some kinds of plainness are too showy; natural hair, natural skin, natural bodies, natural breasts - if they're not the right color, or size, or length, or shape, you're expected to change them, edit them until they're the "right" kind of natural. (And tall, naturally slim, straight-haired northern-European women with blond or brown locks are lovely. They're just, you know, not all the sizes and shapes and colors women come in.) It makes me appreciate, even more, Dove's "Natural Beauty" campaign -- which isn't just about not being model-perfect, but about women with freckles, or curls, or strong noses, or unorthdontured teeth.

Most of all it made me appreciate my husband, who wasn't lying: He really did think I was beautiful with short hair. And with long hair. And when I had the flu. And when I puked in his brand-new car once. If I learned nothing else, I learned that my husband is truly blind in love, and that is something to be treasured.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Donna Reed

I had a Donna Reed moment this afternoon, while making Devil's Food Cake and my specialty extra-fudgie frosting from scratch for Mr. McGee's birthday (he's 29 tomorrow). It was just so housewifely of me!

Except I don't think Donna Reed ever baked while rocking out to Candee Jay and Shakira on her iPod.

(This, in turn, makes me grateful that my kitchen windows don't face the street. I don't think my neighbors need to see me whip out my best Travolta moves when Gloria Gaynor comes on.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Answer Is No. No, Nein, Nyet, No.

So I'm minding my own business, sitting in my office, with my instant messenger program running in the background, which is a common practice for folks of my age. I run an emulator, which runs several programs at once, including ICQ, which I haven't actually used since law school, but which doesn't get hit with random spam so I let it run.

Some dude ICQs me, out of the blue, and asks, in Italian, "Can I see you naked?"

I responded with the vilest of vile Italian curses, "Va fa n'culo." (Dad, don't go look it up. But they taught me that language at Notre Dame. On your dime.) Normally I don't respond to that kind of thing, but it's so rare I get to use my extensive vocabulary of foul Italian, and it surprised me to have a random vulgar pick-up coming off ICQ.

So the dude ICQs back a plaintive, "Perche?" (why?) with a sad face! Like asking to see someone naked is a normal way to open when talking with a stranger!

Boy. Time to go make sure all my IM accounts are set to "approved buddies only." Sheesh!

Seriously Cold Feet

It is 22*F outside, and I just locked myself outside the house barefoot.

I am an IDIOT.

Sorry for the lack of substantive blogging lately. I've been busy bonding with my new dishwasher (I washed every dish in the house, just because I could), busy with work, and busy locking myself out of the house barefoot.

Everyone has to have hobbies.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Burp.

My Super Bowl-induced buffalo wing binge being over, I am back to "eating healthy," by which I mean "actively dieting." In the past it was mostly about, you know, eating whole grains and broccoli and other things my husband refuses to eat unless I find some way to add refined white sugar to them, but this time I'm actively dieting. My butt misses its favorite pants.

This is the first time in my life I've ever really tried to diet to lose weight, so it's a new experience for me, and I'm afraid I'm becoming very boring. All I think about is the food I'm not eating and how hungry I am, so that's all I want to talk about. And blog about, apparently. It doesn't get bad until midafternoon, at which point my body is so desperate for me to start mainlining dairy products that I start threatening to gnaw on my husband and/or the cats if they don't stay out of my way. (Hunger makes me cranky.)

Part of the problem is my body only has two settings: "Finished eating within the last 90 minutes and nicely full" and "Ravening bear just awoken from hibernation." I'm either just done eating, or I'm so hungry I feel like I might faint. There's no in-between, and certainly no gradual building of hunger that says, "Hm, I should make dinner." No, my entire life I've gone straight from "La-dee-dah, life is good" to "OH MY GOD SHOVE SOMETHING DOWN MY GULLET NOW MY ORGANS ARE EATING EACH OTHER AND I'M GOING TO DIE." This leads to bad food choices.

The most interesting part of dieting, though, is that I'm suddenly burping all the time. I have NEVER been capable of burping, even when I really NEED to burp. I tried for years to learn, from my brothers, how to burp on cue by swallowing air. I just gave myself a stomachache. Even when I do let loose a burp, it's always tiny and inaudible. Now, suddenly, I'm burping every 30 seconds. Audibly. Constantly. Sometimes impressively. I googled "diet burp" to find out about this phenomenon (because I believe google has the answer to all things), but all I got were results on eliminiating things from your diet to stop your burping problem. Nothing about eliminating food from your diet STARTING a burping problem. So I guess I'm the first. Hopefully other dieters in the world who burp while dieting will google "diet burp" and discover my blog entry and know that THEY ARE NOT ALONE.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

How to Irritate Salesmen

I finally went dishwasher shopping yesterday, so Friday I will have a new dishwasher after only two and a half months and two major holidays of washing dishes by hand. My dad mentioned this was probably character-building -- he thinks anything old-fashioned is character-building -- and I responded it was also marriage destroying because one of us (the one with a Y chromosome) stacks dishes in the WRONG SIDE OF THE SINK.

I was approached by no less than three salesmen. The first one came up, asked if he could help, and I said, "I'm looking and thinking right now, I'll call you when I'm ready," and he laughed and said, "In other words, give you space." He proceeded to do just that. (Ergo HE got my commission, nice boy.) The other two kept trying to hover over me like bees over a field of really pollen-y clover, and would not go away merely because I told them I didn't want help. One of them my tone got all the way to "snapping" before she took the hint and buggered off.

Conveniently for me as a procrastinator, the February issue of Consumer Reports had a feature on dishwashers, so I was looking at different models and comparing them to the ratings in CR. (Just imagine, if I hadn't put off shopping for dishwashers for so long, I would have had slightly out-of-date dishwasher data!) The first salesman (the one who got my commission) looked at CR with me, told me what he thought about their ratings, which dishwasher his grandma had, etc. Nice boy.

There were these two ladies also looking at dishwashers and asking a different salesman which one was the quietest. He was pointing them towards a top-of-the-line, $1200 Bosch. They kept asking if there were any others that were quiet, and he kept insisting the Bosch was what they wanted if they wanted quiet. I said, "Oh! You can look at my Consumer Reports if you want! They have noise ratings on them!" The ladies were delighted and started perusing the ratings, while the salesman stared daggers at me. I think he actually wanted to throw me out.

He said, "It does say the Bosch is the quietest, right?"

"Well, it says the Bosch is one of the quiet ones," I replied, "but it says it has terrible and expensive repair problems."

If retail murder were legal, he probably would have killed me right then, when the women moved on to a nicely quiet and far less-expensive Amana. (I probably should not go back to that store for a while.) Just more proof that capitalism actually hates informed consumers. What advantage do inferior manufacturers and salesmen have if consumers know things about the product and aren't brainwashed by marketing??? How is it fair to ask them to make quality products and sell them at a reasonable price while being truthful about their features?

But regardless of angry lying salesman-man, whom I appear to have cost a large commission, I've got a Whirlpool with adjustable racks (adjustable racks!) arriving on Friday. My marriage is saved!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Super-Weekend Tidbits

Far and away the best Superbowl commercial was the Bud Light magic fridge commercial. That was HILARIOUS. Most people seem not to have liked the Burger King dancing ingredient girls, but I thought it was kinda funny, particularly how when they landed on the patty they'd all grunt. It was just surreal, and surreal makes me laugh. I also liked the streaking sheep for Budweiser and I thought the FedEx cavemen were hysterical, primarily because a dude getting smushed by a giant elephant foot will get me every time. (Note that I do not, however, intend to ship with FedEx just because they made me giggle. They're still utterly incompetent, totally unresponsive, and obviously untrustworthy with important documents.)

The worst ones, I thought, were GoDaddy and ESPN Mobile. GoDaddy's was just LAME. ESPN Mobile's made me SAD, and made me NOT want the product. Here's this guy walking through a world where incredibly cool things are going on all around him, basketball games and gymnastics and skateboarding and baseball ... and he's just walking along, staring at his phone, totally oblivious to the wonder around him. So engaged with his tiny digital world on the 2" screen that he can't see the amazing REAL world that's literally turning backflips to get his attention. If Camus wanted to write a scathing indictment of modern human disconnection from one another and the emptiness of the human soul in the telecommunications era, HE WOULD HAVE MADE THAT COMMERCIAL. ESPN obviously needs to hire a few more liberal arts grads who could let them know that their commercial was alarmingly off-message. Frankly, the commercial almost made me want to get rid of ALL my mobile telecommunications technology and re-engage more fully with the world.

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I finally saw The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I thought it would be a pretty vulgar movie, which isn't really my thing; I don't do gross-out humor, so I didn't think Something about Mary was as funny as the other 99% of America seemed to. Now, Virgin was pretty vulgar in that it used the big-daddy F-word every three words and discussed sex acts so dirty that I had to go look them up on wikipedia despite having been in high school and college during the Clinton era.

But overall, it was a really sweet movie. I felt uplifted when it was over! The virgin himself is a big-ass geek, but he's humanized, he has nice qualities and an inner life and he stays true to that while he learns from his oversexed friends how to get women. And the oversexed friends who initially pity him come to appreciate him as well and learn from HIM. The characters were incredibly well-rounded for a movie that made me laugh so hard I actually pulled a muscle in my back.

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The cats are now fixated on hotwings. Not just the chicken part, but they both deliberately lick at the spicy covering part. We generally let them sniff around some of the bones when we're done, sometimes they pick off some bits of chicken, but at some point they tasted the hot sauce and now they seriously are ready to climb up us to get to our hotwings. One tried to stage a stealth assault on the table where the hotwing box was sitting. Every time I open the fridge to get a drink, they both come galloping and try to get IN THE FRIDGE at the hotwing leftovers.

I'm not sure if this says something alarming about my cats or about my hotwings.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

No Brassica!

Mr. McGee and I are planning our spring garden, which will for the first time this year feature actual vegetables. We're super-excited about this undertaking, so we spend a lot of time flipping through gardening catalogs, looking at the freakish things people can do to vegetables, like turn carrots purple. And turn potatoes purple. And turn tomatoes purple. Basically, turn anything edible purple.

So we're watching American Idol and flipping through catalogs, and Mr. McGee leans over and shows me a tender, tasty-looking veggie named "Asian Greens." I agree this looks yummy -- and then I catch a glimpse of the scientific name.

"THAT'S A CABBAGE!" I shout at him. "You can't fool me! That's a CABBAGE! NO CABBAGES!"

"What? That's an 'Asian Green,' not a cabbage," says a puzzled Mr. McGee.

I have read so many gardening books that I have now learned by osmosis that the scientific name of the cabbage family is Brassica, and this plant was called Brassica Something-or-other. "NO BRASSICA!" I reiterated in a frantic voice wholly unsuited to the discussion of hypothetical vegetables.

"What the hell is brassica?"

"Cabbages! CABBAGES IS BRASSICA!" (said in the "soylent greens are people" voice of the wholesale terror that comes only from terrible, terrible knowledge of the truth.)

Brassica is tolerable in flower format (broccoli and cauliflower) or in root/bulb format (kohlrabi and rutabaga), but the leaves of brassica are DISGUSTING, whether they're cabbage or bok choi or kale or collards. Kale is moderately tolerable when it's a) thoroughly wilted and b) mixed in a dish where it comprises no more than 1/3 of the dish and there is liquor involved (either in the dish itself or in me eating it). But that is the ONLY circumstance under which the leaves of brassica are edible.

So no. NO BRASSICA LEAVES in my garden, no matter what pretty names they give it. "Asian Greens" my ass. That's a CABBAGE.

(And I bet you didn't know that rutabaga, kohlrabi, turnip, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, bok choi, brussels sprouts, rapeseed oil, canola oil, mustard greens, and, yes, cabbage all come from more or less the same plant. Kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbages, and kohlrabi all actually come from the same species, Brassica oleracea. Also, you should go buy kohlrabi because a) it's tasty and b) it looks like alien food which practically guarantees your children will eat it.)