Offbeat gratitude.

Would that all life's problems could be solved with a fiver.

I never used to buy flowers.

We had flowers in abundance back home, but they all came from my mom’s garden. When I moved out, I remember there being a few times when I or a flatmate would pick up some flowers in the store, but it wasn’t often. Maybe it just seemed like too much money to spend on something that would wilt and die within a few weeks.

But lately I’ve been adding flowers to my cart when I’m out picking up groceries, and it surprises me how happy I am to see them most days. Usually multiple times a day, even.

Is it weird to say that I may have hitherto undervalued flowers? Not gardens—those have always been near to my heart—but indoor flowers. The ones that come in pots or as part of a bouquet. They always seemed a little frivolous to me, but now I regularly include them in my grocery budget as a matter of course.

Part of that comes from getting them from Trader Joe’s, where they cost about $5, and that’s about my current threshold for purchases I don’t have to justify to myself. It’s a small revelation that such a simple happiness can be so cheap.

Do you know what else is the best? Socks without holes.

Seriously: I don’t know if I have extra long toes or really sharp nails, but somehow I poke holes in socks at a ridiculous rate. Often in under a half-dozen wears. As a result, I’ve spent half my life with the tip of my big toe in the choke-hold grip of perforated knit cotton. For a while I tried darning my socks just to not deal with this problem, but in the end I couldn’t keep up.

Then, three years ago, I bought a set of medium-weight crew socks from Target. They stayed part of my regular rotation all year long, and only recently wore through after much traveling and dedicated service. I made a special trip to Target today (a store I otherwise rarely visit) just to buy more socks.

Which is great and all, but it begs the question: why don’t I buy new socks more often?

Here’s another one: pens that work. I hate writing with dry pens. They are seriously the worst. Followed by pens that smear, pens that leak, and scratchy pens that leave lines in your paper but aren’t all that readable when you write with them. A little while ago I decided I’d had enough of it, and invested about ten bucks on a box of my favorite gel click pens with a rubber grip. I’ve spread them out between my room, my bag, and my offices so that I’m basically never short of them. Living a life of luxury, you guys.

Most of us spend a lot of time making do. I’ve definitely had times where I didn’t have even five bucks to drop on socks or flowers or pens because I needed that money for something else. I’m really grateful to be in a position where that’s mostly not the case anymore. But it’s strange to me that, no longer having to stress about small expenses, I’m still forget how many irritations I could eliminate—or how many joys I could accumulate, for less than ten dollars.

Would that all life’s problems could be solved with a fiver.

Everyone says that it’s the little things in life that bring the most joy. But I’m not even talking about the kind of little things like curling up with a book and a warm mug of cocoa. I mean not having to go through multiple pens to find one that works. Having circulation in all your toes. And yes, having a spot of greenery indoors.

I remember to be thankful for good food and time with friends. I’m not often thankful for my socks.

I am today. For socks without holes, pens that work, trash bags that perfectly fit their containers, tupperware with matching lids, plastic wrap that doesn’t stick to itself, lightbulbs that last, and hot water that doesn’t run out.

And yes, for flowers, too.

What I’ve read since January.

My stack of books, including The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, Wolfskin, Americanah, Lenin's Tomb, Stories of Your Life, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, Newt's Emerald, The Unwomanly Face of War, The New Tsar, The Underground Railroad, Commonwealth, and The Lord of the Rings.

It’s been a while since I updated my reading list.

The problem I’ve discovered with reviewing the books I’ve read in one monthly stack is that if I have a particularly long, heavy book, I might spend all month reading and have nothing finished to show at the end of it. Plus there’s sometimes a temptation to hold off for a few more days so that I can polish off the last 20 pages of a paperback and have one more book to add to my stack. Then there’s the desire to have a stack to begin with. It’s so satisfying to show off a big ole pile of completed reading. When there’s only one of two volumes, it can leave you feeling unaccomplished.

But so anyway, I meant to keep sharing what I’d read each month, but then I didn’t get as much finished in February as I’d planned. So I figured I’d do a post about what I’d read while I was in Spain, but when I got home I hadn’t quite finished The New Tsar, so I thought I’d wrap that one up first. Then that took me till mid-summer, and now here I am, beginning of December, and it’s time I just did this round up because otherwise it will never happen.

At least I have a ginormous pile of books to show for it…

Tolkien: The Hobbit, The Silmarillian, The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien hardly needs a review from me, and in any case, I had these on my stack so that I could re-read them before I give my speech at Bob’s Tolkien Feast. But—without giving away what I want to talk about—it did strike me how different it was reading these books this time round. It had been a while since I’d last read them, and I’d forgotten some of the peculiarities of Tolkien’s writing style.

In particular, Tolkien spends the bulk of his time writing from an extremely removed point of view. I’d forgotten how much description he puts into the terrain of his world, and how his pacing sometimes dwells on minutia, or on glimpses of the wider world that are not referenced in the rest of his work. Whereas many other authors will devote more of their pages to intimate conversations between characters, on their backstories, fears, and motivations, he paints most of the members of the Fellowship in broad strokes, relying on the general traits of elves, dwarves, men, etc. to carry them through.

For instance, if you were to ask “what makes Legolas different from other elves,” the answer for the first part of The Fellowship of the Ring is: nothing. He’s a pretty generic elf, and we don’t get a lot of opportunity to know him better because his dialog in the series is largely impersonal: he talks about the quest, the present moment, and situations in the larger world, but not about himself. In fact, it’s his eventual friendship with Gimli that defines his character more than anything else—and vice versa.

Not that this is problematic. I generally find attempts to manufacture a more personal narrative for members of the Fellowship to be wildly off-base. If The Lord of the Rings offers less robust character development* than I’ve since grown used to reading, that isn’t necessarily a fault. The books simply aren’t about their characters as much as they are about Middle Earth and the larger narrative themes. However, it does give me pause when I think about portraying the series in film, especially if done as a TV series. It would be hard to write a three-season run without fleshing some of those characters out a little more, and I don’t know if I want that.

*Note: The exceptions here are, of course, the hobbits, although even Merry and Pippin don’t really get fleshed out until The Two Towers.

Wolfskin, Juliet Marillier.

I wrote about Marillier back in January when I finished Den of Wolves. That book left me underwhelmed, so I re-listened to her entire Sevenwaters series while I was in Spain. It’s still so good. Seriously, ladies, if you’re looking for a good historical fantasy series with strong servings of action and romance, these will consume you.

For that matter, Wolfskin fits right into that camp. Marillier steps a little outside her usual stomping grounds of Celtic myth and lore to pick up on some Scandinavian legends, but she does a mighty job with it. But I felt this novel showed considerable merit in its handling of the relationship between Eyvind and Somerled, which is the central moral conflict of the novel.

This still falls squarely into the “light reading” category for me, but it’s light reading with enough meat on its bones to leave you feeling satisfied at the end.

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My love of Adichie is no secret. In fact, I had a particular thrill earlier this year to learn she’d been granted an honorary degree from my own Alma Mater, the University of Edinburgh. Not that I quite get what the purpose of honorary degrees is except to allow various universities to look good by recognizing the success of individuals whose achievements had nothing to do with their institution. Or maybe I’m missing something here? Whatever: Congratulations, Ms. Adichie, I’m proud to have some connection to you, however tangential.

Back to the book, Adichie is a fabulous author, and Americanah is no disappointment. I felt drawn to this book in particular by my own experiences living in different cultures. Ifemelu’s confusion about American life—as when she ignores her cousin’s instructions to boil the hotdogs and tries to cook them in oil instead—line right up with some of my own cultural faux pas. Reading a character approach American life with the same perplexity I felt when trying to unpack German, Russian, or British culture left me laughing and commiserating at at once.

More importantly, I loved reading Adichie’s analysis of race in America. It is fascinating to read a story from a Nigerian woman who spent years in the American higher education system dissect the complicated dynamics between (as she describes in the book) African blacks, non-African blacks, and white Americans. I’m usually a bit hostile about commentary from non-Americans on American culture, because I find such criticisms to be shallow and ill-informed, and also because it feels like outsiders attacking my tribe.

But sometimes that outside perspective can see things more clearly than the rest of us can. A lot of what Adichie says comes from a place of deep understanding and even love for America. In the end, I’m glad she still seems to like us, in spite of seeing our flaws so clearly.

Lenin’s Tomb, David Remnick

This book made me question so much about my life.

On the one hand, this was such a compelling read for me, that it made me really grateful for my Russian Studies degree and the time I had spent living in Russia. On the other hand, it made me wish I’d gone into journalism. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated the lengths journalists take to track down a story until I read this book.

For context: David Remnick moved to Russia in the 80’s and lived there for several years, covering the decline and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union for the Washington Post. Lenin’s Tomb is his account of life in the Soviet Union during that time. Remnick travelled all across the country, interviewed high-ranking officials and individual citizens alike, staking out the apartments of former KGB officers, and dodging Russian bureaucracy to get a glimpse at the Russian life the Soviet government didn’t want foreigners to see.

Remnick’s conclusion was sadly optimistic (which he notes in his forward). But this book is still incredible for a look at what the Soviet Union was like in the final years before its fall.

Stories of Your Life, Ted Chiang

This collection of short stories is so impressive, it makes me want to go buy everything Chiang has ever written… which is a woefully short list of titles, at the moment. Apart from this collection, he only has a handful of other short stories and a novella out there. Yet in spite of his short bibliography, he’s managed to rack up an impressive award list, and his “Story of Your Life” served as the basis for the film Arrival, which if you haven’t seen it yet: hot damn, it is so good.

What most entertains me about Chiang is his penchant for treating metaphors or other theoretical concepts literally. I may not have said that correctly, but to illustrate: in “Babylon,” the protagonist climbs the tower of Babel to reach the dome of heaven. Which is a literal dome. In fact, the whole world in the story is built to reflect a literal interpretation of old models of the universe: as the protagonist climbs, he eventually passes the moon, sun, and stars, which continue passing through the sky beneath him. When he reaches the top, the builders of the tower argue about where and how to drill into the dome, fearful lest the puncture one of the reservoirs of water that are used to pour rain upon the earth.

Similarly, in “Hell is the Absence of God,” angelic apparitions are a frequent cause of both miracles and horrific accidents, and in the process have become almost commonplace. It was inspired by the book of Job, and is possibly my favorite short story every written, period.

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie

I came to the Sidney Chambers book series after watching most of Grantchester on Amazon, which in turn I came to because it stars James Norton, who played Prince Andrei in BBC’s recent War and Peace adaption, which, if you haven’t seen it, why the F not, + oh boy do I have the gif for you, ahem:

James Norton as Prince Andrei bows to kiss Natasha's hand.

Hot damn.

But anyways, these books are delightful, although it turns out the BBC series diverges significantly from its source material, to the extent that some of the characters are almost different people. I guess this didn’t bother me as I came to the series first, but if you’re coming at it the other way around, you could be very disappointed.

I guess the good news is that, if you super enjoyed the series, as I did, you can read these and have the great satisfaction right from the beginning of not having almost any of them spoiled for you, because even the ones that are covered often have different endings than in the series. I have the second book on my to-read shelf, but I’m saving it for the perfect cozy winter night to curl up and read it a good mug of tea.

Newt’s Emerald, Garth Nix.

Honestly, what I have to say about this book has more to do with Garth Nix than anything else. I remember listen to this Keys to the Kingdom series back in my library days and enjoying them, but the work of his that I truly adore is his Abhorsen series. I’ve been itching to re-read them lately, including the prequel book Clariel, because there’s a new book out that I haven’t gotten to yet and I want to refresh my memory of the story before I go read it.

That said, while Newt’s Emerald wasn’t anything like that series, it was good fun. Nix draws heavily on Georgette Heyer, but the Georgian period doesn’t seem to come as naturally to him as it does to her. Which: Heyer is fun and all, but I don’t think anyone could call her writing a competent portrayal of Austen-era society. It’s not meant to be. And Nix, being somewhat derivative of Heyer, draws on the kind of story she would write and takes liberties of his own.

It’s fun, light reading. I started it one evening and finished in the next morning and enjoyed it all the way through. But it was almost too light for me, unlike the Abhorsen series which is wonderfully brooding. Maybe he wanted a break from writing that and decided to try something completely different? I wouldn’t blame him, and I’m happy with the result. However, it’s left me with a craving for his other work.

The Unwomanly Face of War, Svetlana Alexievich

Read this if you’d like to have your heart ripped out every second page. Seriously, though: it is a compilation of hundreds of interviews of Russian women who fought on the Russian and Ukrainian front in World War II. Alexievich interviewed them during the 70’s and 80’s, originally publishing her book in the Soviet Union during the early part of that decade. The stories in this chronicle are unlike anything I have ever read about wartime. Simultaneously mundane and appalling, it is an incredible work both in the narrative told by the women within, and in its very existence. Heavy reading in that it weighs down the soul, but riveting. Difficult both to put down and to pick back up. You should read it anyway.

The New Tsar, Steven Lee Meyers

This is the only biography of Putin that I’ve read, but it makes me want to read another. Odd, as this one paints such a clear picture. But then I hear some other story, and it turns this around on its head. People are complicated, and it’s hard to know what the truth is about an individual. Were they really a megalomaniac from birth? Or could they have lived their lives as a highly competent and loyal servant of the state had circumstances not conspired to land them as head of state?

Probably that is what I find so odd about this narrative: that as far as Meyers describes, Putin’s leadership of Russia was almost accidental, in that it had far less to do with his maneuverings than with Yeltsin anointing him as his successor in such an unexpectedly short timeframe.

Tolstoy would feel vindicated: there are no Great Men.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

I feel guilty about not liking this book more. With a premise so near to my heart (I thought the underground railroad was a literal railroad until possibly as late as my mid-teens), I went into this expecting something more fantastical than what it was. Maybe I was over-sold this book?

In any case, it’s not the book’s fault. As a work of literary fiction, it deserves every ounce of acclaim that’s come its way. It’s a powerful story, although one with little catharsis. Not that there’s much to expect by the end.

I felt disoriented while reading, however. I kept having to go back and re-read a few paragraphs because I had missed some key detail or misunderstood something that had happened. It feels like it deserves a second reading.

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

This filled a really lovely space in my summer when I had a few lazy weekends and didn’t want to do anything but sit around and read. The opening line to this book would make a list of my top favorite opening lines ever: “The Christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.” (One of my other favorite lines comes on the next page: “DAs were the guys that smoke your cigarettes because they’re trying to quit.”)

I recall feelings from this book more than the plot or any particular character. The prose reminds me of F. Scott Fitzgerald in that way. Both involve parties, and gin, and relationships falling apart.

But I enjoyed this one most for its stories of siblings. Which, what can I say: I’m a sucker for a good sibling story. I empathized with Franny Keating a great deal, too. Will definitely have to pick up more from this author.

What’s on my plate for December?

Top priorities:

I listened to the first few Lord Peter Whimsey books on Audible last month, but they don’t have the entire series, so I’m checking the rest out of the library. I also checked out a couple other books that have come out this year, IQ by Joe Ide and Himself by Jess Kidd. I’ll have to return them soon, and I’d like to read through them fast enough not to have to renew the loan.

Up next:

Following my reading of Americanah I ordered the three books from Chinua Achebe which are, as I understand, classics of Nigerian literature. They’re pretty short (only about 200 pages each), so I might be able to pound through them over Christmas.

What I’m avoiding:

I bought a copy of Gravity’s Rainbow at the end of August, and after reading the first twenty pages or so I can already tell this will be a slog. I’m allowing myself to read other things at the same time, because if I don’t it will become another Infinite Jest, and I’d rather not grind my reading to a halt for however long it takes me to wade through.

Meanwhile, in the non-fiction department, I have Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. I can’t even tell you what this book is about, other than that it intimidates me. I’ve heard it’s super good, and my curiosity is at top pique, but at the same time… who knows how long it will really take me.

Hair Journey Part VII: Copper.

So, after my initial accidental foray into anime-orange, I decided to tone things down a little. By making my hair more red.

I looked forward to copper hair so much.

It wasn’t in my original plan, but after going dark red at the beginning of my journey, I discovered that the color my hair faded into felt right. I liked the warm tones in my hair, the brightness, and the contrast it made to the clothes I preferred to wear—blues, greens, purples, even black and white. I didn’t want to be Ariel red, but an Ann Shirley ginger felt right at home.

So, after my initial accidental foray into anime-orange, I decided to tone things down a little. By making my hair more red.

Several pictures of myself with copper hair.
These are the pics Elizabeth took right after she did my hair. I tried to embed her post from Instagram, but their code doesn’t seem to be working. You should definitely go follow her at @hairartistelizabeth, though.

I went from this hair appointment to pick up some groceries, and had about eight compliments on it before I got home. Even the cashier lady told me “I hope you know how good that color looks on you.” (I did.)

One amusing side-effect of the copper hair color, however, was that it well and truly brought out the Irish part of my background. To such an extent that I felt like an American cosplaying an Irish stereotype: bright red hair, skin so pale it clearly hasn’t seen sunlight for days, green sweater, and a claddagh necklace for good measure, because if you’re going to be fake-Irish, you might as well go all the way.

Me with bright copper hair, blue glasses, and a green sweater.
My great-great grandfather immigrated to New York at the turn of the century, so like any Irish-American, I’m going to milk that heritage for all it’s worth.

I keep saying “copper,” but most people described it as “red” at first, and “orange” later. I don’t blame them, although the dye bottle says otherwise. It certainly was vibrant. I didn’t realize quite how much it stood out until I saw this year’s Thanksgiving photos. Gee that hair is hard to miss.

One other thing I loved about this was how well it held its color. At least part of that was due to the pigmented shampoo I used, though. Which: pigmented shampoo is funny! It’s like normal shampoo, but a bit runnier, and it deposits color pigment in your hair as you use it. Not much, but about as much as you need to replace what would otherwise be washed out with every shower. However, these shampoos are a little less nuanced in their color tones than the dyes themselves. This is what I used.

Honestly, I’m glad I kept this color for as long as I did. It gave me a lot of time to sink in to this shade and really feel at home in it. I loved this color. It felt right when I wore it. But it’s time to move on to the next stage of my journey, and what I originally planned as the last. I’m off to dye my hair purple. I can’t wait.

My final portrait of copper hair.

Hair Journey Part VI.V: Strawberry-Blonde.

Baskets of strawberries with the text: My hair journey took an unexpected detour.

So, this was a serendipitous mistake.

The plan was to go from blonde to copper. When I went in to talk to Elizabeth, she pulled out her swatch book and I, not wanting to do anything by halves, picked the brightest copper in her book. I came out looking very orange:

A picture of me with bright orange hair.
There’s a makeup lesson here as well: black, liquid eyeliner definitely enhances the anime effect.

One of my friends summed it up well when he said “you look like an anime character.” Which isn’t bad, per say, just not what I was going for. Still, Elizabeth did say that the color might fade pretty fast, and I had gone intentionally bright to prepare for just such an eventuality.

Little did I know how fast that fade would happen.

The first time I took a shower, the water came out orange. I’m used to a little color the first couple times, but I’d never seen so much at once. With one shower, enough color came out to have significantly toned my hair down to the level I would usually expect after a full week. It dried well, but on my next shower even more dye came out—and this time in patches.

My root color, which was a little stronger to help mask the dividing line between the blonde and my natural hair, stayed strong. But I was starting to notice a distinct blonde patch growing on my right side, and it seemed likely to continue growing. A week in, and I started to consider moving my next hair appointment up by a couple weeks. I’d hoped to make it six, but I really didn’t want to spend most of October with an uneven color job.

Fortunately, after another shower or two the fade became more even. Now my hair didn’t look patchy, it just looked… well, blonde.

My hair, after it's faded to a lighter, cozier color.
At least it faded into a cute color! I think I liked this better than blonde.

Not a full blonde, but a light, strawberry shade. And the funny thing was: I liked it! It was slightly warmer than the blonde I’d left behind, a sort of cozy color that worked well with the spattering of cool fall days we had before Indian summer hit.

I also really enjoyed the length of my new cut. In the past, I’ve tended to grow my hair very long, and then chop it short all at once. Then I start missing the long hair, and the growing-out process begins again. I usually pass through this middle-length with slightly unkept hair, because I’m avoiding the salon. But it turns out this shoulder-length cut is just about the perfect length: long enough for a ponytail, but not long enough to be super heavy.

Anyway, Elizabeth had given me a heads-up about what to expect from this coloring. Apparently, brighter hair dyes fade faster because the pigment molecules are larger, and don’t absorb as deeply into the strands of hair… or something like that. Dye also doesn’t stick as well to bleached hair or damaged hair. She suggested that this round might fade quickly, but that my next round of color would hold better.

Me wearing a purple floral dress against a blue patterned background. My hair has faded back to blonde.
Just before going to get colored again: basically blonde.

I decided to move my salon appointment back up after all. By the time I went in, most people were back to telling me how well I was rocking my blonde hair. Yes, there was still a slight blush tone in some areas, but even “strawberry blonde” was a stretch.

Elizabeth recommended a pigmented conditioner which I plan to use for the next couple months to help my hair maintain its copper coloring. In the meantime, the unexpected detour has been fun, and I enjoyed learning more about hair chemistry along the way. There’s way more that goes into hair coloring than I ever expected. So, to salon colorists everywhere (and mine in particular): Respect.

On boredom.

Boy by wood pile with an axe. Text reads: I sometime avoid hard things by doing other things that are equally worth doing. If that's procrastination, it's awfully productive.

I used to think I never got bored.

As in: unless I was stuck at the Secretary of State, or some function I couldn’t get out of, and either had no book, or couldn’t read a book without being impolite, or was otherwise trapped without a cell phone, pen, paper, or any other means of recording my thoughts and organizing them into some idea worth communicating, I could find something to do or think about and not consider myself bored. Maybe I’d rather be elsewhere doing something different, but I could get by.

My family regularly made road trips to visit relatives in New York that involved 10+ hours of sitting in the car—seven of us in a seven-seater minivan—and I credit that experience with toughening me up to endure transatlantic flights with equanimity.

And on my own time? I struggle to understand boredom. I hear adults say that they’re bored, and I wish there were a way to exchange time: If you’re not using the next hour of your life, I’ll take it!

But I’ve recently come to understand it a little better. Not the boredom of sitting around with nothing to do, but the boredom of sitting in front of a task you have to do and wishing for all the world that you could be doing something different.

I know we usually call that “procrastination,” but I don’t mean that, entirely. Right now, I’m writing this blog post to procrastinate from doing my work out. It will happen, but I’ve deemed this post temporarily a more worthwhile effort. I spent half of Saturday reading a book to avoid doing some sewing. I wanted to sew, but I had a difficult step that I felt a bit uncertain about, so I read instead.

I sometimes avoid hard things by doing other things that are equally worth doing. If that’s procrastination, it’s awfully productive.

But I’ve begun to notice lately a kind of procrastination that seeps into my work day that feels more akin to boredom than what I just described. It’s the rebellious impulse to do anything but the task at hand—even other things that I don’t like. It’s what sucked me into hours of BuzzFeed articles in college when I was meant to be writing essays, or what sends me to YouTube to watch hours of tornado videos when I should be researching my next blog post.

I would never read these posts or watch these videos on my own time. Why is it that I can’t consciously justify spending an hour reading a book when I’m supposed to be working, but I can subconsciously waste two hours surfing Wikipedia articles on pop music icons I don’t even like?

I think the root cause is boredom. Not the kind born of poor imagination, but perhaps of a surplus of energy. Of resenting all the things I can’t do because I have to do the task at hand. Perhaps there’s still a small child in me after all, throwing a temper tantrum, pounding the floor and screaming but I don’t want to!

And all the while, adult me looks on, chiding, scolding, making suggestions like “If you’re that bored, how about you go finish that copy that’s due…”

Friends, Strangers, Internet, I have no solution to this yet. And I know this isn’t a new problem. I know this isn’t a “me” problem. It’s at the heart of every productivity piece I’ve read in the past ten years of avoiding work. It’s been called procrastination. It’s ben called Resistance. And now I’m calling it boredom.

Maybe giving it a name will help me do something about it.

Awkxious.

Woman lying on pavement with hair over her face. Text reads: Awkxious, adj.: a combined feeling of anxiety and awkwardness; the anticipation of embarrassing oneself which makes subsequent embarrassment seemingly inevitable.

I coined a word the other day.

It’s a portmanteau of “anxious” and “awkward,” the result less of my own linguistic genius than a comical slip of the tongue during a particularly… well… awkxious moment.

The thing I like about the word is that I sometimes feel we use these words interchangeably. However, you can definitely be anxious without being awkward, and the other way around.

Sherlock Holmes, for instance, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, is almost always awkward without ever being anxious. (Non-Cumberbatchian representation are often eccentric yet confident geniuses who seem to transcend any social mishaps through sheer whit and intelligence.) Alternatively, I’ve witnessed much nicer people navigating social situations in a way that is either staggeringly oblivious, or endearingly self-aware. Some people seem to not know or not care that they’re awkward.

Anxiety, on the other hand… well, many of us are super good and hiding that. You could, internally, be one roiling mass of stress and existential terror but never let on. You could be the most gracious host, an incredibly charismatic public speaker, someone who generally passes at life as a chill person but who spends countless private moments contemplating with horror the gaping maw of inscrutable futurity. Who would know? I wouldn’t.

But put them together, and you get a compounding maelstrom of social self-destruction as your anxiety triggers your awkwardness while your awkwardness fuels your anxiety in an endless, reinforcing feedback loop.

Oh, life.

Anyways, the good news is that if you’ve ever wanted to describe the way in which you anticipate your own embarrassment, or the way in which your social anxiety creates a self-fulfilling prophesy, then I have just the word for you.

You’re welcome?

Hair Journey Part VI: Blonde.

I originally planned to skip blonde.

I’ve never felt like blonde suited my personality. Which still feels like an odd observation, even though at this point I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how cultural stereotypes around hair colors have influenced my feelings about dying my hair. And let’s be honest, blonde has a lot of cultural baggage.

Blondes are dumb, shallow, basic—the chosen hair color of wannabe Hollywood bombshells and high school cheerleaders. It’s the hair color of every white, all-American, girl-next-door. Swiftian, you might say. Or Ivankian. It is the Aryan Ideal, the hair color most laden with racist undertones, the thing I most anxiously don’t want to be identified with.

No, I did not want to be blonde. Which is why, at the end of the day, I decided I needed to give it a try.

Because if there’s anything you can take away from that torrent of negative stereotypes I’ve just unleashed it’s that they’re nasty. Like, really vicious. And, for the most part, fairly groundless.

Yes, obviously, people who choose to dye their hair blonde (like I was about to do) might want to conform to a certain stereotype. Maybe we think of blondes as shallow because shallow people dye their hair blonde for shallow reasons? But I also know some truly excellent, intelligent, compassionate people who also happen to be blonde—naturally and otherwise. But I still felt weird about it.

All that said, my trepidation proved mostly groundless. No one made any dumb blonde jokes. In fact, I got more compliments on my blonde hair than on almost any previous color. One of my friends who initially thought blonde hair wouldn’t suit me came round by the end and thought it looked great. Which is nice.

And yet, it never felt entirely normal to me. More than any other color, being blonde felt like wearing a wig. I got used to it, learned how to dress with it, even enjoyed busting out my red lipstick a bit more. But it always felt like wearing someone else’s skin. It lacked the “rightness” I felt with other colors.

More people have been asking me how much longer I plan to keep dyeing my hair. It’s been almost a year now, and initially I only had two more colors planned after blonde. But… I’m having a lot of fun! My hair’s held up well to the battery of chemical processes it’s undergone since last October, the result of working with a colorist who knows what she’s doing and an investment in good shampoo and conditioner. So I can see meandering through a few more colors and just continuing to have fun with it.

Anyway, philosophical ramblings aside, can I take a moment to say: excellent shampoo and conditioner really does make a difference? I accidentally left my current product at my brother’s house in Illinois back in June, and it took over a month to get it back. In the interim, I used my old shampoo and conditioner from before I started this whole process. Holy cow: the difference is actually incredible. I mean, my fancy hair products cost a whole lot more, but last way longer. Although part of that can probably be attributed to how I don’t wash my hair as often as I used to, because it’s dryer than it used to be. Back in the day, my hair got so oily that I had to wash it every other day to keep it clean. Now, my hair only needs washing twice a week. Given that it takes a good twelve hours to air dry, this is a huge life improvement.

A side note to my side note: I hate hair dryers. I have a lot of hair in terms of volume, the the strands themselves are super fine. This means my hair absorbs water like a sponge. I learned years ago that it would take me far too long to blow dry my hair every time I showered, so I gave up. It turns out that blow drying also damages your hair, making it more brittle and prone to breakage. These days, if I need my hair to dry faster I take a walk outdoors. I’ll probably have to buy a blow dryer before winter, because leaving the house with wet hair in the midst of a Michigan cold snap has left me with a head of icicles in the past. But I plan to use it as little as possible.

Oh, and while I’m going through shampoos and conditioners: one of the fun things with blonde hair was needing to regularly tone it with my purple shampoo. Blonde hair gets brassy after a little while, so my hair person (hi, Elizabeth!) advised me to balance it out every other shower or so with a special, purple-pigmented shampoo. It was funny to watch my hair fluctuate between a more orangey shade of yellow and near-white. People kept asking me if I’d gotten my hair re-colored. In fact, my last time round, I actually went too far and ended up with a faintly bluish lock.

OK, hair tangent over. To conclude, I can see coming back to blonde some day. I may try taking it even lighter, going all the way to that silver hue that’s so popular these days. But for now I’m happy to leave it behind. Next stop: copper.

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