Check out my guest post on Beauty in Budget Blog!

That’s me… If I see a camera pointed my way, I naturally make that face. It really bugs my Grandpa.  As an aside, I think that’s Joan Didion’s The White Album in my hand.

I’m not very good at taking care of my appearance… it all started with school uniforms, and by the time I got to public school, I didn’t recognize the difference between fashion and crazy.  Who was wearing lace-edged leggings three years past the fad?  I was!  Who was wearing pedal pushers five years before they got cool?  I was! (To be honest, they weren’t actually pedal pushers… they were regular jeans that were just way too short on me because I hit my growth spurt in 6th and 7th grades and grew 11 inches over the two school years… my inseams just couldn’t keep up.)  I sort of gave up on being hip or even marginally attractive.

That’s me in the middle, trying to pretend to be 5’4″ (I was actually 6’0″). I was 13, and I had really bad allergies.

Thank God for my friend Teresa, who has never accepted that slovenly homeliness is the best I can do.  And she’s right.  It really does feel good to take a tiny bit of care when selecting my clothing in the morning, and if I still can’t be bothered to brush or style my hair (employing, instead, the ubiquitous floppy pony tail… it ain’t pretty, but whatever), at least I’m moving in the right direction with my sartorial care.  Thank God also that Teresa started her blog about makeup, because I use it as an excellent and entertaining ‘how to be a girl’ reference manual.

And now I can add another plume to my sparsely feathered cap: Teresa has allowed me to write a guest review of e.l.f.’s Lip Balm SPF 15.  Please click on over to Beauty in Budget Blog (right here) to see the review and check out all the amazing advice on drugstore makeup: what’s available, what it costs, and whether it’s worth it.  I love this blog.

Social Lessons – an excerpt

I started writing this story a while ago, and I think it might be time for me to get back to it.  Here is an excerpt from the very beginning of this very unpolished writing fragment.  To explain: I tend to write stories from the middle out.  That habit makes for a terrible editing process, but I generally find it easier to write whatever I feel like writing at a given time.    You may have noticed in reading this blog that I skip around a fair amount and don’t ascribe to any coherent theme.  Anyway, that disorganization is inherent in me and in everything that I do.  So get ready for an extremely abrupt beginning (and the ending is quite abrupt, too, because I didn’t feel like posting the entire thing today).

In fifth grade, I switched from private to public school.  It was September of 1990, and my world completely changed.  At the private school, we had uniforms and there were a lot of rules governing our behavior.  To enforce those rules, our teachers were permitted to use corporal punishment.  I had gotten in trouble a few times and was considered something of a trouble maker—in third grade, a boy who sat next to me got upset and said, “Shit!”  The teacher took him outside to spank him, and those of the class who hadn’t witnessed the drama first-hand surrounded me to find out what was going on.  I said, “Kenny said a bad word,” just as the teacher was coming in.  She hauled me right outside and I got spanked for gossiping.  Also in third grade, I got in trouble (by the same teacher, although this time I deserved it) for starting up a business with my best friend; this business consisted of us purchasing large quantities of pixie stix at a very low price from the drive-through dairy by her house and selling them at a considerable markup to the other students in our class.  At any rate, if it’s true that we learn to view ourselves through the perspective of the adults around us, I really thought I was a hard-core trouble maker… until I went to public school.

At the public school, it was ok to use curse words.  It was ok to talk back to the teachers.  It was ok to terrorize your fellow students.  It was awful.  As an adult, now, I can look back on it with a chuckle and tell myself dispassionately that it really was quite a paradigm shift.  But if I stretch my memory back and try to recall my feelings at the time, I become swamped by the terror that accompanies an individual being thrown into a completely new set of circumstances without the least bit of warning.  Every single rule had changed, and I didn’t know what the new ones were.  At the private school, which was associated with a large church, the coolest kids were the PKs, the ministers’ sons and daughters.  The hierarchy went down from there based on the relative position of one’s parents—my dad was a deacon in the church, so I ranked below the ministers’ kids and above the kids whose dads were merely church members.  At the public school, the hierarchy of relative coolness was based first on the socioeconomic status of one’s parents and second on how adept one was at making other children feel small and worthless.

My parents weren’t poor, but they didn’t think about status or the communication of relative wealth when we did back to school shopping.  I remember that pre-fifth grade shopping trip, because we had never done back-to-school shopping before.  My mother and my aunt talked strategy weeks in advance—jeans and t-shirts were cool as were tennis shoes (never called sneakers).  Then we went to Target or K-Mart and bought a few pairs of jeans, a few pairs of shorts, and a bunch of solid-color t-shirts and got some white tennis shoes from Payless.  To my mind then (and now, frankly) jeans are jeans—if they fit properly and are comfortable, what does it matter what brand they are?—but it did matter whether you wore Jordache or Guess vs. Wrangler, Lee, or Chic (Target’s brand).  Those kids could tell at a glance whether or not your clothes had the right label, and mine did not.  To make matters worse,  I had the habit of wearing the clothes I liked regardless of how many times I had worn any particular item in that week or in that month.  I had this neon-green zip-up sweat shirt with a screen-printed stegosaurus on it that I loved immoderately, and my insistence on wearing it nearly every day did not help my social status.

There were other, behind-the-scenes factors that contributed to my total uncoolness that I didn’t discover until it was far too late to do anything about it.  The public school had a program for its smart kids called Gifted and Talented Education (GATE).  Students had to test to qualify to participate in GATE, and, at the public school, there were budget limits on the number of students from each grade who could participate in the program.  Before I attended my first day of class at the public school, I had already alienated a rather large contingent of kids; my test scores forced out one of the more popular girls from participating in the GATE program.  Being ten years old, she vowed a vendetta against me and all her friends followed her lead.  I started my first day of school with fifteen female enemies I had never met before, and not a one of them would tell me why I was so uniformly hated.  It was very confusing.

I had better luck than I deserved, and I was able to make the acquaintance of three very friendly girls who walked the same route I did to and from school.  They couldn’t make me cool, but at least they helped me to avoid getting beat up every day.

My private school offered a much more advanced education than was available at the public school.  In fifth grade, I didn’t learn new math skills; I didn’t, as a result of the curriculum, increase my reading level (it was already at the high school level anyway).  In fifth grade, I learned the meaning of the words asshole, fuck, and the completely confusing mother-fucker.  I learned that people make assumptions about you based on your appearance, and there is nothing you can do to change their minds.  I learned that friends don’t keep your secrets if your secrets are funny.  I learned that money, the smell of money, the façade of money, is more important to other people than the genuine intentions of your heart.  In short, I learned that you usually can’t trust other people and that most of them aren’t worth knowing.  I am extremely glad that I learned these lessons before I got to junior high, but sometimes I wish I could unlearn them.

The Liberation of Alice Love and why I bought makeup and painted my nails

Cover image, The Liberation of Alice Love by Abby McDonald

I finished reading this book last week, and I really liked it (with a few reservations).  It’s about a woman whose identity is stolen–along with a whole heap of money–by someone she knows.  Once she discovers the theft and gets over the initial shock and grief, Alice goes on the hunt for clues to how she could have been so blind and who that person was, really.  Along the way, she discovers that expensive lingerie can actually make her feel better about herself, that clothes that fit and flatter are a worthy investment, and that no life is truly safe from calamity.  She also discovers that lying is destructive to relationships and that it’s ok to go on a journey of self-discovery as long as you eventually end up discovering something and calling it a day.

I promised at the beginning of this venture that I wouldn’t do a review blog–there are plenty already out there that do that job much better than I ever could, including my two favorite book blogs, and –but I might as well give in to the temptation to mention a few items that stuck out.

1.  It drives me wonky when folk use words that contain unnecessary syllables.  Hey, “preventative”: I’m talking about you.  “Preventive” isn’t good enough, is it?  No, you’ve got to add another silly syllable in there for shits and giggles.  Well, in this book, Alice doesn’t “orient” herself after stepping out of the Tube station; she “orientates” herself.  And after a rather confusing run-in with the Law (in Italy, no less), Alice is “disorientated” rather than “disoriented.”  Maybe it’s a Brit thing?  Anyway, it was distracting to me.

2.  The ending…  This book had a very Jane Austen a la Northanger Abbey type of ending.  It was as though McDonald just got tired of writing this story and figured she might as well just be done with it.  Maybe I just read too many romance novels, but I found the lack of closure very annoying.

OK, review over.

While I was reading the book, I didn’t completely identify with the main character.  I’m a bit of a control-freak, sure, but I don’t organize my life with the sole purpose of being safe, of being steady.  Alice Love is steady to an unusual degree, and the result is that most of her friends and family take advantage of her all the time.  That doesn’t exactly explain my situation (I’m usually the one taking advantage).  What did resonate with me about this book was Alice’s discovery of her own femininity and the power that is connected to it.  While tracking down the thief, Alice discovers that the woman used Alice’s money to purchase a whole lot of self-indulgent items: fancy lingerie, crazy jeweled dildos (Hi Mom!), beautiful clothes, etc.  Once Alice gets some money back from the bank, she starts buying these items for herself and is able to discover that her formerly stable, safe life was really missing something.

There’s a little teaser line, an attention grabber, on the cover of the book.  “Whose life are you living?”  Throughout the book, Alice slowly discovers that she life she led before the identity theft wasn’t actually sufficient, and she starts to lead new lives until she (maybe?) settles on one–the ending is a bit ambiguous, but I like to believe that she picked a good one.

I had two kids somewhat recently, and I sort of let myself go.  I lost all the preggo weight, but I was still wearing maternity shirts because I couldn’t be bothered to shop for clothes, and my hair had gotten grown-out and crazy, and I never wore makeup.  For a year now, I’ve looked really terrible, because I just haven’t put any effort or energy into looking good.  Hairy legs, caterpillar brows, bags under the eyes, awful toe-nails… it’s a whole package of yucky, and it’s just sad that I’ve been so content to wallow in it for so long.  Whose life was I living?  When I really lay it all out to look at it clearly, the answer’s not a great one.

While I was reading this book, I got to thinking: I used to wear bras that fit and underpants that weren’t falling apart; I used to shave my legs and pluck my eyebrows… why did I stop?  When I look in the mirror, do I ever actually feel pretty?  Don’t I want to feel pretty?  So I went out and bought new underpants (a lot of new underpants), a slew of new bras.  I painted my nails.  I bought makeup, and I even put it on occasionally.  I’ve been attempting to keep my hair under control.  I’ve been shaving my legs a tad more often (it’s such a pain…).  And do you know what?  I feel better.  I feel happier, more female in all the good ways, more relaxed, prettier.

The Liberation of Alice Love is not the only impetus to this random beauty revolution… I also got some great advice from a wonderful friend (and fellow blogger: that forced me to consider some of the motives behind my purposeful dumpiness (Thank you!).  But even though it wasn’t the only reason I’ve decided to kick them nasty thoughts, the book helped to solidify my objective and was entertaining to boot.  If we’ve a mind to pay attention, even silly chick-lit can change our lives for the better.

On a quasi-related note, does anyone else find it annoying that books written by women with female main characters are always considered chick-lit?  Does anyone else find it annoying that chick-lit is always considered silly and shallow?  If a man had written this book about a male character, even with the exact same story elements and character traits, it wouldn’t be called chick-lit.