Jun 032014
 

Last night I had to find an email about a writing program I’m attending later this summer—so I searched by the sender’s name. When I did, I found the email I was looking for, along with the other two times I’d heard from her—in 2008 and 2012, both times letting me know that I’d been wait-listed. Only this last email was an acceptance.

I’m trying to get better at dealing with rejection. Freelancers are rejected all the time—mostly by just being ignored, which is simultaneously the best (“Maybe they never got my email”) and worst (“I spent like nine hours pitching them and … pfft”) way of being rejected. I made it my mission to be as rejected as many times as possible this year, and develop that thicker skin that everybody’s talking about.

Something hit me when I saw those three emails, the two wait-lists and the acceptance. The first time I applied to a graduate art program, I was wait-listed. I was beyond freaked out, and I said as much to my favorite art school teacher. “People only remember that Brooke Shields went to Princeton,” she said. “Nobody remembers that she had to apply three times to get in.” And I thought: What other things have I given up on that might have gone in a better way—if I’d only kept at it? I literally felt slightly ill just thinking about it—and I realized that nothing feels quite as bad as giving up.

This is embarrassing: I’ve applied to be on The Amazing Race with basically every BFF I have, plus my uncle, plus my sister. I mean: 20 times, I’ve applied, and I think what happens is that some intern sees my video, is like, “Oh, that idiot again,” and laughs. But as long as that show exists, I am going to pester them. And I think I am going to do my best to make “pester” my mantra. The older I get, the more I realize that the world responds surprisingly well to being pestered. There is no glory in giving up, but I am just besotted with the honor of an honest effort.

I put that video up there because every day I think about giving up on something—a new map, my book, making dinner like an adult instead of having toast and half a chocolate bar. There is literally no thematic relationship between that and the goat, except to say that something you just need to see something lovely.

Jun 022014
 

afterlight

Here’s a story: I was in Argentina when I noticed that all the women around me had this gorgeous, caramel brown hair—like a bronde, but richer, and amazing, and unlike anything I’d ever seen back home. So my BFF and I decided I’d go and get my hair dyed: The stylist spoke no English, and I no Spanish, but my friend translated, we brought lots of pictures, and all, we figured, would be well. Until it wasn’t: Even though my hair would seem to be the weakest, most pliable shade of mouse-brown, it held on like a motherfucker. But you know: once more unto the breach! So we kept going and going. We left when I had hair like Strawberry Shortcake. My friend left halfway through the next day’s session, off to get her flight home, and the stylist and I communicated in expressions of mutual, increasing distress. By the time we were done, I had hair the color of a nectarine, and it was so bad that my other BFF, not incidentally a heterosexual male who I was about to spend 60 days in southern Africa with, paid for it to be dyed back to my good friend, mouse brown.

All’s well that ends well, for the most part, but that experience—and a poorly advised experiment with highlighting last summer—have given my hair below my ears the consistency of very, very thin twigs. It’s gotten to the point where the cruel French hair stylists here basically roll their eyes when I walk through the door: “Eet ees … transparent,” one told me last summer. It is the only time I’ve left a hair salon with a prescription—in that case, for 500 micrograms of biotin a day. Anyway: I’m now on the hunt for a lifestyle that ensures my hair (along with the rest of me) is, you know, the best that it can be. This is a situation that is complicated, for me anyway (along with a lot of other people), by my own personal barrage of thyroid medications (let’s just say I take a sufficient number that the pharmacist always has to be, like, “Are you sure this all goes together?”) A lot of things can fuck up your hair—smoking, stress, genetics, medication. I’m betting most people deal with at least one of them.

In addition to the biotin—which I’m TK about at this point, but I’m only a month into it, so we’ll see—I’ve changed up my diet so that it depends less on Pringles and more on vegetable-centric smoothies, which I love, and which I would declare my only food if I could get around the hassle of constantly cleaning out the blades of my hand blender. (I say that just having eaten a handful of Pringles.) I’m also trying to scientific-methodly add and subtract hair treatments to my routine. And I am very, very happy with my Phyto Phytokeratine.

I don’t like the fact that you have to sit around for five minutes while it does whatever it’s doing, because there are few things I hate more than getting out of the shower, and with this, you have to do it twice. (Er, I know that is not a real problem.) Today I played 2048. Next week, who knows. All I do know is that the first time I used this was also the first time I could let my hair air dry without wrapping it into a bun (which, I know, isn’t great for breakage, but: frizz). Generally when I air dry it, I literally have to do this in a car, with the windows open, so that the breeze is sort of like a cool-air hair dryer. This is the only way to prevent a head full of frizz.

I don’t know why I trusted Phyto, but I went out with my hair wet and just pulled back. And I let it dry. And it was perfect—or at least, just the way I like it, sort of beach wavy. And then, even more miraculously, when I brushed it out, pre-shower—usually it’s just one big ball of frizz. This time—well, you wouldn’t call it sleek, but it was fine. A little bit of oil and I could have gone outside. I cannot stress what a change this is.

Disclaimer: I’ve only used it a few times at this point, so the results may be illusory, and the low-to-middling reviews on Sephora focused on build-up—I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m willing to give it an A, though, just for that one perfect afternoon of frizz-free hair.

Bottom-lining it:
Product: Phyto Phytokeratine hair treatment, $39
Grade: A

Above: the Phytokeratine mask. See that stray hair in the lower-lefthand corner? Normally I would have taken another picture because—gross, stray hairs. But it seemed appropriate here.

May 302014
 

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This NY Times article made me apoplectic:

Between sun-seared shrubs and the collapsed remains of Istanbul’s Byzantine city walls, police found the body of an American tourist, Sarai Sierra, 33, in February 2013. Ms. Sierra, a New Yorker and a first-time traveler abroad, disappeared after near-constant contact with her family for two weeks. What happened to her is still a little unclear, but a Turkish man has reportedly confessed to killing her after supposedly trying to kiss her.

This is not a case of wrong place, wrong time. Ms. Sierra was not wandering off the beaten path. She was not engaged in risky behavior. She was on a trip hoping to practice photography, according to news reports. This is a terrifying case of what can — and does — happen to female travelers abroad.

I mean: Jesus Christ. The whole point of the last 10 days is that terrifying shit happens to women everywhere in the world. I never understood this until I left home, but there are terrified parents all around the world who are freaking out because their daughters (and sons) want to study in the U.S. You know what’s even more fucked up than the murder of Australian student Christopher Lane, when he was provoking the locals by jogging down the street in Duncan, OK, population 23,000? The fact that when I Googled “exchange student killed in oklahoma,” auto-complete did me the service of reminding me of the slaughter of 17-year-old German exchange student Diren Dede in a Montana garage. Now, look: I don’t think people should poke around other people’s garages, looking for liquor, if that’s what Dede was doing, as alleged. But if we killed every 17-year-old doing something stupid, we would have about 20 17-year-olds left.

I don’t object to these be-safe-abroad stories because I am opposed to being safe abroad. On the contrary: Staying safe abroad is a challenge and should be a priority for everyone who leaves the country—mostly because any unfamiliar place can be dangerous, and language and cultural barriers can make getting the lay of the land a time-consuming endeavor. I spent nearly two months in Rio last year. I arrived with my Fitbit (I know, I know) and to get my 10,000 steps (I know!), I would literally walk around my block—I mean literally: walk around my block, and no other, until I got them. Every day, I ventured a few blocks farther, until I knew my small part of the city. I literally—I hate to keep using that word, but I want to be clear I am not fabricating the extent of my safe-keeping—watched out my window to see how late women walked the streets by themselves, whether they carried handbags, whether they would wait for the bus or take a taxi. (Side anecdote: At one point, I desperately wanted to go to Niteroi to see the art museum designed by Oscar Niemeyer, pictured above, but at the time I thought I had to take the ferry from Centro to do it—and everybody tells you how dangerous Centro is when it’s deserted on the weekend. I was on DEFCON 5: I mean, no bag, no camera, money slipped into my bra, phone tucked into a front pocket, nothing else—and after the five-minute walk from the bus stop, I get to the ferry plaza—and see 20 tourists snapping photos, blithely walking around with their $3,000 cameras.) I was cautious, and lucky, and I did not experience crime in Rio, unless we count the time my cab driver and a motorcyclist started (again, literally) banging into each other on the way to the airport, which was fucked up, but whatever.

What I object to in this article is the sense of: “Oh, not here.” You know: “Terrifying case[s]” happen abroad, not here. Like we are leaving the Shire when we cross the border—into, you know, Belgium, with 1.7 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Europe’s average, according to a 2012 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime study, was 3.2—and that’s skewed by Russia (9.7 per 100,000). Africa’s—the Africa of “Blood Diamond” and child soldiers and whatever other stereotypes we have at hand—was 17.0. Washington, D.C.—the one we visited on field trips—is 13.9. There are exactly three states with murder rates lower than Belgium: Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire. There’s exactly one country in Western Europe with a murder rate higher than Belgium’s: Luxembourg, at 2.8. That’s what happens when exactly one person is murdered in a country with a population of around a half-million. For the record, according to this study, 4.8 people were murdered in the U.S. per 100,000 inhabitants. That makes us slightly less safe than Laos and Suriname (both 4.6).

This is the truth: Millions of people around the world think we are literally (again!) insane for living with the amount of violence that we do. I never travel to a new country (well, except, like, Lichtenstein) without checking the State Department’s Travel Warnings and Country Information Sheets, which I find pleasingly specific and caution-minded. And absolutely: There are countries which aren’t at the top of my to-go list, for reasons not limited to a problematic minority’s views of and barbaric treatment of women. But those are the exceptions, and making those judgments is probably within the intellectual capacity of any traveler, female or not, who can also book an airplane ticket online.

I’ve traveled to a lot of countries. As I said, I’ve been cautious, and lucky. I will continue to be cautious, and I hope to continue to be lucky. I’ve been to places that by some accounts are dangerous—Brazil, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Russia—and more often than not—many, many, many more times than not—I’ve been treated kindly: I’ve had people running after me with my passport after I left it on the floor at the airport in Johannesburg. I’ve had taxi drivers in Brazil returning my money after I miscounted my bills. And the two times I’ve been—legally—”sexually assaulted,” I was home, in New York, doing things so absurdly normal that they literally defy any caution.

To single out solo, female travelers, exploring the world, for this sort of hand-wringing advisory is absurd: It denies the realties of the world abroad—and most damningly, it says nothing of the realties of the world at home.

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