Nine reasons to cut your own hair (besides saving money)

Haircutting shears, thinning shears, haircutting razor, comb

I perpetrated my first DIY haircut one night in my college dorm, in the grubby common bathroom. Some kind of hair-demon possessed me and whipped me into a frenzy that would not allow me to sleep or focus on anything else until I had less hair on my head. Instead of putting off the haircut until a more convenient time, making an appointment, or at least doing a quick internet search to learn what to do, I grabbed some hair from the center of my head, pulled it out to my nose, and chopped it off with what I assume were not actual haircutting scissors.

Only then, I realized my mistake and took to the internet. I forget if I Googled, or LiveJournaled, or possibly even went on AOL Instant Messenger, which hung on with the strength of the undead for many years after AOL itself became a clownish relic of the 90s. All I remember is that I told my friend Bonnie about the weird little hair-fangs hanging down my forehead, and Bonnie said, “Come over. I can fix it.”

This was accomplished with a great deal of mediocre pizza.

The lesson I took from my screw-up wasn’t that I should be patient and let a professional take care of things for me: it was that I should learn the skills Bonnie had.

I’ve now been cutting my own hair for fourteen years, and I’ve learned a lot in the process. My worst mistakes now have nothing on the hair-fangs of 2005.

People often cite money as a reason to cut your own hair. Do the math! Think of how much money you’ll save! Money has been a motivating factor for me, but after years of DIY haircuts, I’ve found other reasons as well. Here are a few to consider:

You are not a telepath.

How many people have a story about asking the stylist to “just take off an inch” and ending up with a drastic haircut? You can describe something to a stylist in detail, and you can bring pictures, but it’s hard not to lose something in translation. This happens even with pictures because a haircut on someone else must be translated to your own hair and head shape.

I’ve gotten more accurate with my descriptions since I started cutting my own hair. The last time I had a professional haircut, three years ago, I described what I wanted so well that I was disappointed: she gave me the exact cut I would’ve given myself at home.

You have long hair.

If you have long hair, you also have large margin of error. I might be biased (as a short hair person since the age of twelve), but I don’t see much point to hair more than half a foot past your shoulders. Nothing after that is going to change how you look. The hair around your face has more impact than ends trailing down your mid-back to your butt.

Every inch of hair you have beyond that “just past the shoulders” point adds to your margin of error. Unless you truly love the feeling of a ponytail long enough to tie your shoes with, consider the extra length to be breathing room.

Or an easy haircut.

Again, this applies to long hair, or at least long hair cut to a single length, no bangs, no layers. It also applies to a straightforward buzzcut. If you have an easy haircut, why not give it a shot?

Be a fearless badass.

Fearlessness liberates you, and cutting your own hair is a safe way to practice it. I’ve heard people who jumped out of a plane say how exhilarated and free they felt after finally doing it.

That’s nice. I’m still not jumping out of a plane.

I have a number of anxiety problems, including obsessive-compulsive disorder. I overthink everything. I don’t need my hair to be yet another area of my life that’s ruled by anxiety. Eff that noise–if I find myself over-worrying about my hair, I chop it off.

Satiate the hair madness immediately.

Even if you don’t cut your own hair on a regular basis, if you learn how to, it’s always an option that’s available. Such as if you are possessed by the same hair madness I had that night in college and need to cut your hair immediately in the middle of the night.

Cut your hair in stealth.

Last year, I decided to go back to a pixie cut. I had grown out my previous pixie into an undercut with a long top–too long, falling onto my shoulders. In pictures, I don’t look like myself. The hair demon, it turns out, was part of me all along. Twist!

I didn’t want the “You cut your hair!” attention that a sudden, drastic haircut brings, so I decided I would cut little bits at a time and stretch the haircut out over several months. Usually, this meant setting a timer for three to five minutes, and cutting off just a bit before taking a shower.

Only three or four people noticed until I made it past the one-year mark, made a mistake, and buzzed off a bunch to even it out.

Part of the reason I did this was also as a learning experience. I hoped that by cutting less at a time, I might better learn how to deal with some of the awkward, in-between lengths. The stealth haircut (also known as the slow haircut) worked out well in that regard too.

I learned that if you only cut a small section at a time and don’t like the result, it’s easy to see where you went wrong.

Express yourself.

If you wake up one morning and you’re not in a “having this stupid lock of hair on the side of my head” kind of mood, you can snip that thing off. When you cut your own hair, your haircut is more directly tied to your self-expression. Hair becomes another art form to explore. Your haircut can be a reaction to how you’re feeling. You can put away parts of your personality and bring other ones up front for awhile.

Avoid small talk.

Are you too awkward to have a stranger cut your hair? That’s been my experience for most of my life. Cut your hair by yourself, cut the small talk.

Then you can free the rambling, singing deranged person you keep under that awkward exterior.

Increase your independence.

Despite the fear so many people have, cutting your own hair is like anything else where you have the option of calling a professional versus doing it yourself. I’ve changed my own oil, jumped a battery, and replaced my car’s door handle with some help from youtube.

If I wanted, I could do all my own oil changes myself. But I have a small, low car, and it’s a hassle to get under there. Also, considering the cost of oil itself, I’m not saving an enormous money by passing that job off to someone else.

And ultimately, even after learning all the benefits of cutting my own hair, I’m more clear on when it makes sense to call a professional. Sometimes, you want to take advantage of how much easier it is for someone else to blend the hair on the back of your head. Maybe you like having your scalp touched. Maybe you want to get the fuck out of your apartment. Maybe you’ve calculated how many hours of your life it costs to make the money to get the haircut, and the haircut makes you happy enough that you don’t care. Or you hate cutting your own hair the same way many people hate vacuuming, and you especially hate cleaning hair scraps out of the bathroom sink.

For many years, my treat to myself on my birthday was a professional haircut.

There’s an attitude many people have that cutting your own hair is basically the equivalent of a sloppy chainsaw murder, especially if you’re a woman and your hair is supposed to be your crowning glory. I don’t like the assumption that you shouldn’t cut your own hair because you’ll fuck it up, and that you need to hand the job over to someone who’s had the proper training because under no circumstances should you ever set foot outside with a less than perfect haircut.

I don’t like the assumption that you shouldn’t cut your own hair because you’ll fuck it up, and that you need to hand the job over to someone who’s had the proper training because under no circumstances should you ever set foot outside with a less than perfect haircut.

Even worse is the assumption that you can never learn to cut your own hair; hairstylists are not human beings who attend schools, start out knowing nothing, and learn through reading and practice. They’re, like, mythical spirits of hair, and you can never learn to do what they do.

Those attitudes are willfully disempowering people.

Instead of looking at DIY haircuts with fear, it should be seen as another area where we have a choice. There’s a world of difference between choosing to call a professional, and being helpless to do anything but call a professional.

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.

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.

Chicken coop makeover

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Real afternoon shadows mingling with painted shadows beg the question “What in our lives is really real? Is life just a shadow on the wall of a chicken coop?” Right?

Our flufforaptors have grown into sleek, russet-feathered chickens. They aren’t fully grown just yet, but it was time for them to move out to the coop. After extensive online research, I learned that moving chickens to a new home fifteen minutes away is generally a five-hour process, and you should expect to spend most of that time attempting to lure them into a cage with chive flowers and lentils because picking them up is impossible.

Oh wait, that’s just what we did.

But first, I spent some time earlier this week tricking out their coop.

Initially, we painted the coop a light blue color that I’m told is “colonial blue,” whatever that means. It came from a one-gallon can of Home Depot Oops Paint—the paint that is returned to the store, and then has extra pigment added so that no one can run an awesome Home Depot Oops Paint Scam with their friends.

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“Yesterday we lived in a cardboard box. Today, we have our own three-by-eight foot coop. It’s the American dream.”

Anyway, I painted weeds on the sides, just in case anyone didn’t know that my partner and I (any my mother-in-law, whose house the coop is at) are all kind of hippies. I based the design on a typeface called Aierbazzi, which has drawings of meadow weeds instead of letters. The drawings stack together so that a word becomes a single clump of weeds rather than one letter-drawing after another, all in a row.

To get the color, which I wanted to look like shadows on the side of the coop, I mixed black paint in with the coop’s base color. We’re all happy with how it came out, but the chickens don’t care. They’re basically just happy that their new home has plenty of interesting structures to fly on.

As it turned out, I gained some skills at picking up chickens. My partner and I were so pathetic at getting them out of their box that we actually googled “how to move chickens,” followed quickly by “how to pick up chickens,” because we needed less advanced information. Then, after one of our failed efforts to lure them into the cages with flowers (yes, exactly like a five year-old might do), one them them escaped.

Quickly and firmly, as this blog suggests, I scooped her up and yelled, “Grab a box!”

Dan freaked out, and we had what was probably a really stupid dialogue:

“What do you mean? What box?”

“A box. Like a box. Cardboard!”

“What box? What box?”

“A box! A box! A box with flaps.”

In the end, that was how we moved them all to their new home. The first few times I tried to grab the other chickens, they freaked out in a crazy flurry of flapping wings and scattered pine shavings. That made me freak out, and I’d let the chickens get away. But I kept telling myself, “quickly and firmly.”

Don’t let their freakout become your freakout. That’s the other thing I learned. It’s probably a good strategy for dealing with people too. Thanks, flufforaptors.

Flufforaptors: on having baby chickens

Baby chickens turned out to be fascinating, and I didn’t expect that.

Baby chickens in a box

Classic milling-around-before-we-do-something-insane baby chicken behavior.

Despite being on board with keeping chickens as part of a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle, I’ve always kind of viewed chickens as fairly dull farm animals. To be fair, I had spent very little time around flesh-and-blood chickens. That just changed. My partner and I have had baby chickens for nearly a week. We’ve spent much of this time suffering from something called Chicken Hypnosis, because that’s what we named it. Chicken hypnosis occurs when you try to do a thing, but are unable to because you walk by the chicken box and end up staring at their antics for twenty minutes.

After five days of Acute Recurrent Chicken Hypnosis, we’ve learned a few things about baby chickens.

Baby chickens are baby dinosaurs.

The idea that chickens are descended from dinosaurs is something I’ve heard people talk about a lot the last few years. Within a few hours of having chickens and watching how they move and function, my partner and I agreed. They are totally dinosaurs. He nicknamed them Fluffosauruses, because they are indeed adorable, fluffy, vicious little monsters. I like Flufforaptors, because they do kind of move like velociraptors.

Of course, this is all kind of dubious. We can watch the chickens and say that they move how dinosaurs move, but our idea of how dinosaurs move comes from Jurassic Park and various documentaries. And for all I know, they based their ideas on how dinosaurs move on the movements of living birds.

Baby chickens are fast.

Back to that velociraptor comparison. For some reason, I imagined that baby chicks would bounce around like fluffy little anime monsters. Maybe I didn’t actually know what chickens were before we got them. I didn’t even realize that I’d imagined them moving this way until I saw them dashing across their living area, tearing up the mulch behind them with their little talons. Once their wings started coming in, they began to use them for extra bursts of speed. Which is so cool to watch.

Baby chickens do not give a shit that you named them.

Or at least that you named the three of them you can tell apart from the others. Maybe when they’re older, they’ll learn what their names are. Human babies take awhile to learn their names, after all. But I also think that chickens just don’t give a shit. You named us Suntop, Redbeak, and Chickotay*? That’s beneath us. We’re the scions of dinosaurkind, and we’d basically eat you if you weren’t three hundred times our size. Or something. We’re chickens. Counting isn’t our forte.

Baby chickens are a mosh pit.

The chickens sleep in a clump, something I’m told they’ll do until they’re older and learn to roost. At various times during the day, they nestle into clump formation and take what I can only assume are power naps. Other times, they’ll bundle together and just kind of mill around. Then one of them will jump into the group and disrupt the whole thing, and basically, it turns into a mosh pit.

awful baby chick illustration

It also does my vector graphics skills no justice. I want those five minutes of my life back.

Finally, this picture does baby chickens no justice.

They may have been little balls of golden fluff for the first couple days, but they still had cold reptile eyes and pointy little talons. Like many of my favorite creatures, both real and fictional, they are both cute and vicious. Chickens in a yard tend to eat bugs. At two days old, they ate** a bunch of ants I kidnapped for them from the garden. Any sort of cartoony illustration of Easter chicks is really just a caricature. Especially if there’s a bow involved.


*Speaking of Star Trek Voyager, chickens can live longer than Ocampa.
**Or at least brutally murdered.

Stealth, strategy, and sustenance: sneaking food into the movies

If there’s one thing I love more than sneakiness, it’s food. If there’s one thing I love more than food, it’s sneakiness. I had a hard time deciding which order food and sneakiness needed to be in for that last sentence.

Recently, a friend on facebook asked:

“What’s the best way to sneak a quarter of a pie into a movie theater? Y’know, hypothetically. Thinking hoodie pocket with a bag.”

My response was brief, but that’s only because it would have looked weird to write an enormous comment on this topic.

No, not topic.  Lifestyle.

Here are my strategies for sneaking food and beverage into places where I’m not supposed to have food and beverage.

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How many avocados can a priest, a rabbi, and a blonde sneak into a movie theater?

Bags and pockets

This is one area where women have an advantage. A lot of women have a “movie purse,” usually something big, blocky, and obvious. I’ve yet to see a movie theater check one of these bags, but why draw attention? Wedge or tear-drop shaped bags appear smaller than they are. My movie purse is a skull-patterned red sack with a top that tapers into a shoulder strap. I’d say it’s a chic shape for a bag, but honestly, I don’t have a damn clue.

One day in second grade, my friend Tom snuck tater tots into his pockets and brought them back to class. All the kids whispered about the tater tots with some combination of disgust, awe, and jealousy. Suffice it to say that I broadened my definition of pocket food that day.

Binders

Carrying around a fuck ton of office supplies nearly every where I go has taught me the utility of binders for hiding things. A large-spined binder would work well for smuggling bagged pie, and trust me, no one is going to be going through your binder to see if you’re hiding something. To most people, binder=boring.  They will assume you’re a film student, or writing a review, or someone so boring and so busy that they bring office work to the movies.

Zip-lock bags

Accessiblity is key. Once you get the food in, how will you eat it? If you’re in a darkened movie theater, you can basically go to town on a whole Thanksgiving dinner, and no one will care unless your gravy-slurping ways drown out the intensely whispered dialogue.*  With a zip-lock bag, you can eat food of any consistency, held at any angle.

And, no, I’ve never brought an entire Thanksgiving dinner to the movies.

What?

Was that a challenge?

Moxie

Not the cola.  You should only sneak that in somewhere if you enjoy the taste of earwax and death.  You can often go in boldly, with food or beverage in plain sight. Act casual. Show no sign you’re doing anything wrong. Don’t look around to see if anyone is looking at you. Most people aren’t paying attention and don’t give a shit. This is how I “snuck” coffee past my high school band teacher every single day without getting caught while my younger brother had his mug confiscated. I walked casually, and let the flow of students screen me from view.

Now, go forth.  To the movies, to the library, to school, to work.  To stores and to restaurants that sell one thing when you want to eat another.


*Does this bug anyone else? When something onscreen is really dramatic and important, the characters whisper. You know, so you can’t actually hear what’s going on in the damn movie. I’ve been watching for years to catch someone doing this in real life, and it never happens.