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.

Congrats, grad!

The other day, someone I met five years after I graduated college asked me if I’d finished school yet. It’s not the first time this has happened to me. For once, I gave up, said yes I had, and accepted my congratulations. I’m not sure what I would have done if he’d asked any follow-up questions, like what I was planning to do now, or when my graduation ceremony was. “Well, I was thinking I’d spend a couple years unemployed—that’s been a popular thing for 2008 grads, you know, recession—and then I figured I’d take a job completely irrelevant to my degree. The job, in fact, where you asked me this question.”

Many years ago, I thought that looking younger than my age would eventually work to my benefit, and I’d be grateful for it. Maybe that’ll happen in another ten or twenty years. A year shy of thirty, it’s turned out to occasionally funny.

Once someone asked me if I live at home. I answered, “Do I live at home? Uh, well, yeah. Home is where I live.” It’s been awhile since I lived with my parents. A few times, older people have mentioned cassette tapes, then exclaimed, “I bet you don’t even know what a cassette tape is!” Once, this even happened with the color chartreuse. Granted, I was born ten years after they heyday of chartreuse, in the 1970’s, so that one might have had some merit.

Minor, persistant annoyances have been more common than funny stories. Since I have a job that’s heavy on the small talk, questions about school come up at least once a week. These conversations should be innocuous, ending with a chuckle and me saying, “Yeah, I’m totally old enough to drink and rent a car, and I even existed before Seinfeld came on the air.” Unfortunately, I have a lot of regrets about college. Such as: where I went, why I went, what I studied, why I studied it, and how. Instead of being able to leave the past in the past and do what I can in the present, that past is dragged up with depressing frequency.

Then there’s the tendency of people to treat a twenty-one year-old differently than they would a twenty-nine year-old. My partner is also young looking for his age. Because he’s more charismatic than me, he usually ends up with more funny stories in these situations. We’ve both had times when someone treated one of us poorly, then suddenly changed their behavior upon learning that we were eight years older than they had thought, pay bills, and are otherwise able to put up a thin veneer of adulthood. It feels weirdly like a sociological experiment. Like a man in a dress with sock boobs, experiencing how the opposite sex exists in the world, sometimes I feel like I’m experiencing the world of a person who is not actually me.

So far, I can only think of one time when looking younger than my age has been to my benefit. When a misogynistic creep was regularly coming to a coffee shop I worked at, and a lot of the women there were addressed as (let’s mad lib this: choose an adjective) bitch, I got off lucky with a daily “Hey there, buddy!” Too young for misogyny? I’ll take that.