Saturday, August 19, 2006

below the whisker-lines, under the bowsprit

More than once in my life, I have staged photos to make me appear to be in a more precarious place than I actually am. This photo? This photo looks a fraction of how precariously I am hanging above the Atlantic-- perhaps fifteen feet above the surface of the water, speeding along on the breeze... First time on a sailboat in twenty years or so. I convinced the captain I'm a good climber. Good thing he didn't ask if I'm a good swimmer-- because I am a bad liar. He let me ride in this net for the last half-hour of the sail, rocking and swaying in my comfortable "hammock."

"The winds of grace blow all the time. All we need do is set our sails." The quote is attributed to Ramakrishna. I know nothing about sails. But I know how to climb. Wind and grace are ever connected in my mind.

This ride was an anniversary gift from our neighbor, who sings the sea chanties while folks hoist the sails onto the masts.

Monday, August 07, 2006

it's the skirt, isn't it?

My friend still hadn’t arrived, so I set up shop on the rainy corner of Chinatown, a few blocks from the Manhattan Bridge: my backpack leaned against the wall, my tote between my feet, I pulled out my glasses and the new hard-cover I’m devouring. My clothes were sweat-through and nearly dripping all over again when two college age young men cycled right up to me. They were cute and hip Anglo’s just as out-of-place as me, and the one with the great glasses began to ask me detailed questions—it took me a moment to realize he was asking me for directions!

“Wait a minute! You’re telling me I don’t look utterly disoriented and like a probable victim for tourist-mugging? I have no idea where I am! It’s not written all over me?”

The two guys looked at each other, then back at me in apparent admiration. The one with the curls spoke next, “No—no, not at all. You look exactly like you own this block.”

We’re suddenly co-conspirators, guards let down as we realized we are equally clueless in a city and neighborhood where cluelessness could be dangerous. “Tell me, so I can know: it’s the skirt, isn’t it?”

“No,” said the curly-haired one, “it’s the book. But then, it’s everything. You look quite comfortable.”

“Definitely the book,” the first one laughed. He whispered, in a congratulatory tone “You project complete confidence.”

“It’s whistling in the dark, you know, false courage when you’ve run out of options.”

“It works. A wall of courage. Your ride comin’ soon?”

“Anytime. He’s within a few blocks.” I shook my head and continued reading as they cycled off into the night.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Handfuls of hair collect near the drain each time I wash my hair. It startles me, as if I haven’t been losing two fists worth of hair every single wash for the past several months. There’s no need to be alarmed: my hair could cloak three heads, at least, and perhaps I will notice a difference in quantity after another few months of this. Still, the sight is a strange one, something rinsing away from me. It was just a part of me, a minute ago.

My hair has always been like a fussy pet. It won’t tolerate conditions other people consider normal: normal haircuts shape my hair like a Christmas tree, or worse, like a square. A normal blow-dryer can destroy my hair until the next wash, and a curling iron or flat-iron is simply no match for my hair’s deep desire to go it’s own way. Treated just right, though, it’s become my one lasting vanity—it dresses up well, it dresses down well. As long as I treat it with care.

Bits of my hair crackled off when I lived in the pine barrens of eastern Washington for a few years—I woke each morning to find desiccated pieces of dark hair on my pillow, would buy any moisturizing product my hairdressers recommended, in hopes moisture would sink in. On those rare weekends I traveled across the Cascade Mountains toward Seattle, I could almost hear my hair (and my skin, for that matter) sigh with relief as I entered the damp curtain of humidity. For a few days, my hair would remember how to be happy again, before I returned to the desert.

Now I live by the sea, where the weather is always damp and suited to my dense curls. I pull it up and away from my face, almost every day of summer. Ponytail, braids, French twist—there are so many options. I’m good to my pet, feeding it bottles of Frizz-Ease (Extra Strength), covering it with a big straw hat at the beach.

I began a combination of supplements, a few months ago, to alleviate headaches, and the headaches left almost immediately. The doctor thought my mood would lift, and it lifted sooner than we expected. She told me I would gain weight for a few months. She mentioned I might be uncomfortable. She did not tell me the texture of my skin would change. She did not tell me I would lose hair. I’ll go back and read all of the fine print from the pharmacy and see what I learn.

Until then, I wash my exotic pet hair with the reminder to myself: I have plenty, plenty. It only looks scary, washing away like that. I wonder if each strand was connected to a headache I will not suffer, as I watch it go. I imagine all the terrible reasons people lose hair, in cancer treatments, for surgery. This is not so bad. No one sees it go, no one but me. No one sees a single hair of difference in me. No one is upset. But me.

Addendum: I wrote this a month ago—the hair loss has slowed considerably. Now I hope that little weight-gain thing also “subsides,” as the good doctor described it would.