May 2008 Archives

Why I HATE Going to the Hair Salon


To paraphrase Dorothy Parker: I hate getting my hair done. I love it when it's done.

I like how I look with a nice, recent, even haircut. I like how I look when all my gray hair becomes the same color as the rest of my hair. I like how I look when strands of hair framing my face are highlighted a nice caramel color.

But I HATE the process of having it done.

There are several reasons for this.

I have an absolute horror of cold feet, perhaps, because as my acupuncturist constantly reminds me, I am particularly prone to them. "Your feet are so cold!" she'll say, feeling my toes before sticking a few needles in them. "You must remember to keep them warm."

It's counsel I don't need. When I was young I always wore socks or footsies in all but the warmest months (which admittedly constitutes about half the year in Arizona). Living in Taiwan gave me an aversion to walking around the house without some sort of substantial slipper or flip-flop on--the second you walk into someone's house, including your own, you're expected to remove your street shoes and don "two syes," or "escape shoes"--so it's rare that I go unshod, even inside. If it's under about 85F, I have slippers on; if it's under 75F, I have on slippers and a pair of socks; if it's under 50F, I have on slippers and TWO pair of socks.

This makes it hard to paint my toenails, though I really enjoy a nice pedicure. Because not only do I have to take my socks off to paint my toenails, I have to leave the socks off long enough for the polish to dry. And if you apply multiple coats--and I often do, because that one-coat stuff doesn't usually work--that can take a long time.

At one point this past winter I tried cutting the toes off a pair of socks that already had holes in them, so that only my toes were exposed for painting; everything else could stay warm. It worked OK-ish, in that my ankles felt fine, but my toes got VERY cold.

So it's a big deal when it's finally warm enough for long enough that I can paint my toes in relative comfort. And that happened over this weekend, though after two nice days, it got crappy again. It was a pleasure to wake up this chilly, dark damp morning and see the shock of bright color on my very neat, nice toes, particularly since I have lovely (albeit large) feet, even if I do say so myself. It's one reason I like pretty shoes so much: they flatter one of the nicest parts of my body.

I would include a photo of what my toes look like, but I've already done it here.

Stop and Smell the Lilacs

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Over the weekend I complained to a friend about some problem that's causing me anxiety and frustration. "I'm going to give you the standard cliched advice," she said. "You know: take one day at a time, and stop and smell the roses."

"Roses aren't out yet," I said. "I can't stop and smell them. Lilacs are doing pretty well right now, though, and I always stop to smell them."

I wasn't kidding, either. I love lilacs. I do my best to smell every single lilac I can find, because the sad truth about lilacs is, the blossoms are intensely beautiful to look at and to smell, but they don't last all that long, so you've got to sniff 'em while you can. Walking is one of my main forms of exercise; one particular route I often follow has several lilac bushes along the way, and I stop to enjoy each and every one I encounter.

I've noticed two things while doing this: 1) Some people seem to think it's really weird and roll their eyes at me, as if I've done something vulgar or indelicate. 2) Plenty of other people do it too--thank god, I might add, because it shows that it's not so very weird for me to smell a lilac, and also because it's really pleasurable and I don't think I should be the only one to enjoy this pleasure. A week or two ago, I turned a corner one evening to approach a yard that boasted two enormous lilacs, one white and one more, well, lilac-colored, only to see that the lilacs were already being sniffed. This couple had split up so that each of them could smell one of the plants. I slowed down, because although I have no hesitation about doing this myself, in public, somehow I'm shy about doing it in public with strangers. But as soon as they walked on I head straight to the bushes and smelled each one.

I got tired of relying on other gardeners for this pleasure, so a few years ago I planted my own lilac, past the corner of the garage, where I can still see it from the porch. I walk out and smell it a couple of times every day. I suppose I could cut a few stalks and bring them inside, but I rather like to leave flowers on the plants that produced them. It seems selfish to cut them. After all, they last longer if they're uncut, and then the garden as a whole is this pleasurable thing, not just for me but for others who see it.

Anyway, until we find a way to transmit smell over the internet, you'll have to settle for a visual depiction of my lilac, taken this morning.


About two weeks ago, I posted something on What Literary Critics Actually Do, saying I'd follow up on the topic because I had more to say. I actually have said more; I wrote a couple more blog entries; I just haven't gotten around to posting them.

But turns out there's no real need to explain what it is I as a literary critic do, because I have followed the author (which I also sort of am, in a non-Foucauldian sense), and died.

That's right, the literary critic is dead. And who killed her? Cultural studies, that evil creation of second-rate thinkers and writers tired of being considered second-rate! This according to some British academic named Ronan McDonald. Though, according to a discussion on Salon, bloggers have to be blamed as well, because their democratic impulse, their arrogant assumption that their preferences in literature should matter enough to them to express them from time to time, have helped keep her dead. Oh yeah, I've also been told a time or two that Oprah helped as well, with her book club, getting publishers to paste a sticker on some books and not others, so that the sticker-bearing books are seen as special when they might not really be. Naughty cultural studies! Naughty bloggers! Naughty, naughty Oprah!

I admit, I haven't read the book announcing all this, The Death of the Critic by Ronan McDonald. All I've read is the blurb on Amazon, which reads

McDonald argues that crowing blog-based citizen opinionistas, triumphant over shrinking print media coverage of books are simply kicking a dead horse; the lit critic, it seems, was killed already by the an out-of-control sense of cultural relativism, which has over the 20th century wormed its way into literature programs, engendering artistic and aesthetic relativism. McDonald contends that the idea of artistic expression's equanimity, and the subsequent equanimity of opinion regarding that expression, has marginalized the important and difficult work of honestly evaluating artistic worth. Emphasizing literature, his specialty, McDonald illustrates how trendy efforts to make art more scientific, more academic or more cultural ultimately undermine its role as art, making it more difficult (if not impossible) to consider with the language of art. McDonald illustrates how specific movements-including romanticism, fin-de-siecle and radical aesthetic individualism-have obscured and in some cases removed entirely those traditional standards of value. A daring, but fitting, comparison between aesthetics and ethics shows how standards may be relative but are never irrelevant; McDonald's cogent, largely convincing attempt to pin the critic's murder on relativism is sure to raise eyebrows among academics, though it doesn't do much to instill hope of the critic's resurrection.

So, the first thing that upset me was this article on mountaintop removal. I remember my sister, the hardcore Republican whose favorite channel is Fox News and great idol is Bill O'Reilly, telling me a few years about some tv show she'd seen on mountaintop removal, how horrible it was, how she wept as she watched it.... But did it make any difference at all in the way she shopped, consumed energy, thought about politics, or voted? Not a whit. She just thought it was too, too bad that these lovely mountains she'd never see were being destroyed. But she'd never see them, so why should SHE sacrifice or change anything about her life to save them?

Then there was this story about people facing economic hardship abandoning their pets. It struck me in part because I'd recently written something about the Mormon practice of stockpiling a two-year supply of, ideally, everything you need for two years: food, water, clothing, toilet paper, dog food. Yes, dog food: because, as I wrote, "You can't neglect to feed your dog just because Armageddon comes along." Hard times aren't Armageddon, but people are still throwing their cats out on the side of the road, tossing puppies down garbage chutes. I guess if people really don't have the money to feed their pets or get them veterinary care, they really don't have the money, but until it's truly a matter of feeding the dog or feeding the kid, couldn't they forgo some other luxury and honor the commitment they made in adopting the animal in the first place?

Finally, there was this piece from Salon called Little Girls Gone Wild, featuring an interview with M. Gigi Durham about her new book, The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It.

You have to have a subscription to read Salon, so you might not be able to see the article. But there's some pretty good stuff in it, for instance, this:

Salon: What are some of the distortions that girls learn from magazines and advertising about what girls' sexuality is all about?

MGD: If you've got it, flaunt it. Sex is only about baring the body, and exhibiting the body, and especially girls' bodies. That's a very narrow definition of what sexuality is. At the same time, you can't express yourself, you can't enjoy your body, you can't feel like your body is sexual unless you've got this perfect, sex goddess anatomy, which is something like a Barbie body. That's ridiculous, too. It makes girls end up hating their bodies, and not enjoying their own sensuality and sexuality. That's a real problem.

Then, there's this insistence that younger and younger girls are sexual. There's this huge emphasis on linking youth with sexuality. People mature sexually throughout their lives, and there is a lot of scientific evidence that women who are past menopause really enjoy sex. Children who are 12, 13 years old are not in a position to understand or cope with their sexuality very well. Linking sex to youthfulness is really dangerous.

Girls are always supposed to be changing their bodies and dressing up in order to attract male attention. There is not much emphasis on girls enjoying their own bodies, or even any reciprocity where boys might be thinking about what they could do to please girls. It's not very mutual.

So read all that if you want to feel worse too.... Or maybe I feel better, because at least someone is confronting the problem, getting the word out there. I don't know. MGD also advocates talking to children--even two-year-olds--about what marketing is and how it works, as in this:

I've done it. If they're watching a commercial on TV, and there is a toy, you can just start talking to them: "Do you think that toy is as good when you bring it home as it is on TV? Do you know why they make it look so fun, and like these kids are having so much fun? Because they really want you to spend money on it."

They understand.

Yeah Whatever: My Life in Music (with video)


The meme I provided last time required you to answer questions about your life with random songs from your itunes program.... I thought, why not choose the answers, from the songs I like best? I have friends who never rate stuff, but I do--I assign one star and five stars and there are even songs I hate so much that I uncheck them from the program, though I don't delete them because I want to preserve the integrity of the album they're on.

So I took Wednesday's questions and devised a new meme. For this one, you answer the questions by going through your top-rated songs and finding ones whose titles actually help answer the question, more or less.

And because my favorites are weighted heavily in favor of 80s pop, some of it a tad obscure, I've included videos for some of the stuff that never hit the top 40.... also videos I really love. For instance, I love Robert Smith in the bear suit, but just about everyone who watched MTV in the late 80-early 90s saw the "Why Can't I Be You?" video.

Anyway. The videos do not provide the answers to the questions; the titles do.

1. How would you describe yourself?
True to Live (Roxy Music)

2. What is your motto?
Express Yourself (Madonna)

3. What do you think about often?
The Politics of Dancing (Re-Flex)

4. What do you think of your family?
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pink Floyd)

Fifty Ten Fold

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I haven't done a meme in almost a year. My favorite of the ones I've seen bouncing lately around blogs I read is a version of the last one I did, oh so long ago; even though some of the questions are different, I don't see much reason to do it again, so I'm going with the meme I like second-best.

I got this from McCutcheon's Squishy Thoughts. Here's how it works: you take the questions, get your itunes ready, and hit "next." Each song that comes up is the answer to the question before you.

I think the quiz was designed by high school students, because there is an emphasis on things like "best friends" and "the person you like." Some of the questions were so adolescent I had to change them, and I also had to put the whole thing in some coherent order--they were utterly random. I know, I know, that's really geeky of me, to revise a meme, but I can't help it.

Anyway, despite those flaws, the meme still appealed to me, so here it is. It tells you more about my music collection that it does about me, but what the hell.

1. How would you describe yourself?
Sixty-eight Guns (The Alarm)

2. What is your motto?
Send for Henry (Trashcan Sinatras)

3. What do you think about often?
In Dulce Decorum (The Damned)
That one’s true--I do think about World War I fairly often.

4. What do you think of your family?
Big Sister’s Clothes (Elvis Costello)

It’s easier to say ‘I Love You
than ‘Yours Sincerely’
I suppose
All little sisters
like to try on big sister’s clothes

Yogurt: What Else Could a Woman Possibly Need?


I found this on Salon's Broadsheet--it's too good not to share. It's "'substitute for human experience' good," at least for "the class that wears gray hoodies," sporting the "'I have a master's but then I got married' look."

Last week someone emailed me a story from the NY Times, and when I read it, I happened to look at the list of "most popular emailed stories." Near the top was something titled Unboxed: Can You Become a Creature of New Habits? Which was a question I wanted to read about and have answered.

One of the reasons I continue to value my Mormon upbringing was the whole goal program I grew up with. There was this official church curriculum for teenagers, which presented them with six specific areas of well-rounded humanity--physical health, spiritual development, social interactions, personal ethics, I don't remember them all--and we were expected to set and complete two goals in each area every year while we were in junior high and high school. If young women completed the program satisfactorily, they got a really ugly necklace. I don't remember what young men got. Maybe a merit badge; their version of the program might have been tied up in scouting, which the church has sort of commandeered.

I used the goal program to great advantage, collecting a slew of virtuous habits such as thrift and punctuality. I made running three miles every school-day morning a habit--albeit one I hated--and the fact that I managed to do that for a full year helped me acquire that necklace I never wore once. I wasn't in it for the necklace, you see: I was in it for the habits and the accomplishments themselves.

What Literary Critics Actually Do


Over on Letters from a Broad, there’s a discussion about individual tastes in literature, and how to think about things when personal tastes violate the received wisdom and authority of experts in literature--people with PhDs. The discussion really upset me, not because anyone said anything particularly insulting or offensive--on the contrary, many comments were quite astute--but because it made me confront, more forcefully than anything has for a long time, that most people don’t understand in the slightest what I do. They don’t understand academia in the humanities; they don’t understand the way literary scholars approach the study of literature; they don’t understand the way literature is taught or the rationale for it.

It’s not like this is necessarily anybody's fault; relatively few people get PhDs in English, so why should the rest of the world understand what it’s like to do that? The grueling hours involved in being a grad student and teaching freshman comp (which is the primary way graduate studies in English are funded), the sheer drudgery of grading paper after paper (many of which are heartbreakingly bad), aren’t the least bit glamorous, so you can’t blame people for not wanting to hear more about the whole business. And in order to get a PhD, you have to study something in such depth that sometimes you can’t even explain easily your specialty to grad students focusing on other periods or genres of literature.


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