life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


Nothin’s gonna stop the ‘fro

I have had more than a few days where I walk out the front door and, regardless of how I felt when I got dressed, I wind up feeling like the biggest frump in Brussels. Every person I pass seems so put together and stylish, like they intrinsically understand how to pair articles of clothing, footwear, jewelry, and accessories.

Given the choice, I have pretty much always chosen function and affordability to haute couture. For this reason, I am often loath to walk into a fancy boutique. I do sometimes wonder what would happen if I walked into a clothing store and ask for the person to pick out clothing for me. They may tell me that they are not personal shoppers, but perhaps they will take pity on the poor American who has zero understanding of fashion sense.

I am pretty sure that if I invited them into my home, they would take one look at my closet and set a torch to it. No more comfortable sneakers, no more threadbare shirts, no more hooded sweatshirts.

What then? Panty hose that cannot possibly keep me warm in the wind, rain, and hail of balmy winter in Brussels? (Forget the fact that pantyhose would be lucky to last five minutes before my propensity for clumsiness led to their demise.)

I’m sorry, but freezing for pantyhose will never be my slogan.

So, when I don my quick drying stretchy yoga pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, winter coat, and sneakers for a walk through the forest, I walk past many pairs of heels and pointy leather boots on my way. Even in the sanctuary of the forest by our apartment, I pass people dressed I would refer to as one’s Sunday best. Every day must be Sunday in Brussels.

My reticence is not limited to clothing stores. I have a universal ominous foreboding before entering any kind of hair salon, be it in the United States or Europe. If I don’t get dressed up to go for a walk in forest, rain or shine, why would I spiffy up to get my haircut? I am just going to come home and take a shower to wash away all those irritating tiny hairs that tickle my neck.

Apparently, not all days are equal for getting your hair cut in Brussels. Friday and Saturday are fancier (aka, more expensive). At least, this was the case when I walked down to Boitsfort proper to search out a place to get my hair trimmed this afternoon in my usual black stretchy yoga pants, 15-year-old pink Mazama goat t-shirt just barely holding on to existence, and my five ten sneakers.

I asked the woman at the register if I needed to make an appointment. She had blonde, sort of curly, sort of straight hair, and I couldn’t tell if it was wet or dry but thought the wet appearance may be from the bottle of gel she must have used to create the façade of curls. If my hair was straight, I would just dance for sheer joy rather than wasting my money on gel, but they say the grass is always greener.

Ever since I was young, older and very old women have been telling me to thank my lucky stars for my frizz, but I must not be old enough yet to agree.

Of course, I still have such a baby face that most people think I am still a teenager (I am super jazzed when someone guesses 22 instead of 14, especially when it is an old man hitting on me. Seriously, if you think I look 14, what are you doing flirting with me, creeper?). Suffice it to say that women with straight hair and/or new perms like to gush over my hair.

I will trade you, I respond to the little old lady getting her hair permed, and she shrieks with laughter, winks, and waves her hair at me in an Oh, you joker gesture.

What? I was totally serious!

I also have come to realize that looking young means it takes something extra for people to take me seriously, be it sarcasm, attitude, or talking about my PhD research. Would Europeans get a Doogie Howser reference?

Well, there were two older ladies at the hair salon this afternoon, but they didn’t pay any attention to me.

Blondie at the register told me a hair cut cost 42 euros. I asked if I could skip the shampoo, and she looked at me like I was insane and explained that it was included.

I sat down on a chair by the shampooing sink and waited while the woman next to me had her hair conditioned and temples massaged. Maybe getting a shampoo wasn’t so bad after all. If the extra cost went toward a scalp massage, I could dig it.

My turn came for a shampoo, but it was anything but relaxing. The woman gave me a brief scalp scratching and asked if I wanted conditioner, which I refused because it was un supplement (aka, an additional fee). Seriously? This isn’t Paris. How does a 42-euro haircut include shampoo but not conditioner? Had she not seen the state of my hair when I took out my ponytail holder? You don’t voluntarily get my hair wet without conditioner somewhere nearby. Oh well, I figured she would put some leave-in conditioner after she cut it.

She rinsed my hair, filling both ears with a cascade of water, and I cringed until it was over. I was directed to a chair, and my hair was brushed minus any kind of conditioner with a large-toothed comb. To give her some credit, the woman did apologize, though I could have explained to her that nothing she could do could hurt my skull, which had been thickened by over three decades of life with tangles (Johnson’s No More Tangles has got nothing on this head of hair). I think my nerve endings have lost their will to live from so much yanking and pulling. I figured out several years ago that my mom didn’t keep my hair an inch long when I was little just because it looked cute (which it did) but for her and my sanity. Every few months when my hair was long, she would have to corner me, and I would scream and cry while she tried to untangle the bird’s nest my afro had become. Seriously, if there is a god in this world, they have a sadistic sense of humor, and I am not sure what I did in my past lives to deserve a life of frizz.

At one point while she was clawing through my wet hair, she made a face, picked something out, and flicked it aside. It kind of reminded me of a wildlife documentary with monkeys picking insects out of each other’s hair. I tried to imagine the David Attenborough narrative.

Here in the chair sits a specimen that is the result of genetic experimentation with the texture and shape of body hair. Beside her stands a superior genetic conglomeration. They are engaged together here in a kind of interchange. Notice the look of disgust on the face of the other homo sapiens as she performs a kind of cleansing ritual.

When I looked at her questioningly, she responded, pélicule. I raised my eyebrows?

Qu’est-ce que c’est pélicule? She called out to wet-dry straight-curly hair blondie, who was blow drying the hair of woman a few chairs down (at least she got to sit down for this humiliation).

Je ne said pas, came the response.

Ça veut dire que c’est sec? I asked and pointed to my scalp.


J’utilise shampoo pour ça.

She smiled.

Lovely, now I was not only frumpy and unfashionable with unkempt hair, but I also had my dandruff on display.

But I digress.

Salon woman asked me to stand up and walk behind the chair.

What, I can’t even be comfortable for this torture? I thought.

Apparently not, but for the 42 euros must be charged by the second because it was literally the shortest haircut I had ever experienced. I think it took less than five minutes for her to cut my hair. No putting it up in a clip and taking some down to cut one section at a time.

It was like a hit and run with scissors.

She had me sit down, and I figured this would be where she would put something in it so it would dry nicely. Instead, she blow-dried the front and left the back half dry so I left looking like a weird frizzy cactus. I know cactus paraphernalia seems to be a thing in Brussels (I have seen stuffed cactus at Ikea, clubs called Le Cactus, and there is even a sugary beverage that is likely some kind of prickly pear mixed with lemonade), but I didn’t realize it was trendy to dress like one.

When she had finished my cactus do, a man sitting in a chair on the other side of the salon called out in a heavy French accent, dandruff?

Eh? Oh.

The hairdresser walked over to look at the man’s phone.

Oui. C’est ça.

She came back.

Et là, tout le monde le sait/And now, everyone knows I have dandruff.

She thought this was the funniest thing ever and repeated it back to me. Tout le monde le sait. Chuckle chuckle. As always, I am happy to entertain. I am Jewish, after all.

Another time in my life, I might have been horrified and humiliated beyond reason. This time, I just thought the whole thing was ridiculous. Clearly dandruff is not so unusual or they wouldn’t sell so many hair products for those who suffer from it. I’m only human, and my skin gets dry. So sue me!

As we neared the end of our time together, I braced myself for her to recommend one or more expensive products, but she didn’t even try to sell me anything. Perhaps, in her eye was a hopeless cause.

I stood up, and she removed the black smock I had been wearing. I looked in the mirror for a moment and then turned to follow her to the front of the salon. She took my sweatshirt out of the coat closet and handed it to me (at least, she didn’t hold it like she had picked it up out of a gutter somewhere).

When I paid, she explained that Friday and Saturday cost 42 euros while every other day cost 33. Great, so I got to pay extra for my humiliation. Good deal. At least if I were planning on pay for public humiliation, I could have gone on bargain day. (Note: Jews also really like to get things on sale.)

The best deal was that it really didn’t matter to me. Just like most haircuts I have had in the US, she cut more than I had asked for and overcharged me for the experience, but I didn’t feel bothered. I guess I really am growing up. That, or I am a hopeless fashion cause. Either way, I am what I am, and it is a person I have grown rather fond of over the years.


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Lifting my heart


My recent return to yoga after a decade away was inspired in part by a dear friend of mine. She told me that her yoga practice has changed her life after taking have a teacher training in Rishikesh, India. I read her reflections on yoga and began to understand that it was much more than the physical practice. It was all encompassing.

I like holistic approaches to life. I look for ways to create balance.

And I have been searching for a way to heal the trauma in my body, both physical and emotional. I want a healthy way to create a spiritual defense that moves in harmony with the surprises that come my way from the universe each day.

I have no desire to wage war or battle against anyone, particularly my own self. When I go to bed angry or upset, I wake up feeling even worse.

A week or so ago, my yoga teacher sent an email reminding everyone in my class to come to the studio or to be practicing at home at least three times a week. I instantly worried that she thought I was shirking on my commitment, and then I realized that the only person I should truly worry about was myself. If I was not practicing, I was not honoring the commitment I made to my own self and the desire to be whole and well.

Despite the fact that I am working for no financial compensation at present, I purchased a month pass and have been practicing at the studio for the past two weeks, learning from incredibly beautiful and patient yogi teachers.

I have taken copious notes and started to imagine the kinds of asanas I would like to include in the class I will be teaching in July. My class will focus on Aparigraha, non-attachment. When I think about holding onto something tightly, I imagine a body hunched over. To create a way to release this firm grasp, I envision creating a flow of poses that will help to lengthen the spine and open the heart.

It takes time to build the confidence and readiness for non-attachment. I would like to design a particular flow of asanas that start with gentle encouragement and build to create a place of spaciousness where people feel safe letting go.

For many years and especially the past several weeks, I have been practicing one of Patanjali’s ethical rules for “right living:” Aparigraha. Aparigraha is a sanksrit term for the concept of non-attachment.

Aparigraha comes at a tumultuous time of transition for me. Sometimes, I wonder if I will ever be free from transition. Even a temporary respite would be nice. I have been moving through an unexpected shift in the vision I had for my professional career.

There were many reasons I chose yoga, but I think the most important was to create the balance I mentioned above. And this balance comes with building a solid foundation from which I can stand steadily on my own two feet.

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I can create the safe space for letting go and lifting my heart to the sky when I feel supported from below. This support comes from the people around the globe who believe in me and send love and words of encouragement and faith that I will succeed.

It is now my turn to trust in my foundation and stand tall.


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You gave up Alaska for this?

from the airplaneWhen I headed north for Alaska, I was searching for something. I left with anti-depressants and panic pills in my pocket, certain that I would continue to experience difficulty filling my air with lungs and breathing normally. I was afraid of leaving my life in Washington behind. I had not set off on my own for many years.

By the end of my first summer in Alaska, something inside of me had changed.

“You are different,” an friend told me. “More confident and grounded in yourself.”

There was truth in her words. I had survived the summer. More than that, I had thrived. I had begun to envision a new identity as a musician and started playing music again. I felt the thrill of life in a new place in a remote corner of the Alaskan wilderness.

This confidence was newly rooted and still shaky.

I spent a painful two months in Washington.

During that time, a friend wrote to me in an email, “it will be darker when you get back.”

It was.

Alaska sun

I headed north once more at the end of a cold November, thankful to have my sister with me on the journey through the Inside Passage.

I left her at the Juneau airport a few days later and continued the remainder of the journey to Gustavus alone.

On the ferry were familiar faces, young and old. I was thankful for the company. The community of Gustavus is remarkable and unlike any other I have experienced. It was a gift to be a part of it for a time.

The winter was a dark and difficult time.

Another friend had told me that when she first got word of a job in Alaska, her coworker had chided, “Alaska? Be careful. The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

I experienced this first hand. Of course, I am odd myself, and for a time I did not question the odd treatment.

Oddness is one thing. We are each odd in our own ways. Abuse is quite another. And after some of the worst abuse from a once friend and supervisor, I decided that my shaky confidence would not survive if I stayed for much longer.

Alaska sunsetBack to the lower 48 to take refuge in Arizona and then to a new life in Massachusetts.

It is from Massachusetts that I write on this overcast morning. It may be cloudy, but the sun is working its way into view.

This past weekend, during a busy Lowell Folk Festival, I walked across town with two visitors. When I told them I had moved here from Alaska, one of them chastised, “You gave up Alaska for this?”

I did. There are moments when I miss the wilderness and the sense of community. There has not been one moment when I have missed the abuse I received for being odd in a way that some individuals found threatening.

I am in Massachusetts. I am who I am. And I am my own blessing.

footprint in Alaska sand