Fortune Cookie Throw Down: Episode One and Only?

Why Fortune Cookie Throw Down? Because instead of reading my fortune, saying to myself, “Self, this is absolute nonsense,” and then throwing out my fortune like a normal person would, I keep all my fortunes. I find them in the pockets of my work shirts, in my computer bag, and in crevices of my apartment that I clean out maybe every two years. They’re scattered about the top of my bureau like dead leaves.

And yet, I still can’t throw them out. I put them to the side when I’m cleaning. I collect them in tiny boxes and bowls, which I then forget about. I’ve been decluttering since before decluttering was cool, but even that does nothing because they’re so small they escape into crevices like papery little centipedes. My entire apartment is infested with mystical fortune cookie nonsense.

But a few years ago, this looked like it might change. Back in the early days of this blog, I had tons of ideas for features and series of posts. Most of them involved me going out of my way to do eccentric activities, and then write about them. Thus, like a twisted emperor of meaningless scraps of paper, I decided that my fortune cookie fortunes must prove their worth through combat. Pitted against one another on this very blog, they would win based on wisdom, humor, uncanny accuracy, or my fickle whims of the day.

Somehow, this made more sense to me than throwing them out in a cold-blooded sweep.

I initially started fortune cookie throw down in my art journal. Which looks about the way you’d expect the art journal of someone who can’t throw out a fortune cookie and used to collect My Little Ponies to look.

Fortune One vs Fortune Two

“Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it’s enough.”

The first fortune is pithy advice with a sensible caveat. Actually, I like this one. I don’t believe that intuition, or gut feelings, are some mystical, magical thing, or that intuition needs to be opposed to logic. Rather, I think that intuition is basically an impression you get from things you’ve noticed, but not necessarily verbalized. But no, it’s not enough, because one bad thing can color an impression if you’re not willing to think about it logically. I live by this.

“What makes an apple fall to the ground?”

The idiocy of this question can be summed up by one word: GRAVITY. Or possibly kids with sticks, or extreme over-ripeness. But it still comes back to GRAVITY, doesn’t it?

Obviously, number one is my winner.

Fortune Three vs Fortune Four

“One is not sleeping, does not mean they are awake.”

Being judgemental, New Age style. And that’s about it. It’s not profound in the way that people who believe this think it is. Also, it loses points for grammar. Although grammar isn’t the point here, I was so distracted by the mismatch between “one” and “they” that I didn’t immediately notice that the entire thing is a grammatical hot mess.

“Curiosity kills boredom. Nothing can kill curiosity.”

Except for sedatives, electric fences, and unwanted answers. And also the knowledge that if you look up your symptoms online, it will send you into a panic, which is probably far worse than some imaginary tingling in your leg that seems to go away as soon as you put on Star Trek or otherwise occupy your mind. Curiosity does kill boredom. Other things can kill curiosity, and swiftly.

Number four wins this one. Three is judgemental, but not helpful. While my response to four was glib, the fortune is still more true. I rarely get bored, and am always am trying to learn new things. Curiosity can be killed, but like a comic book villain, it never stays dead forever.

Fortune One vs Fortune Four

To recap, Fortune One is “Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it’s enough.” Fortune Four is “Curiosity kills boredom. Nothing can kill curiosity.”

As I said above, I live by Fortune One. If that hadn’t already the case, Fortune One might have been good advice for me. Number Four has been brought down by its second sentence, and by the fact that I’m a smart ass.

Fortune One advances to the next round!


While Fortune Cookie Thrown Down was kind of a weird thing I found on my hard drive and I no longer intended to turn into a series, I had fun typing this up. I enjoy poking holes in common cultural wisdom, although much of what one sees on fortune cookie fortunes doesn’t really match that description. You might have noticed in the art journal image above that I had glued down four more fortunes. At the very least, I’ll have to write about those. This may not be Episode One and Only after all.

And so…

Next time, on Fortune Cookie Throw Down…

Principles, convictions, schedules, and being wronged duke it out! Don’t miss it! Coming soon! Or at least in the future. Eventually!

Income tax, vigilantes, and other things I didn’t know about Prohibition

I assumed that renting a six-hour documentary when I have a toddler was a ridiculous act of optimism. Surely, in these tiring times, my partner and I would lack the mental energy to watch a history documentary instead of the same episodes of 30 Rock for the billionth time. Surely, if we managed to start it at all, we would manage about 45 minutes. Then we would return it to the library, making sure not to do anything to invite a conversation with the librarian about our documentary-watching failure. I had high expectations about Ken Burns’ Prohibition, but I still didn’t expect it to be so fascinating that I would be motivated to finish it well before it was due.

The surprising twist of Prohibition is that one of these items turns out to be illegal.

I learned so many interesting things about Prohibition—and especially the social conditions leading up to it–that I have found myself telling people about it all the time. I don’t know how many unspoken social conventions I’ve broken by blurting out Prohibition stories in the middle of a conversation, but here are some of the ones that have stuck with me.

Income tax is just over 100 years old.

Since I never learned otherwise, I always assumed that income tax has existed since the start of the country to satisfy government greed and also to birth the energy vampire known as TurboTax.

Nope! Well, probably a little bit. But income tax was also related to the fight to prohibit alcohol—one of the things standing in the prohibitionists’ way was the enormous amount of tax revenue generated by the alcohol industry. With income tax passed in 1916, that gave the government an extra source of income to draw from, and struck a blow to the alcohol industry.

This is part of the reason that Al Capone was taken down on charges of tax fraud. Watching the documentary, I kept wondering why he didn’t just hire an accountant, when he was clearly rich enough to hire an entire team of accountants and maybe even pay them to fight tigers or make him sandwiches out of tiger baloney. Income tax, at that time, was still not well understood, and so it ended up being a weak point for Capone.

Alcohol totally took the rap for capitalism and patriarchy.

One of the chief complaints about alcohol, especially by the 19th-century women’s groups who initially sought to make the United States a dry country, was about husbands who would drink and then come home to abuse their families. Hand-in-hand with that was the idea that the men needed to go to the saloons on a Friday night after a hard work week. Their lives in manufacturing jobs were so tough that it was their right to unwind. Sounds like patriarchy to me—with a bit of capitalism for spice.
In other words, alcohol became a scapegoat for what was actually a feminist issue, and a workers’ rights issue. Ultimately, banning alcohol couldn’t solve these problems.

Empowerment means awesome vigilante stone-throwing.

In the 1800s, there was a woman named Carry Nation, who was the head of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Kansas. Alcohol had screwed over not one, but two of her marriages, and after a number of ineffectual marches, she heard the Voice of God and turned into a crazed vigilante. She was especially pissed because Kansas was supposed to already be a dry state, but it sounded like there was a saloon every couple blocks. Kind of like Dunkin Donuts in modern day New England.* The morning after hearing god, she hid a bunch of rocks in paper wrappings, then went to the nearest saloon and starting chucking the rocks at mirrors, bottles, and all the other breakables. She then went on and did this at a few more places. She was arrested so many times that we lost count while watching, but every time it was the same story: she would be released from jail, and then go grab more rocks and break saloons. This sometimes happened multiple times in a single day. Eventually, she upgraded to a hatchet.

It’s possible to be so nice you lose all sense of morality.

One of the era’s big bootleggers, George Remus**, murdered his wife after a short stint in prison during which she had an affair with a prohibition officer. This apparently occurred while he was on his way to their divorce proceedings. Remus acted as his own lawyer, and decided to play the temporary insanity defense, which was a maverick move back then. The jury declared him not guilty because they knew he’d had a rotten Christmas the previous year, and wanted him to have a better one this time around.

So even though he took a life, the jury decided to give him a break for the holidays. That’s some Christmas song material, there. It’s better than Christmas Shoes, anyway.

And the number one thing that stuck with me from Prohibition?

A handful of slippery, vague ideas about how people act and opinions form. It’s a slow process. Then, as now, people tried to solve problems by attacking convenient scapegoats instead of the root of a problem. People keep saying that we live in politically divisive times. I think that’s true, to an extent, but the way that citizens of the 19th and early 20th centuries divided into wet and dry camps looked familiar to me. Movements rise and fall on the tide of opinions and ideas. That hasn’t changed today.

That’s comforting and depressing at the same time.


*If that was the case, then clearly, law or no, Kansas could not get rid of the saloons. How would anyone give directions?

**I don’t know if he has any connection to Romulus and Remus, or if he could turn into a wolf.

Depression is a hole

Depression is a hole, and it sucks you down again and again. Sometimes subtle, sometimes slow, you wind up in a hole so vast you think it’s a landscape, and you can’t even see the shadowy watercolor of sloping walls at the edges.

Depression is a hole, and specifically, sometimes it’s the small, jarring shock of a pothole that your smooth ride crashes down into when you were driving home in the dark.

Depression is a hole, but sometimes it’s also a pit trap, and it fucking comes out of nowhere when you’re only trying to eat some cherries you saw sitting on the ground.

Depression is a hole, but sometimes it’s also a bunker, and you think it’s pretty cool with the generator-powered TV and VCR and the stacks of Digimon episodes you taped in 2002 and the excuse to eat ramen noodles all day. It’s all glory days until you realize there’s no sunlight.

Depression is a hole, and sometimes you let it dig itself when you know better, you KNOW BETTER, and you watch while a bunch of shovels gleefully fling away the dirt like wizard Mickey Mouse’s animated brooms, and you think it’s all going great because now that there’s a hole you’ll have a far-fetched idea to plant an edible forest garden with lingonberries and chives, and then you realize, “Oh shit, I can’t plant anything in this hole when I’m stuck down here.”

Depression is a hole, and you can walk your way out. You can accrue miles step by step, walking in circles and circles around the bottom, wearing a track until at some point you find a little niche big enough for your toe. And then the pressure of your toe opens the whole thing, and what was a niche is a wide off-ramp-out-ramp, and it curves away up the walls and out of the hole, and you can walk your way out.

Depression is a hole, and you can write your way out. Even though the first few words are hard and heavy, eventually you can scrawl recklessly and type in mad clacking waves, until your hundreds and thousands of words pile up one upon the other, until eventually there’s a hill of gravel. It grows and it grows and you slip and slide as you make your way up, but eventually it fills the hole and you can stride toward the ocean as it collapses into sand behind you.

Depression is a hole and you can draw your way out. You can scribble and scratch, doodle swirling, idle abstractions. Or you can take the time to observe, watch the curve of a line, your eyes flicking up and down from your subject to your paper. You can add shading and find that a bridge pops out at you. And when you let your hand go free and draw the things that aren’t realistic but maybe are needed, you find you have drawn trampolines lining the sides of the hole like mushrooms on a tree trunk, and you jump your way out like a video game character, until you pop up in a meadow, and you walk out and down a cobbled path into a town you saw once in a dream.

Depression is a hole, and you can declutter your way out because sometimes the hole is filled with moldy old furniture like 1970s yellow couches with mysterious stains on tweed fabric. And sometimes there are also old ashtrays and books with worn corners, salad spinners and coin sorters, and you can shove them into boxes, not once or twice, but repeatedly, strategically, until they form a teetering, tottering stair that you can step up precariously until you climb up over the edge and walk out across tiles that shine pearlescent if you don’t look too closely, into an empty mall where you find the fountain you threw pennies in as a child.

Depression is a hole, and you have to engineer your way out again and again, but you can.

And you have to remember that.

Everything I’ve ever learned about DIY haircuts

The learning process of cutting my own hair has been about as hacked together as some of my diy haircuts. I’ve been cutting my own hair for over ten years, and that learning process has involved blunt chunks of hair sticking up from the back of my head and many hours circling the internet like a vulture. A vulture that feeds on “Quick Tips for cutting your own hair” and “How to Add Texture to your A-line Bob*.”

In the years since I started cutting my own hair, I developed the skill of learning new skills. I know the ratio of reading to practice that works for me, and how much I need to observe and copy others until I can work on my own. And I know now that it would have been smart and efficient to watch a video of someone cutting hair. I could have done it seven years ago, and it would have saved me a lot of time.
In all those years, I never once watched a youtube video. I’m not patient. I’d rather take two minutes to read an article than ten to watch a video. But the youtube videos far outnumber the articles, and they have much more specific information. Most of the videos seem to be stylists addressing other stylists, but I’ve spotted at least a couple diy haircut videos. A person can only spend so much time reading Yahoo answers like this:

Help how do u cut ur own hair with layers I cant go to the salon plz thx???

Half the answers always say, “You can’t do it at home. Please get a professional to cut it or you’ll ruin your hair.” And there will maybe be one useful link.

I finally gave in and watched a couple of youtube videos. I learned a lot from this video about cutting a pixie haircut, and I thought I’d share it because it contains so much that I learned through trial and error:

It’s long, but even after cutting my own hair this way numerous times in the past, I picked up some useful information. Also, some of the other videos I watched had double-fast sections with loud, irritating dance music that was maybe supposed to get me psyched about style and high fashion.

Still, most of what I know about cutting my own hair, I learned slowly, over many years. Here are the big ones:

Part your hair in sections

It’s way more fun to hack away with a hair-cutting razor while listening to loud music than it is to methodically part your hair in seven sections and go about things in an orderly fashion. But like a drawing or a piece of writing, it’s best to start with the overall structure and then fill in the details. Have you ever tried to draw someone’s living room by starting with the weird 70s upholstery on the couch? And then the couch took up way too much space, so you couldn’t fit in the funky end table?

And definitely look up hair-cutting razors. I find them easier to use on my own hair, and they’re a good way to add a lot of texture (although, as a friend told me when she cut my hair, everything adds texture). The downside is that you really have to be careful about making sure the blades are sharp, otherwise you end up with split ends** pretty soon after the haircut starts growing out. I’ve used this stainless steel Fromm Razor for nine years–it’s been an essential tool for most of my diy haircuts. The replacement blades are also cheap.

Learn to cut your hair blindly

It’s hard to get a good double-mirror set-up, especially if you’re a renter and have limited control over what you can do to your living space. Over the years, I’ve learned how to cut my hair by feel. Watching the youtube video confirmed that this wasn’t a bad strategy; the stylist frequently used hair cut to the desired length as a guide to cut the hair near it. That’s basically what I had taught myself to do by blindly.

Wear contact lenses

Better yet, don’t be near-sighted at all. I switched from contacts to glasses a few years ago. It’s tricky to cut around the ears now.

crappy hair reference pic

This is the sort of blurry, cut-off nonsense you get when you try to take a reference picture of yourself with a bulky tablet. Get someone else to take a picture, or better yet, multiple pictures. It’s the best way to decide what you like for next time, and also doubles as a neat memento of the super 70s wood paneling in your old apartment.

Be hyper-observant

If you’re using a picture as a reference, study it closely. Unless you have long hair (and therefore a lot of room for error), don’t just estimate what you’re cutting. Study how your own hair behaves, and where it has curls or cowlicks. How is your hair textured? Straight and fine is less forgiving to error than thick and wavy. Where does a particular chunk of hair start on your head, and what direction does it grow? Take pictures of your own hair. If you don’t like how your cut came out, figure out specifically why.

Use celebrity pictures for references

I resisted this for a long time. But the fact is that there are a ridiculous number of photos of any given celebrity. It’s easy to find pictures of the same haircut from different angles. Also, I’ve been watching a lot of Once Upon a Time, so obviously I want Ginnifer Goodwin’s hair because Snow White is a badass.

Use body parts as landmarks

Inches aren’t that useful, except for when you need to use clippers. Anyone who’s ever asked for a one-inch trim and gotten a massacre knows that. I’ve found that inches aren’t useful in home haircuts either. References to ears, eyebrows, and jawline are more helpful. If you’re using reference pictures, look for where the hair falls in relation to those landmarks. I also suspect that using body parts as guides is a good way to make the haircut more harmonious and suited to your face.

Get a short haircut from a professional

I didn’t start to get better at cutting my own hair until I’d been doing it for five years. That’s not because there was a five-year learning curve, but because I was afraid to go too short, so I never cut it the way I really wanted. After a professional cut my hair into a pixie, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I knew how I looked with very short hair, and I knew that if I ever messed up, I could go to the salon and have it fixed.


*An A-Line Bob is a haircut, not some guy with a nickname that has a long, inside-joke type story behind it.
**I didn’t understand what split ends actually were until I started cutting my own hair. Or, I understood what they were, but not why they were a problem. You know when you badly need a haircut, and the ends of your hair feel like prickly thatch? Split ends. Probably, this is not news to anyone else.

The End of the Caterpocalypse

Caterpillars are fascinating in the singular, disgusting and devastating in the plural. I don’t believe it was technically a record year for the number of gypsy moth caterpillars, but they ate enough leaves to transform large areas of Southern New England into leafless wasteland. Driving through some of those areas, I began to think, “An actual apocalypse could start out looking like this.”

We’re in the final days of The Caterpocalypse*. The caterpillars are basically all gone now, but their effects remain.

DSC02199

All those leaves are caterpillar food. Maybe the childrens book The Very Hungry Caterpillar isn’t so cute after all.

Comparing those bare trees to an apocalypse was kind of a dramatic thought. But then, it was a dramatic sight. During the weeks that this happened, I wasn’t online much, didn’t have many hours at either of my jobs, and didn’t really leave home a lot either. I hadn’t seen any news of the caterpillars at all. I was basically a writer-hermit, and it was a shock when I went to visit my parents and saw thick shag carpets of gypsy moth caterpillars trying to climb past barriers of cardboard and duct tape.

It started with the noise: the sound of rain falling when there was no rain. My brother informed me that this was the sound of caterpillar crap falling from the trees. I didn’t totally believe him; in my head, I filed what he had said in the same space as urban legends. And yet, every time I heard that noise, I couldn’t shake what he’d said. It kind of made sense, and well, my car was covered with little black dots that had to have come from somewhere.

The annoying and disgusting aspects of all this presented themselves first: caterpillar droppings, difficulty eating outdoors, lack of shade from the hot sun, rashes from the caterpillars. I cheered on my chickens as they cleared the caterpillars from the area surrounding their coop. They ate so many that they got tired of them. But the possible consequences of the situation occurred to me soon after. What if the leaves didn’t grow back?

The trees would die.

I told myself that it’s probably unlikely that we’d have a legitimate ecological apocalypse. But then, things like that do happen. My line of thinking basically boiled down to, “It can’t happen here.” But of course, it could.

Right now, I’m reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. His discussion of social epidemics starts with a discussion of actual disease epidemics. What’s scary is that not a lot has to change for an existing disease to expand massively into an epidemic. I know caterpillars aren’t the same as diseases. There’s an entire ecology affecting their population. But maybe just some tiny change, in some coming year, would be enough to tip caterpillar leaf consumption from large areas of leaf cover to all the leaf cover. This year, a dry winter was apparently enough to inhibit the growth of a fungus that balances the caterpillar population.

“Will the leaves grow back?” I asked my uncle, a gardener and former biology teacher, and therefore An Authority on the Subject.

They would, he said, but it didn’t shake the unique sense of unease that comes from walking under winter branches on a 90 degree day.

We’re in the final days of the Caterpocalypse. Sometimes, I drive through the bare areas and I see the spring leaves starting to pop in. It’s not as disorienting as bare branches, though it is definitely strange, and I assume there will be other consequences of this.

There are a lot of moths out.


*The main thing that inspired me to write this post was the fact that I hadn’t seen any news articles use the term “caterpocalypse,” which seemed like kind of a waste. It’s much less of a stretch than “snowmageddon” was, though it could look as though it’s referring to a tragedy involving a catered event.

Unhelpful things to say to someone with an animal phobia

If you tell someone you have an animal phobia, there’s a good chance they will respond with unhelpful platitudes and alarming anecdotes. They may be completely well meaning, but plenty of well meaning people say uncomfortable things.

This has been on my mind because I had an incident the other day. It was a split-second ripple of silver as a snake fled under a shrub. Suffice it to say, the snake, who may not even live on the property, is now Lord and Master of my front yard. If I spend any amount of time standing there, a sense of panic starts to build until a voice starts yells in my brain, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING WHAT ARE YOU DOING IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN. GET OUT OF HERE.” Like when you watch a horror movie and someone goes up to the dark attic.

My phobia is bad enough that I felt sort of icky and unhappy writing the last paragraph. This is why, from here on out, I will be using Miniature Schnauzers for all my examples*. Thanks to wikipedia, I just learned that ophidiophobia is something I have in common with one third of all adults. I couldn’t even find a specific term for a phobia of Miniature Schnauzers (though I apologize to any general sort of cynophobes reading), so I hope this is a less alarming way to put things.

And so, here is my list of unhelpful things to say to someone with an animal phobia:

You’re bigger than it.

Size has nothing to do with it.  Of course I should be more afraid of the Giant Schnauzer, which can wrap itself around its prey and suffocate it. But a Miniature Schnauzer is small enough that you might not see it slithering along in the grass until you’ve almost stepped on it, and that freaks me out more.

It’s more afraid of you than you are of it.

No, no it isn’t. It’s a reptile small canine, with an itty bitty reptile canine brain. It doesn’t have the mental capacity for a severe, activity-restricting phobia. Also, the degree of the animal’s fear has nothing to do with the degree of my own fear.

We don’t really have poisonous Miniature Schnauzers around here.

Doesn’t matter. Phobias aren’t about logic. The amount of actual danger isn’t always a factor in how strong the fear is. Even when it is a factor, it’s usually exaggerated. Eventually, this kind of knowledge can help dispel a phobia. Eventually. But having someone tell me—just as an offhand comment—that I shouldn’t be afraid comes across more as blowing off fears that are very real to me.

empty pantry shelves

A tidy pantry is less attractive to Miniature Schnauzers.

Except for this one type of poisonous Miniature Schnauzer you see now and then.

Yes, this is a legitimate concern. Now, because I have a severe phobia, I ‘ll be freaking out about the small possibility that I’ll one of the rare poisonous types.

That’s ok. A lot of people are afraid of them.

I don’t care. That sucks for those other people, and I feel for them. But other people sharing my phobia doesn’t change its negative impact on my life.

The most shocking story you can think of.

“You’re afraid of miniature schnauzers? Oh man, my Aunt Dolorothy used to have one. Poppy was so friendly, and she used to lick everybody’s hands. Then one day my Uncle Freddington found my aunt in a bathtub of ice water and no kidneys and Poppy had the kidneys in her food dish.”

ALL the horror stories you can think of involving that animal.

“You’re afraid of Miniature Schnauzers?”

“One time my cousin found a Miniature Schnauzer in her mailbox and it bit her.”

“One time my cousin found a Miniature Schnauzer in her tent, and she still can’t go camping.”

“One time I saw a Miniature Schnauzer eat a frog and it was so disgusting but I couldn’t look away.”

“One time a Miniature Schnauzer came at me when I was swimming, and let me tell you I never swam so fast in my life.”

“One time I was doing laundry in the basement—we live in an old house–and a Miniature Schnauzer came out of a crack in the wall and I dropped my hand towels that have a picture of a sweet little cottage on them.”

“Remember the restaurant that used to be on the corner of Main Street and MadeUp Road? Yeah, they had to shut that place down because the kitchen was infested with Miniature Schnauzers.”

I used to know someone who was aware of my phobia, and would come to me with any Miniature Schnauzer story she heard. I guess it was a way of bonding, a topic she figured we could talk about. A lot of these stories took place near where I lived, like at the trail where I went running. It became harder and harder for me to use that trail.

Exposure therapy is an effective way of dealing with a phobia, and learning to cope with this kind of story would be an eventual goal. However, one key to exposure therapy is that it be voluntary.

You probably shouldn’t watch…

Actually, some of the more helpful comments I’ve gotten are about movies to avoid. Sometimes I can handle them, and sometimes I can’t. But if someone goes on to describe the scene in question, it goes right back to being unhelpful. On the other hand, I could probably make a nice list of movies to watch if I want a mental challenge. Movies to watch when I’m a braver person.

Mostly, I’ve learned that if I tell anyone about my phobia, I must be clear. I’m not a little scared; I have an irrational fear to the point that I don’t want to see or hear anything at all. No stories, no pictures, no movies.


*A therapist told me that it’s better in the long run not to use code names like this. It’s another avoidant behavior, and it only gives the phobia more power. But it was funnier to me this way, because Schnauzer is a funny word.