On cutting hair

Most days, lately, I have to remind myself that we are still in a pandemic. I’ll be moving through daily tasks and suddenly feel incredibly exhausted and I’ll wonder for a moment or two whether there’s something truly physically wrong with me. “Oh no,” I’ll think to myself, “remember? We are in a pandemic. These times are unprecedented, or at least that’s what they used to say.” And for a short while, I will feel a bit OK with being tired.

But I still have moments when I think, “wow. I haven’t done anything today.” And I guess I have to remember that what I mean to say is, “I haven’t gone anywhere today.” Because I’ve done loads each day. And I’ve been doing loads each day. And will continue to do loads each day. But when much of these loads of things that I’ve been doing all day feel a bit ordinary or a bit mundane or even a bit merely life-sustaining, it feels like it doesn’t add up to much. The keeping the children relatively well-fed and moderately engaged doesn’t feel like much. Perhaps this feeling is compounded with all the Olympic achievement in the ether.

Take today for instance. Amongst a few other things: I cut two heads of hair. (Please note, I did not say I cut two heads of hair WELL.) I’ve been cutting my dad and my husband’s hair for the past 16 months or so. It’s not that it’s so hard to do at this point (again, please note that I did not say I do it WELL), but it does take time and not just today. For at least a few days now (and probably longer), I will look at my dad or my husband and all I can see are the mistakes and what I could have done better. This in and of itself takes time. Those who cut hair in a shop or salon have it made: they don’t have to assess their work daily over meals and throughout the day. Because its the self-judgment that’s the energy drain, innit?

And they have those comfy-ish chairs with the clever foot lever so they can smoothly move the head of hear up and down to a reachable height. We have … a kitchen stool for my dad. And for my husband we move between a barstool and a dining room chair depending on the height I need him. (Honestly, it’s a step up from when I cut my son’s hair and I have to put him on a footstool and then kneel). We

When I first started cutting my dad’s hair, I asked him who used to cut I when he was a boy in Thailand. “A Vietnamese barber,” he told me, “he was very good, very detailed.” I considered this as I hacked away at his thinning coiffure. But more than whether I too was being suitably “detailed” in my work, I was surprised that my dad’s barber as a boy in Thailand was from Vietnam. Somehow, I’d always associated immigration almost exclusively with my country of birth, the US. Apparently this mythos is so strong as to make me surprised when I hear about people immigrating to other places in the world. Which is particularly close minded on my part when you consider that my grandparents immigrated to Thailand from China.

So in a way, the hair cutting ritual sometimes gets me thinking about things perhaps even in ways that goes against my upbringing.

I didn’t need to ask Eric while he was “in the chair” about his childhood haircuts in rural western Minnesota. I already knew that he had a regular woman whose house he’d go to. I don’t think she was Vietnamese but I supposed I’ve never asked.

In any case, it’s not lost on me that in some ways my husband and my father had, in some ways, childhoods more similar to each other than to my own. I grew up, like my mom, in DC. I don’t remember having a place or person I went to for my hair. I have a feeling it was just kind of whatever place was convenient, and usually it was a Hair Cuttery. My uncle brought my brothers to a regular barber, in a shop called, “Camello’s,” but I think that as a girl I got them less frequently and thus never had a “spot” where I’d typically go.

Which is all a long way to say that the hair cutting I’ve been doing has not been without its benefits. But so too, in spite of my moments where I tell myself otherwise, I have not been doing nothing.

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