November 24, 2010

And Then I Didn't

I think I mentioned that I bought a Barbie Dream House on eBay. The original 1962 model, just like the one I had as a kid. Not to play with. To write about. Really. Perhaps the italics have given you the wrong idea, but here's the truth: I had a Barbie Dream House, and then I didn't. I used to write, and then I didn't. Ah, but as a kid I wrote all the time. Wrote wrote wrote wrote wrote. Stories, plays, poems. Teachers awarded As. Classmates read avidly. My father corrected my spelling.

Was I good? Hard to say, though I've kept every scrap. The more important question is: Did I love it? Yes. I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. But I didn't. Not good enough, talented enough, dedicated brave strong confident stubborn defiant crazy driven enough. When I came back to writing nine years ago, it was no longer fun or easy. My fingers no longer itched when they'd been too long away from a pen and a few sheets of notebook paper. I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be. I had no ideas, period, and relied on exercises and prompts to get me started.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg preaches the power and efficacy of what she calls writing practice--writing in response to a prompt for five or ten or fifteen minutes during which you don't stop to think or correct, you don't pass go, and you don't collect $200. You don’t even lift the pen from the page.

For example: write about a favorite toy. Ten minutes. Okay, go.

No, stop. What was my favorite toy? No idea. Well, let's see: my bike, roller skates, a baby doll named Jeanie, a teddy bear whose name changed depending on which one of my siblings claimed ownership, Barbie, the Barbie Dream House, COLORFORMS--whoa, wait. What was that about the Barbie Dream House? Ah, yes. The Barbie Dream House. I loved the Barbie Dream House. Whatever happened to that? No, seriously, what did happen to it?

It took me several writing sessions to remember the last day I played with it, and—I’ll let Barbie tell you her version of events:

"I was in the midst of a hot date with Ken when the Mom-person came to tell my person that it was time for dinner and that she had to go home. The Friend-person asked the Mom-person if my person could stay for dinner, but the Mom-person said no. (The Mom- and Dad-persons seem to have a lot of power. Especially the Mom-people. What they say goes.) And so my person and I went. She gathered up all of my furniture and stacked it against the back wall of my house. The bed on its side, balanced on the couch, along with the coffee table, the easy chair upturned over the ottoman....well, I don't know how she does it, but she gets it all in there. She takes good care of my stuff and for that I'm grateful.

"She doesn't pull my arms off or cut my hair. Doesn't let her little brother shoot me with his BB gun or blow me up with GI Joe’s bazooka. My friend Skipper’s cousin’s neighbor said she knew some Barbies whose Brother-person stood up in a field with some other dolls so he could pretend he was shooting Germans in WWII, but that might just be an urban legend.) But she does stuff me in my dream house on top of all that furniture, and then SHE LEAVES ME THERE. My back just kills me. One of these days, I'm going to become a chiropractor--or maybe an astronaut. I haven't decided yet. Whatever has the cutest clothes.

"Anyway, on THAT day, which would be--little did I know it--the last good day of my life, my person stuffed me into the house, folded up its walls, and off we went. It was a bumpy ride from the Friend-person's house to my person's house. She acted like I'm HEAVY or something because she kept setting my house down and letting out these big sighs. (I'd have been insulted if it weren't for my svelte, buxom figure, which I just know will still be sexy even when I'm 50.)

"Once, she set me down for a really long time, and I heard voices. Girl voices, and boys laughing. My person didn’t say much. And then, really clear, a girl voice said, 'Barbara, do you still play with DOLLS?' Like playing with dolls was a bad thing! Like it was a dirty thing. After that my person picked me up, real rough, like she didn’t care about my safety and comfort, and the ride was worse than it had ever been. She left me for a long time in the dirty, car-smelling garage. A long, long, LONG time. Like, forever."

Barbie exaggerates. It was two years, three tops, before the Barbie Dream House was disposed of in some manner I no longer recall but which most likely involved Goodwill, and Barbie, freed from house arrest, was relocated to the cardboard box that would become her tomb. (It was an accident, I swear.) Writing, shoved into a grimy and unvisited corner of my psyche, languished longer.

Why does this matter? Because I used to write, and then I didn’t. I had a Barbie Dream House, and then I didn’t. I didn’t write, and then I did—and when I did, the Barbie Dream House was one of the first things I wrote about.


October 29, 2010


A friend gave me a magnet that reads: Barbie wants to be ME. It's pink, of course, and yes, there's a heart on it. I thought it hysterically funny. Still do. But I don't believe it. Friends have said (some even publicly, in comments made on blog posts) that Barbie has nothin' on me (aside perhaps from the nifty convertible, the padded resume, and the height), but I don't see it.

What I see: a short, overweight, glasses-wearing middle-aged woman who is also--when she's not spending insane amounts of money to keep from looking 50--going gray.

I read a story the other day (by the fabulous Jo Pilecki, one of my workshop writers and a newly-minted Amherst Writers  & Artists workshop leader) about a woman who bought a special mirror that made her look thin. Of course it would be wonderful to own such a thing, but what if the mirror on the wall reflected who we really are? If we could see ourselves as others see us?

Probably I would avert my eyes--just as I do whenever I stand before the bathroom mirror in the dark, for fear that what I will see there will be as hideous as the vengeful Bloody Mary, whose spirit can be summoned by the triple invocation of her name. For fear that I could never un-see how others see me. (Short, overweight, glasses-wearing, middle-aged, going gray, bossy, self-righteous, judgmental...) 

But what if the magic mirror showed me the good things I don't see: wit, humor, kindness, generosity, intelligence, tolerance, talent. Would I then believe that Barbie wants to be me?

Actually, you know what? Who cares who Barbie wants to be. Who does Barbara want to be?

October 12, 2010

To Whom It May Concern

October 12, 2010
Fear of Being Laughed At
Department of Looking Stupid
Worrying Too Much What Other People Think, Inc.
To whom it may concern:
I am writing to you today regarding a lifetime's subjugation to the fear of looking stupid, sub-catagory: fear of being laughed at. After fifty years, this fear continues to operate as efficiently as if its constituent parts and features--embarrassment, humiliation, exposure, blushes, and, yes, tears--were brand-new. In fact, it sometimes seems that this fear of being laughed at/looking stupid works better now than when first installed.
This is unacceptable.
It is this very reliability that makes the fear of being laughed at/looking stupid a health hazard. Frankly, I'm surprised that you have not already been sued for damages inflicted to self-esteem, ego, and potential. Do you have any idea of the things I have avoided doing because of you? Singing where anyone could hear me. Dancing. Writing. Saying "I love you" when it might have made a difference. Saying "I love you" when it wouldn't have changed a thing.

While we're at it, let's talk about my fear of losing control--kissing cousin to the fear of being laughed at/looking stupid--which requires--requires!--me to be in control at all times. I must avoid any and all situations in which the unexpected might occur. Surprise is anathema.
Thanks to you, someone is always watching. am always watching, always vigilant, always less than I could be, my light perpetually basketed, lest someone find it/me laughable/stupid.
I really must insist that you accept the return of this paralyzing gelotophobia--which, by the way,  I never wanted in the first place. As it was a gift, handed down through countless generations of my family--along both matrilineal and patrilineal lines--I do not have the receipt. Regardless, I feel certain that you will find a way to make restitution.
I look forward to your prompt attention to this matter.
Cross-posted in the Sunset Coast Writers blog.

September 26, 2010

Never a Grandma

My oldest (in terms of how long we've know each other) friend recently announced that she'll be a grandmother early next year, and all I could think was, how could she (and by extension, me) possibly be old enough to have grandchildren? I still remember the day we met, a sweat-sticky afternoon in early August. She was nine. I was almost-nine.

My family had just moved to Georgia. I had met all the other kids on our street, but for some reason I had not yet met Cherie. (She was out of town, or sick, or maybe grounded. I don't remember.) But I had heard about her. Everywhere I went, it seemed, someone would ask her little sister, "Where's Cherie?" And every time, I would think, "Oh, yeah, THAT'S how you say her name--Sure-REE." And then I'd forget again, what, exactly, her name was, only that it was exotic--and that everyone seemed anxious for us to meet, asking, "Have you met Cherie yet?" 

In her absence, she assumed mythic proportions, so that, the day I finally saw her, holding a popsicle with one hand and steering her bicycle in slow circles in front of her house with the other, I was too shy to approach her. She was just that cool. I told myself that I would, you know, just ride BY her on my way to the other end of the street. As I steeled my nerve and pressed my feet harder against the pedals, she braked hard, jerked her handlebars to the right, and leaned over, orange syrup dripping from her chin and running down her arm. And there we were, face to face. We had no choice but to say hello, to become best friends.

Forty-one years later, I still love that little girl, and the woman she grew into. Her news brought both joy and the sudden realization that when my husband and I opted out of PTA and car pools, doctor visits and tantrums, all the challenges and, yes, the sweetness of parenthood, we were also opting out of grandparenthood. I don't know why that came as such a suprise. Not having children was a conscious decision, and it's a decision neither of us regrets. But sometimes I wonder about that particular not-taken road: what kind of parents would we have been? What would our children have been like? Who would WE be, if we had had children? There are no wistful if-onlys in my wonderings, merely speculation.

All of my life I have I lagged behind my friends when it came to rites of passage: drinking, driving, riding a bike, leaving home. I have felt that I didn't know the things that everyone else seemed to know: what to take to the family after a death, how to parallel park, how to throw a party. Eventually, the training wheels came off, I passed my driver's test, I found my first apartment. It's not too late to learn how to entertain, and I can get by without parallel parking. As I approach fifty, I know that I will--like everyone else my age--turn gray, need bifocals, gain weight. I may lose my hearing, my balance, my memory. But I will never wear a puff-paint sweatshirt that says, "Ask me about my grandchildren," or pose in place of honor at my 80th birthday party, and know that many of the people present exist because of me. Sometimes, there's just no way to catch up. 

Take the road less traveled by, or take the first. Either way, the choice will make all the difference.

But you know what? Barbie will never be a grandmother, either.

September 6, 2010

What I Meant to Do on My Summer Vacation

I'd like to take a moment to reflect on all that I accomplished on my summer vacation:


Perhaps I should reflect, instead, on what I didn't do. I did not:
  • ride my bike down to the lake every (any) day
  • go for long walks before daylight (that's really the only time I like walking, and then it's only because it makes me feel smug and superior)
  • attend the weekly brown bag concerts, the farmer's market, the Friday night concerts, or the Venetian Festival
  • finish all those literary journals that seemed to arrive on the same day in May
  • read all (any) of the craft books (The Nonfictionist's Guide, Fourth Genre, Keep it Real, The Art of Writing Creative Nonfiction, among others) that have been languishing on my shelves for lo, these many years like pressed, primped, and aging wallflowers
  • write
That's not completely true. I did do some writing, but not what I had hoped.

As the spring workshops wound down in May, I declared that this summer would be all about the writing.  My own writing, not that of others. Encouraging others to write, that's a good thing. Probably the thing I do best. But, you know, "Do as I do" is really more effective than "Do as I say." And so, as I bade the writers in my workshops "Go forth and write," I might have promised to do the same. I figured that posting to this blog once a month would not be too great a drain on all that writing I was going to do.

Turns out this blog was no drain at all; you can add blogging to the list of things I didn't do.

Frankly, I just don't do summer well. I don't like the heat, and no matter how I spend my time, I always feel as if I'm not having the right amount of fun. Ah, but, that's another season entirely. I have always loved fall: the cooler temperatures, the almost unbearable blue of the October skies, my birthday, college football. School supplies.

By the time that my childhood summers wound down, time seemed to slow, almost to stop, as if the heat and humidity sapped its will to pass. I could hardly bear the anticipation of school and the excitement of buying school supplies--at no other time did we get so many new things at once: a new three-ring binder, pristine, unmarked; an unopened pack of loose leaf paper, unopened, the edges aligned perfectly; crayons; scissors; glue, a ruler; pencil case; and, when was old enough to need them, dividers. The new, unchewed-upon Ticonderoga #2 pencils, with their flat ends, did not seem sufficiently prepared for the work they would be asked to perform, and so I did the only thing I could to hasten the arrival of the First Day; I trooped to our basement, to the yellow and blue hand-cranked pencil sharpener mounted beneath the stairs, and hoped that one would emerge perfect, smelling of wood and school and possibility.

So have a good year, everyone. I'm off to sharpen some pencils.

May 25, 2010

Summer Hours

Never a Barbie will return to once-a-month posting for the summer. Look for a new entry at the beginning of each month.

Have a groovy summer, dudes and dudettes!

May 18, 2010

The Curler Wars

The Curler Wars
by Maizie Lee Linkous

Me, I'm a bona fide veteran of the curler wars. I know it doesn't sound very serious, but when you come from a long line of beauty queens--my grandmama was Miss Cobb County 1930 and 1933, and my mama was runner-up for Miss Georgia in--well, she wouldn't want me to tell you what year it was, but believe me, beauty is Big Business where I come from. And there I was, Miss Maizie Lee Linkous, with stick-straight hair. My sister Daisy had ringlets down to her butt, but me and the curlers, we got to know each other right early.

First it was scratchy metal ones, black and gray, like Brillo in a cage. Mama'd roll my hair up in a whole mess of those of a Saturday night and then jab one of them pointy pick-like things through each one. They were only plastic, but Lord God it felt as if it was like to go right through my scalp. Whenever I'd holler, "Ow!"--and you'd better believe I was never one to hold my tongue if I thought it could get me out of something--Mama'd say, "I'm not hurting you, Maizie Lee. Be still." And then she'd say, "You got your daddy's hard head, girl. Nothing's going to make a dent in that skull."

Then she'd send me off to watch NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, and I'd sit there in my pajamas eating a bowl of ice cream or some popped corn, my head already aching from where Mama'd wound it up so tight. I couldn't hardly enjoy the TV, thinking about what was to come.

I'd kiss Mama good night, and she'd pat me on the bottom and say, "Now, don't let those curlers come out, Maizie Lee." And I'd say, "I won't. I'll sleep real careful," and I'd lay my head down so easy on my pillow, trying to hold perfectly still. But those little Brillo Pads would make my head itch, and then one of them pointy picks would jab me, and so I'd turn my head--just a tad, just trying to get comfortable, you know--but it wouldn't do no good.

Finally I'd fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion, and next morning all the curlers on one side of my head woulda worked themselves loose somehow and just be dangling. Lord, then Mama would fuss. She'd pull them curlers from my hair and they'd hold on like they didn't want to let go, and when she was done, one half of my head would have smooth, blond curls, and the other would be all droopy. Mama would wrap those droopy curls around her hand, trying to get them to curl tighter but no matter how much Aqua Net she sprayed they just wouldn't tighten up.

So then she'd go to work on the other side, trying to loosen those ones. She'd brush and brush and stretch 'em out, then spray hairspray every which way. When she'd let 'em go, boing!, they'd roll right back up.

And there'd be Daisy, smirking at me through a mouth full of Pop Tart, her with her perfect, shiny little curls, watching Davey and Goliath before service, while I had barely enough time to get dressed

May 10, 2010

Played with Condition

I ran across this on eBay the other day: "Vintage 1962 Barbie Dream House: Played with Condition."

Played with condition? What does that even mean, and why does it warrant mention? It's not like, in 1962, someone would have said: "Hey you know what? I bet this fold-up, carry-along dollhouse made of die-cut fiberboard will one day be worth millions. Let's put it aside, count our chickens, and plan the retirement vacations we'll be able to take on the proceeds of its sale in oh, let's say 2000. Never mind that the year 2000 seems as far away as the as-yet-unwalked-upon moon and that Barbie herself is only three years old, I just have a feeling."

No, in 1962, every Barbie Dream House would have been played with. There's no way, I promise you, that there is a single Vintage 1962 Original Barbie Dream House Model No. 816 that is not in played-with condition. Doubly unlikely, were that possible, is the existence of one that is MIB (mint in box), which would have required the foresight of Carnack the Magnificent to divine "collectors' item" in the Barbie Dream House's unassembled state. Not to mention that there was no box, just flat sheets of cardboard held together by plastic bands, cardboard from which the furniture had to be punched out, like paper dolls.

So you can see how flimsy the whole thing must have appeared to the parents charged with assembly, particularly those whose own experiences with dollhouses involved wood or metal--much stronger materials, as any little pig would tell you. Can you imagine the havoc a Big Bad Wolf could wreak on a house made of cardboard? Think trailer park in a tornado. One huff and a couple of puffs could have blown the whole thing completely away and Barbie with it, until she woke up somewhere that wasn't Kansas.

I will say this: putting a vintage 1962 Barbie Dream House on a shelf or in an airtight closet would have preserved the handle of my own 1962 Barbie Dream House, and my whole life might have turned out differently. But that's another story.

May 4, 2010

Dumping Barbie

I threw away my Barbie Dream House, in anger and with great deliberation – or so I have imagined – after the neighbor boy on whom I had a tremendous crush saw me carrying it home from my best friend’s house. A not unusual occurrence, but on that day in the summer before sixth grade, he was in the presence of Mableton Elementary School’s “It” girls, twins who, although my chronological age, were so far past me in maturity that we might have been different species. That day I saw that I would always be on the wrong side of the maturity gap. So I did away with the formerly beloved Barbie Dream House, and as soon as possible, forgot about it.

That’s not true; I have no actual memory of disposing of the Barbie Dream House, but do know that Barbie did not go the way of her house. She perished on a Saturday in the summer of my sixteenth year.

April 27, 2010

A Room of One's Own (Redux)

Perhaps this bears repeating: the Barbie Dream House was not my dream present. But after forgiving Santa for not bringing Color Magic Barbie instead, and after all the Slot As had been inserted into their Slot Bs, I came around. Mostly because--although I couldn't have articulated this as a child--Barbie had independence and autonomy and a place of her own.

It would take me nearly twenty more years to achieve independence and autonomy and a place of my own. And even then my dad tried to tell me I couldn't afford to move out. Turns out he was right, but I was determined and/or stubborn and rented a small, cheap efficiency.

That little apartment held all the worldly goods I couldn't live without (or leave at mom and dad's)--bed, desk, dresser, TV, stereo, bookcase, couch--and not much else. A partition--fabricated from 2x4s and a single sheet of PVC by the previous tenant, and left intact at my request--bifurcated the apartment's one room and created a sleeping alcove just large enough for my childhood twin bed and a third-hand dresser. The kitchen, surprisingly roomy, sported full-size appliances and a fair amount of counter space, but no window over the sink. I promptly stuck up a poster my best friend had given me for my sixteenth birthday--a rainbow arching over Victoria Falls, as seen through a window. Curtains and a hanging pot of aloe vera (verra good for burns) completed the illusion that the apartment contained more than one window.

Barbie had fake windows, too. Come to think of it, the whole place was a lot like Barbie's Dream House.

April 20, 2010

A Room of One's Own

Virginia Woolf  famously (and long-windedly) said, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

All I ever wanted, even before I started writing, was a space of my own, something inviolable that belonged to only me. I shared a bedroom with my little brother for six-almost-seven years, and when my older brother married, went from the twin beds of babyhood to the big girl world of a double bed and a huge dresser that held only my clothes. Santa brought a bookcase that year. Books and a door behind which to store them: What riches.

Still, the space was not all mine: Mom dictated when the sheets were changed, when I cleaned and what constituted "done," and even when I could read. (Not at all after bedtime, whether by flashlight, the glow of the streetlight in the alley between Warrington and Livernois, or the fading twilight of an early bedtime on a long summer night.) There was no place where my wishes and desires, however small, were not summarily overruled.

Barbie, on the other hand, had a whole house to herself.  There, within its cardboard walls, Barbie had everything she wanted. (As long as she didn't need to eat or pee.)  No one but me could tell her what to do or when she couldn't read.

April 13, 2010

It's Complicated

I am not a Barbie collector, a Barbie fanatic, or a Barbie abuser. But I read. I hear things. Tales of dolls kidnapped, barbecued, and blown up by brothers little and big. Dolls buried in the sands of backyard Iwo Jimas, dolls as target-practice stand-ins for the Germans of WWII. The most common mistreatment occurs at the hands of the seemingly-fond owners: the shearing of the locks. Almost every woman I know speaks, with a mixture of shame and pride, of cutting her dolls' hair. I never did that.

I never overtly mistreated my dolls; I do have a story, however, in which the child narrator kicks and punches her Barbie Dream House in an attempt to alleviate my -- I mean her -- mortification at having been caught playing with it by the Popular Girls who, although chronologically my age (alright, yes, it was me), were years ahead by maturity's reckoning. I suspect I still haven't caught up.

That event became, through the alchemy of time and perspective, the inspiration for my first adult-written short story, an essay, the title piece of my graduate school thesis, and the name of this blog. Clearly, Barbie holds significance for me,  certainly she shows up in my writing. Perhaps it is easier to bare imperfections under the solidarity of common experiences: a shared spotlight turns glare into glow. As little girls we played with dolls, exploring our selves as we shared wardrobes and dream houses, taking readings from each other: does this dream make me sound crazy? What if I were to do or say this, would you still like me? We tried on attitudes and attributes, rehearsed, repeated, ad-libbed our futures.

Sometimes I wonder when I'll give up writing about Barbie -- it was all so long ago -- and yet I think there's a deeper meaning to be mined and illuminated, real value in providing a reflective surface for others who might see themselves in my memories. Sometimes, as writers, we need to proffer our own moments of darkness, however tiny and seemingly-insignificant, so that what really matters becomes clear in the contrast. Insights, no matter how long, long ago the initial event, can lead to a sort of rebirth, a peeling away of a no-longer-needed armor.

April 6, 2010

Happy Belated Birthday, Barbie

April 6, 2010

Dear Barbie,

I missed your birthday.

Someone even told me it was coming, but I guess March 9 is not nearly as memorable as, say, my own birthday. Besides, fifty-one is not nearly so earth-shattering as fifty, which is clickety-clacking toward me like a train on a steep grade.

I would ask what the view is like from the top of the hill, except that I doubt one can see clearly through plastic. (Which, come to think of it, is why I gave up contacts. Twice.) At any rate, your view, however configured, would no doubt differ from mine. You seem to have escaped the indignities suffered by women constructed from more organic materials. No sagging jaw lines, spreading bottoms, or wheezing metabolisms for you, my girl. No wildly inappropriate temperature swings, no doctors who look twelve and whose sentences begin with, “Now, Ms. Simpson, a woman your age…” You can still dress like a teenager and no one, least of all you, bats an eye. On the other hand, no one is much impressed that you can still fit into your wedding dress/skinny jeans/cheerleading uniform, so maybe there are some trade-offs, after all.

Do I sound bitter? Perhaps I am, a little. It does seem a bit unfair that real girls are overtaken by raging hormones at both ends of the childbearing decades, and from where I sit, your life looks pretty easy.

You never had to change schools or leave a beloved house behind – we just took the Barbie Dream House and all your friends with us, from Mendota to Warrington to Luther Drive. You got every job you wanted, zooming right by entry-level to upper management, passing GO every time. Every day may as well have been payday. I bet you never had your electricity turned off because there was a one-day gap between the this-time-we-mean-it notice and the day your paycheck cleared, or that, when you went down to the office the next day to have your power restored, it was the mother of a high-school crush who waited on you so graciously and so completely free of judgment.

I have often been guilty of the sin of envy where you are concerned, until someone pointed out that while Barbie never learned to stand on her own two feet, Barbara did – even if those feet were sometimes in the dark, or awash in ice melt from a leaking soft drink cooler in the goody wagon some kids locked her in during the Salem Days festival.

The friend who reminded me of your birthday asked me how I felt about you. “I can’t tell from your writing,” she said. Fair enough. I guess I would have to say, “It’s complicated.”

I do feel as if I suffer in comparison with you. Ah, but then who, exactly, is doing the comparing?

March 2, 2010

The Unkindest Cut

 January 11, 1995
Dear Chuck,

You don’t know me. I only know your name is Chuck because that’s what your stepdaughter called you. It’s not the name I would have chosen. I would have named you jerk, or asshole, or even bastard. You see, I was at The Hair Force today, seated in the salon chair next to the one holding the little girl you left on her own while you did who knows what. She handled herself just fine without you. In fact, that’s what snagged my attention -- the voice of a child unaccompanied by an adult.

That’s not the way things usually work, Chuck. Usually, Chuck, children arrive in groups of two or more, their appointments scheduled back-to-back with that of the attending parent -- typically a mom -- who oversees and sometimes directs the stylist’s movements, while not literally wielding the tools of beauty herself. So when I heard your little girl chirping away at the next station, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop.

How old is she, Chuck? Seven? Eight? I know a lot about her. Getting her hair cut was her idea. She thought about cutting her hair short, but decided that would be too short. She used to have a boyfriend but he dumped her for a kindergartener. I drifted into the half sleep that I fall into whenever someone works or plays with my hair. Then the stylist said, “Does your mama know you want to cut off your hair?”

Your little girl said, “Oh, yes. She said it’s my hair, and I can decide what to do with it.”

I abandoned the unspoken dictates of beauty parlor etiquette, which require that patrons pretend we can neither see nor hear each other, and opened my eyes, thinking, first, Where is your mama? and second, How old was I before I could decide what to do with my hair? Nightmare visions of pixie cuts and Toni home perms and butchered bangs flashed before my eyes in the time it took the stylist to glide her comb through the thick, dark blonde tresses that cascaded over the back of the chair. “Are you sure you want to cut it? It’s so pretty .”

February 3, 2010

Barbie's Dream House

I had a Barbie’s Dream House once. An original, first-ever, Model No. 816 Barbie’s Dream House, made of die-cut fiberboard that had to be assembled in 119 not-so-easy steps. I got it for Christmas in 1966. 

It hadn’t been on my Christmas list, a masterful document, each item carefully culled from the Sears Wishbook. I had wanted many things, but none more than Color Magic Barbie (page 625) whose hair and clothing changed colors when painted with the magic solution. (Refills sold separately.) Barbie’s Dream House wasn’t even in the catalog. (I know; I’ve checked.) And yet, there it was, under the tree on Christmas morning. To say I was disappointed is like saying that the Great Chicago Fire was a flash in the pan.

In fairness to that right jolly old elf and those helper elves known as my parents, 1966 might have been the year that we went to see Santa not at Livonia Mall, where my dad sold tires at Sears, or at Hudson’s department store downtown, whose windows were a marvel, but at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, where the main attraction might actually have been the stories-tall snowman slide that we climbed in order to whisper our secrets into the fat man’s ear. Apparently everyone in the greater Detroit area had brought their kids to see Santa, as the place rang with sounds of the season: whiny, tired, bored, hungry, excited-to-the-point-of-mania children.

January 25, 2010

Growing Older, With or Without Grace

I am not going to grow old gracefully.

I thought I was. Really, I thought I wasn't that vain. No plastic surgery, no nip and tuck, no stomach stapling. No coloring of the hair. And yet, here I am with a head full of artificially red-and-blonde hair, hiding the gray revealed by the too-honest glare of the lighting at The Hair Place.

You'd think hair salons would be more careful about lighting and other environmental effects. Aren't we supposed to feel good -- pretty -- when we're there? Isn't that why they are -- or used to be, in my mother's day -- called beauty parlors? Ah, but perhaps that harsh light is carefully calculated to drum up business. It was, after all, during the lengthy process of a professional manicure that I, with nothing to do but stare into the mirror opposite me, noticed just how gray I had become.

Of course I immediately made an appointment to get my hair colored.

Covering up the gray brightened my face, but truly, if my "gray" was snow-white or a lovely soft silver, I would let it go natural. I have these visions of myself as one of those women with long, gray braids down their backs, but then I also have romantic fantasies of living off the land, composting, wearing natural fibers, and bringing home supplies in hand-woven Free Trade bags.

Yeah...not gonna happen.

But if I were one of those women, I would grow old gracefully. I'd ignore the lines and creases I see in the mirror -- even the ones that make me look as if I'm constantly frowning. (My mother was right about that whole face-freezing thing; it just took longer than I expected.) But I'm not one of those women, and so I use Age Perfect moisturizers. Age perfect: a nice way of saying skin care for middle-aged matrons. But here's the thing: middle-aged I may be, but all I know about matronly is how to spell it.

Not that there's anything wrong with being matronly. It's just that I don't even know how to be a grown-up yet. How can I be getting old(er) when I never got the memo about how to be an adult? Shouldn't I be wiser by now, and not just older? When will I have all the answers? When will I stop comparing myself to others and seeing only what I'm not and never will be?

Forget the snow-white hair. Perhaps I should just ask for a little self-acceptance and grace.

January 10, 2010

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