Lacerations

Isn’t it strange how you can receive a thousand compliments, but it’s that one insult that sticks with you? I was thinking about one of those just the other day. I have no idea why this one possesses such a sharp, cutting edge for me when it was delivered by someone whom I never met face to face, but it’s a laceration that never quite seems to heal.

When I was in my early 20’s, I had just been brutally dumped by my boyfriend. I had long, thick, wavy hair at the time (I still think my hair is one of my best features), so in an effort to start afresh, I decided that it would be fun to get a curly perm. I wanted to curl that man right out of my hair, so to speak.

I’ve always been kind of a wash n’ wear type of girl, so doing something this elaborate was quite a departure for me. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Fortunately, out of sheer luck, I happened upon what I still think to this day was the world’s greatest hairdresser.

The perm she did made me feel transformed. Sadly, these things require maintenance, so I wound up seeing her many times in the next two years. And of course, while she worked her magic, we talked. I began to think of her as a friend.

It turned out that she had a son my age. She said we had a lot in common. He was as liberal as I am, and he was pursuing his dream to become a writer in a unique way. He was living in a tent in Denver in the winter. Not only was he writing about his experiences, but he was also saving a boatload of money so he could focus on his writing.

It sounded like a grand adventure, so I allowed that it might be fun to be pen pals. And besides, the perm hadn’t attracted a new boyfriend, and since I lived in conservative North Florida and was the only liberal (I thought) within a 500 mile radius, I was lonely. She gave him my address. We struck up a correspondence.

It was interesting, hearing how he lived, and what he did in his day to day. He really was a good writer, and could spin some fascinating tales. We did have quite a bit in common.

In those days before blogs, he wrote a newsletter which he distributed to his friends and family. I was soon added to the mailing list, and delighted in his exploits along with everyone else.

And then one day he wrote an entry about me. In it, he said, “My mom is trying to fix me up with a Florida girl. She tells me that this girl is not at all attractive, but that she is extremely intelligent and liberal. Thanks a lot, mom.”

Nothing quite like finding out that your hairdresser, the one who raves about how great you look while taking your money and giggling with you like a school girl, thinks you’re “not at all attractive.”

Nothing quite like having that put into a newsletter that is distributed to about a hundred other people. Even worse, having that be written by someone who knew it would be read by you. How callous.

I had an appointment with the hairdresser coming up. I decided to go. I sat in her chair. I looked her in the eye via the mirror as she babbled about how she was sooooo sorry and that her son had no right to say those things.

“You’re right. Neither did you,” I said. I left without getting the perm.

Needless to say, I never went back. It would have been too awkward. There would have been two elephants in the room. One named, “Your Son is a Jackass” and one named, “You Have Been Lying to My Face This Whole Time.”

Shortly after that, she left town. It was a shame, too, because I never found anyone else who could perm my hair without either drying it out like broom straw or making it look like a bird’s nest in a high wind.

But then maybe that had something to do with my altered self-perception. Hard to say.

Ever since, with a few brief experimental exceptions, I’ve pretty much stuck with the same tired hairstyle that I had in my high school yearbook. Yeah, whatever.

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Me, long after the perm grew out.

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Having Something to Say

It occurred to me recently that before you can be a writer, you must first have something to say. You have to have opinions and thoughts and ideas. You have to be good at explaining and/or describing things. You can’t be hesitant to speak your mind.

I’ve always had something to say. No doubt about it. Even when I would take those tests at school that are supposed to help you decide what career path to take, mine would always come out “writer” and nothing else. I mean, seriously, while my friends would have 5 or 6 suggested career paths, all I’d have was writer. (I strongly suspect bridgetenders are not even on the list of careers for those tests. Most people don’t even know we exist.)

My whole life I’ve been told that I have very strong opinions. But that was meant as an insult. As in, “Shut up, female, and leave the thinking to the rest of us.” People rarely accuse men of having strong opinions. And I would get that criticism from men and women alike, because a lot of women don’t realize how complicit we can be in our own oppression.

Well, I thank God for my strong opinions. Without them, this blog wouldn’t exist. And I’d be a heck of a lot less interesting.

Fortunately, I’m not the kind of person who expects everyone to share my opinions. People like that are insufferable (in my opinion). I don’t think I’m very good at pointing that out, though. It’s definitely something I need to work on. It never occurs to me that some people view opinions as coercion.

I don’t see opinions that way. I also don’t think of them as being right or wrong. Opinions are simply points of view. No two people will see things from the same angle. The world might be easier to live in if we did, but it would sure be monotonous.

If you want to be a writer, I urge you to get out there and experience life, and, yes, form opinions about those experiences. Listen and learn as much as you can. Be open to unique people, places and things. And most of all, don’t be afraid to express yourself, even if the whole world tries to shut you up.

oh-i-offended-you-with-my-opinion_-you-should-hear-the-ones-i-keep-to-myself

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Well, I Never!

I overheard someone say that the other day. I’ve probably heard it a thousand times in my life without really giving it much thought. But the fact is, never is a very long time.

You never… what exactly?

…heard anything so outrageous? Poppycock. We are living in an increasingly outrageous world. You may have blocked out the outrageous things you’ve heard in the past, but trust me, you’ve heard them, unless you were born in a bubble.

…have been so disappointed? Well, if that’s true, then you are luckier than the average person. People can and will let you down. Some people actually make a sport out of it.

…have been so insulted? Where have you been hiding, amongst the Stepford Wives? Life is messy and people can be rude.

I hate the phrase, “Well, I never!” because to me it seems like a get out of jail free card of sorts. It’s a way of expressing outrage without having to explain yourself. It’s like passing judgment without having to write the accompanying opinion. And worse yet, in my view, it’s a way to make you seem like a delicate flower, when, in fact, we’re all weeds.

There’s no shame in being a weed. Weeds have staying power. They persevere. They carry on. And they don’t wear their hearts on their weedy little sleeves.

Next time someone says, “Well, I never!” I’m going to respond, “Well, perhaps you should.”

 

Well I never

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On Being a Hot Mess

A Canadian friend of mine (waving hello to Sim) was telling me of his various health issues, and I replied, “You’re a hot mess!” Every once in a while my Southern comes out of my mouth. I can’t help it. He had never heard the phrase before, and had to look it up. (Which charmed me to the tips of my toes.)

Out of pure curiosity, I decided to look it up, too. I was really surprised at the wide array of definitions, and none of them seemed to fit the true depth of feeling that this phrase evokes. So what follows is my rambling explanation. (I’d probably be able to be more concise if I weren’t such a hot mess myself.)

First of all, hot mess is not, repeat, not an insult. It’s like saying, “You’ve got so much going on, your life is such a mess, that I don’t know how you function, and yet you do, and I admire that like crazy.” It’s like calling someone a “real piece of work” but stripping all the negativity out of it.

If I consider you a hot mess, I appreciate you. I am also commiserating with you, and laughing with you. Make no mistake, I wouldn’t want to be you, and yet I think I’ve got a whole lot to learn from you about your ability to cope.

When this phrase came into being, it was more a physical comment. It usually referred to those lucky few who could be all scruffy and sloppy and yet still look great. It can still mean that, but over time it has also evolved into a more existential statement about being able to live a complicated, disorganized life with a whole lot of style.

So, mad respect for all those hot messes out there! Welcome aboard! It may be a bumpy ride, but it’s an adventure!

hot mess

You’ve Got to Love a Backhanded Compliment

The other day someone said to me, “Honestly, you are not bad looking on a good day, and you are smart. A little hair care, enhancing make up…” Be still my beating heart. Consider my ego massaged.

There’s nothing quite like a well-meaning friend to reinforce your already piss-poor self-image, is there? This comment now knocks one out of first place that had been residing there for decades. I once told this guy, “You have such pretty eyes!” and he responded, “And you have nice… uh… teeth?” Sniffle. My dentist would be so proud.

I come from a family that values intelligence and education above everything. Therefore the compliments I got as I grew up were always related to my smarts, and I have a rock solid confidence in that realm. Looks? Not so much. I come from a family of women, and yet no one ever showed me how to apply that enhancing make up of which my tactless friend speaks. (In fairness, I never expressed any interest, either.)

But here’s a suggestion for all well-meaning friends the world over: If you can’t say something nice…LIE. How hard is that?

backhanded-compliment

[Image credit: underthebutton.com]

Who’s the Pig in this Scenario?

So, the other day I bent down to retrieve something, and heard “Look at the HAM HOCKS on this woman! Woo hoo!” Honestly. I know I have more than my fair share of junk in the trunk, but in what universe would anyone want their posterior compared to that of a pig? It was meant to be a lighthearted tease, apparently, and he was genuinely befuddled that I took it badly, but these things tend to stay with you, you know?

And less than 24 hours later I was at work and there were two electricians tearing out wires in the engine room below my feet with the hatch wide open, and I was treated to this conversation: “The problem with marrying young is that they’ll get this woman fat, you know? And then you don’t know WHAT you’re going to be stuck with.” “Well, I lucked out. My woman is like a fine wine. She only gets better with age.” I suspect this pair had never been in the same room with fine wine, and if they had been, they’d surely not have the self restraint to let it age.

Yup, women just love to be talked about as if we’re horseflesh. And the thing is, they knew I could hear them. Which makes you wonder what they’d have said if I weren’t there.

Through the years I have been treated to whistles and cat calls at construction sites, I’ve been called a “nice piece of a**”, and one time a doctor, while performing a breast exam on me, told me I reminded him of his girlfriend in college. I was 16 years old. The exam went from clinical to creepy in the space of a sentence. I never went back to that doctor again. Had I been older and more self-assured, the consequences for him would have been much more dire.

Don’t get me wrong. Women pile on, too. I’ve been told I’d be cute if only I’d do x, y or z. And when I learned my mother had cancer, within hours my face erupted in acne so severe I looked like pepperoni, and one of my coworkers said in front of a large crowd, “My God, you look horrible. What are you going to do about it?” What do you say to that? “Gee, I don’t know. Chop my head off?”

I suppose I could go off on a rant about how the media trains us all to objectify each other, but we’ve heard enough of that, frankly, and while I tend to agree, I think targeting the media is like chipping away at the tip of the iceberg, and I suspect this iceberg will be bobbing in our collective cultural sea for a long time to come.

So here’s a concept. Think before you speak.

thinking cap

(Image credit: just1littlething.com)