Monday, December 31, 2018

Hair blues

I met my friend Janet Barnes when we worked at an office together in the1990s. Since then we've kept in touch, with holiday letters and on Facebook. She's the mother of two beautiful twin daughters, now young adults, and has a great depth of spirit and delightful sense of humor. I asked her if I could share her recent Facebook post here. You can follow her journey at Janet's blog.

Janet's post on Facebook in early December:

Why is my hair blue, and even shorter? Well, in October I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and have since had a right mastectomy. TMI? too bad... I'm medical and I like information... so here's even more - although the margins around the tumor were good (no missed bits) and the lymph nodes were clear, the grade of the cancer cells was high (very active/aggressive) and the cancer cells were triple negative (no hormone receptors). Sooo… I'll be starting chemo on Monday, for about 20 weeks, just to make sure there aren't any micro-metastases floating around in my body. Uff da!

So I got a fun haircut a few days ago, and added some spray-on color - I figure I may as well have some fun with my hair before it's gone for a while.

This is going to be quite the journey, but I'm going in strong - I just went to boot camp this morning (thanks Karin and Joyce!). Then I went to the hospital later today and got a "Power Port" surgically placed. Kevin has been  my rock solid support. And my peeps are cheering for me.

What can you do for me?  Tag me when you post funny things to Facebook, or cute puppies, or pigs, or little goats ('cuz I love to laugh!). Swear a little on my behalf (since swearing just doesn't come out of my mouth). And donate to your nearest cancer treatment center. NorthStar, here in Yakima, has been marvelous so far ❤️❤️

I'm working on creating a blog -- -- where y'all can keep up to date on my comings and goings. I know there is CaringBridge, but it feels just a little too serious for me, and I need to be goofy sometimes.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Hair racism

Ijeoma Oluo photo at
Author and editor Ijeoma Oluo was recently interviewed regarding the publication of her new book So You Want To Talk About Race in one of my favorite publications, The Sun magazine here. The feature interview is titled "White Lies: Ijeoma Oluo on Privilege, Race, and Power."

A few pages in, the interviewer, Mark Leviton, asks:
You've identified numerous 'microaggressions' that people of color experience nearly every day -- instances of subtle, sometimes unconscious racism. What are some examples,and how do you respond to them?
Oluo replies:
Microaggressions hit you out of the blue and remind you that you can't get too comfortable; that where you are isn't really the place for you. They are more than just annoyances. They are daily insults and indignities. Some are verbal ...
Most annoying for me are questions about my hair, or people who want to touch my hair. When I first went natural, some people felt the need to ask, "Are you entering your militant-black-woman phase?" When I changed jobs at one point, the first thing my new white boss asked was whether my hair was real. I titled a chapter in my book "Why Can't I Touch Your Hair?" because this is such an issue for black women.
Oluo's experience makes me think of the unsettling effects in U.S. society today when we try to discuss topics like racism. We need to talk about it to better understand. The Seattle Times newspaper social-justice columnist Tyrone Beason recently described public reaction, both positive and negative, to his November 26, 2018 column about a mortal fear of the police that rose up in him during a routine traffic stop. In his column the following week, Beason noted:
I’ve come to expect a certain amount of pushback from readers, online commenters in particular, who take issue with my stance on matters of race and racism — the fear of it and the fact of it in our society. Boy, did the haters and doubters deliver. I had one reader email me to say that if I was going to go through life in a state of fear, I should move to another country.
Beason went on to say he didn't write the column for people of color. He "wrote it, foremost, for white people." Sometimes it happens that we blunder into a racist or insulting comment, which I've heard shrugged off with remarks like, "well, maybe you saw it that way, but I didn't mean it that way." That's the whole thing about discussion -- communicating. There are two people (or more) in the discussion, each with a personal experience. Just because it's not about race for you, that doesn't mean it's not. Later in The Sun interview, Mark Leviton asks:
Right at the start of So You Want to Talk About Race, you lay out some basic rules for discussions of racism. The first is that an experience "is about race if the person of color thinks it is about race." Are people of color infallible when it comes to identifying racism?
Ijeoma Oluo replies:
These issues are multilayered and complex, but absolutely everything in America is race-related. No part of our society is without a racial component. If a person of color is telling you that what you're discussing has something to do with race, it does. Even if you can't see it, even if your behavior wasn't motivated by unconscious racism, that person of color sitting next to you has had to deal with such trauma many times.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Hair generations

I've been giving some thought to the way hair styles change from generation to generation. One reason being, I'm an archivist for a church history collection that includes photos. Sometimes, those photos have dates listed on them, such as this cutaway from a larger group shot with the caption: "Epworth League 1892."

(The man's hair is just as carefully composed as the women's, don't you think?)

Other times, photos have no dates, but hair (and hats) can be an indicator of the time period. Take, for instance, this undated photo of an audience of young women. 

Judging by the hair and hats, I'm guesstimating this photo was taken sometime in the early 1930s. Why? A browser search of 1930s hairstyles took me to the website Glamour Daze: A Vintage Fashion and Beauty Archive, after I clicked on this image of Jean Arthur, apparently a style-setter back then. If you want to check it out Glamour Daze is fun resource with a timeline of fashion and beauty starting in the first decade of the 20th century and up through the 1960s. 

Speaking of the 1960s, while many girls of that era got to wear flip hair cuts like Jacqueline Kennedy or Elizabeth Montgomery ("Bewitched"), my parents dragged me to the salon for a "Twiggy" style pixie cut. Was I too much of a tom boy to have long tresses? I do remember being very rambunctious, and climbing lots of trees.

Anyhow, between that pixie haircut and the blue cat-eye glasses that were all the rage, I can definitely date this pic of me on the left to 1967. Besides which, there's a date printed on the side of it. This photo was taken on my 10th birthday.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Hair smells, who knew?

I carpooled to book group the other night, and as we climbed in the car one of my friends said, "Do you smell that? Someone's cooking something nearby."

I didn't smell a thing, and said so. The matter dropped, but later I got to thinking.

Years ago, I used to carpool to choir rehearsal with a friend, a Filipino woman and neighbor. Every so often when she got in the car, I'd get a whiff of garlic and other not unpleasant aromas. The smell conjured in my mind the Filipino dish "pancit," one of my friend's specialties, which she made with onions and garlic and spam and soy and peppers and noodles. I used to devour this dish whenever she brought it to our choir potlucks. So when I smelled the garlic, I assumed she'd been cooking pancit again and her hair had absorbed the smell.

Just as my hair did that night of book group. For dinner I'd been making a chicken stir fry with similar ingredients to pancit -- chicken stock with garlic and onions and peppers and soy sauce. I remember the dish had been bubbling away on the stovetop and I'd leaned over it as I reached for a serving spoon. The thought had even occurred to me: My hair will probably smell from this, but oh well. And sure enough, it did.

It turns out hair odor comes in various forms. The most common one is when hair absorbs the smells wafting in the vicinity. According to The List,
Hair is made of protein and is porous and permeable, which means smells are easily absorbed. Some hair types are more susceptible than others. 
At this link, The List offers tips for getting the smell out of your hair.

But there's also a more serious issue involving hair odor, called Smelly Hair Syndrome (SHS) or Smelly Scalp Syndrome. According to Donovan Hair Clinic, there are many potential causes of SSS [SHS]. The most common causes include:
  • Seborrheic dermatitis 
  • Psoriasis
  • Fungal Infections
  • Allergic contact dermatitis 
  • Irritant contact dermatitis
  • Scarring Alopecias
  • Apocrine/Eccrine Gland Overactivity
  • Metabolic Disturbances
  • Infections
  • Skin Cancers
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Infrequent Washing
  • So now I'm wondering, should I let my book group friend know it was my hair she was smelling? Or did she figure it out, and is now embarrassed she brought it up? Oh, I know, I'll send her a link to this blog post.

    Friday, August 31, 2018

    Hair Korea

    Is there anything different about the way Koreans view their hair? I've been wondering this lately; reason being, I'm off to South Korea for a visit soon, and thinking about how my hair will stack up to Seoulites.

    A brief browser search reveals that, yes indeed, hair is a thing in South Korea, and Seoul in particular. The K-Pop Locks site proclaims in all caps: [KOREANS] MAINTAIN THEIR HAIR LIKE THEY DO THEIR LUXURY GOODS. In other words, they nourish their hair and, rather than practicing hair maintenance like most Americans, they practice prevention, including a hair regimen involving scalp massages and bedtime hair masks.

    Plus (according to K-Pop Locks), they lead healthier lifestyles with an emphasis on fermented and nutrient-rich foods, and plenty of exercise.

    At a website called The Klog, several posts cover K-beauty: The Difference Between American and Korean Hair Products, and The 5-Step Korean Hair Routine that will give you Glossy Hair

    Wait, K-beauty? Yup, a new industry term for skin-care products that come from South Korea. It even has its own Wikipedia entry.

    And here's something I'm definitely going to try. A scalp massager, which it's said (at can help you relax, reduce tension headaches, sleep better, and if used with oil, help eliminate dandruff.

    Aaaahhh. Looks like I'll be coming home with a few new hair products.

    Saturday, July 21, 2018

    Alpaca updos and llama tales

    This morning I opened Facebook and happened upon this post:

    At first glance, one might think this stylistic alpaca shearing is just for fun, not realizing the animals are sheared for their wool like sheep. A post on the Modern Farmer explains: "Alpaca fleece is practically water-repellent and, unlike sheep's wool, lanolin-free and therefore hypoallergenic." Native to South America, alpacas are used as pack animals, and also for their wool.

    The photos reminded me of my distant cousin, Dick Snyder, who raised not alpacas, but llamas at his Foster Hill Farm in Milford, Pennsylvania. He told us during my family's 2003 visit that he bred his llamas primarily for their fiber, although he'd also sold some of his stock to farms around the U.S. He said llamas have very distinctive personalities. Also, the males have to be separated from the females except during mating, and are less friendly than the females since they're constantly vying for dominance with each other.

    We stopped by Dick's farm in the summertime, but arrived a bit too early for Open Barn Day, a weekend every July when my cousin opened his farm to the public. He was an amazing philanthropist and community builder that way. Dick passed away in the fall of 2014, and I miss his intelligent, generous spirit and sense of humor. While thinking about him this morning I browsed the Internet for Snyder Quality Llamas and came across this Pike County Courier article about Open Barn Day at his farm.

    Via the caption on the feature photo, I learned something I hadn't known before: "Lowering your head so the llamas can smell your hair is a way for them to get to know [you]."

    Pictured: Dakota Steele. Photo by Anya Tikka

    Saturday, June 30, 2018

    Hair personality

    This hairpisodes blog is subtitled "What we do to hair, what hair does to us" for a reason. Because it goes both ways. We style our hair for what we like and what we think looks good on us, and also as a form of self-expression. Meanwhile, hairstyle "authorities" are out there making claims regarding the impressions our hair makes on others. Generalizations run rampant:
    Dark Hair -- You're thoughtful
    Red Hair --You're fun-loving
    Blonde Hair --You're a man magnet
    Gray Hair -- You're confident
    (from Reader's Digest, 13 things your hair could reveal about your personality)

    Well, that's just silly. Quintessential White People Problems.

    Cosmopolitan's article 20 Things Your Hairstyle Says About You is more intriguing, based on author Jean Haner's "studies in 3,000-year-old face reading derived from Chinese medicine."

    Image from Book of Research
    Wait, face reading? I am so going there. Apparently, Haner is interpolating her hair wisdom in the "20 Things" article from the Chinese ancient practice of Mien Shiang.

    "The age-old Taoist practice of Mien Shiang is an art and a science that means literally face (mien) reading (shiang). It is an accurate means of self-discovery, and a great way to help us understand others. As the ancient Taoists said, the face records the past, reflects the present, and forecasts the future." (from The Book of Research)

    The Book of Research web site offers a lot of info on Mien Shiang. Next to nothing about hair, though, except for discussion of the hairline (related to socialization) and eyebrows:

    6. House of Siblings (Xiongdi Gong) -- Eyebrows and the areas directly above them represent it, and it also oversees your relationship with your friends and colleagues. The state of your hair has a direct connection to the physical conditions of your parents at the time when you were conceived, which means it has a lot to do with your genetic make-ups. Brows that are dark, thick, long, smooth, orderly and located high above eyes indicate a healthy hormone level that gives rise to affection, calmness and courage. If they look sparse, thin, pale, short, or chaotic, or too close to eyes, or marked with a scar, you could be tormented by your own physical or emotional states.
    Okay, we're talking rampant generalizations again. But it's got me thinking about the reality of "hair reading," about the human tendency to generalize about a person's personality based in large part on their hair. It is what it is.

    Thursday, May 31, 2018

    Garden hair

    There didn't used to be deer in our neighborhood. I gardened for years happily oblivious to those soft-eared, black-nosed little predators. When my hostas began to disappear, I blamed snails. I encircled the plants with crushed egg shells. No luck. Within a season, my hostas were chewed to the nub, never to return.

    I still was blaming snails when, a couple of years later, my tulip buds began disappearing magically, over night, just before they blossomed. Then my rose blooms. Always, the flower nipped off neatly, leaving the forlorn stem as a reminder of what might have been. Cut worms? I wondered. But how could they get so high off the ground?

    "What could be eating my tulips and roses?" I asked an avid gardener friend of mine.

    "It's the deer," she said. "They get my roses, too. I have to build cages around my rose bushes, or I get no flowers at all."

    I hadn't seen deer roaming around, so it seemed unlikely. Then, one night coming home from a meeting after dark, there he/she was, munching through my front garden.

    Who me? Yes, you.

    This spring, as I began to plant my garden and ruefully prune my roses, and yes, watch my tulip blooms rudely devoured one by one, I began to look into deer repellents. As it turns out, deer rely on smell for foraging; powerful odors, especially the smell of other animals, can be successful in warding them off. And wouldn't you know, one of the most common solutions? Human hair.

    So, last week when I got my hair cut, with some embarrassment, I asked my stylist David if I could take my hair snippings home with me.

    "I've brought a plastic bag," I told him. "We could sweep it in there."

    He got a funny look on his face, until I explained about the deer. Then, with a shrug, he swept my hair up and handed it over.

    "I'll have to hear if it works or not, next time you're in," he said in farewell.

    When I got home, feeling a bit skeptical, I spread my hair around as best I could.

    Last Saturday, I came home from running errands and my niece's truck was there. She's been coming by on weekends from time to time to help me out with the gardening. We hadn't talked in a while, so we reviewed recent developments in the yard.

    "And can I just ask," my niece said cautiously, like she'd been wondering whether she dared broach the subject, "about the red furry stuff around the roses?"

    "Oh, that's my hair," I said. "It's supposed to repel the deer. Apparently, hair smells enough like humans that it keeps them away? It probably won't work, but I thought it was worth a try."

    So far so good.

    Monday, April 30, 2018

    Bearded wonders

    In April, a friend from Germany and I made a bike tour in the northeast along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Great Allegheny Passage bike trail systems that run from DC to Pittsburgh. Our trek took us through pretty remote areas, like Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown, West Virginia. During an overnight in Frostburg, Maryland, my friend and I had a beer at Dantes Bar. All at once she tapped me on the shoulder and dragged me to the next room to point out a man sitting alone, drinking a pint and staring at his cellphone.

    "What?" I said. "What is it?"

    "The long hair and beard. What does it mean?"

    She was referring to the man's long, bushy white hair and voluminous white beard. "All kinds of guys have long hair and beards," I told her. "I don't think it's any one particular group. In America, it has more to do with personal preference."

    "Oh, but no one looks like that in Germany. I never see this," she said. She seemed to think the long hair and beards were a political symbol, like the Phrygian cap meant liberty to the French.

    I couldn't prove it didn't represent a political statement, but I did find the Urban Beardsman for her ("Our Urban Beardsman blog explores topics for beardsman, as well as beyond the beard, including style, grooming, travel, community, and insight from the founder"). Check out this blogpost: "5 reasons long hair and beards can be found at the same bars." FWIW.

    Once she'd pointed it out, I started noticing big beards everywhere.

    These beards aren't scraggly. They look so lush in part due to product -- conditioners, oils and balms. Ever since, bearded wonders have been cropping up everywhere I look. Even at the Dayton Art Institute.

    Painting by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1612).

    Marble sculpture of Christ (attributed to Cristoro Solari 1468-1524)

    Thursday, March 29, 2018

    Hair energy

    Is it just my imagination? Whenever I get a haircut, it takes several days for my hair to adjust. I leave the salon with everything in place, but the next time I wash it, my hair won't behave. It seems to recoil, the ends blunted and awkward somehow. It usually takes a week or so for it to calm down.

    I thought of this weird haircut backlash recently, when browsing "hair energy." The third entry on Google showed up as: "Is there a spiritual importance to hair? / Secret Energy." The article leads with: "Hair is certainly an antenna," followed by this graphic image link to a cross-section of a hair (on wikipedia), and the statement that hairs have "tentacles for sensing not only physical objects in proximity but are sensitive to the more subtle fields of etheric energies." Wow.

    Another web site about the spiritual nature of hair elaborates on the antenna principle thus:
    Hairs are the antennas that gather and channel the sun energy or prana to the frontal lobes, the part of the brain you use for meditation and visualization. These antennas act as conduits to bring you greater quantities of subtle, cosmic energy. It takes approximately three years from the last time your hair was cut for new antennas to form at the tips of the hair.
    Ouch. No wonder I'm so often in a daze. I don't have hair antennas, and haven't since my mid-twenties.

    Another web site -- The Healing Powers of Hair -- offers an 8-point list of things you can do to maximize hair energy, concluding with 8.) Cutting Hair. "If you absolutely have to cut your hair, do so when the moon is waxing. This will help stimulate your hair to grow back quicker and more luscious. Also, avoid cutting your hair after the sun sets."

    Originally, I searched "hair energy" because I was thinking about how hair takes a lot of energy--washing it, styling it, periodically going to the salon. Hmm. It would seem my hair will supply me with plenty of energy, if only I let it.

    Wednesday, February 28, 2018

    Cue the Queue

    The other day at a used book sale, I picked up A Military Miscellany by Thomas Ayres. "The Battle over a Haircut" was the prime reason, a few brief paragraphs clueing me in as to the existence of hair queues, otherwise known as pigtails.

    Author Ayres starts out by explaining that "in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, soldiers traditionally wore their hair braided in the back and secured by a ribbon." According to the Revolutionary War Journal, this practice was part of the uniform, born of the popularity of wigs in the 18th century. So important was it to the military uniform, if men didn't have hair long enough for a pigtail, they braided one out of leather.

    Photo from the Revolutionary War Journal blog

    The "battle" in question took place in starting in 1801, due to an edict by General James Wilkinson ordering all U.S. enlisted military men to cut their queues.

    One Revolutionary War hero of record, a Colonel Thomas Butler, Jr. refused to follow orders. He got away with it for a while, because he had friends in high places -- George Washington, members of Congress. But eventually, in 1803, General Wilkinson refused to look the other way any longer, and put Butler under arrest.

    Colonel Butler's friends stepped in, including Andrew Jackson, and pleaded on behalf of the recalcitrant Butler. Their objections gained the colonel a reprieve and restored his rank. But General Wilkinson couldn't let it rest. Again, he erupted in outrage and ordered Butler court-martialed for refusing to cut off his pigtail. The colonel was found guilty. Before he could serve his year in the brig, however, Butler came down with yellow fever.

    According to A Military Miscellany, Butler then instructed his friends, upon his demise,
    to bore a hole in the bottom of his casket. 'Let my queue hang down through it so that the damned old rascal may see that, even when dead, I refuse to obey his order,' he told them. Colonel Butler went to his grave with his pigtail dangling defiantly beneath his coffin. He would have been disappointed to know that Wilkinson was not there to see it.

    Wednesday, January 31, 2018

    Bad hair day

    It's a cloudy, gray day, enough to depress just about anyone. As I head off to a hair appointment, the usual cut and color, I already have a down and out mood. My day goes quickly from bad to worse. On arrival at the salon, I learn "there's been a mistake." My usual stylist has the day off. The news comes as a shock, as much to them, it seems, as to me. Am I willing, the front desk staff asks, to just get a cut today, or maybe just a color? Like they don't even have a way to fit me in at all.

    Emotional turbulence gusts in. I'm truly unnerved. I stand there, glaring, saying nothing.

    "We tried to call you. Didn't you get the message?" the woman says.

    "No," I erupt, gesturing impatiently. "As if it would make a difference. I planned my day around this." I'm almost growling. I have a hunch I look just like my father used to when he got angry, mouth set in a grim line, jaw tense and scary. Seriously? Over a hair appointment?! C'mon, Claire. Get a grip!

    "We're so sorry, can we schedule you in another time? It's really weird this happened," blah blah blah.

    "I'm really upset right now," I say, when she looks at me expectantly. It must be my turn to talk, but I've lost the thread. "I just need to step outside for a bit."

    Out in the drizzle, I stare blankly at the gray. Gray street, gray cars, gray concrete parking garage, gray leafless trees, gray sky. What are my options? Walk down the sidewalk until I come across a hair salon that looks promising? Hopefully one with a "walk-ins welcome" sign? Or, give up and go work at the library? Live with bad hair (white roots, dull, hair-in-the-eyes tresses) for as long as I can stand it?

    I realize I have little energy for that, physical, emotional or otherwise. Hair takes a huge amount of time and thought and care. And trust, too. I just don't have it in me today.

    Turn around and go back in, I tell myself. Just deal.

    I push open the salon door, worried now that when they see me coming, fear will cross their faces. A salon is like a fishbowl. Everyone knows when a client's in a snit.

    "Oh, good!" One of the front desk assistants says, smiling. "Here you are. We've just had a cancellation, a stylist can take you in right away. And today, it's on us."

    "Oh," I say helplessly. "Okay." I stand there limply while one of them comes around the counter, removes my coat for me, takes my backpack, and hands me a smock. Someone else brings me a cup of hot tea and leads me to a chair. Yup, the salon workers are all subtly checking me out, no doubt braced for more drama. As I sit down and gaze into the mirror, I recognize the stylist about to work on me. I've seen her before, and think she's more than competent. But I'm still feeling put out, the emotional disturbance pumping away inside.

    In the next chair over, the woman getting her hair done is laughing gleefully and chatting away, with her stylist and with mine. I'm not quite ready for reckless joy, although when she tries to draw me in, I offer what I hope is a pleasant enough smile. I feel better already.

    On the way out, as the assistant hands me my coat, I thank her.

    "Sorry I imploded earlier," I say.

    "You know," she says. "I really admire how you stepped outside."

    A few hours later, I tell this story to a friend.

    "That's an atta girl!" Cathy says. "Good for you."

    I suppose it was. And for all that, my hair isn't half bad.