Tuesday, May 18, 2010

HairStory, From Then To Now, Part 1 - The Early Years

Okay, you caught me in a gabby mood. Quick, grab that beverage and that munchie, resume your seat, and let me tell you the long-awaited story of my hair, as I promised last time we spoke.

For me, there isn't much to tell before the day I took a pair of scissors to the front of my hair when I was about six. Mama washed my hair when she thought it needed it, greased and straightened it with a straightening comb to silk it out before curling it with hot curlers so I would look pretty according to her expectations for church, and plaited and/or ponied it up to keep it neat for the rest of the week. All I had to do was sit there and let it happen.

I think I must have been influenced by other little girls at the boarding school I began attending at age five to do what I did, because I distinctly seem to remember being six when I picked up the scissors that day. Mama saw the handiwork, and after ascertaining from a shaky, oh-no-I'm-about-to-get-it me that "I just wanted to cut myself a bang," she got spanktacular. Any desire or interest I had in using scissors on my hair died a screaming, painful, permanent death that day.

Thinking back, I'm sure it was the trauma of having the hands of a stranger in my hair for the first time that made me pay attention to the bangs on little White girls at my school. Until I went away to the boarding school, Mama was the main hairdresser for me, with my grandma and the occasional aunt pitching in here and there. Mama didn't live with me at the school, however, and there were other little Colored girls who also needed haircare, so they had a Miss Luvinia to come in and take care of our hair.

I'd probably been at school a few days or so the first time I met her. I'll never forget it: Mama had styled my hair in twisted ponytails on each side with a bang in front for that final day, a Sunday, when she and Daddy packed me away to school, the awful day when she turned her little girl over to the hopefully tender mercies of strangers. Now, on this fateful morning some few days later, here was this tall, thin Colored woman with a voice that fell harshly on my ears, who was NOT my Mama, and who proceeded to undo my hair and ruthlessly comb out and eliminate the bang my Mama had made me, that I felt made me pretty, that was the one last thing I had of home to comfort me, because Mama wasn't there. It wasn't that her technique hurt, it was the psychological ripping of my Mama, of the last piece of the known, of the last comforting, familiar bit of home, from my hair. It felt awful, as though this monster who dared to put her hands in my hair had done something unimaginably, horribly wrong to me. I cried. Thinking on it now, that psychological violation felt to the then-five-year-old me as awful as the actual physical violation of the almost-19-year-old me years later, though for obviously different reasons.

I never wanted that to happen to me again. Mama sent me to school with a bang, and I wanted it back. Seeing the little White girls, with their bangs cut into their hair, I somehow understood that if my bang were cut into my hair, then it would be harder to comb it away. Even if the hair was combed back, it would be easy to make the bang again because it would be shorter than the rest of my hair. I doubt my thinking was this sophisticated, but I definitely had the correct idea, or so I thought. Thus, at the first opportunity on a visit home, I picked up those scissors. And, well, the rest I just told you.

From that first ill-fated encounter with Miss Luvinia until fourth grade, when I was nine, the most I'd done to my hair, besides the one ill-fated bang-cut, was undo my own plaits and ponies. I'd never washed it or styled it myself. That was Miss Luvinia's job. Every morning she was there to comb and style my hair as needed, and every two weeks she washed, dried, and straightened my hair. By its regularity and familiarity with what Mama always did, it became as familiar and comforting as home and did much to heal that initial psychic damage. I actually came, rather quickly, to look forward to my day to have my hair washed. Miss Luvinia would talk to me and sing while she worked. I specifically remember hearing, from her point of view, what that first encounter was like, her having to listen to my pitiful wails while she styled my hair to make it neat for school. I think I actually laughed as she described a day when, for some unrelated reason, I returned to the "cottage", as we called the dorms, "Wailing like a siren!" She said she could hear me all the way from the school building! Getting to know her, I found her to actually be quite sweet, and I came to love her. Thanks to her total management of my hair, however, I was totally unprepared to take on the task when I entered fourth grade.

My school was actually split between two campuses in those days. Grades K-3 and 9-12 lived on the Ashe Avenue campus. For fourth grade I was taken to the Garner Road campus. There was a Mrs. MacDougald who was a housekeeper mostly, who also did the Black girls' hair in cornrows, flat braids they're mostly called now. However, the daily washing and other maintenance was ours to do, and for me, the learning curve was a bit steep in places. My hair suffered greatly for it. That, however was the beginning of my hands-on, do-it-myself attitude in the management of my hair. I'd long since accepted the loss of life with Mama except in the 10 or so weeks of summer vacation, and, perhaps more than I, she suffered the loss of my beautiful, redgold-blond hair that, until I went away, she'd loved so much and nurtured so well according to the haircare custom of the time. First strangers had taken over that task, and now my own hapless hands had done worlds of damage. So I guess she saw it as salvation of sorts when the Jheri Curl came out when I was in my early teens. At her earliest opportunity, she had one applied to my hair. The chemical styling had begun.

As I indicated earlier, I had a brief interest in cutting my hair, and only then to cut myself a bang, that had died a swift and painful death. So I found it disconcerting, and ultimately undesirable, that every time I went to have my hair re-Curled, the stylist was cutting my hair. Especially since I also noticed, for the first time since I was a little girl, that my hair was retaining length! It seemed that between visits my hair grew quite fast but would then be cut. Since seeing the extent to which my hair grew between curl applications made me want to have my hair long, I eventually became very resistant to having it cut. By this point, it was Mama, using the box kits that had now become popular and available in stores, who had learned to apply the Curl to her husband and all her children, male and female, who was again my main stylist for this look, although the daily maintenance was mine. One day, the struggle erupted in words, with her fussing at me because "You won't let nobody cut your hair in a style!" and me responding with equal heat that "I don't want my hair locked into the same style! I want to be able to do different things with my hair, and the only way I can do that is if I keep it long!" I was sixteen. The Hair War had begun.

You know, as with all my utterances, this is taking more words than I planned for. So I'm gonna take a break. Stay tuned, because this tale ain't by any means done. Maybe I'll come back tonight or in a few days to finish it. But finish it I definitely will.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Challenge Updates

When you don't know what to write, that first word is always the hardest. Once you get past that first one, sometimes you sit there waiting for something to happen. Sometimes it does, and the floodgates just open up.

Sometimes it's not that there is nothing to say, but that there is so much to say that you don't know where to start. Ever been there? Every writer goes there at least once.

That's partly why I haven't written in this blog nearly as much as I thought I might when I first started it. Partly that, and partly having whole stretches where I didn't feel like talking about any of it, whatever it has been. I promise, though, to do better.

So I was reading back through my previous posts last night, and I saw that I haven't really kept up my end of the bargain giving you guys regular updates on how I'm doing on the two challenges I've got going. So here's an update on both of them.

Regarding the starch/sugar challenge, I meet it when I can. Let me explain: Because of the financial challenges I've faced since late last summer, I've obtained a lot of my food from the kindness of friends and, most recently, food pantries. From this, I've made the disheartening discovery that starch is abundant! It's everywhere! Thus, it frequently ends up in my kitchen and on my plate. I try to limit my intake of this as much as possible, but sometimes there just is not anything much else to eat. So I try to make sure that I always have some protein with it. This does nothing, I find, to lessen the impact of the starch on my system, but every bit of protein or non-starch plant matter that replaces an equal amount of starch is, in my opinion, a very good thing.

So what else can I do about the starch, besides stoically eating it? (1) I've frozen some of it in the past, and it has actually been there to supplement meager stores in emergencies. That's not a bad thing, so long as I don't continue to eat it in large amounts once the emergency is over. Thing is, though, I was a bread-head when I started this blog, and I still love it, even when I go whole stretches of days without it.
(2) There are just some forms of starch—pasta, white rice, and shredded wheat chief among them, and after this past Tuesday, I'm adding oatmeal to this list—that I should just never eat, or should only eat in very small amounts with comparatively large amounts of protein and non-starchy plant matter. These go off like bombs in my system, causing bloat, gas, and all manner of other discomforts. In the case of oatmeal, this makes me a little sad, because I like oatmeal raisin cookies, and I like toasting the oats with shredded coconut from time to time and eating them with peanut butter and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon—but the side effects from too much of any of these starches makes me miserable, so I just need to forgo them. These typically come packaged in such a manner as to allow re-gifting, and I don't mind re-sharing the love.
(3) In the case of the food pantry I visited this week, I was instructed that if there were any dietary considerations I wanted to have addressed, I should make this known the next time I request a voucher to go. I will certainly act on this and ask that I not be given any of the more highly-processed starches, especially the ones mentioned above. Bread I can tolerate in small amounts, but there's no point in receiving stuff I truly cannot tolerate when they can go to someone else who not only needs them but will probably fare better with them than I do. If they are willing to give me more fruits and veggies, meat, or dairy in their place, that will work just fine with me.

Now, what about the sleep challenge?

Hahahahahaha :-)!!!

I have been consistent in only one thing: Remaining inconsistent. It's the time thing. Time-wise, I really need to get my nightly routine into a rut and leave it there. Instead of being prepped for bed by 11 p.m., I'm usually still sitting at my computer or in front of the TV, and still in my clothes, at midnight. Then I take my sweet time about getting prepped for bed, so lately it's been closer to 2 a.m. before my head hits a pillow. And because I'm still wound up, I then play Klondike solitaire on my phone until I finally get sleepy enough to take mini-naps between moves. No, that's not good. It's the same routine most nights, but the timing stinks. So I've gotta get on the stick about fixing that.

In the meantime, I'm also taking up some new and interesting challenges in addition to these. I promised to tell you about one of them eventually, and I'll mention it now: Last weekend was the one year anniversary of cutting off the last bits of my chemically altered hair. I've now worn my hair free of texture altering chemicals for a whole year. And I'm real happy 'bout that :-)!

In my next post, I promise to tell the story of my hair, and what's going on with it. Meanwhile, you can check out my blogroll on the left, if you're reading this from my blog site, or at Canticle of the Cygnet if you're reading this from my Facebook page. With a few notable exceptions, it is comprised almost entirely of blogs devoted to curly/coily/kinky hair. Right now, I'm hungry!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy New Year, and What's Happened Since The Last Time

Happy New Year, everybody! Here's hoping you've all gotten it off to a grand start after winding up the previous year with a Happy Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa.

You're noting the huge gap in time since the cygnet last sang to you. It's be a crazy time for me and mine. Some lives transitioned from one plane of existence to another between holidays, and we celebrated it all with all the bitterness and sweetness that such occasions engender. And there have been other pieces of the business of life for all of us.

For me personally, it has been health issues. If you remember from my last post in early November, I got a job and surrendered it at the end of the first training day. In addition to the reasons I cited then, the events that have followed have all convinced me that I did indeed decide wisely that day.

At the end of that post, I outlined a course of action that included paying especial attention to my health, namely, my chronic back problem, which has steadily deteriorated over the last approximately 11 years. It also included taking steps to apply for Accessible Raleigh Transportation so that getting to and from future jobs might not be an issue in any one for which I applied. I jumped right on both of those things.

First was an initial visit to my current orthopedist, who x-rayed me, asked me questions, started me on steroids, nerve pills, and the most effective pain killer I've had to date, and sent me to get an updated MRI scan. When I returned to the ortho, MRI CD in hand, she sent me to an ortho surgeon. About this visit I will not speak except to say that I hope it is long and long before another such person engenders in me the thoughts and feelings with which I left this person's office. I dragged myself, courtesy of a friend, back to the ortho, who pledged to help as much as possible, did a brief exam, added another drug to my painkiller, and told me to come back in two weeks. The two-week visit was two days ago. On that day the ortho filled out the requisite portion of paperwork that must be completed as part of the application for ART, scheduled me for an injection to address inflammation in some joints in my lower back, and sent me back to the pharmacy for more stuff. The pharmacy didn't have the stuff, because it's quite new on the market; and I guess I must have been the first person whose doctor prescribed it, because other similar pharmacies also reported not having any. In addition, the price of the stuff was such that I knew I wouldn't make it financially through the rest of this month if I tried to get it, so I didn't.

The good news, if it can be called that, is that I now have a completed ART application to take to the appropriate people to set the wheels in motion for one part of the program. Once I finally remember to schedule an eye appointment, I can get that worthy person to sign off on the application for the other part of the program. Then I turn it all in and wait—and pray—for a favorable outcome.

So why is all this an issue? WebMD and these good folks can tell you why my type of back pain is an issue generally. For me particularly, the standard treatments—pain pills, heating pads, electric massage therapy, physical therapy, diet and exercise, injections—have not done very much for my back, if they did anything at all. Some of these things I've tried repeatedly, to no avail. Some of these things—diet, and what exercise I feel motivated and able to do without too much additional pain—I will continue to try, because while they have done nothing for my back specifically, I know experientially that they have great benefits in other ways, and I want to reap those benefits. However, not only has my back gotten progressively worse despite the trial of all these things and the benefits some of them have had in other ways, I have experienced an increase in rapidity in my back's worsening, and other parts are beginning to be compromised. If this continues, there will arise challenges that I will need to prepare to meet.

Getting approved for ART will help me to meet some of these anticipated challenges. Other things that I have done in the last couple months will help as well, and I will tell you about them in an upcoming post. I will also keep you apprised of my continuing trials and triumphs in my other challenges that are already ongoing. Stay tuned!