Friday, May 27, 2011

Meditation on My Luxurious Leg Hair

How amazingly freeing it would be if hair removal — arguably the most deep-seated and impenetrable of all our beauty myths — became strictly optional, and being hairy was considered maybe a little hipster-ish (or insert your-favorite-youth-culture-group-here), but basically cool? -- Virginia Sole-Smith

I have never been super diligent about shaving my leg hair. When it first became A Thing To Do, I never quite understood the need to remove something that was so determined to grow on my body. In high school, when my entire basketball team decided to support one of our members in her pursuit of the Hairy Leg portion of the Smooth/Hairy Leg contest for Spirit Week, I was relieved that I would more easily blend in with my teammates when we were all wearing shorts. The looks on the faces of one opposing team in particular (whom we privately called the Microwave Barbies) were priceless to behold. We may even have gotten a few points off them before they crushed us with their superior firepower and uniformly perky blonde ponytails.

My mother's leg and arm hair had long since been stunted by radiation, and shaving was something that she rarely bothered to do. Nevertheless, I have always felt obliged to shave my legs (eventually), probably due to some unspoken social pressure. Like many women, I do less shaving during the winter, and I never wear skirts and therefore don't feel any obligation to have accordingly feminine-looking legs. I've never considered waxing or any other more extreme form of hair-removal, because I simply don't care that much whether there is hair on my legs at all. And I like to avoid pain wherever possible!

Last winter, I was stricken with a particularly painful full-body outbreak of psoriasis, which meant that I certainly wasn't going to apply a razor to any part of me, as it already looked and felt as if that had occurred. Several months and many treatments later, I was recovered enough to shave my left leg, but ran out of energy before I got to the other one. And then I kept shaving the left leg, and leaving the right leg. I idly wondered (although I knew better) if there would be some kind of crucial length of time where the growth would eventually stop, or whether I would have a braid-able quantity at some point. I enjoyed the contrast of one smooth leg and one . . . not. Recently, I went to the mall in shorts and noticed an older woman staring at my legs. I guess that unspoken social stigma is still in place for women with hairy legs, or maybe it only exists for women with one hairy leg?

This experimental phase of my life ended abruptly with the onset of summer weather and the brave sacrifice of two razor-heads. Did I end up shaving my right leg because of the aforementioned social pressure? I can't be sure. Part of me wants to grow it back out again expressly so I can find that lady at the mall and walk aggressively past her. Part of me just wanted my legs to match again, which, of course, they don't. I now have a smooth-shaven right leg and a few days of growth on the left leg.

Leg shaving: It's a lose-lose proposition.

Other reading: My other meditation on hair; Beauty Schooled on hairy legs and Reclaiming the Leg Wax; the frightening articles in Allure's Hair Removal section of the website; and an opinion piece on Feminism, Women Shaving & The Western Harem.

Meditation Index

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: The Doomsday Book [1992]

I'll come right out and say it: Connie Willis is my favorite author and this is not the first time I've read The Doomsday Book (1992). The first time was sometime in the late 90s, after I was introduced to her work by randomly picking up a hardcover edition of To Say Nothing of the Dog in Sam Weller's. I never looked back, devouring everything of hers that I came across (with the exception of Blackout and All Clear, which are waiting patiently for me to get around to them). The Doomsday Book is set among the same time-travelling Oxford-based historians and comes a little bit earlier in the timeline than To Say Nothing of the Dog. It's hard to believe that it's been almost twenty years since it was published!

Kivrin Engle is on the brink of becoming the first historian to be sent back in time to the middle ages, and her mentor James Dunworthy is not remotely happy about it. The acting head of the History department is determined to get her to 1320 before his authority is revoked, and therefore hasn't pursued proper safety precautions. Kivrin, who is eager to experience life in medieval England, blithely departs anyway, at which point everything goes awry. Hours after her departure, those in 2055 Oxford are struck down by a mysterious virus that prevents Dunworthy from finding out where and, more importantly, when Kivrin has landed. The narrative is divided between his "current day" struggles to make sure she's all right and Kivrin's experience in the past.

When she arrives, Kivrin also falls ill and is taken to a nearby manor house to recover. As she becomes familiar with the language and the "contemps" of the village she is taken to, she gradually falls into the pattern of daily life. Although she makes regular "reports" to a recorder implant, she loses her distance from her subject matter, coming to care for the family that nurses her back to health, especially the children. But there are times when she is also forcibly reminded that she doesn't belong:
It's already happened, Kivrin thought wonderingly. The verdict is already in and Lord Guillaume's come home and found out about Gawyn and Eliwys. Rosemund's already been handed over to Sir Bloet. And Agnes has grown up and married and died in childbirth, or of blood poisoning, or cholera, or pneumonia. They've all died, she thought, and couldn't make herself believe it. They've all been dead over seven hundred years. [241]
Meanwhile, Mr. Dunworthy and his assistant Finch try valiantly to find someone to operate "the net" and locate Kivrin in the midst of sickness and quarantine, protesters, a group of American bell-ringers, a boy who snuck in to the quarantine area because he thought it would be interesting, an archaeological dig, bureaucratic red tape, and the Christmas season. The intertwined narrative is beautifully crafted and moving, bringing me to tears every time I read it.

Grade: A

The Doomsday Book isn't easily categorized into one genre. It's got time travel, sure, and I read it as part of the "Women of Science Fiction" book club. But it's also historical fiction and, perhaps unexpectedly, a thriller. The reader is aware from the outset that Kivrin is likely in terrible danger, even as she innocently believes she's been sent to 1320. The revelation that she's been sent (SPOILER ALERT) to 1348 and the horror of the Black Death hangs over the narrative for almost three hundred pages before finally being confirmed. Willis takes the time to build sympathetic characters (in both time periods) that we become attached to, even though we have a nagging suspicion that many of them may end up dead.

The novel also features many classic Connie Willis elements, including a Christmas setting, picketers and ridiculous signs ("Do Not Have A Relapse"), a running screwball comic thread featuring Finch and the bell-ringers that keeps the drama from becoming overwhelming, a text stuffed with historical details, and a large cast of characters, many of them flawed. There are any number of people who can only see the world through their particular obsessions, including Dunworthy.

Willis also explores the greater question of responsibility and blame: who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands during the Black Death? Who is to blame for getting Kivrin lost in the past? Is there a God? If so, how could that god allow so many people to suffer so horribly? Coupled with this is a continuing thread that explores expectations (given as statistics and probabilities by those studying the past) versus the realities of everyday life and human experience.

Random Thoughts:

My second trip through The Doomsday Book was actually via audio cassette, and it's amazing how some passages came back to me in the voice of the narrator, even though it's been years.

Had I but world enough and time, I would read Willis's short story "Fire Watch," the first of the Oxford Time Travel stories, followed by To Say Nothing of the Dog and then Blackout and All Clear to complete the cycle. It's a goal.

Dead Mother: Yes
Book Review Index

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Meditation on Mother's Day

I have a bit of a conflicted relationship with Mother's Day. It's been five years now since my mother was alive on this "holiday," and thinking about mothers and hearing everyone else's mom appreciations always makes me miss her terribly. My grandmothers are no longer around either, creating a bit of a vacuum where once cards were mailed. We weren't exactly avid about celebrating Mother's Day in my childhood. Sure, we did the usual mandatory homemade cards and breakfast-cooking attempts, but after breakfast in bed it was pretty much business as usual. The idea of a day especially to honor mothers is both sweet and . . . kind of like Administrative Professionals Day. If we knew what was good for us, we'd probably make sure moms and office supply gatekeepers were soundly appreciated every day. However, since that doesn't happen, I feel that Mother's Day is a whack-upside-the-head kind of opportunity to reflect on the awesomeness of parents in general and moms in particular. I'm also going to take this opportunity to say an extremely early Happy Father's Day to my father, who was there every day when I got home from school while I was growing up, and who did the laundry and a great deal of cooking and other tasks traditionally assigned to mothers. I haven't remembered Father's Day for the past many moons, so this is likely the best he's going to get! And I am proud to have been raised by two people so adept at co-parenting.

My feelings about Mother's Day have recently been even more complicated by the fact that I became a mother a little less than two years ago. My son is lucky enough to have two mothers, in fact, so he will have to do double-duty on Mother's Day in the future. As with many landmarks in my life, my son's arrival makes it difficult to be cranky about the commercialism of holidays, because it's just fun to have him around. I can't be as sad about my mother's absence when he looks up and smiles so brilliantly at me or gives me a sweet kiss on the cheek as he did this morning. I do wish that my son and my mother had the opportunity to get to know each other and spend lazy Mother's Day mornings together, but since that's not possible, we'll do the best we can with what we have and try to approach every day as if it were a special day for parents and children.

In honor of my mother, some of the posts I've written that feature her:

Meditation on Hair Loss
Sports I Love: Figure Skating
Meditation on the Answering Machine
A Meditation on Dead Mothers (in Books I've Been Reading)

Meditation Index

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Status Report

Perhaps one or two readers of this blog have wondered about my rather minimal output lately. Haven't I been reading? Don't I have interesting things to say about my favorite topics (me, libraries, books, tiny things, and ME) and the leisure to transmit those thoughts through a keyboard and click "publish"? I have been doing those things, dear readers, just not here! I have been throwing my intellectual seed to the winds of the internet, and I expect that strange things will start growing in the next nine months or so. Let me point you in the direction of some recent output:

I recently started a blog with my friend Robin (@Tuphlos) so that we could host longer-format discussions of the collection development issues that we regularly discuss (or possibly rant about) on Twitter. Recent posts include practical advice for librarians tackling nonfiction collection development and a description of how materials donations are handled at my library.* If you are interested in guest posting, please let me know! It would be great to have some perspectives beyond that of the harried public librarian.

On a monthly basis, I lovingly select romance and cozy mystery book covers to . . . "feature" at MARC of the Beast in conjunction with broadcasting their blurbs over Twitter. This is a collaborative foray into the wilds of Tumblr with my friend Kristin (@shinyinfo). If you appreciate puns, and wish that every cozy mystery title featured a spectacularly good/bad one, this is the site for you. If you are genuinely excited that every third romance novel published by Harlequin features a pregnancy and/or a boss, you might not be as interested.

And finally, I recently responded to a call for more lesbrarians, and started reading and submitting monthly reviews of lesbian fiction over on the Lesbrary site. My first review garnered a response from the author; I'm still not sure if this is good or bad. My most recent review was of Karin Kallmaker's Paperback Romance, and I've just volunteered to read Rum Spring, which features an Amish heroine ("Love or tradition? Which path will she choose?").

That is what I've been up to, but I'm also finishing up some books that will be absolutely ideal for review on this blog, and I am working on a general post about lesbian fiction. Thanks for reading!

*I suppose I should say at some point that my views are my own, and do not represent my place of employment.