Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Evolution of the Hair Cut

I have clearly not been living in Kerrisdale long enough to understand the economic principals there, and so I made a grave error in estimating the cost of a hair cut. I was wanting to try out a new salon, so I booked an appointment not even thinking to ask what a cut and blow-dry would cost. I was already used to paying $45 for a hair cut at the upscale salon at UBC and I figured no hair cut could possibly cost more than about $50, which I was okay paying assuming they did a good job. I admit to being a bit picky about who cuts my hair. The thought of going into a cheap salon chain and having an inexperienced barber go at my head with improper tools and no creative flair makes my skin crawl. I imagine them getting all old-school on me, slapping a bowl on my head, and trimming around it with kitchen shears. I imagine them snipping and snipping and snipping, just trying to get everything even, until I have bald patches everywhere. Ultimately it probably doesn't matter, because I'm a fan of pixie cuts and every time I cave and chop all my hair off M. hates it. He diplomatically suggests that perhaps it will grow out into a style he actually enjoys. How's that for flattery! But I shouldn't be surprised. My own mother has lived with the male obsession with long hair her entire life. My father has a tendency to occasionally say to my mother after a hair cut, "but it was just getting nice!"

This long hair preference may have some sort of evolutionary basis. One rather convincing argument I read in a fascinating book called "The Descent of Woman" suggested that human beings evolved near water (explaining our subcutaneous fat and nearly hairless bodies) and would have spent a lot of their time wading in the shallows to keep away from prey. This watery existence would make our bodies slippery and so dangerous for mothers holding their babies. The solution is to grow long hair that the babies could cling to while their mothers frolicked in the ocean, thus avoiding accidental drowning of infants. This also explains male pattern baldness. The men wouldn't be lugging the babies around in the water while breast feeding and things so they really had no need for long hair. Okay, so maybe M. thinks I'll make a worse mate because of the pixie cut, but I can promise that I won't be making a habit of breastfeeding naked in the ocean, so there's likely nothing to worry about.

So, getting back on track here, I bucked evolutionary trends and set out for the new salon, where I was greeted by a flamboyantly gay hair dresser. I always take this as a good sign in salons. The presence of a gay hairdresser seems to be strongly correlated with hair cut quality. Alas, he was not to be my hairdresser, and I was taken away for a hair wash by a small Asian woman wearing platform sandals. Back in my chair after being shampooed and conditioned, there was a brief discussion about what I wanted done. And then things started to go vaguely awry. The next fifteen minutes were spent precisely parting my hair in preparation for cutting. The woman would pile some on top, add a few strands of hair to the pinned up bit, take a few strands down on the other side, start all over and divide all the hairs again, check for even parting on both sides, comb out the loose hairs...this went on and on and on until I got to wondering if she was going to cut my hair at all or just measure it a lot. I wouldn't have been surprised if she had pulled out a set of callipers in order to more accurately measure the position of the part.

Finally she began cutting and I swear she was doing one hair at a time. It took half an hour to clip just the under layer of my hair! I was starting to get a bit anxious. I had told M. I would be about half an hour and I was pretty sure at least an hour had gone by and my hair was nowhere near done. Things moved a little quicker on the top layer, but there was still a lot of clipping, and evening things up, and checking to see if the sides matched, and deciding they didn't, and clipping again. That nightmare about the bald spots surfaced in my mind.

When all was said and done the hair cut took an hour and a half. It looked good (well if you ask me and not M.) but I was definitely startled by how long I had been in the salon. And then I went to pay. And the bill came to $70 after tax and tip! I couldn't believe it. I slunk home feeling a bit embarrassed. I told M. about my excursion and was the recipient of my first "when we're married..." lecture. This one went "when we're married you're going to have to learn to ask the price of things first." Okay, okay. Fair enough. But in my defence it's not as if I go out on a regular basis purchasing things without looking at the price tag. I just didn't believe that any hair cut could cost more than $50. Oh how wrong I was.

So I'm now $70 poorer and have a haircut that "might grow into something nice" (kind of like a Chia Pet). But there's still no way I'll ever let M.'s Greek barbers, who charge $12 a hair cut, touch my hair. So if anyone knows of a good, decently priced hair dresser, in the Kerrisdale or Vancouver West region please let me know so I can avoid marital strife in the future for blowing grocery money on $70 hair cuts. Thank you in advance.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Occasional Knitting Society

I am currently reading Amy McKay's book "The Birth House" and am thoroughly enjoying it. I actually considered staying up all night to finish the last hundred and fifty pages yesterday, but eventually regained my senses and realized sleep was more important. The book addresses the clash between "modern" medicine and the traditional medicine practised by midwives during the first world war. It also explores the segregated realms of male and female at a time when women were beginning to demand autonomy and seek power for themselves in whatever ways they could. Emerging from a need for female companionship, sharing of remedies, and exchange of private stories the women in this book develop the Occasional Knitting Society--a group, which given my own love of knitting and the friendship it has encouraged, I'm finding completely delightful. The clack of knitting needles, the emergence of socks and mittens for the war effort, and the omnipresence of pregnant bodies create a backdrop for deeply private female conversation where taboos are thrown to the wind and women find a safe place to speak freely. Living in highly traditional and Christian world they are prone to subversion in their attempts to narrate and gain control over their own bodies and their reproductive choices. Knitting becomes a mode for disseminating knowledge and navigating the male dominated social hierarchy.

I love the duality of the term "Occasional" as it suggests a casual, informal, irregular meeting of women for the purpose of knitting and talking. There's something random about it, as if the knitters might spontaneously gather on any given day, without warning, and without real cause. But it also suggests that knitting is in itself an occasion. The gathering of women to complete the monotonous task of knitting for their men transforms from a chore to a treasured time of gathering. Knitting creates a sacred space where everyone is on equal terms and is treated with sympathy and respect.


I find that my own knitting circles are not very far removed from this fictional War Time gathering. When I gather with my own friends we are often creating luxury, designer garments for ourselves our our family. We have exchanged coarse wool for silky strands of alpaca, exotic bamboo yarn, and fine mohair but we are no less dedicated to our craft than the women of the Occasional Knitting Society. We clothe not soldiers, but our souls, knowing that in a fast paced, mechanized world we still have the skill to produce high quality hand-made objects that keep us warm as well as stylish. And as we discuss the latest issue of Vogue knitting and covet Koigu yarns we eventually come around to more profound things. Knitting inevitably casts a spell over all assembled so that we all feel comfortable sharing advice, comfort, and encouragement. And though my knitting group is certainly Occasional in that we don't meet nearly as frequently as I might like, I count the time spent with tea, friends, and a new sweater pattern among the most valuable hours of my life. As a sense of community crumbles and people become desperate to forge connections with others in the world I know that I am lucky to have the instant belonging that comes from gathering with a few sticks, some yarn, and an open mind.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lord of the Engagement Ring

Some things exist in your imagination so long that when they become reality it's a bit startling. It's as if what was in your mind seems more concrete, for its having existed so long, than the actual manifested event. This is how I felt when M. asked me to marry him on the top of Grouse Mountain with the early morning sun sprinkling us with dappled light. Suddenly every imagined scenario was juxtaposed with an enthralling reality and after years of childhood and teenaged and adult speculation I can finally say exactly how I came to be engaged and how one of my life's most anticipated moments has emerged from mystery into narrative. Here is the crossroads, the meeting of two stories, the beginning of a new life:

I have to admit that I was suspicious on Sunday morning when M. woke up at 6 am, proclaimed he was starving, and insisted that it would be a good idea to get a really early start on our hike up the Grouse Grind that we had planned for that day. Unaware that the day would turn out to be one of the greatest I have yet experienced I was resistant to leaving my warm sheets to clamber my way up a mountain but M. was so enthusiastic that I stumbled into the kitchen to make breakfast and prepare myself mentally for the one hour hike ahead. As my foggy brain cleared a bit I began to wonder if something was up and a scintillating jewel of hope and anticipation began twirling in my chest.

We arrived at the base of Grouse Mountain just after 8 am to find the parking lot full. Apparently the entire city had decided to get an early start on the Grind and the trail was packed. If M. was hoping for a quiet and secluded place to propose, he was going to be out of luck. About 20 minutes into the hike I had nearly forgotten about the possibility of a marriage proposal. I set out determined to do the Grind in under an hour and the only thing possessing my mind was a drive towards the summit that probably bordered on insanity. My brain became a harsh task-master for my body and insisted that my weary muscles and bones keep propelling me upward until my goal was achieved. I was single-mindedly pursing this goal and was completely unaware that M. was busy fighting a mental battle of his own. The extreme exertion, he told me later, was causing him to keep forgetting what he intended to say to me at the top, and the constant need to rehearse his speech was slowing him down. By the half-way mark he was lagging behind and I was anxious to reach the top in time. "Go on without me" he said dramatically. "Leave the old and the weak behind!" So I bounded ahead with renewed drive, not even considering the fact that M. was carrying our water and I wouldn't have anything to hydrate me the rest of the way. So for the first time in my life I found myself wishing desperately to be a camel. As aesthetically disturbing as it would be I was dreaming of having a furry water containing hump on my back that would quench the incredible thirst I was developing. Debris filled puddles started looking as tempting as spring water with a twist of lime. My hands began to cramp and tingle from lack of water, but I wouldn't stop. I was in the grips of the demon of Grouse Mountain--the devil child who makes people think that their self worth is based on how quickly they reach the top, and how good they look in their lycra shorts when they get up there. I ploughed ahead, eventually half crawling up the last hundred feet or so and I made it in 58 minutes and 30 seconds!

In the meantime M. was having an epic time of things that has strange parallels with the Lord of the Rings. M. told me that as he climbed to the top of Grouse the ring that he had hidden in his backpack got heavier and heavier. He began wishing that Sam Gamgee was along for the hike in order to drag him up the mountain. I am thankful that these parallels are simply imaginative and meant to be amusing because I might have had a hard time saying yes if I found my future fianc矇 to be 4 feet tall with furry feet. And so with Frodo pushed safely out of my mind I can see M. fighting his way to the top of the mountain to propose to his love. I imagine that he was proclaiming his devotion by scaling the heights of the mountain. But while these images hold a certain amount of truth the most pressing issue for M. was avoiding losing his breakfast to the trail. Unfortunately, a man ahead who had pushed himself way too hard began vomiting violently just minutes from the top of the mountain. M., exhausted and nervous, was afraid he might follow suit but he managed to jump this final hurdle and make it to the top in tact. I watched him emerge from the end of the trail bringing us to the brink of the immense change that was about to take place in our lives.

M. led me to a quiet spot on a rock by the trail and here is where a book loving knitter from Ontario gets engaged to a music loving engineer from BC. This is the fairy-tale moment people. The one we've all been waiting for. No matter that I was covered in grime from the trail; no matter that M. literally had sweat leaking out the seams of his shoes; no matter that M. actually pulled the ring out of a Zip-Loc bag because he had been afraid it would fall out of the box and bounce around the bottom of the back pack; when M. looked into my eyes and asked me to share his life it was the most romantic moment imaginable. I breathed the "yes" that I had been holding silently for months and I looked at the man who had suddenly become my fianc矇 and I'm pretty sure that I have never been so gleefully happy in my entire life.

I appreciate the symbolism buried in this engagement story. Like the Grind, life is often arduous, treacherous, and difficult. It contains hidden obstacles, exhausting stretches that test your resolve, and uneven ground that trips you up. But M. and I both achieved the top and found each other there where we were able to look back and see what we had accomplished, see what we had survived, and believe that even the hard things were worth it to stand in the sunshine, take in the vista of the city below, and know that together we can meet any challenge and help each other to realize our greatest potential. My searching is now over. I came down the mountain with the man who will be my husband and the sky was as clear as my intention to love him forever, for better or for worse.