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.

Please Kill Me and then go do some stuff

A few years ago, I picked up Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk on the used book shelf at the grocery store. We put it on our cinder block bookshelf next to our Star Wars books and our giant thesaurus, and whatever other books we have on display in our living room that we think make us look cool, but actually do the opposite.

Please Kill Me sitting on the shelf

Please Kill Me thinks it’s cooler than the other books on my shelf. Even the Star Wars ones.

For years, music books were among the few types of nonfiction that could hold my attention through a few hundred pages. One day, I picked up Please Kill Me on a whim and read a few pages. I remained hypnotized in its pages until I finished it.

There’s less about the music itself than I would like, and the focus is on a fairly small number of bands. Plenty of TMI moments as well. However, it stitches together direct quotes so seamlessly that sometimes it doesn’t feel like reading separate voices. And despite the overwhelming number of people whom I’d probably hate if I met them in real life, it really conveys the living community of the New York punk scene, and it makes me want to be there. It reminds me of how important community is.

I wanted to share this quote from Legs McNeil, one of the authors of Please Kill Me (from page 334):

“Overnight, punk had become as stupid as everything else. This wonderful vital force that was articulated by the music was really about corrupting every form—it was about advocating kids to not wait to be told what to do, but make life up for themselves, it was about trying to get people to use their imaginations again, it was about not being perfect, it was about saying it was okay to be amateurish and funny, that real creativity came out of making a mess, it was about working with what you got in front of you and turning everything embarrassing, awful, and stupid in your life to your advantage.”

At its best, punk wasn’t about studied coolness or meticulous safety-pinning. It was about doing shit. Kicking down doors. It was refusing to be stopped by roadblocks on the obvious path in front of you, roadblocks that say “you can’t go here,” and taking that DIY spirit and making your own road out of salvaged bricks and broken glass and a found bucket of tar*.

That quote reminds me to make my own damn artwork to hang in my apartment rather than to buy manufactured art from Target or someplace, and to make that artwork out of subjects and materials I like rather than worry about getting things a certain way. It’s better to do something creative and true than it is to make the place you live a poor copy of something in a magazine.

It reminds me of why I’m going to help make a new wooden table top for what used to be a glass deck table but, thanks to an incident** that qualifies as “embarrassing, awful, and stupid,” is currently just an empty frame sitting on a sad deck.

It reminds me to write the things that I write, and that the things I write usually have to start out as a mess.

It reminds me to experiment and do things and learn, because so, so many people do not do things, only consume them. It reminds me that the biggest difference between many of my bad days and my good ones is that I did real things on the good ones. I made life up for myself.


*You can tell I know a lot about making roads.
**We didn’t buy a base for our umbrella because we didn’t like any that the store had. We knew we needed to get one, but the umbrella didn’t blow away, which sort of caused an idea to creep into our heads—an idea that maybe we didn’t need a base after all. Sometimes, we left the umbrella open, though we knew not do this. But again, nothing tragic happened, and another idea crept into our heads—an idea that it’s probably not the end of the world if we leave the umbrella open sometimes. One day, we came home to find that our umbrella had nearly blown off the deck in a big gust of wind, and a pile of tempered glass pebbles sat underneath what used to be our table top. And we knew better.

Spirit Notes Fading is out!

Spirit Notes Fading cover

This is my book. I bet you figured that.

If it’s news to you that I have been working to put out a short collection of  short stories, that’s because I’ve been basically awful at announcing it, or telling people at all.

So let’s get that out of the way: I published Spirit Notes Fading a few days ago. Currently, it’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The book is a short collection of fantasy short stories, all fairly different, but with a few threads in common. Magic, music, journeys, and a sense of eerieness come up across the four stories in the collection. Here’s the summary:

A punk band struggles to save their show when it’s upstaged by the wail of a real banshee.

Across impassable seas and beyond lonely cities, two wayfarers journey across a vast continent.

A tired wanderer fights his impulse to run when he is hunted down with a magic photograph.

An ocean-sick miner steals a submersible to escape from the oppressive priest caste of a deep-ocean settlement.

When I say, “I published Spirit Notes Fading,” I mean that I self-published it, and I did all the work myself, except for some of the proofreading. I wrote the stories, revised them, copyedited them, designed the cover, designed the interior for both print and digital versions, and converted everything into the correct formats. There is a general idea that self-publishing is easy, and that anyone can just slap up anything with basically no work put into it at all. There’s a bit of truth to that; you can take a lot of short cuts; you can skip a lot of steps. To publish my own work with diligence, I had to level up a lot of skills. I’ve actually spent a few years working on those skills, because although I didn’t know until a few months ago that I was going to publish Spirit Notes Fading, I knew that I was going to publish some book.

I keep wondering about things I should have changed. Story-wise, edit-wise, format-wise. Did I leave too many tree branches in the cover? Is it just a mess? That kind of thing. But overall, I’m proud of the work I did, and I think I met the standard I set for myself.

However, as I said, I’ve been ridiculously inept at announcing it. “I have a book coming out!” is the sort of thing you’re supposed to announce on your blog, your newsletter, and whatever social media you use. Aside from promotion, it’s an accomplishment. Sharing accomplishments is generally considered an ok thing to do, right? As long as you’re not being showy, narcissistic, and ridiculous, like so:

“Wow, that’s a great story about your dead uncle. It reminds me of how I wrote a book.”

“As the author-publisher of the short story collection Spirit Notes Fading, I think I’d like to order a hamburger, no bun.”

“Hi, can I get a couple of scratch cards? Oooh, I can barely scratch off this silvery stuff, my hand is still so sore from all the computer work I did to publish my recent short story collection.”

But I’m so far on the introverted end of the spectrum that I feel weird even mentioning it. Even on my own website! In the past week, there were three times that I ran into people I hadn’t seen in awhile and it went kind of like:

“Hey, long time no see! What’s up with you?”
“Not much. Working. Need more hours.”
Some talk about other stuff.
“Oh, by the way, I wrote a book. That’s the kind of thing you tell people, right?”

And so this, right here? This is me telling you. I wrote a book. You can read it, if you’d like.

Paper robots

The internet failed me.

This was back in the Fall of 2013.  I co-organize events for my local NaNoWriMo region, and our group often hands out mini-mascots at our events, things like toy ninjas, army men, and pom-pom bunnies.  That year, I wanted it to be paper robots.  I didn’t think I’d have any trouble finding instructions for such a thing on the internet, but nothing came close to what I had in mind.  Everything was either too flimsy, too labor-intensive, or kind of ugly.  Or, all three.

While these appear to be the most awesome paper robots on the internet, making twenty of them was out of the question.

What I wanted was a cute paper robot that could survive a knock from a gift bag granola bar, one that would take me less than an hour to make.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m sure I was visualizing the little robot from Machinarium.

So, because the internet failed me, I devised my own means of creating a paper robot.  I went through a couple prototypes, then got what I wanted on the third try.

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Cookiebot doesn’t give a crap about the steel cut oats. Mostly, the container serves him as sort of a missile silo.

Cookiebot has an electroshock arm that extents from his body and zaps anyone who tries to steal the cookies*.  Including me, and they’re my cookies.  It’s kind of like in Super Ducktales when Bulldozertron or whatever it’s called guards Scrooge’s money bin, and no one can get into the money bin until Gizmoduck defeats him.  Only, I don’t have a Gizmoduck in my life, unless you count throwing Cookiebot on the floor and stepping on him.  But I wouldn’t do that, because he’d probably crawl away in a squashed bundle of spider limbs and have his revenge while I sleep.

Which is all to say, I made a pdf guide explaining how to make the robot.  It’s light on pictures, so I hope the text suffices.  The robot takes about 30 minutes.

You, too, can have a Cookiebot in your life.


 

*Not really.  If I knew how to make something like that out of paper, I would be leading a very different life.

The Ultimate Smoothie of Power

Now, I could have called it an Ultimate Power Smoothie, but that’s the jock name for it, and I prefer my smoothie to sound like something my Dungeon Master rolls up for me after I defeat five trolls.

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I blend my smoothies in a six-bladed blender. To add insult to injury.

I like the idea of starting my day with an Ultimate Smoothie of Power. The problem is, I’m a degenerate who cannot manage to make a smoothie in the morning. I can tell myself, “It’s just throwing things in the blender, no biggie,” but realistically, my torpid morning-self needs 30 minutes to make a smoothie. I can manage to roll out of bed and eat leftovers for breakfast, or if it’s a weekend, some kind of omelette that my partner makes me.

The paradox of the Ultimate Smoothie of Power is that I would have to have already imbibed it in order to have the energy to make it. So for me, smoothies are a lunch item. They are for when I would like to eat a fuckton of fruit without having to chew it.

Smoothies have certain requirements, as determined by some governing body, which I have made up in my head and believe to have a clever acronym, like ISAACTRON, whatever that stands for.

Here are the requirements for a beverage to earn the designation of smoothie:

  • Frozen banana. Frozen bananas make smoothies smooth, creamy and sweet. I am no longer happy with a smoothie that does not contain frozen banana.
  • Dairy. In the form of milk or yogurt, or at least coconut milk. Because more creaminess. If there is no dairy, it’s not a smoothie, it’s a fruit slush. These are technical classifications, which I have decided on in my head.
  • Protein. They need to have protein, in addition to the protein already in yogurt. Afternoon-self moves at a better clip than morning-self, but that doesn’t mean afternoon-self is interested in making time-consuming fruit drinks and still having to make lunch as well.
  • These ingredients must be pulverized, otherwise they’re just a bowl of yogurt with a lot of stuff in it.

Because of these requirements, in my world, there are really only four types of smoothie: Fruit Smoothie, Chocolate Smoothie, Pumpkin smoothie, and Smoothie That Has Oats In It.

Here, then, is the recipe for Fruit Smoothie, also known as the Ultimate Smoothie of Power.

Ingredients:

  • one banana, previously frozen.
  • two handfuls berries, possibly also frozen.
  • plain, full-fat yogurt.
  • almond butter
  • crystallized ginger
  • more cinnamon than you think you need
  • maple syrup or honey, if additional sweetening is needed
  1. Put all the ingredients in your blender.
  2. Add more cinnamon.  MORE.
  3. Turn on the blender.
  4. Do not drink the Ultimate Smoothie of Power while the blender is running, even if you’ve somehow convinced yourself that this might be a good idea.
  5. Drink the Ultimate Smoothie out of some kind of appropriate container. Or, one shaped like a penis.

TROUBLESHOOTING

Help! The ginger is still in chunks, and I can’t handle it because food texture is a huge deal for me.

Make the smoothie in two steps. Blend the ginger with the frozen banana so it all the hard stuff gets puréed together, then add the goopy ingredients.

Help! I want more protein in my smoothie, but I don’t have any nut butter and I’m too scared to add meat to my smoothie and still drink it.

Never fear! If you have nuts and a capable blender, first dump a bag of nuts into the blender and grind it into nut paste. Nut butter, if you will. You may need to add oil. Remove all the nut butter from the blender except for a couple tablespoons. Now you have nut butter AND a smoothie, and you didn’t need to turn this into two projects with dishes and everything.

Help! I have no frozen banana!

Rethink your life. You will never be able to drink smoothies professionally. Though, yes, you can use a room temperature banana with a handful of ice cubes.

Seven reasons why Kevin McAllister is my role model

Screenshot from 2014-12-16 12:24:05

Behold the vengeance in Kevin’s face. As we will see, Kevin does not let Buzz go unpunished for eating all the cheese pizza.

It should go without saying that anyone who grew up in the 90’s wanted to be Kevin McAllister, hero of the only two Home Alone movies that count. Who doesn’t want to sled down the stairs on a tobaggan or zipline into a tree house? For me, it goes way beyond the desire to have a huge house all to myself and the awesome trap-making skills to defend it. After over two decades of watching Home Alone 1 at Christmastime, the ways of Kevin have had an indelible effect on my psyche, in ways that I’m only now starting to realize.

Kevin taught me how to best utilize my time when I have the house to myself.

If I’m home alone, it’s almost guaranteed that there will be ice cream, cookies, and TV. Normally, I’m not even a couch potato.

Kevin makes a mean diagram.

I’m a great lover of diagrams, but even on a computer, I can’t make as good a diagram as Kevin does.

Kevin is the Sun Tzu/ Grand Admiral Thrawn of the elementary school set.

He was able to manipulate Harry and Marv’s attempted entries into the house, somehow knowing that after Marv tried the basement and lost his shoes and socks, he would then try the window and step on stabby-crunchy glass ornaments. Of course the traps are impressive, but the subtle psychological manipulation is even more so.

Kevin is self-educated.

I didn’t know how to do laundry until I was 16. But when Kevin is left home at the age of 8, he quickly masters the skill, even conquering his fear of the furnace to do so. Between Home Alone 1 and Home Alone 2, it’s obvious that Kevin upgraded his skills at making elaborate, painful traps. He goes from Micro Machines and glue ‘n’ feather traps, to setting up an arc welder to electrocute a sink. Who taught him how to do that? School? Please.  And there’s no way his parents taught him how to do that stuff. Especially not his dad, who is the only member of his immediate family that isn’t a jerk to him the night before they leave him home alone.

Kevin is a master of fire.

C’mon. When I was eight, I couldn’t even light a match. Still can’t, actually, unless it’s the light-on-box kind. Fireworks are the least of it. This is a kid who makes a blow torch trap and a fire-lightbulb trap, while strategically deploying volatile chemicals.

Kevin knows how to improvise.

Despite his extensive plans, Kevin never sticks to them rigidly. He grabs Buzz’s tarantula and throws it at the bad guys when he needs to get away. Earlier in the movie, he escapes Harry and Marv by hiding in a nativity scene.

Kevin is a fair arbiter of justice.

Screenshot from 2014-12-16 13:30:32

Always clean up your traps before you put out milk and cookies for Santa.

After the bad guys are carted off in a cop car, Kevin cleans the entire house. The tree is decorated, the laundry is clean, and there’s fresh milk in the fridge. When the family arrives home, the only signs that anything happened are a single gold tooth on the floor, and Buzz’s entire room. I suspect that Kevin is capable of rebuilding Buzz’s shelf, if he wanted to. But he doesn’t, and that’s because Buzz is an asshole.