Hair

The following is an essay I wrote as an example of a memoir for m fourth and fifth graders.

I looked down at the hairbrush and saw a big wad of hair. “Gross”, I thought. “Do I really shed that much hair?” Sitting on the bus on the way to school, another snapshot of hair sprung up in the forefront of my memory. It was the image of a chunk of hair caught in a hairbrush, but this time the brush had twice as much hair. In fact, it looked a bit like a rodent. It looked… disturbing.

I looked up from the brush and saw my mother’s face. She looked sullen, defeated. In her other hand was a pair of scissors and a comb. “Will you cut it?” she asked. “It’s itching me, and it’s falling out in bigger chunks.” My mom had cancer. She always tried not to act like it was a big deal, but once her hair started falling out from the chemo, I could tell she was beginning to feel irritated. Not in a sad, sick puppy kind of way, but more so in a stubborn, I’m stronger-than-I-look-please-don’t-pity-me kind of way. She and I both knew that once she was bald, that look would follow her everywhere. ‘

I took the scissors, looked her square in the eye and replied, “It will be my honor.” She knew I was being dramatic and playful by my overly-formal tone and grand arm gestures. We both chuckled, as if we were trying to convince ourselves that this was not a big deal, it would be okay.

My mom’s hair was about shoulder-length at the time. It was honey vanilla blond and thick like rope. I fought my intuition to set the scissors down and back away. I began to snip. The sound of the scissors was muffled, slightly- we chatted as I combed and cut. My mom made jokes about me hacking her hair off, I tried to reassure her that it was fine- I had done this with my Barbies a dozen times. We giggled and gabbed like girlfriends. I remember thinking how odd all of this was. I looked down at the pieces of hair on the ground and began to feel apprehensive about soon having to see my mother as a bald woman. Then I began to feel guilty about feeling apprehensive- after all, this was not about me.

Finally, after I had cut it as short as she wanted it (before going to the hairdresser for a final buzz), I turned her around to face herself in the mirror. She turned, and paused for an excruciatingly long moment. She was a deer in the headlights. In that second, I asked myself, “Should I tell her? Should I tell her how bad she looks? Oh no….” All of a sudden, an enormous grin emerged on my mom’s face. She broke out into hysterical laughter… and I did too. I’m talking about tear-inducing, deep belly, could barely breathe kind of laughter. She exclaimed in between laughs, “I… look… like…” She took a big gulp of air…” BILLY RAY CYRUS!!!” I could barely see through the tears in my eyes from laughing so hard, but she was right. I had given my mother a mullet. It looked awful. I exclaimed, “Business in the front… party in the back!” We laughed for what felt like an hour. Finally, we gathered ourselves and she looked at me, silently agreeing that maybe this wasn’t so bad. And in that moment she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.

Hair is a funny thing. We take it for granted- sometimes it hold meaning, sometimes it tells the world things you don’t want it to know about you, like you overslept, you had a hat on for half the day, you don’t know how to use a curling iron, you have cancer. Sometimes, though, even when hair tells the world something, you can look it right in the eye and say hair is just hair. You can let things that are out of your control make you sit back and give up, or you can shake them off and choose to have a good, old fashioned, pee- your pants kind of laugh. I looked up at my hand while sitting on the 38 Geary. Something had been tickling my finger- it was one loose, long strand wrapped around my thumb. I picked it up, let it fall, and felt a smile spread across my face.

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I Got a Job Today

Hi Everyone. I got a job today.

A good job.

It will be hard. It will be so hard that I may cry in the bathroom at some point (probably many points) and have bloodshot eyes from sleep deprivation and three empty coffee mugs on my desk at the end of one school day and I may stop brushing my hair in the morning out of pure exhaustion. But. Alas.

I have a job. And it is a beautiful thing.

The job itself, in all of its intensity, is gorgeous. I almost said no out of the fear of working ten+ hour days and commuting to southeast San Francisco and not knowing if I have the kind of grit in me that I will be asking my students to have. But I said yes. Because I know I do.

I will wake up and go to work and have my own classroom and students will come by in the morning and say “Good morning, Ms. McCracken.” And I will say hello back and smile from my heart up to my eyebrows because I will feel so full of love and of hope and of purpose.

I have a job. And it is a beautiful, wonderful, can’t-tell-if-I-want-to-cry-or-scream and whereismymomIwanttohugher kind of a thing.

What did you do today?

Owls and Mama Bears

My students (4th and 5th grade) are currently writing memoirs. They are so real and so thoughtful, and they have me feeling both nostalgic and lazy… the perfect formula to get me back on the blog. So here I am.

My mom told me when I was little that her mom had died when she was 26. I remember hearing that number and feeling like this was normal- my mom was a grown-up, most people’s parents die when they are grown-ups, so how was this any different? Now at the ripe age of 23 I could not imagine losing my mother (actually, that’s not true- I have imagined it, in moments of absolute self-torture. I would not recommend this.) I realize 26 is quite young to lose a parent, not that there is really any good time to lose somebody you love. My mom’s mom missed out on so many good memories, and my mom had to go through the aches and pains of motherhood without a mom to call for help.

A psychic once told me that my mother’s mom, Joanne, sometimes likes to sit at the foot of my bed and spend time with me. I find this comforting, so I refuse to spend any energy wondering if this could be true, and have chosen to occasionally acknowledge her presence, by sending a little hello into the universe, with the idea that she hears it, wherever she may be.

Joanne, because it is almost mother’s day, I want to let you know that I wish I could know you as my grandmother. I know you were a loving, beautiful woman because you raised the person who taught me compassion and integrity, the woman who runs with the wolves, the fighter, the nurturer. I am going to assume that you are peering over my shoulder as I write this so that I may share a few of my clearest Mom moments with you.

When I was seven, Mom had this luscious garden full of tomatoes, all kinds of herbs, even these carrots called golf ball carrots. I had gotten this stupid Barbie head for my birthday or something (it was the size of a real human head, and it was TERRIFYING- more on that later), and I was obsessed with cutting the hair on that thing. One day I came home from school and The Head was nowhere to be found. I was equally afraid that I would get in trouble for being irresponsible and that The Head had come alive to punish me for making her look like Billy Ray Cyrus. I remember walking downstairs after a thorough search through the upstairs- I had torn apart our family game room, and had gone through my closet and dress-up box more times than I could count. I was disheveled and exhausted. I caved. I walked to the kitchen table where Mom was reading her newspaper. I muttered something about The Head and, without looking up, she replied that ohh yes, she needed to borrow it for something. I asked what for, to which she replied simply by pointing toward the window, every so slightly, with her index finger. I looked outside, and noticed someone standing in the garden. I was exasperated. I was not feeling up to any more puzzles, I just wanted to find The Head and get it back to its spot on my desk (turned around of course, I didn’t like when it stared at me). Arriving at the garden was like that moment in a horror movie when you see the person approaching the monster and scream “NO! NO! YOU IDIOT!” at the screen. That screaming voice in my head was buried deep underneath my curiosity. Finally, I looked up. There she was. The Head. She stared at me with a bitchy little smile. She liked her new life out here, I could tell. Up on a stake with a hat, a plaid shirt and old Levi’s- hell, my mom even put frickin pearls on her- she would never be the same. She had a taste of the good life, and would not settle for my hair cut chop shop any longer. When I walked back inside, Mom simply said “What? We don’t have crows eating my tomatoes anymore.” And that was that.

At the age of sixteen, my parents had settled into pretty distinct roles. In my mind, my dad was goofy and made horrible, yet always laughable, dad jokes. My mom was responsible, warm, focused. To this day, I love when people get to experience my mother’s humor because she is dry as jerky, and correct me if I’m wrong Joanne but I think she gets this from you.

We were at the dermatologist. It had been a long day, and an hour of the dermatologist poking and prodding at my skin. Leaving the office, she told my mom and I to get a facial cleaner that was Purpose brand. She wrote it down on a note: “Purpose Cleaner.” Standing there, tired and irritated, I turned to Mom and I was surprised to see she had this little glint in her eye- you wouldn’t catch it if you didn’t know her, but Joanne, I know you can see what I mean. I looked down at the desk and I saw that she had written something. Nonchalantly, she slid the paper note down the desk and over to me. “Ready to go?” She said. I looked down: “All Purpose Cleaner.” I remember thinking in that moment that she is so subtle, so clever, so… awesome.

Happy early Mother’s Day you, Jo. Thanks for being my mom’s mom.

What kind of San Franciscan are you?

In the past several months, I’ve heard the marina referred to as “the neighborhood for snobby scum” (not my favorite), “post-grad Greek Row”, “the place where everyone just moved here two weeks ago”, frat mason, and the toolbox. I’ve met some awesome people who live in the marina, and I’ve also met some jerks. There is no doubt people are flooding into this area in their twenties and thirties, commissioned by a start-up or tech company or something of the equivalent, but I suppose this neighborhood is no poorer a reflection on my generation than any other neighborhood.

Nevertheless, just like I am often torn between “treat yo self” and “I wanna look good naked” (as the Fat Jewish would say), I am also often torn in my identity as a San Franciscan. I’ve lived hear for over four years. In that time, I’ve identified as a student, an artist, a teacher, a sorority girl. In a city with such distinct neighborhood cultures, where do I fit in? Does looking for a place in the marina mean selling my soul and turning my back on my hippy artist friends? Will spending more time in the mission ultimately lead me to trade in my acaii bowls for burritos, my uber for a bike? (Just kidding, I take Lyft.)

This storm of thoughts brewed in my brain today as a result of learning about SF’s new luxury buses, Leap. Part of me thinks, “this is so cool! I want to join!” while the other part is saying “Really? A) more cars/buses on the road. B) I’m not a techie, nor can I actually afford this, so why does it matter, and C) What will happen to muni? Will SF Muni die out just like the cabs are?

As much as I struggle to remain optimistic that muni is actually more efficient, I like that is sort of shoves all SF walks of life together in one big, stinky bus for our morning and evening commutes. I can’t help but think that hopping on board another one of these new transportation methods will cause an even greater divide between the people of San Francisco. As much as you want to deny it, lets face it. White, wealthy, young people have yet another excuse to stick to their own, while the poor, disabled, mostly people of color, and people over sixty will be left on muni, stuck in traffic behind a Google bus, a Chariot shuttle, a dozen Ubers, and now a luxury Leap bus.

The personal and business benefits are obvious. But is the cost a more segregated San Francisco, a city that prides itself on diversity?

Catch and Release

This is the dating crisis. I hear women saying there are “no men”. “Where are all the men?” they say. Ahh! But there are plenty of men. Plenty of fish in the sea, as they say. But now, with Hinge and Tinder and Amber and Diamond in the Rough ( I made up those last two), the depth is quickly dwindling. The breadth is so vast- we can see a new person every couple of minutes, or even seconds- but does this call for our generational ADHD to kick in full force? Oh! Something shiny! Oh! But this one’s got big boobs! Does our continuous, constant search to find someone make us superficial, even if the intentions are all pure? You match with someone. Yay! They message you… but do you message back? What if they’re not as cute as you thought they were, or you are already talking to someone else? Do you have an obligation to talk to this person, since you already gave him or her the green light?

It’s like when you make eye contact with someone at a bar. You were just checking them out to see if you liked what you saw, but then they looked back, and now you aren’t sure if you liked what you saw but you gave them the universal sign of “i’m into you” and SHIT they’re walking over and now you have to talk to them where are your girlfriends help help help. Is it the same with social media dating? What is the etiquette? There is one thing I hate more than being rejected, and that is rejecting someone. It sucks. It sucks it sucks it sucks. And it happens more and more with the ever expanding  “Your Matches” lists we have and I don’t know if I can do it anymore.

But then you get that notification that someone likes you and it makes it just too sweet and sugary so you hold off on pressing that little “X” in the corner of the App Icon because come on who doesn’t like a little attention now and then… UGH. I’m exhausted. I love meeting people, I hate the process. I hate having to close the door when you think someone is awesome but then you think someone else is equally awesome (or maybe neither is mind-blowingly awesome?How can you tell?) and which door do you close?

Run on sentences. Don’t tell anyone I’m a teacher.

Swimming, swimming, swimming.

Ugh. Once I took a creative writing class and I think I was twelve years old or something like that and we did this thing called “swimming” .

Also known as a Quick Write, the idea of swimming is that you are not underanycircumstancessupposedtosetyourpencildown. Or breathe.

Just kidding. You can breathe. Swimming is supposed to free writers of writer’s block because you just practice writing and keep going.

Keepgoingkeepgoingkeepgoing.

Is this helping? Is this boring? Help. Help you help me help you.

They say I can visualize the writer’s block actually peeling itself out of my writing brain but my writing brain is pretty set on the idea of having no ideas and what can I do but just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimmingswimmingswimming.

Hope you got the Finding Nemo reference. Stay tuned, I have faith if you have faith that the ideas will

flow

soon.

Happy New Year!

Home Hunting

I was babysitting for a nice family in the mission district. It was a beautiful lazy Saturday and there was no place I would have rather been at the time. The four-year-old girl I was babysitting wanted to be lazy, too, and to stay in watching cartoons for a while, so I obliged. Walking down the long, narrow hallway on my way to the kitchen to retrieve Goldfish (partly for her and mostly for me), I looked up at the crown molding and, below it, the strips of sunlight shining through onto the chestnut hardwood floors. Used to the slightly more foggy and drab Inner Richmond neighborhood, I delighted to feel warmth tickle my face as I walked  through the parts of the house where the sun shone in through the windows. 

Pouring myself a glass of water in what could only be described as the most immaculate kitchen I’ve ever seen (think modern minimalist style, a wolf range that inspires you to challenge your cooking abilities, and a sink you could bathe a toddler in), I stopped to think. This whole time I’ve been thinking about moving apartments, I had forgotten that the best things in life are those that present themselves and are not entirely searched out. 

You know how you sometimes see those couples who seem so peanut butter-and-chocolate perfect for each other, you just want to hug them, or slap them, or both? How you can just tell they’re in love, and they don’t even have to flaunt it, because they know they are the best thing to happen to each other? Well. 

What if finding the right apartment is like finding the right person? When I see couples like that I usually get the feeling that a perfect match is worth the wait and, more importantly, can’t be forced. I know I’ll have to pay a cardiac arrest-inducing amount of money for any apartment I declare perfect, but what I’m really talking about here is waiting for the right apartment to show itself. Maybe I’ll find something from a friend of a friend, or maybe I’ll meander through Craigslist one day mindlessly and actually spot something I want to check out. Regardless, I can’t move into a new place just because I am bored and like change. I can’t move just because I want to be somewhere fun. And I can’t move into a place where I do not feel warm and cozy and happy. I might not have a Wolf Range, but if I can find somewhere with a good roommate and a little bit of sun, that is worth waiting for. 

Apartment hunting still sucks, though.