because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

No More Bad Hair Days

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Seriously, sometimes it looks like this!

In the days before mousse and gel and other hair care products, I prayed to G-d to make my horrible curls go away.

Each night, I slathered my hair with V-05 — a greasy, grayish paste — and went to bed with a red bandana tied around my head.

All the popular girls had straight, shiny hair — parted at the center and held back by painted barrettes with whales or hearts on them.

My frizzy hair looked stupid when I tried to do that.

Rainy days were the enemy; humidity was my undoing. I learned to stay away from boys at water fountains.

Once, an old woman stuck her fat finger inside one of my corkscrew curls. She muttered words in Yiddish that I didn’t understand. Her translator told me the woman had said she’d had hair like mine when she was young. I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not. Her head was covered with a plastic rain bonnet.

People often told me my hair matched my personality.

*I assumed this meant they thought I was surly and uncooperative.

For decades, I fought my curls. I tried clips and headbands; I even tried straightening treatments to make my hair more manageable.

And then my friend was diagnosed with cancer.

And I watched her lose the soft, dark locks that framed her face. Soon, another friend was diagnosed with something else. And I watched her hair come out in clumps as she brushed it. One day, she brought out the clippers that — until that moment — she’d only used on her son, and she used them on herself. Leaving pieces of herself on the kitchen floor, she hopped in her truck and went off to buy wigs. When another friend lost her hair, she bought hats. Another bought do-rags. Another friend preferred bald. She said wigs went lopsided and scarves itched.

I stopped complaining about my hair.

Because I have hair.

And having hair means that my cells are not behaving badly. That I am not facing chemotherapy or radiation. That I am not making videos for my children to see when they are older because I might not be here. That I am not battling cancer — that goddamn monster — that takes people too young.

I’ve stopped wasting my prayers on hair. G-d has other things to do.

The instructions were to write about hair. Use it as a vehicle to tell us something about your character, a situation, you and/or your life. I tried.

Scorpios: Were You Born This Way?

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I am, without a doubt, a Scorpio.

Scorpios are tough.

People either love us or hate us.

Like the mythical Scorpion, people born under the sign of Scorpio are strong-willed.

Every Scorpio I know is a powerhouse. We don’t like to be controlled by others.

Astrologists say that Scorpios tend to function as agents of purging, not only on a personal level but on the collective level as well.

It is safe to say that if I don’t feel something is right, I won’t shut up about it.

I will challenge you about it.

I will call you out and wrestle you to the mat.

This relentlessness can be a good thing, but I have also been blamed for my need to bring uncomfortable issues to the surface. I don’t get involved to cause trouble. I get involved in an effort to find solutions and heal.

But Scorpios aren’t always the most tactful.

Like the scorpion that kills itself rather than letting someone else kill it, Scorpios are determined, and once we’ve made up our minds we are unlikely to change them.

We can be self-destructive.

You know how Mick Jagger sang: “You can’t always get what you want”?

That’s because he isn’t a Scorpio.

Scorpios always get what they want.

I have to admit, I tend to be am stubborn.

Once, I worked on a Committee.

Here is what I learned.

I cannot work on a Committee.

Committees are too slow for me.

People on committees have to talk about things for eleventeen hundred bajillion years and I just cannot stand that. In addition, I refuse to give up when others have long since gotten bored, decided to move on, or abandoned a project.

I can’t do that.

When I am invested in something, I give it all of me. I don’t care about the money or the lack of it. I just need to see the project through. I have tried to not be a completion-oriented renegade.

I can’t help it; it is written in the stars.

Or something.

Scorpios draw people to them.

How much do I want this coat?

That’s because we are intelligent hot.

Because everyone knows Scorpios are considered the most passionate symbol in the astrological chart.

Astrologists say Scorpios enjoy competition and challenge. That we aren’t satisfied with moving along at half-speed or lowering our abilities to allow people with lesser skills to beat us.

I move at full court press hummingbird. I am fast-talking and fast walking. You’d better get those synapses firing if you want to be with me.

I have six games of Words With Friends going on concurrently. And let’s be clear. When we play? We are not friends.

I am trying to destroy you.

As friends and lovers, Scorpios are loyal and devoted. Touch my people, and I will find the closet sharp instrument and spear you.

Because Scorpios can hurt people.

What can I say? I’m a Scorpio; sometimes I sting.

Ironically, while Scorpios can wound, we are also about healing: ourselves and the world.

In nature, if a scorpion loses its tail, it can heal itself by growing a new one. Cool right? Well, Scorpios are about regeneration, too.

Harry Potter fans, you remember the Phoenix, right? Remember how it regenerated itself from the ashes of its death and rose into the sky, reborn. The most highly evolved Scorpios aspire to be the Phoenix, to rise above the ordinary world and into something extraordinary.

While out for Chinese food last night. This is the fortune that was placed in front of my plate:

Scorpios have big dreams, and they tend to get things done.

So my Scorpio-ishness will make sure that one day I will have a published book.

In the meantime, I will transform my weaknesses into strengths to help others.

And I will use my words to bring people up rather than tear them down.

I will wife and mother, daughter and sister. And teacher and friend.

And I will undoubtedly twit from time to time.

Because I am a Scorpio; that’s the way I roll.

And yeah, today is my birthday. I’m 44.

What’s your sign? And how well do you fit your astrological profile? Do you believe in this shizz? Or do you think astrology is for the birds?

An Opportunity For Dialogue

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I have to confess, in my younger days, I used to attend protests. I have been jazzed up enough about certain social issues to actually put myself out there and march and shout and carry signs and what not.

But I’ve become disenchanted over time because over the years it’s been demonstrated that folks in power really don’t care what citizens want.

And I have to admit the whole Take Back Wall Street thing has me confused because I have seen so many people representing so many different gripes; I have actually lost the message of the protest. I mean, is there one unifying message?

But this guy. Well, he has found a way to do his part. YouTuber ransackedroom, a San Francisco based marketer has a plan that involves taking the business reply mail envelope that comes with most unsolicited credit card offers, and sending it back to the banks with a message inside that ransacked hopes will help open “a dialogue.”

And look, he’s not screaming when he says it. He’s logical. And civilized. For the love of Pete, the man is wearing a tie!

I adore how this guy has a simple, all-inclusive concept to “sell” Take Back Wall Street to the masses. His contribution to the movement is about creating a diversion of time. Personally, I love this. It’s perfectly passive-aggressive. And perfectly legal. It uses the big bank resources against the big banks to make a point.

And to those who participate, we get to feel like we’re recycling while protesting at the same time.

How cool is that?

And multi-taskishy.

Seriously, if everyone does what this guy asks even just once or twice, maybe it would actually stop all those awful credit card mailers. And wouldn’t that — in and of itself — be worth fighting for?

Would you consider doing this? Have you ever attended a protest? How did you feel about its overall success? What do you think about the Take Back Wall Street Movement? And can you articulate the message of its movement?

When Your Freezer Breaks

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So our refrigerator broke down.

More specifically, our freezer stopped freezing.

The ice cream could not be saved.

Neither could the meat.

Of course, this happened at the worst time.

But then is there ever a good time for your freezer to go on the fritz?

Remaining, calm, I did what every person with a broken appliance would do.

To which Lenore responded:

But it was way too late for that.

At 1 pm, I was feeling optimistic.

And then something magical happened!

So instead of focusing on how much meat I’d just thrown away, I focused on this:

Treats from Pittsburgh!

Because I won this contest that Clay and Leanne Shirtliffe did a while back.

It was nice of Clay to include a crumpled up bag of Starbucks coffee. It made the box smell really good.

Then I read Clay’s note which explained that if I return the empty bag, the folks at Starbucks will give me a free coffee.

He also included this:

Because I'm worth it!

Thank you, Clay! 😉

Unfortunately, the coffee would have to wait.

Because I couldn’t leave the house.

At 2 pm, the repair guys still hadn’t come.

And I had a terrible realization:

Whaaat?

So I was in my jammies at 2 o’clock in the afternoon?

It was my day off!

Don’t judge me!

One tweep invoked Murphy’s Law:

I stuck this on the front door — just in case:

Time dragged like the time my brother dragged me by my hair.

And then it all happened so fast.

I so wanted to get a picture of Patrick, my freezer repair guy.

But I never even had a chance to ask for it.

Or explain why I wanted it.

Or get his permission to post it.

He was in and out of that freezer so fast you’d have thought I hadn’t showered or something.

Which I did, thank you very much.

Anyway, he’ll be back next Thursday.

Meanwhile, tomorrow the student who gave me the tip on how to bet in that hockey contest will be getting a little somethin’-somethin’ from me.

Whaaaat?

I mean chocolate from Pittsburgh.

Sheesh! Y’all can take something innocent and delicate and gentle  — like hockey — and twist it like the towel Patrick used to dry out my dripping freezer, and turn it into something nasty.

And, by the way, that towel is nasty now.

What is the last appliance you had to service? And how many times did it take for the repair-person to come back until it was really fixed? And what do you think about extended warranties?

In the Middle of October

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I recently had a nostalgic moment. The tree reminded me of something I hadn't thought about in a long time.

I remember you mornings mostly, emerging from showers: towel-clad, shoulders bare and water-speckled.

Wrapped in the orange glow from overhead heating lamps, enveloped by thick bathroom mist, you shined, luminescent. Poreless, your skin, bronze and pure, and I noticed you (as if for the first time) golden curls, heavy and weighted with water, still catching light and reflecting syrupy-sweetness.

So solid, you stood like some kind of crazy tree, and like the long-armed, wobbly-kneed tomboy I used to be, I wanted to climb your branches.

Wanted to become part of your limbs’ history.

Wanted to climb your sweet boughs, surrounded by soft reds and browns and gold, press my nose to hair which I remember smelled like autumn, musky and damp.

Everything about you reminds me of Fall, a time that, as a child, I called “tree-turn season,” a time that reminds me of a drum beat, or a heart beat, or some kind of gentle pounding, like a child’s fist on a brass knocker at Halloween.

(Was this why I loved you?)

There were more reasons, I’m sure, but in that moment, time spilled through air, an emptiness filled, and I scooped up fallen bits of my reality, throwing them invisibly overhead like the crinkly leaves of my childhood, as golden drops of water slipped down your back and you moved behind our bedroom door.

I didn’t recognize it then, but I should have known that winter was coming.

After apple-picking and pumpkin-carving and Halloweening, what do you remember about autumn?

This week writers were asked to use the weather, or a photo of an autumn day to inspire a memoir piece in under 300 words. For more wonderful pieces, click on the button above.

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The Terrible, Beautiful Tattoo

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Sacred  Heart
Image by slurv via Flickr -- NOTE: This is not a picture of my tattoo. This is gorgeous!

It was out of character for me, but I showed up without a plan.

Just a little scribble on a scrap of paper.

I asked a few million questions about the needles.

“Lady,” said the man at the counter, “we ain’t interested in spreadin’ diseases.”

Jed, the newest apprentice, was available.

I agreed. Jed would be fine.

What did I know?

I wanted a tattoo.

So I dropped my pants and allowed a stranger to drag needles across my skin.

As I laid on the table, I listened to the rain that pummeled the tin roof over our heads.

And through the open door, I watched the rain sweep cigarette butts into the sewer.

Any other day, I would have been sitting cross-legged on the futon in my apartment grading student papers. Lying there, I was grateful I didn’t have a dog that needed to be let out at any particular time. I remembered how – before I was a teacher, a role model — I liked a little spontaneity.

Eventually, Jed finished.

I couldn’t wait to see it.

I had shown Jed that initial sketch, but he had taken some liberties.

And he left me with a permanent lopsided heart.

I paid seventy-five dollars in cash for my little act of rebellion.

Initially, I was annoyed by its wrongness.

But I quickly grew to love it.

And twenty years later, each time I look at my tattoo (that has become even more crooked over time), I remember a lazy day in New Orleans. An in-between time, when I was neither wife nor mother but dangerously free.

My tattoo reminds me of a place I love fiercely. It reminds me how love without patience and care can become unbalanced. Most of all, my tattoo reminds this Type A control-freak that when a person acts impulsively, sometimes the results can be pleasantly imperfect.

What do you think about tattoos? Art or self-mutilation?

• • •

I so rarely have time to do the fabulous prompts from Red Writing Hood, but this week, it spoke to me. The assignment: Write a piece in which a tattoo figures prominently in 300 words.

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An Unwelcome Dx

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“Mouth” by Phineas H @ flickr.com

It should not have been a surprise when I received the diagnosis; after all, I was a shrieking cheerleader in high school. And while I never had a single voice lesson, I used to sing in a band. For fifteen years, I shouted to my father while he pushed his lawnmower to let him know that I’d brought him a drink and some cookies. I hollered when riding snowmobiles, dune buggies, motorcycles and motorboats, and I shouted to get attention in noisy places: bars, restaurants, at concerts, hell, even while at the salon while under the hair dryer. During my years at summer camp, I intentionally tried to scream the loudest to show my spirit, and over the last decade, I’ve morphed into that crazy mom (you know the one) who cheers for everyone’s kids at the baseball games – even the kids on the opposing teams. I laugh a little too loud. I squeal and carry on when I am reunited with people whom I haven’t seen in way too long, when a friend’s child dives into the pool for the first time, or when I find out someone has just gotten engaged. In my car, I am Madonna, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. I try not to shout when I am mad, but sometimes I can’t help it.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that after a day of teaching, my voice is pretty shot, that I am hoarse and I strain when I speak. At first, it was kinda cool: I sounded like Stevie Nicks, all husky and sultry. . . but when I developed a night-time cough and realized I’d lost more than a full octave when singing, even I knew it was time to make an appointment with the Ear, Nose and Throat doc who told me exactly what I didn’t want to hear: I’m a vocal over-doer.

Yup, that’s my diagnosis.

Dr. Anat Cedar and Dr. Robert Bastian coined the term “Vocal Over Doers Syndrome” to designate an individual whose manner of voice use can be considered excessive and thereby put the person at risk of injury. Typically, the vocal over doer is talkative (Check.) And possesses a life circumstance that demands much voice use. (Um, double check.)

I’m supposed to rest my voice and do these weird breathing exercises to prevent further damage. It’s called practicing “good vocal hygiene.”

I am supposed to avoid nicotine and caffeine, shouting, cheering and excessively loud laughing. I am supposed to clear my throat only when absolutely necessary. I am not supposed to cough or make “strange noises” with my voice. (I swear, I am not making this up.) I should talk when I wish, but not too much. (I’m finding “too much” is too relative of a term.) I am supposed to avoid spicy foods and substitute skim milk for whole milk. When I teach, I am supposed to sit in the center of the room so I can be heard easily without talking loudly. (That one cracks me up.) The list goes on, and truth be told, I fail miserably on nearly all fronts, except the nicotine. That one is easy: I don’t smoke.)

Alas, I don’t know how many more years (or semesters) I have left in the classroom. It has definitely become more difficult for me to project my voice the way I used to, but I am still wildly enthusiastic about my subject matter, so it is incredibly frustrating when I open my mouth and a tiny squeak of nothingness comes out instead of my intended passionate auditory gush over a well-placed comma or properly used semicolon.

You should hear me on roller-coasters. Terrified, my hands balled into fists, my mouth agape, I’m positively silent.

There is a compelling gospel song that repeats the line, “God is trying to tell you something.” Maybe this is the case. Perhaps some cosmic force is trying to tell me to quiet down, exercise my ears, and become a better listener. I am open to anything.

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